Fellowship of the Rings
"We're going off tonight, to kick out every light, take anything we want" Nickelback, Burn It to the Ground
I think University of Houston linebacker, Grant Stuard, has Pro Bowl potential. As a special teams player. He might be a good candidate to try at fullback. A team might give him a shot at LB or safety. I might not know what position he's going to play in the NFL, but one thing is for sure. Whatever Grant Stuard ends up doing on a football field, he's going to be doing it at a thousand miles per hour. With his flowing hair coming out from under the back of his helmet and his balls to the wall style of play, Stuard looks like Troy Polamalu's little brother on the field. When he's playing in the box as a LB, Stuard is so small, he makes me think of the dwarf Gimli from the Hobbit movies.
If Stuard never becomes a starter and is just a ST player in the NFL, that might not sound like it is very valuable. Sometimes, however, a good ST play can be absolutely vital to a Super Bowl team. Larry Izzo, Steve Tasker, Bill Bates, Jackie Slater's son, Matthew Slater, some of the better known STers were associated with Super Bowl squads. If it weren't for a critical play by Izzo on a punt return, the 2001 Patriots never would have faced the Rams in the Super Bowl.
In 1979, Vince Ferragamo made his first start of his NFL career in the 12th game of the season. The Rams had a losing record entering that game. In Ferragamo's 3rd start (against the Vikings), he went 4 out of 10 for 22 yards and an interception and was benched at halftime in favor of Bob Lee. In his first 3 starts, Ferragamo only completed 42% of his passes. Even for that era of football, his stats were very poor. He would have ranked 28th in completion rate and 19th in yards per attempt if he had played enough games to qualify. By my calculations, his passer rating at that point was 51.9, which would have put him dead last in the NFL that season.
Early in that game, the Vikings were punting in Rams territory, attempting to pin the Rams deep. The snap to the punter was bad. Ivory Sully blocks the punt, then Joe Harris scoops the ball up and returns it for a TD. The Rams eventually win the game in overtime, scoring a TD on a fake FG. If the Rams had lost that game, their record would have been 7-7. I don't know what the playoff tiebreaker procedures were back then, but the loss might have even cost them the division and eliminated them from the playoff field. You can't be in the Super Bowl if you don't make the playoffs.
Sully is considered to be one of the best special teams players in NFL history. He was an UDFA running back who the Rams converted to safety. Ferragamo at QB got most of the attention in that 1979 magical run. How often on TST do we talk about Ivory Sully? That's football, everyone wants to talk about QBs. But, if it weren't for that blocked punt by Sully, the entire season and the rest of Ferragamo's career might have turned out very differently.
A single play can change history. Imagine how things might have gone for Jon Gruden, Sean McVay, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady if the Pats had lost the Tuck Rule game and the Raiders had been the team to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl that season. Does Gruden still end up in Tampa? Does Drew Bledsoe still get traded? The following season, when the Pats miss the playoffs, does Belichick get fired? We'll never know. It is crazy to think how the bounce of that stupid oblong shaped ball on one play can impact so many things. A tiny butterfly flapping its wings. The embodiment of chaos theory.
ST players can turn out to be more valuable than a team's middle round picks. Izzo was 5'10'' tall and 225 pounds when he was an UDFA in 1996 for the Dolphins. That year, the Fins waived two middle round rookies, a 3rd rounder and a 4th rounder. They never made the roster and never played for the team. Miami did get one of the great LBs of his era in that draft, Zach Thomas, late in the 5th round. Thomas was only 5'11'' tall, 233 pounds, with short arms, and poor athleticism (bad vertical jump and slow 40 time.)
It didn't take long for Izzo as an UDFA rookie to make an impression in Miami. Jimmy Johnson was in his first year as Miami's HC in 1996. In a team meeting in training camp, Johnson was trying to make a point about the high level of competition for roster spots. He emphasized that few players were guaranteed to make the roster, then pointed to HOF QB, Dan Marino, and told him he was "Number One", meaning that Marino was a lock to make the team. After showing some clips of Izzo making great ST plays, he told the team that Izzo was "Number Two".
In that 1996 draft, the Rams drafted Percell Gaskins from Kansas State in the 4th round, about 50 slots before the Fins got Zach Thomas. Gaskins was a former high jumper in college (safe to assume that he had a better vertical jump than Thomas. I bet he ran faster as well.) Gaskins lasted one season with the Rams. Lawrence Phillips instead of Eddie George, Eddie Kennison just before Marvin Harrison and Ray Lewis, Tony Banks in the 2nd round, Ernie Conwell just before Brian Dawkins, Jerald Moore shortly before Tedy Bruschi and Terrell Owens, Gaskins in front of Jon Runyan. Even though a couple of the players the Rams got were decent players, the Rams missed out on multiple opportunities to land what could have been one of the greatest drafts by a team in NFL history. If they had taken Izzo with a late round pick that year, he could have been part of that haul.
Of course, if the Rams had George, they don't trade for Faulk. Holt was drafted after the Rams traded Kennison. If the Rams had TO, they presumably never draft Holt. Failure can lead to success.
Stuard very likely isn't the answer for the Rams at ILB. He is a fun player to watch and is someone to keep an eye on towards the end of the draft, because he could end up being a value pick, like Nick Scott. The Rams used a pick on Clay Johnston last year and he didn't even choose to sign with the Rams PS after he was waived. Nick Scott, Chris Massey and Bryce Hager are all essentially ST players, but in my opinion those guys are among the best 7th round picks the Rams have made over the last 20 years.
5'11.5'' tall, 230 pounds, 73'' wingspan, 29.5'' arms, 9 3/8'' hands (Senior Bowl measurements)
True Senior. He injured his hamstring twice shortly before going down to the Senior Bowl. He used a bag of Reese's candy to exercise his hamstring in his hotel room (Seriously, this is true. I use candy and junk food to do curls. To my mouth. Then they go to work on my core. By making it fatter.) He said he was afraid of running full speed and hurting his hamstring on the first day of practice. Still participated and played in the game despite injury risk, because he felt that with the Combine not having any on field activities this year, the SB was the only opportunity he had to try to showcase himself to NFL teams.
He was a WILL linebacker at the Senior Bowl. He said it was a challenge at first adjusting to what the coaches wanted him to do in the NFL style scheme, because it was so different from what he was taught in college. The practice reports from the SB generally weren't glowing. SI said that he was tenacious, showing exceptionally quick hands as a pass rusher and a quick first step. But, they said he had tight hips and got easily turned around in pass coverage. PFN said that he flashed edge rusher skills. They said he was a liability in pass coverage, was handsy, was repeatedly beaten soundly in coverage and dropped a pass in the catching drill. They liked his straight line explosiveness.
In the game, Stuard nearly blocked 2 punts (even though you're not supposed to try to block any punts in the game.) He also posted video of some of the practice reps during the week and I thought he had some great reps as a blocker on punt returns, both at the line and downfield. Stuard said he didn't go hard on day 1 of practice, then admitted that day 2 was his worst day of practice, but he thought he did well on the 3rd day of practice. I thought he did good things in the team sessions with a full offense and defense, both on run and pass plays. He's one of those guys who probably doesn't look any good in a 1 vs 1 drill, but plays better when it is 11 vs 11. His strengths and weaknesses help explain why. He also made a good tackle in punt coverage during the game.
ESPN 208th overall, 11th OLB (late 6th to 7th round.) Notice, he's not listed as an ILB.
PFF 265th overall (priority UDFA)
UDFA draft grade from Lance Zierlein. Profile says he struggles to pursue laterally, falls for play action fakes and is a short strider. LZ liked his ability to wrap up on tackles, quickly to diagnose and said he was suited for a special teams role.
Played with a sports hernia the entire 2019 season. Had multiple injections throughout season just to be able to play through the pain in games. Had surgery after that season. Hamstring injury in college and injured his hamstring multiple times in pre-draft workouts. He says he is having sports hernia surgery (2nd one?) after the Senior Bowl. Stuard says he has an arch in his lower back. He does exercises to try to make his back feel better.
Stuard didn't have an easy childhood. Both of his parents are felons. His mother was a drug addict. He's married.
In high school, Stuard played mostly OLB, then was moved to SS as a senior. When he was a HS player, he helped an elementary school student gather food donations to help the homeless. He's from Houston and instead of JJ Watt being the kid's idol, Stuard quickly became the athlete the youngster wanted to emulate.
Stuard is religious, recently becoming a Christian. He received the Community Service Award at the Senior Bowl in recognition of his community involvement efforts while at Houston. He's involved in a variety of things, including food bank drives and social justice initiatives. Positive thinker who tries to lift other people up and inspire them to be better. Wants to be role model for kids and for his younger siblings.
Team captain in 2020.
Stuard stayed in his hometown, choosing Houston over several other offers. He liked the idea of playing the "nickelback" position for Houston, a hybrid LB and DB spot.
As a true freshman in 2017, he injured his knee, tearing his meniscus. His 2nd year, Stuard was a special teams star, leading the team with 11 ST tackles and winning fans over with his high energy style. He even filled in at RB when the team had injuries. He has 5 career carries for 35 yards. He also was a part time RB in HS.
Stuard finally became a starter his junior season, making 12 starts at nickelback. He had 97 tackles (62 solo), 9.5 TFL, a sack and 4 PDs. Typically, he was lined up like a slot DB. This was the year he had a sports hernia the entire season.
As a senior, Stuard was moved inside to LB. In 7 starts, he had 61 tackles (35 solo), 5 TFL, a sack and a FR for a TD. On the FR, there was a sack fumble, Stuard scoops it up, quickly turns around, then shows explosive speed to run it back about 35 yards for the TD. Listed at 6'1'' tall (we now know he's under 6 feet tall) and 225 as a senior. Listed at 210 pounds as junior and 198 as a freshman.
The last 2 seasons he has 19 career starts, he has 190 tackles (115 solo), zero INTs, 17 TFLs, 2 sacks and 4 PDs.
Plays like his hair is on fire.
Quick, hyper feet like driving pistons. Can burst forward with speed, then hit brakes and slow down under control, without losing balance or falling down. Excellent speed to burst through open gap at LOS or close quickly on passes to the flat.
Outstanding on field awareness. Head on a swivel, scans and reads multiple things on field very quickly. Diagnoses the play and reacts before anyone else on the defense. Locates ball quickly with his eyes. Good read, quickly jumping all over WR on option route.
Very good job avoiding rubs and picks, able to get cleanly through traffic to get to ball or cover plays going wide. Good spatial awareness of the players around him, understands how to adjust to avoid running into them.
3rd&1, WR screen pass. Stuard as LB is lined up outside of the LT, sees QB pull up from RPO fake to RB, sprints out immediately towards WR, beats the LT block by being too fast, then rips down the WR for no gain, preventing the first down. Saw tunnel screen coming and reacted quickly. Recognized threat of FB as receiver on bootleg pass.
3rd&15, RB screen pass to the left. Stuard quickly knows what is happening. He does a great job avoiding 3 players on the rub, using a tap dance step back move to skip by them. He then rockets past the LG to beat the block, charging towards the RB, nearly making a spectacular stop. But, he misses the tackle, because his arms are so short. Instead of a 7 yard loss, the RB runs about 50 yards to the end zone.
Busted into the backfield like a missile with a chance at a TFL, but misses the tackle on the RB.
Calls out switch against crossing routes and switches off perfectly at right time to cover TE.
Weaves by blockers on screen pass. Aggressively sheds WR block in space. Dips his shoulder and avoids block by LT, not easy for the OL to bend over and block him, because he's so small.
Motor and effort that never stops. Max effort every play. He's likely to be "on the poster", because as the offensive player is running into the end zone to score the TD, he's one of the last guys chasing him, sometimes from the opposite side of the field. Doesn't understand the concept of giving up and quitting on the play.
LT decks him in open field, sending Stuard into a somersault, head over heels. Somehow, Stuard, flips over, right back onto his feet and just keep on running, pursuing the ball carrier down the field.
The RB runs up the middle, then veers to the right. Stuard is the slot defender to the left, the opposite side. The RB was timed in HS in the 40 at 4.4 to 4.6 second speed. Stuard is one yard behind the RB as they break into open field. He chases the RB down from behind and tackles the RB 50 yards later, preventing a TD.
Good speed to turn and run vertically and carry WRs, RBs and TEs down the field, staying in their hip pocket. He's like a SS in coverage.
Can wrap up tackle. Solid tackle to stop Jalen Hurts in hole. Smashes a RB in the flat.
Good job as nickelback playing proper leverage on blocks.
Good stamina. Didn't appear to get tired, even at end of long drive by offense.
His explosive straight line speed, physicality and squatty frame are why I think he might be a candidate to use as a FB, even if it is just on a part time basis. If he has an open lane, he has enough speed to rip off a 40 yard run. He accelerates so well, he might be a good lead blocker.
I like that he showed the ability to block on ST at the Senior Bowl. This could make him a versatile core ST player on all 4 units. He could be good both making tackles covering kicks and blocking for returns, which is a rare combination. I don't know if his hands are good enough to catch kickoffs, but if you could teach him to field the kick, he might even be fast enough to use as a returner. Has right mentality to be core STer.
Motivated. Hunger to play football. Has played through injury in the past. Wants to succeed, not lazy or complacent. Character matters to him, if the team asks him to do charity work or be involved in the community, he'll embrace that part of the job.
I don't know how much more weight and muscle he can put on his frame, might be close to being maxed out. Injury history, could have trouble staying healthy in the NFL, especially given his small size and style of play.
Can't stick in pass coverage against change of direction moves. TE on corner route turns him around 360 degrees, leaves him in the dust and has 2 yards of separation. Latches on to RB with 2 hands and grabs him to prevent getting left behind. Pulls and holds the WR, trying to stay attached.
Repeatedly beaten by fake slants. WR fakes slant, Stuard jumps too far inside, WR gets outside release, immediately putting Stuard in trail position. Same thing if the WR fakes outside, then goes back to the inside, he gets lost.
Even against a "slow motion" whip route by WR, Stuard slips and puts his hand on the ground when he tries to change direction.
Mentally blows some coverage assignments when switch is complicated. Takes the cheese and runs after 2nd WR going through his area, leaving the RB coming out of the backfield completely wide open and alone. When he was moved to LB, made some mental mistakes, making him late to run with his mark. Inexperience at LB showed, as he was late reacting to some PA passes.
Too small to play in the box. OT pushes him easily to the side. Can't shed blocks, plays small inside. Too small to challenge OT as pass rusher off the edge. Doesn't have natural instincts and feel for playing as an ILB, unable to get around blocks and get to the RB consistently.
Too short to challenge high passes or defend taller TEs and WRs. QB can throw it high and he has no chance.
Arms are very short. Missed diving INT, because he has short arms. Misses a bunch of tackles due to his short arms. Ankle grabber, and RBs step out of his tackles, both in the box and out in space, unable to wrap up their legs securely.
Not enough length to challenge throwing windows, either in man or zone coverage.
Attacks too aggressively, both in the box and in space. Takes himself out of position or gambles and misses the tackle. Takes too aggressive an angle and gives up edge to runner. Overruns tackles, missed tackle right at sideline coming in too hot. Attacked too early as LB, going towards the LOS when he needed to be more patient.
Best fit at LB would probably be as a 4-3 WILL and the Rams don't have a 4-3 scheme.
Pro Comparison and Grade
Travin Howard (7th round 2018 Rams, TCU). 7th round to UDFA grade.
Howard and Stuard are slightly different in their strengths and weaknesses, but they are both undersized, hybrid defenders who are too small to be normal LBs. Howard has better instincts and patience playing the run. He is better at anticipating and defeating blocks. He has better functional agility and change of direction. Howard has slightly longer arms and wingspan. Stuard is bigger, by nearly 20 pounds. Howard only weighed 211 during his draft (he's now listed at 219.) Stuard is more explosive and projects better as a special teams player.
Howard: 5'11'' tall, 211 pounds, 31.5'' arms, 75'' wing, 9'' hands.
4.56 sec (40), 4.20 sec (shuttle), 7.06 (3 cone), 35.5'' vert, 10'4'' broad.
I don't see Stuard becoming a good LB, because he has weaknesses both against the run and the pass. He doesn't have a natural role. Maybe if you played more zone coverage, you could use him as a big nickel, like a bigger version of Marqui Christian. For the most part, I see Stuard as just a depth player, I don't think he has big long term developmental upside.
We could go on and on about why Stuard isn't a top NFL prospect, but that would be like listening to people endlessly complain about why Nickelback is such a bad music band. So, I'll stop now and do some peanut butter cup curls.