A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2015 seventh-round pick: Eastern Washington offensive tackle Jake Rodgers.
BIO & VITALS
College: Eastern Washington
40 Time: 5.24 (campus)
Bench Press: 24 reps (campus)
Born on July 17, 1992, Jake Rodgers attended Shadle Park High School in Spokane, WA. He was recruited by Washington State as a tight end before moving to the offensive line during his initial redshirt season. He appeared in three games as a freshman, logging a single start at right tackle. He began his sophomore season, starting three of the first four games at right guard with another start at left guard. But continued shuffling along the offensive line forced him out to right tackle for the next five games before he finished the last three games at left tackle, totaling 12 starts. He didn’t take to new head coach Mike Leach and transferred to Eastern Washington after the season.
At Eastern Washington, he started four games as a junior at right tackle, but missed five games in the middle of the season thanks to a knee injury. He appeared in 10 total games that year. As a senior, he logged 14 starts at right tackle and led the team with 55 knockdown blocks, but saw limited reps at left tackle and right guard as well.
His father, John, suffered a heart attack late in the fourth quarter in his final collegiate game. He was rushed from the stadium and died two weeks later.
He competed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game in January.
2014 GAMES WATCHED
|Dec 13||ILLINOIS STATE||1/3||0/0||0/0||1/2||0||2||0||0||2||1||hold|
Note: Because two games isn’t a strong sample size, I also made an effort to check out Rodgers’ highlight tape, his performance in the all-star game, as well as watching a couple of cut-ups of his play in 2012 while still at Washington State to paint a more complete picture of his game.
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Strength (4.5) – Has functional strength but lacks ideal power and physicality. Doesn’t move defenders when he punches and even when he’s taking on linebackers and defensive backs on the second level, can get jolted back at the point of contact. Doesn’t create much push and has to rely on positioning and leverage to be effective.
Pass Blocking (4.0) – Is competent in pass protection for the most part, able to get the job done, but it doesn’t look pretty. Tended to look overmatched against the NFL-caliber pass-rushers he faced, even those that were just late-round and undrafted candidates. Sets up quickly but doesn’t do a good job reliably initiating contact on the edge. Mostly gets by because he can redirect speed rushers around the pocket as opposed to being good enough to stalemate guys.
Run Blocking (5.5) – Does his best work when he’s allowed to fire off the ball in the run game. Shows decent pop off the snap to get leverage, but doesn’t create very much push because he lacks ideal power and strength. Will often take a false step, limiting him especially as a straight-ahead run-blocker. Also his inability to get effective hand positioning limits him, but shows good leg drive when he does manage to lock on. But does a decent job getting positioning and taking angles to wall off defenders, using his size effectively to prevent smaller defenders from getting around him. Does a good job on combo blocks.
Footwork (4.5) – Has adequate feet but struggles to stay in front of speed. Can’t stay square and too often gives the edge. Has to resort to redirecting defender wide of pocket because of his tendency to get beat to his outside shoulder. Has a decent kick-slide, but needs to do a better job playing with a wider base as he’ll give some ground to power at times because of his inability to reliably anchor. Spends too much time on the ground.
Technique (4.0) – Hand usage is sporadic and unpolished. At times shows his ability to get his hands inside and lock on, but it’s too inconsistent. Hasn’t quite married his feet with his hands and looks mechanical and unbalanced too often. His punch is mostly ineffective, lacks power and is rarely effective at slowing down pass-rushers. Too often sets up with his hands low, which prevents him from initiating contact. Will get overextended at times when trying to punch, causing him to lose his balance and wind up on the ground.
Mobility (6.0) – Does a good job getting out to the second level when he’s uncovered, looking fairly comfortable when blocking in space. Most of his struggles when blocking in space come due to subpar hand usage as opposed to any issues with his movement and agility. Wasn’t asked to pull a ton, but has enough athleticism to think he can be effective. Effective at locating moving targets on the second level. The following GIF shows one of Rodgers’ (#65) more impressive blocks out on a screen:
Mean Streak (7.5) – Consistently finishes his blocks and plays to the whistle on every snap. Not afraid to put a defender into the turf and go after a guy that is already on the ground. Has a bit of a nasty edge about his playing style.
Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Reserve Prospect (2.6) – Has enough ability that he can contribute as a reserve but his NFL future will be largely based on his ability to impact on special teams. Typically productive in college but just too limited in key areas such as size, speed, athleticism to project to be anything more than special teams at the next level. Ability and upside to be a starter is virtually non-existent and might only be able to impact as a limited situational player. Player is worth taking a flier on in the seventh round.
Rodgers has tools to work with, but it’s going to take some time before he can develop into an effective NFL player.
His versatility and experience playing four out of the five starting offensive line positions will help him at the next level. Teams might try him initially as a tackle, but there’s reason to hope that if he doesn’t take the position there, he can move inside to guard.
Guard might ultimately be his best position at the next level, given his athletic limitations will be less exposed there. He’s just not someone that you really want to trust out on an island on the edge. He struggled in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, giving up a sack, hit and pressure in that game. The jump in competition is going to be an even bigger at the next level, and I’m not confident Rodgers will be able to make it, at least not immediately.
He needs time to really polish up his hands, which right now are his biggest issues when projecting him to offensive tackle. The following GIF illustrates Rodgers (#65 at right tackle) inability to initiate contact:
He might get that time because teams will like his toughness and mean streak, which should endear him to a coaching staff early on. But he’s not a guy that you want logging minutes early in his NFL career, as he’s very likely to struggle mightily in the same way that a player like Bradley Sowell struggled during his extended reps with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013.
Instead, the ideal scenario for Rodgers is that he gets development similar to what Harvey Dahl had entering the league. Dahl spent most of his first two seasons on various practice squads, as well as getting some opportunities across the pond in NFL Europe. Rodgers won’t get the benefit of playing in Europe, but a year or two on the practice squad could potentially do wonders to his game if he can use that time to improve his hand usage.
If he does, then there’s a chance that he could turn into a poor man’s Harvey Dahl. Like Dahl, Rodgers is going to be a player that will have to make up for subpar athleticism with nastiness and power. Rodgers isn’t a power player yet, but neither was Dahl coming out of Nevada as a 299-pound left tackle. Dahl took advantage of those first few years in the weight room and so too will Rodgers if he hopes to stick in the league beyond a year or two.
Despite the Dahl comparisons, I think the player Rodgers probably compares most to in terms of his potential upside is journeyman tackle Paul McQuistan. Athletically they present a similar profile and McQuistan has started games at four offensive-line spots, just as Rodgers did in college. McQuistan has done his best work over the years as a guard, but has served as a stopgap at left and right tackle when needed in a pinch.
That is probably ultimately the hope for Rodgers’ career, which is that he can be a serviceable stopgap starter for a team and spend many years in the league as a versatile reserve. Unlike Dahl, there probably won’t be a point where a team wants to start Rodgers and instead, as has been the case with McQuistan, turns to him only when they are in a bind.
By the end of his second season or beginning of his third, things should begin to fall into place. But if he’s forced into the lineup before that point, it’s not likely going to go his way. Small school offensive linemen notoriously struggle early in their NFL careers, and there’s little about Rodgers’ game to suggest he’ll be the exception rather than the rule.
The Falcons reportedly didn’t show much interest in Rodgers until the day before the draft, when they contacted his position coach to find out more information about him.
That suggests that the Falcons really targeted Rodgers more as a “body” than someone that they plan to build around in the future. The team had a need to find a capable reserve right tackle and seemingly Rodgers filled it. Tackle is likely where he’ll begin his NFL career, but the team did at least acknowledge his ability and potential to play guard, suggesting that he may ultimately change positions down the road.
Rodgers will need to impress early on with his competitiveness and nastiness to make the Falcons roster initially. He’s capable, but he’s the type of player that is likely going to be one of the last roster spots similar to how Tyler Starr was a year ago. As was the case with Starr, his draft status might ultimately prove to be an effective tie-breaker when it comes to finalizing the 53-man roster.
But in truth, Rodgers is more in line with practice-squad talent. It will be beneficial to him if he can land there at least as a rookie, live in the weight room and begin refining the rougher elements of his game, particularly his hand usage. Despite a nasty edge to his game, he doesn’t possess violent hands. That will need to change if he expects to stick in the NFL.
The Falcons’ zone-blocking scheme should help hide some of his limitations. It will mask the fact that he’s not a very powerful player that will move opponents off the ball. Instead he’ll be asked to get positioning, which is something he can do. The zone-blocking scheme will also allow him to block more on the second level as well as be a part of combo blocks, two other relative areas of strength.
Rodgers will ultimately be attempting to follow in the footsteps of a player like Ryan Schraeder. Coming out of Valdosta State, Schraeder was a better athlete and more physical player than Rodgers is now, but similarly had a fairly big learning curve due to limited collegiate experience. Schraeder benefited from sitting most of his rookie year and showed tremendous growth from where he was at the start of his second season in 2014 to where he was at the end of it.
It wouldn’t be fair to put those same expectations on Rodgers, at least in terms of thinking he could be an effective starter by the end of his second season. But if he showed a similar growth rate based off his own abilities, it would mean that Rodgers could be an effective reserve towards the end of 2016.
Rodgers is not someone that I expect to surpass Schraeder at any point in the future. Even if Schraeder never becomes a long-term starter for the Falcons, it’s doubtful that Rodgers will be any better. Instead, the hope for Rodgers is that he can serve as a versatile reserve in the McQuistan mold that can be an effective sixth or seventh man in the lineup.
Practicality compels me to point out that there is a fairly low probability that Rodgers ultimately gets there. As far as developmental tackles go, I’ve seen many better prospects over the years come and go and not stick in the NFL. If asked to wager on it, I’d probably bet that Rodgers is off the Falcons and out of the league within three years.
However the Falcons have a fairly strong history of maximizing late-round and undrafted linemen with Dahl, Schraeder, Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds, Quinn Ojinnaka, Todd McClure, Ephraim Salaam and Kynan Forney being examples of players that eventually became anywhere from quality backups to quality starters in Atlanta. Thus there is some optimism that Rodgers is simply the next notch on that belt and could ultimately make my previous wager silly by playing the better part of a decade in Atlanta.
At the end of the day, Rodgers will be asked to add depth up front for the Falcons. He’s certainly capable of doing that, it just depends on him making the necessary improvements to his game to make it a reality.