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2024 NFL Draft: Keon Coleman, Bralen Trice among 10 prospects whose tape trumps subpar testing

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he spotlights 10 prospects whose in-game production exceeds their pre-draft athletic testing ...

The film doesn't lie.

When I started my career as an NFL scout with the Seattle Seahawks back at the beginning of this millennium, personnel gurus Ted Thompson, John Schneider and Scot McCloughan repeatedly told me to trust my film evaluations, as opposed to making long-term projections based on workout performances.

Although plenty of height-weight-speed prospects make final rosters at the end of each summer, the most impactful players are typically the ones who have excelled for multiple years between the lines. Yes, this league is obviously full of physical freaks, but it's also littered with "gamers" who find ways to dominate despite posting less-than-ideal workout numbers. You don't need blue-chip athletic traits to win; you can also rely on superior technical skills and/or exceptional football instincts.

Take the recent example of Brian Branch. Widely viewed as an excellent pure football player, the Alabama defensive back fell to midway through the second round of last year's draft after posting underwhelming testing numbers at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. The Detroit Lions pounced and reaped the benefits, with Branch immediately stepping into a crucial role for an upstart team that nearly made the Super Bowl.

Looking at the fresh talent crop for the 2024 NFL Draft, I see a number of players in the Branch mold: prospects whose tape significantly trumps their testing. So, allow me to spotlight 10 film-room standouts who can shine as pros despite lacking plus athleticism. Overlook these guys, presented in alphabetical order, at your own risk.

Austin Booker
Kansas · Edge · Sophomore (RS)

Posting a 4.79 40-yard dash and a 32.5-inch vertical leap in Indianapolis, Booker didn't win the "Underwear Olympics." But coaches who value worker bees on the edge could fall in love with the Kansas standout after studying his tape. Booker is a relentless, high-energy competitor with a crafty game who can win with force or finesse. He routinely outworks blockers in one-on-one matchups, whether employing a slick dip-and-rip maneuver or executing various bull-rush tactics. The 6-foot-4 1/2, 240-pounder could exceed expectations as a developmental pass-rushing prospect with all-star upside. 

Keon Coleman
Florida State · WR · Junior

The acrobatic contested-catch specialist overwhelms defenders on the perimeter with his superior length and exceptional ball skills. On a talented Florida State offense with a number of mouths to feed, Coleman finished 2023 with 50 catches for 658 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, adding 300 yards on 25 punt returns (12.0 yards per return). As a smooth route runner with long arms, the 6-3 1/2, 213-pounder expands the strike zone for the quarterback. If placed correctly in a role that showcases his talents as a red-zone weapon/jump-ball specialist -- I see him as a jumbo slot receiver with big-play potential in the NFL -- Coleman could thrive as a Marques Colston-type weapon in a spread offense.

Bucky Irving
Oregon · RB · Junior

The dynamic jitterbug from Oregon might lack explosive timed speed, but it is hard to find a quicker playmaker with the ball in his hands. Irving's spectacular stop-start juice and X-ray vision enable him to jump in and out of lanes to burst to the second level. Though his smaller frame (5-9, 192 pounds), pedestrian 40 time (4.55 seconds) and below-average jumps (29.5-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 broad jump) might suggest he lacks the raw athleticism to flourish at the next level, Irving's scat back skills as a runner/receiver could make him a very valuable contributor as a rotational player.

Kamari Lassiter
Georgia · CB · Junior

The ultra-competitive cover corner possesses the size and game to make pass catchers on the perimeter miserable. Lassiter excels at challenging wideouts in bump-and-run coverage, utilizing his length and physicality to shrink passing windows outside of the numbers. In addition, he flashes enough quickness and agility to handle occasional duties as a slot defender in sub-packages. As a rock-solid tackler with some pass-rush potential, the Georgia standout has the skills needed to thrive as a utility defender in the defensive backfield.

Tyler Nubin
Minnesota · S · Senior

The ball-hawking safety with exceptional instincts and range plays much faster than his athletic numbers suggest. As a center fielder with outstanding awareness and a high football IQ, Nubin quickly closes windows for quarterbacks attempting to push the ball down the field. With 12 interceptions over the past three seasons, including five in 2023, the 6-1 1/4, 199-pounder is a takeaway machine with the ball skills and playmaking potential to earn all-star honors as a deep-middle defender in a single-high scheme. A big-play eraser, the Minnesota product's game outweighs his athleticism. 

Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
Missouri · CB · Junior (RS)

The 5-11 3/8, 183-pound cover corner had plenty of fans entering the combine, but a 4.51-second 40-yard dash slowed the hype train. Though speed is rarely an issue on tape when you watch Rakestraw challenge elite receivers in the SEC, the disappointing time on the stopwatch might knock the Missouri standout out of Round 1. Regardless, I still see a cornerback whose aggressive bump-and-run tactics force wideouts to play outside of their comfort zone. For teams that employ more man-to-man coverages to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the passing game, the ultra-competitive defender could shine early in his pro career.

Darius Robinson
Missouri · DL · Senior

There is always a place in the lineup for a blue-collar defensive end with heavy hands and a high-revving motor. Robinson is a disruptive edge defender with unique skills that enable him to wreak havoc as a hybrid defensive tackle/defensive end. After spending most of his Missouri career as a run-stuffing DT, Robinson moved to the edge this past season and racked up 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. A versatile front-line defender with splash-play potential as an inside/outside pass rusher in a hybrid 3-4 defensive front, Robinson reminds me of a young Cam Jordan coming out of Cal.

Ja'Tavion Sanders
Texas · TE · Junior

As a gifted flex tight end with sticky hands and outstanding ball skills, Sanders is a tough matchup for linebackers and safeties in the slot. The Texas standout can utilize his superior size and length to box out defenders down the field, particularly in the red zone, where quarterbacks love to target big bodies. Checking in at just a hair under 6-4 and 245 pounds, Sanders slithers down the hashes on seam routes and pop passes that enable quarterbacks to rack up easy completions against single-high coverage schemes. With Sanders also displaying polished route-running skills and YAC potential on short and intermediate routes over the middle, the athletic pass catcher is an ideal candidate to flourish as a playmaking tight end for a team looking for a mismatch creator. Don't get caught up on the unremarkable 40 time (4.69 seconds).

Bralen Trice
Washington · Edge · Senior

Trice exhibits outstanding qualities as a relentless, technically sound edge defender, but he lacks the elite athleticism some evaluators desire in a top pick. Even with his athletic limitations (despite noticeably slimming down for the combine, he still only ran a 4.72-second 40), the Washington product flashes excellent quickness and snap-count anticipation, routinely harassing quarterbacks off the edge. Trice's combination of hand skills (quickness and power) and maximum effort make him an ideal candidate to fill a role as a complementary pass rusher opposite an established playmaker. In a pass-happy league where sack production and pressure rates matter, Trice's consistency should make him a valuable commodity early in his NFL tenure as a rotational player with starting potential.

Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
Clemson · LB · Junior

The son of a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker possesses the instincts, awareness and diagnostic skills of a seasoned veteran. Trotter finished his career as one of just 14 FBS players in the last 20 years to record 10-plus sacks, four-plus interceptions, three-plus fumbles and multiple pick-sixes. That outstanding all-around production suggests his game will translate well to the next level. Though Trotter lacks some of the elite explosiveness that some defensive coordinators covet in a Mike linebacker, his quick processing skills enable him to play a step faster than most. Given his bloodlines and impact potential as a throwback second-level stud, the multi-time All-American should quickly outplay his draft status as a featured playmaker in the middle.

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