Scouting Willie Beavers: The Next Josh Sitton?????

Last week, we looked at the external analysis of the Vikings’ third pick, Willie Beavers—offensive tackle from Western Michigan. Those returns weren’t good, and Beavers’ performance in college, and in a somewhat weak conference, too, was not inspiring. His athleticism tested out to be an average athlete at guard and a below-average athlete at tackle.

Sounds a lot like multiple Pro Bowl lineman Josh Sitton.

OK, it also sounds like a host of failed mid-round offensive linemen—and more of those failures exist than do successes—who compare to Beavers, but the point isn’t to say that Beavers is as good as Sitton by virtue of being a bad college tackle and an average athlete but rather that there’s still a wide range of possibilities, even if it’s a low probability range.

Hidden in the kernels of subpar college play and average testing, is there a Pro Bowler lurking there?

It’s ultimately an unanswerable question this early in Willie Beavers’ career, but we’ll do our best to see if he can live up to the best of his potential or if he’s doomed to irrelevancy.

Incidentally, Sitton tested out as an above-average athlete, but it seemed to be consensus that he wasn’t particularly interesting as an athlete and had poor agility. It was worth the look at Sitton, however, because he was slow moving backwards on film and also because it leads to an interesting conclusion.

Sitton was fantastic as a run blocker, but it’s clear why evaluators thought he was a “marginal mover” and his work in pass protection was often criticized, and fairly so:

Josh Sitton Backside PA Protect Josh Sitton Rides the Arc Sort Of

Those aren’t actually terrible snaps—they’re not great, and demonstrate legitimate concerns at the next level. And for additional context, that USF team was ranked fifth in the country and had George Selvie on the team, while that Texas team had Brian Orakpo, Frank Okam and Lamarr Houston. On the other hand, Houston was a sophomore and Sitton lined up against weaker defensive ends in both scenarios, as he was the right tackle—not the left tackle—throughout his entire tenure at Central Florida.

Beavers’ protection problems also show up, and pretty consistently.

Willie Beavers Lunge

Willie Beavers Flat Foot

Both of those plays above demonstrate clear technical failure from Beavers, the left tackle. A lot of technical “failures” are examples of orthodoxy instead of 100% effective technique, and legendary offensive line coaches like Dante Scarnecchia and Howard Mudd have consistently introduced unconventional and ugly—but effective—football to offensive lines.

But there are foundational things that offensive linemen cannot do and remain effective, and Beavers’ flat-footedness in the second GIF and his lunging in the first GIF are foundational issues as an offensive linemen that contributed to his poor pressure numbers.

Both issues are big problems and impact offensive linemen in every part of their drop against every move, and that second issue is a greater issue against linemen rushing the edge. It’s not as if Beavers has a good handle on inside moves either, however.

Willie Beavers Loses Inside

He’s just not quick or able enough, and he doesn’t often win at the snap. Usually this will means being the first to contact with hands but even without it, the ability to keep all options covered by not overcorrecting to the outside is a pretty key first step. Even when his steps are fine, he loses to counter moves.

Willie Beavers vs Counter

He leans into contact there and it kills him. That’s not to say there aren’t positive parts of his play. People kept praising his movement skills, so where are they?

Willie Beavers in Space

Controlling Raekwon McMillian, probable first-round pick, is pretty good and though Beavers looks a little out of control during the rep, he moved well and accomplished his goal. Generally speaking, when in space, he can get to his target quickly and efficiently.

He also has the ability to “dent people,” something that general manager Rick Spielman said that offensive line coach Tony Sparano loves.

Willie Beavers Club 2 Willie Beavers Club

He consistently showcases an aggressive attitude and a mauler’s mentality, so those boxes are checked and then some. And when he latches on to someone, he stays latched on:

Willie Beavers Latches On

That seems like a given, but his success rate in those situations seems much higher than most offensive tackles and this is probably what stood out to evaluators. If they coach Beavers up to win first contact most of the time, I’m sure he’ll be a fine guard. I don’t think they can do that, as much respect as I have for Sparano as a coach and evaluator.

The scheme at Western Michigan included a lot of play-options, which meant he wasn’t allowed to drive block very often in case the quarterback pulled back at the mesh point and threw (blocking three yards past the line of scrimmage in college would negate those throws), so at first I thought the reputation he earned for possessing little lower body strength was overblown. To some extent, I still think that, but there have been more than a few cases where he was meant to drive through a block and still failed.

I certainly don’t see it as a selling point and most of his strength qualities comes from what look like incredible grip strength. Otherwise, his upper body strength is good but not outstanding—despite his poor bench scores.

Honestly, the weaknesses against outside pressure wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t for the issues he’s had against hand quickness and his questionable lower-body explosiveness. Relatively speaking, he’s better against bull rushes than against other moves, but that doesn’t mean he’s good at dealing with them.

For context, PFF has him ranked 99th of 105 tackles against both inside and outside pressure but 67th against bull rushes. So, not good, but better.

And though he can move in the run game, he still has his issues: not just with drive strength, but also with aiming on the second level and getting his hands on the defender first. I don’t view Beavers as “good in the run game, bad in pass protection” so much as “awful in pass protection, marginally better in the run game.”

Though the unique running scheme complicates things, it’s worth pointing out that he ranked 21st of 25 drafted college tackles in STATS, Inc’s run success rate and 88th of 105 in PFF’s run success rate statistic.

At the end of the day, Sitton played ugly football, but he got results—not giving up a ton of hits, pressures or sacks. This comparison to Willie Beavers doesn’t hold up; Sitton as a tackle seems to play comparably to Gosder Cherilus, who is an average athlete that looks labored in his movements but got the job done for the Lions for quite some time.

Honestly, it was difficult to find a successful comparison for Beavers—a college tackle who was praised for his movement but was awful at the job of pass protection. A few guard converts came to mind—Carl Nicks, Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans, Louis Vasquez—but all of them ended up better off in pass protection at tackle than Beavers by a significant margin.

Vikings fans may be reminded of failed-but-hyped David Yankey, but Yankey had severe balance issues that I don’t see with Beavers (who doesn’t have great balance, but wasn’t on the ground as often in college) and he has better strength than Yankey as well. Yankey played with excellent awareness, and I’m not sure I saw that in Beavers.

Watching all of this old footage did showcase a player that he did remind me of, though: Patrick Brown, Sitton’s bookend on the left side of the line. He largely slotted in as a backup tackle for the Vikings, but in various spots throughout his career was also a backup guard.

He was quite bad in college, but moved well and could get things done in the run game. Just not very often.

His career length—three years—was shorter than I thought, but a reasonable guide to his overall NFL ability, which was marginal.

Alternate Options

Could the Vikings have drafted a better guard prospect given their guidelines? It seems like a weaker guard class (at least in my eyes) than most and the pickings were slim.

There were 22 offensive linemen picked after Beavers, and likely all of them were guard capable—but eliminating taller ones as guard candidates make sense, so once removing the 6’6″ and taller OL leaves 17 OL as guard candidates.

Unfortunately, only four of the remaining candidates—fifth-round pick Connor McGovern, fifth-round pick Fahn Cooper, sixth-round pick Wes Schweitzer and seventh-round pick Donavon Clark—meet the Vikings’ estimated criteria. Fifth-round pick Brandon Shell did not run a three-cone, so he may have done so as well.

If the Vikings implemented a weight cutoff, it would probably be around 310 pounds (all drafted guards in the Zimmer era, and in Oakland under Sparano exceeded that, but two undrafted free agents did not), then only Clark remains.

Out of the five alternate candidates, McGovern would have made the most sense to me, despite doing poorly in pass protection as a tackle in PFF and STATS, Inc’s data. The gap between Beavers and anyone else who was drafted (and for whom we have data for) is so large that the statistical difference doesn’t bother me and McGovern’s film—both to me and to third-party scouts—is a lot better.

The best statistical case for any of the remaining guards (who were tackles) who potentially fit the criteria for the Vikings is Brandon Shell, though PFF was not a fan of the player (they gave him an undrafted free agent grade) despite his strong statistical showing. The best case for any remaining guard regardless of positional cutoffs is Spencer Drango, who benefited from Baylor’s unique scheme.

If we throw Shell out because he didn’t run a three cone, then the best statistical tackle-to-guard player would be Schweitzer, though the difference between him and Cooper is small.

The Vikings’ options according to self-defined (though estimated) criteria were limited and it’s easy to see why they drafted a guard in the fourth round if their pool was small (especially if weight is a factor, because Clark would be the only other drafted player who fit).

I wouldn’t have been much happier if they had drafted Donavon Clark in the fourth round despite his excellence in pass protection (per STATS, Inc he allowed no sacks, three hits and five hurries, while PFF also had him allowing zero sacks—and all of his allowed pressures were to the outside) but it would have been better. He has big issues in the run game and there’s a reason he lasted to the seventh-round.

Still, he would have been better and had the Vikings grabbed Tyrone Holmes in the fourth and Donavon Clark in the sixth, that would be better than the Beavers/Weatherly combination (and honestly, Stephen Weatherly in the fourth would have been fine even knowing that he would last to the seventh round—he’s a good player).

Outside of the Vikings’ specific and narrow criteria, the best option might have been Christian Westerman, who ranked 74th overall on the consensus board.

Ultimately, it’s easy to see why the Vikings picked Beavers. He was one of two (possibly five?) guards remaining that fit the Vikings criteria and they knew they wanted to pick an interior player. He embodies the attitude they want in that kind of player and shows excellent movement (forward, anyways). There are qualities to hang one’s hat on, like his ability to win once he latches onto an opposing defender and without much ambiguity.

But he’s a bad football player that won’t get better with a different assignment. Too often, we think of guard as “easy tackle” and nothing could be further from the truth. A number of tackle-to-guard converts have failed (a large number) and there’s a big issue with guard depth across the league—if playing offensive guard is like “offensive tackle-lite,” then we wouldn’t see such an issue at the guard position across the league—the Vikings’ own attempts with Charlie Johnson, Tyrus Thompson and Vlad Ducasse are evidence of this.

Guards need to exhibit quick hands and high-level awareness, not just a nasty attitude. Space is more limited so patience is not as high of a virtue as a quick reaction time, and players at guard need quick feet as well. I don’t see any of those qualities in the pick from Western Michigan and I wouldn’t be surprised if he joined the list of rookie fourth-round cuts come August.

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