By far, the most criticized pick for the Minnesota Vikings across local and national media is the 4th-round pick general manager Rick Spielman spent on Willie Beavers, the offensive tackle from Western Michigan.
It’s certainly encouraging by itself that the most questionable pick occurred on Day 3 of the draft, but GMs should be held accountable to all their picks. In this first look at the player, we’ll figure out why the pick drew such criticism and if there’s substance to the worry that as a fourth-round pick, he may not even make the team.
In the next part, we’ll look at Beavers’ film traits, go over more positive information and try to figure out what the Vikings saw when they drafted him to move to guard.
Third Party Scouting
So, what do scouts say?
Dane Brugler, of CBS and NFLDraftScout.com had this to say about Beavers in his scouting guide:
STRENGTHS: Wide-hipped with thick lower body and powerful base…rolls his hips at contact to generate surge from his legs…excellent aggression at the point of attack to attack and control rushers…prefers to initiate contact, using his reach and heavy hands…core strength to anchor down, making it tough on rushers to uproot him off the snap…physical mentality to secure and collapse down blocks…balanced on his feet to operate in space with the lower body quickness to shuffle east-to-west…clean body control to contort his skeleton and adjust to rushers from different angles…keeps busy and works hard to finish each rep…durable three-year starter at left tackle – also practiced at guard during Senior Bowl practices.
WEAKNESSES: Heavy leaner with an overaggressive punch, allowing his upper half to get overextended…lacks mechanical consistency and late to recover, especially with his upper body…wide hands and inconsistent placement, lacking control in his shuffle to land his punches…too easy for rushers to get into his body and knock him off balance or on his backside, making it tough for him to re-anchor…grabby once beat, leading to holding penalties…allows his pads to rise and makes it easy on rushers to win the leverage battle…doesn’t sustain or redirect blockers in the run game and needs to better wall off lanes…skittish pass-sets and struggles to counter inside moves once his momentum takes him outside.
ESPN’s relationship with Scouts, Inc. produced this report:
Beavers is a better fit at guard (where he lined up the week of the Senior Bowl) than he is at left tackle (where he started for three years at Western Michigan). There’s a lot to like about his frame and upside on the inside, but his inability or failure to bend remains a concern regardless of the position, and he needs to improve his footwork. It’s also worth noting that he struggled against his toughest competition this past season (Michigan State, Ohio State and Senior Bowl). As a result, he projects as a Day 3 pick.
Nolan Nawrocki’s Draft Preview echoes many of the same sentiments, ranking him as a fifth-to-sixth round pick.
STRENGTHS: Excellent size and body mass. Very athletic and graceful mover Is quick off the ball and into blocks in the run game. Efficient maintaining positioning in pass protection—can shuffle, slide and mirror. Can climb to the next level, run the field and connect with defensive backs, Effective cut blocker. Active and energetic. The game is important to him.
WEAKNESSES: Unrefined technician—opens his shoulders too early, offering a soft edge and inviting counter moves. Lacks ideal core strength and power. Is underdeveloped in the weight room, especially in the lower body. Can be overpowered at the point of attack and waylaid vs. the blitz (see Michigan State). Catches too much in pass protection and needs to become a more consistent finisher in the run game. Average eyes and blocking instincts—can be late to feel and diagnose stunts and blitzes and will be targeted by aggressive defensive coordinators. Does not play with violence in his hands and can learn to a better job replacing them.
Nawrocki even included a take from an anonymous league scout:
“I didn’t think he was draftable, but he will get drafted. They tried him at guard at the Senior Bowl. It sounded like he generated some buzz there. I still think he’s a developmental project and a long ways away. He’d need a few years on the practice squad before our coaches would trust him.”
Speaking of anonymous scouts, Bob McGinn’s ranking of offensive tackles from his discussions with many of the league’s scouts placed Beavers outside the top ten of those players.
On the consensus board, Beavers ranked 140th overall.
Not everyone is down on the pick. Lance Zierlein, a whiz at evaluating offensive linemen (whose father is a current NFL offensive line coach), is relatively high on him and likes Beavers’ movement ability. While most evaluators had Beavers outside of their Top 100, Jon Dove, Corey Chavous and Gil Brandt ranked him highly—61st, 75th and 85th overall, respectively.
By the Numbers
One thing about the Western Michigan tackle, however, is that the scouts who do like him value traits far above performance. At Senior Bowl practices, Pro Football Focus logged Beaver as having the lowest win rate of any OL there—winning only 8% of his snaps (and none of them at guard). Top guards Christian Westerman, Cody Whitehair and Sebastian Tretola won at a rate of 67-69%.
In team drills, Beavers ranked the worst of all the OL by quite a bit, earning a bottom-level grade of -5.0 in pass protection and a poor grade of -2.8 in run blocking.
In actual college games, Beavers had the second-worst overall grade in the FBS, the second-worst pass protection of all FBS tackles and the worst grade of all draftable players. Allowing 39 pressures (five sacks) in 430 pass-blocking snaps featured a player giving up more pressure per snap than anyone else in the draft.
Sometimes these statistics are complicated by the scheme that a team runs, and that will be important for the Vikings—who ran more seven-step drops than anyone else in the league. Isolating Beavers only on those seven-step drops, and he ranks 105th of 105 draft-eligible tackles. In relatively more easy three-step and five-step drops, he ranked 101st and 100th, respectively.
Against inside moves and outside moves, per PFF, he ranked 99th in both but did do better against bull-rushes through his center mass, ranking 67th.
PFF isn’t the only organization to log his statistics. STATS, Inc—which often penalizes offensive linemen for how well the player across from him does more than it does how an OL does on his assignment—has a bevy of statistics to work from.
Of all the drafted prospects who played tackle in college, Beavers ranked 25th of 25 in overall success rate and in pass blocking efficiency—and a meager 21st in run blocking success rate.
What’s worse is that the difference between him and the next-worst player (Jerald Hawkins) is a chasm. The average drafted player gave up pressure on 4.2% of snaps, and the second-worst player gave up pressure on 5.6% of snaps (and the best, Taylor Decker, on 1.6%). Beavers gave up pressure on 9.4% of snaps. The difference between Hawkins and Beavers is the same as the difference as the player just above Hawkins (Kyle Murphy) and first-place Decker.
Or, put another way: the 23rd-best offensive tackle in a class of 25 tackles was worse than the single-best offensive tackle by the same amount as Beavers was to the guy ranked 24th.
If an offensive line is filled with players who give up a pressure rate of 9.5%, the quarterback will be under pressure 42.5% of the time (assuming an equally bad running back in on a quarter of those snaps). Teddy Bridgewater was the most pressured quarterback in the NFL last year with 41% of his snaps under duress.
On the other hand, if a quarterback is blessed with average offensive linemen, he’ll only have to throw with rushers in his face 25.7% of the time. And if they have a line filled with players giving up pressure 3% of the time, passers only have to worry 14.8% of the time.
Given that QBs see their passer rating drop 30 points under pressure, that can be a big difference. If a quarterback with a passer rating of 88.7 (like Teddy Bridgewater) produced that rating under 41% pressure, their “true” passer rating under average pressure would be closer to 93.8, the same as Philip Rivers and just below Ben Roethlisberger’s last year.
Even knowing that Beavers will be kicked inside, other tackle-to-guard converts generally did better—Spencer Drango leads the way when taking into account both metrics, and players like Whitehair, Murphy and Ehinger did far better.
Lauded for his athleticism, Beavers’ high-level movement skills are praised repeatedly even by his biggest critics, but they do not show up in workouts.
Most mockdraftable webs you’ll see will compare him to other tackles, which makes him look far worse. Here, he posts slightly above class average 40-yard dash times, 20-yard shuttle times and broad jump scores all at an above-average weight.
That’s nice, but overall it’s a pretty average web, and in many ways below that. That bears out when focusing on the scores that best predict NFL success at the guard position; the vertical leap is sufficient and the broad jump checks out, but his short shuttle, 40-yard dash and bench press don’t pass historically predictive thresholds—despite the shuttle and dash being above average—to earn the moniker of being “athletic.”
His overall combine score of 5.1 ranks 106 of 212 guards, marking him as an average athlete. Athleticism isn’t as good a predictor for guards as many other positions, but the most athletic guards tend to be pretty good, with successes like Evan Mathis, Joel Bitonio, Carl Nicks and the Vikings’ own Alex Boone at the top.
So the Vikings are left with a player who had pessimistic projections from third-party scouts, poor performance and whose upside seems average.
In another piece, we’ll check out why exactly the Vikings were so interested in Beavers and what he could bring to the table—and whether or not he deserves the skepticism he’s receiving from the Vikings fanbase and from outside.