Ah, yes, draft week. The week where all the mock drafts, the rumors, the opinion pieces, the rankings and the speculation come together in beautiful chaos to form the three-day event that is the NFL Draft.
For draft nerds like me, the progress of a player from true freshman to NFL rookie is a fun one to follow. There are little annoyances along the way, sure, but a the end of the collegiate journey it is something that should be celebrated. For a handful of Florida players, this weekend will be the culmination of their hard work, determination, and athletic ability: It will be the moment they make their dream a reality.
This week, we're publishing Florida fan-centric, in-depth scouting report of Gators that could have their names called at any point on draft weekend. We'll examine a little background of where they come from, link that into what they do well on the field and what role that translates to at the next level, and give an outlook of their draft stock and potential landing spots this weekend.
Wednesday's spotlight shines on Alex McCalister, a man with the makings of a monster.
To own the nickname "Champagne Cali," you have to carry around some serious confidence; every step you take has to have at least a bit of swagger.
Alex McCalister has that.
McCalister grew up in the heart of North Carolina, and because of it, basketball was in his blood. Growing up, he had dreams of playing in the Carolina Blue under Roy Williams for the Tar Heels. But that scholarship never came, nor did a call. In fact, Williams didn't even know who McCalister was.
For his senior year of high school, McCalister transferred to Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth High to focus on football. By the end of his only season there, McCalister saw his name on the AP All-State first team and was ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the state of North Carolina.
McCalister was still very much a raw player when he committed to Florida, but he had the luxury of watching players like Jelani Jenkins, Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler, Jr. show him what it took to set the edge and be "the guy" as a pass rusher.
It took McCalister a while to get on the field in more than just a situational role. Even when he was considered a full-time guy, you could tell you were watching a raw football player. Even then, the production kept coming. In only 20 games played as a redshirt sophomore and junior, McCalister recorded 17.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
But the inconsistencies with play time weren't just due to his football learning curve. McCalister has missed multiple games due to suspensions over his Gators career, and has also missed time due to injury, including the final month of the 2015 season.
So what do you do with a guy who has received nothing but praise for the raw ability he possesses from those around him -- both players and coaches -- and yet still carries around availability concerns with both behavior and health? With all that factored in, where does McCalister's value fall in terms of the NFL draft?
To answer that, let's determine how good he is, and how good he can be on the field.
And You Can't Teach That
What makes McCalister an alluring prospect, first and foremost, is his frame.
As you can see, the height and length for McCalister are both well above average when compared to other defensive ends in the NFL. But if you'll notice, his body weight is almost not found at the next level.
Collective measureables make up just one of the three components that go into the formula of being an effective pass rusher; athletic ability and technique are the other two. And measureables and athletic ability are those components that coaches reference when they talk about "things you can't teach."
In terms of body type, McCalister is at the extremes both good and bad. In terms of athletic ability for a defensive end, he's also split.
Start at the snap and picture in your mind what makes a good play from the defensive end. At the moment the ball leaves the center's hands, you want to see a good jump off the line from your defensive end, right? The broad jump is a good indication of that kind of athleticism because it measures the same muscle group. The muscles used to explode forward as far as you can are the same muscles that control how fast a defensive end can get from bent knees in a three-point stance to accelerating into or past a tackle.
This is what combine tests are supposed to simulate. You should recognize which test tells what in terms of functional athleticism for certain situations and positions.
McCalister's 98th percentile in the broad jump is very encouraging. The vertical jump is also a good measurement of explosiveness, but not as much as the broad jump is for a defensive end. The 65th percentile vertical jump is OK, but I'm more concerned about the low 10-yard split. To me that says his explosiveness is great right away, but isn't a continuous burst. That's something a scout sees and says "Well, we'll look at him to see if burst shows up on tape." If it doesn't, then legitimate concerns arise.
McCalister has crazy length for a defensive end, but his weight is worrisome. His explosiveness is fantastic, but if he doesn't win at the initial burst, his combine numbers suggest he doesn't have the overall athleticism in other areas to make up for it. He's great in some ways, and worrisomely flawed in others.
With all that in mind, let's dive into his tape.
The play above is truly where McCalister wins as a pass rusher.
Right off the snap, he forces the offensive tackle to open up his base to try to counter the speed rush. But even though the tackle beat McCalister to the turn, that condor-like 7'2" wingspan came in handy, as he fully extended his arm into the tackle's chest. This neutralized any advantage the tackle derived from positioning: He couldn't even get his arm to reach McCalister to engage him, much less to redirect or stalemate him. McCalister continued his pursuit with one arm fully extended to the blocker and the other arm stretched out to the quarterback.
This was a great example of how McCalister used length to not only beat his assignment, but also cause disruption without getting to the quarterback himself.
When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip
Success in the trenches is often correlated with leverage. More often than not, the player who can get lower and generate more strength from a rising position is the one who will get control and balance when engaging one-on-one.
The dip move is leverage in a different form, and it's one trick McCalister has mastered. In the Vine above, McCalister gets a decent jump on the snap, and as the offensive lineman extends his arms to knock McCalister off his path to the backfield, he dips his shoulder and goes right underneath him.
If that happens, it's over.
The dip move is a great counter when offensive linemen are looking to defeat length with a quick punch. As soon as McCalister gets within range, you can see the offensive lineman go to knock him off balance, but as a counter, the rangy Gator ducks right under.
What gives McCalister a distinct advantage when executing that move is his height. Offensive linemen have to get their arms up higher to engage him, generally, which makes the window for getting underneath those arms bigger. And McCalister has the quickness and flexibility to perform that move routinely, something not many other defensive ends can because of size.
But how translatable is the dip move from college to the NFL? Can it be a bread and butter for a pass rusher?
The dip itself is a translatable skill as shown above, but what's missing from McCalister's move is that rip with the right arm the creates the separation completely — which is easier to teach than the dip itself, but also dependent on strength as well as speed. That comes from better technique, the third component to a great pass rusher.
And technique is an area where McCalister needs a good amount of work.
What McCalister can do at his best is very good. Now it's time to look at where he's limited, and see why his worst is cause for significant concern.
A lot of it boils down to size and strength. This is the reason why his low percentile for body weight is more concerning than his length is encouraging. There simply aren't many defensive ends who can stay in a full-time role at his weight, and the above Vine is a common example of why.
Defensive players aren't expected to blow by their assignments on every single play, or even the majority of them. But it's what you do even when you can't get by the guy in front of you that can earn you playing time, or glue your glutes to the bench.
When McCalister doesn't get a great jump, he's often subjected to the push of his assignment. He doesn't have the sustained strength to do anything beyond his initial burst, and that's something NFL teams have almost certainly noticed.
In the play above, McCalister gets a good jump and even beats his opponent to the outside like we saw on the clips of him coming up with a sack. But this time, he extends his arm too late and can't create separation.
This is his main concern, and it's a big one.
Unless a play develops perfectly, and McCalister can get off and underneath or around an offensive lineman, he doesn't have the technique or the power to make an impact on that play. Technique is something that can be fixed, but even with good technique, the body type that gives McCalister his advantage also limits what he can do on a consistent basis. And while he could always add weight and strength, he hasn't done that to date, and had several years in Gainesville to do so.
Draft Weekend Prediction
McCalister is an interesting evaluation because what he's doing is either eye-popping and coveted, or it's borderline useless. The highlight reel plays are as good as any speed rusher in this class, but a highlight player is rarely a full-time player.
Here are some of what people in the draft media world are saying about McCalister.
Considering his weight and lack of mental development, McCalister certainly isn’t ready to be a contributor anytime soon. His athleticism, length, and natural tools are enticing enough to take a shot on mid-late day three of the draft, but any earlier is a pretty big reach.
- Jon Ledyard, USA TODAY Sports
McCalister's ability to stand up on the edge makes him a valuable asset for defensive coordinators looking to rotate their defensive linemen but still get a pass rush. He's not a reliable threat to stop the run, but he can provide depth at the defensive end position.
- Robert Judin, Campus Insider
Despite playing in less than 40 percent of the defensive snaps for the Gators over the past two seasons, managed to notch 12.5 sacks. His character must be questioned and he doesn't possess an NFL-ready frame or instincts. McCalister is a project in need of muscle and coaching, but his traits as a rusher are exciting if he can build upon them.
- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
McCalister's time on the field for Florida was shorter than what many would've liked to see. Another year under Chris Rumph could've done him some good with technique and consistency, but I'll never knock a player for trying to go get paid while they're healthy, and right now McCalister is. I would have no problem with a team taking a chance on him in the fifth or sixth round. To me, taking a chance on a guy with McCalister's flash, even if he's only a situational player for the first part of his career, is worth the gamble at that juncture.
"Flash" could've been a good nickname for McCalister. But remember, playing defensive end is more than just speed. It's about other skills, but it's about confidence, too. It's an attitude turned into a lifestyle. It's about wearing Ray Bans underneath your helmet walking to practice. It's about believing you can get by anyone. It's about owning a nickname like Champagne Cali.
It's just that McCalister will have to marry his swagger and speed to strength to do that over a long NFL career.