Former NFL scout Matt Williamson writes about the league from X's and O's and talent evaluation perspectives.
Probably like you, I was wowed by the performance Saturday of Tennessee's Derrick Henry, who steamrolled the Patriots for 182 yards rushing. How could a guy that big be that fast? He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds -- wink, wink -- but he can't be a pound below 275! Remember this photo of Henry and fellow RB Mark Ingram, now with the Ravens, on the sidelines at an Alabama game. He made Ingram, who's 5-foot-9 and 220 or so pounds, look like a Lilliputian. And so that got me to thinking: Who are the freakish talents (non-quarterbacks only, please) in the divisional round of the playoffs, athletes whose physical presence/skills are beyond the norm? Here are 10 who come to mind:
Orlando Brown Jr., Ravens RT
Freaky talent: Size (6’ 8”, 345 lbs.) and arm length (35”)
Why he scares defensive coordinators: It is an expensive cab ride to get to the quarterback when going around the outside of Brown, who doesn’t carry a lot of extra weight but has a massive frame. With his long arms and wingspan, maneuvering around him might actually take one extra step for most D-linemen. Brown can also engulf his opponent in the run game. Coming out of college, his stock fell after a miserable Combine testing performance. But he still has rare gifts and has quickly become a big factor in Baltimore’s offensive success, helping to keep QB Lamar Jackson out of harm's way.
DeForest Buckner, 49ers DT
Freaky talent: height (6’ 7”) and hand size (11.75”)
Why he scares offensive coordinators: Buckner is long limbed (34 3/8” arms), but unlike many athletes with such rare dimensions, he is fluid, plays with leverage and is quick to change directions. He routinely gets his massive hands on the blocker and stuns him, giving Buckner a huge advantage in controlling the offensive linemen and disengaging to get free and track the ball-carrier (7.5 sacks and 14 QB hits this season). Buckner runs with long strides and eats up turf in pursuit of the quarterback.
Jadeveon Clowney, Seahawks DE
Freaky talent: power and burst
Why he scares offensive coordinators: This guy looks like The Predator and can play like it too when he turns it on. He has been far and away Seattle’s best pass-rusher since the Seahawks traded for him at the start of the season (three sacks; 13 QB hits), so it's safe to say that without him, this defense would be in all kinds of trouble. Clowney displays extreme straight-line power and can change directions quickly, but he shines when using his explosion to go right through his blocker. He has heavy hands and shows great power at the point of attack and when arriving at his target, which was on display with his controversial hit that knocked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of their wild-card game.
Derrick Henry, Titans RB
Freaky talent: Size (6’ 3”, 250 lbs.) and speed (4.54 40-yard dash)
Why he scares defensive coordinators: Just ask the Patriots how terrifying Henry was, especially late in the game and after first contact. Per Pro Football Focus, he led the league with 972 yards rushing after contact. There isn’t another running back in the league like Henry, who looks more like an edge defender than an NFL ball carrier. Comparing current players to all-time greats is risky business, but in a way, Henry is reminiscent of the legendary Jim Brown in that he is both bigger and faster than most of the tacklers trying to get him on the ground. While Henry’s 4.54 dash time doesn’t seem that impressive, it is also misleading. When he gets up to full speed, he is a locomotive that is nearly unstoppable. Tacklers bounce off this guy. Henry, who led the league with 1,540 yards rushing, can take over a game.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs WR
Freaky talent: blazing speed and body control
Why he scares defensive coordinators: No non-quarterback in the NFL might scare defensive coordinators more than Hill. Because of off-field issues, Hill wasn’t invited to the Combine, but the fact is that no one on the planet is faster with the ball in his hands or when running a route than Hill. (He reached a max speed of 22.64 MPH during a game in November, beating the teammate who scored the TD to the end zone.) An elite deep threat of course, Hill also toys with defenses with Jet Motion before the snap and as a potential ball carrier. Hill can change the game in an instant and often does. Having a freakish quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a schemer like Andy Reid only adds to Hill’s impact.
Danielle Hunter, Vikings DE
Freaky talent: twitch and bend
Why he scares offensive coordinators: As he once again showed in the Vikings upset win in the wild-card round in New Orleans, Hunter is one of the NFL’s best defensive players. He has a narrow waist with an impressive frame and vine-like 35 1/4” arms. For a man his size (6-foot-5 and 252 pounds), Hunter shouldn’t be able to move as smoothly as he does. Hunter has remarkable body control that he uses to bend the edge without losing his balance or speed when rushing the passer. (He ended the regular season with 14.5 sacks and 52 solo tackles.) Hunter rarely looks awkward and at only 25 years old, he has a chance to be an all-time great and the greatest asset on Minnesota’s roster.
DK Metcalf, Seahawks WR
Freaky talent: Size (6’ 3”, 228 lbs.) and speed (4.33 40-yard dash)
Why he scares defensive coordinators: Metcalf looks more like a bodybuilder than a speedster, and he can really run. (By the way, you gotta love Metcalf going shirtless to a pre-draft interview with Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who stripped down a little, too.) Metcalf gets downfield in an instant with massive powerful strides and goes up and plucks the ball over much smaller cover guys. Metcalf fell to the second round of the 2019 Draft because he isn’t a refined route runner and doesn’t change directions quickly. But he is ideal for Seattle’s run-heavy offense. With the league’s best deep passer in Russell Wilson throwing him the ball, it is a perfect marriage. He had a tremendous rookie season (58 catches, 900 yards, 15.3 average, 7 TDs.) And this guy was paired with A.J. Brown, now a Titans star, at Mississippi? Yikes!
Laremy Tunsil, Texans LT
Freaky talent: size (6’ 5” 310 lbs.) and movement skills
Why he scares defensive coordinators: At his best, which we saw a lot of this season with his new team, Tunsil is one of the few offensive tackles who can hold up on an island against the league’s top edge rushers. Tunsil moves as well as any tackle in the NFL, allowing Houston to adjust its protection schemes to help Tunsil’s offensive linemates. Deshaun Watson still is taking a lot of sacks, as we saw in the wild-card round against Buffalo (7 sacks), but to be fair, much of that is the QB's fault and not on his line. Clearly the Texans front five is far better since Tunsil arrived, as the sacks have dropped from 62 last season to 44.
J.J. Watt, Texans, DE
Freaky talent: Athleticism and desire
Why he scares offensive coordinators: One of the best defensive players in the history of the game (yes, really), Watt returned from injury (maybe a little too early) against the Bills in the wild-card round and made an immediate impact (one sack and two QB hits). When fully healthy, Watt is still one of the NFL’s top defensive players, but it is safe to say that he isn’t quite at the level he was a few years back when he owned the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He is a great technician who never gives up on a play, but please don’t overlook just how athletic Watt is. Coming out of Wisconsin, he put up these amazing numbers at his Combine:
Height: 6’ 5” | Weight: 290 lbs. | Arm Length: 34” | Bench Press Reps of 225 pounds: 34 | Vertical: 37” | Broad Jump: 120” | Shuttle: 4.21 seconds
Folks, at his size, that very well could be the best Combine performance of all time … and it has more than translated onto the NFL field.
Brandon Williams, Ravens DT
Freaky talent: power and bulk (6’ 1” 335 lbs.)
Why he scares offensive coordinators: The prototypical nose tackle, Williams fits the Ravens defense perfectly, and Baltimore recently rewarded him with a $54 million deal with $27.5 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league. Listed at 335 pounds, Williams actually might weigh more. He has extreme bulk with wide shoulders and a low center of gravity. He is built like an anvil and about as difficult to move backward. To run on the Ravens interior, it almost always takes a double team on Williams, which frees up Baltimore’s smaller, faster tacklers. His presence often allows the defense to have an extra defensive back on the field for more overall team speed and coverage possibilities. Williams’ presence has a huge, positive ripple effect on the entire Baltimore defense.