Thursday, 8 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 21 Colt Lyerla

(photo cred: Nate Barrett - Daily Emerald)
After two days of dumping names in mass, we are finally up to date and can now get back to full posts about one player. Today's subject is one of the most freakishly talented players in college football, a man who can often be breathtaking with the ball. However, he also has struggled to match his production with his talent and may have a few of the field issues. The 21st best player in the Pac-12 for 2013 is Oregon Tight End Colt Lyerla. As always, here's a recap of the list so far:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah

Lyerla is an absolute freak. He can do absolutely anything on the field. he has tremendous size at 6-5, 250 lbs and he uses it well. He can stand his ground and let defenders bounce right off him, he can throw one of the meanest stiff arms you'll ever see (pictured above), and he can use explosive leaping ability combined with his height and length to take to the sky for high passes and snatch them away from defenders. he can line up at TE, Fullback, Running Back, or in the slot, making him one of the most versatile play makers to ever see the field.

I love the mismatches he creates but he still plays a really simple game.Watch this full video of Lyerla's best plays from last year.

You can see his physical play, especially how he runs with the ball as a RB against Arizona. With Oregon losing Kenyon Barner and with DeAnthony Thomas likely not having the physical makeup to be a true feature back, I'd like to see Oregon use Lyerla at tailback more often. But, do you notice something familiar about all his catches? He only runs two routes. He either goes straight down the middle on a seam route or breaks off to the right or left on a quick out route. I don't know if this is the design of the offense or if Lyerla doesn't have the skills to run more routes. It could be a bit of both I suppose but in order for Lyerla to become a truly dominant player he needs to master a more complete route tree. He can get by on his size and athleticism for now but if he wants to be the best (and he is capable) then he needs to expand his skills and becomes a savant at his position.

Better than his pass receiving or even his versatility is the singular ability that makes him a truly great player, and that is his blocking. Lyerla is a force of nature in the run game, one of the few college tight ends I have ever seen consistently solo block defensive linemen and win at the point of attack. A lot of pass receivers hate blocking and constantly demand the ball in their hands and hardly do much work when their teammate has the ball. Not Lyerla, he clearly takes great pride in his blocking and uses his size and brute strength to manhandle defenders and utilizes a tenacious attitude to never let a defender go until the whistle.

Check out this game tape of Lyerla against Kansas State to see what I'm talking about. Facing a very physical and productive front seven, Lyerla consistently gets his hands on defenders and pushes them back, frequently sealing off the edge to spring productive runs for Oregon's tailbacks.

Despite his ridiculously high ability level, Lyerla is not without his issues. As mentioned above, he can only run two routes thus far and in the NFL especially, even the best athletes can't afford to be that predictable. There is also some off the field baggage with Lyerla. He was mysteriously absent from practices just prior to the start of last season. The reason behind that absence could be totally benign but it is something he will have to answer for in NFL interviews. He also stirred up some controversy this off season when he tweeted out conspiracy theory materials regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting. His production also hasn't totally been there. He's only touched the ball 45 times in two seasons so far. he did a lot with them by putting together 616 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns but those numbers still need to get higher in order for him to be the best tight end out there.

Regardless, Lyerla is an amazing athlete and a great football player. Oregon's coaches need to give him the ball more and he should reward them by staying off twitter. If and when those things, I believe Lyerla will surpass all Tight Ends in college football and end up a very high draft pick either next April or in 2015. He might even surpass a certain drunk driver up in Seattle who happens to be coming up on this list in about a week...

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