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Player Spotlight: DE Derek Rivers

A detailed look at Derek Rivers' fantasty prospects for 2017 and beyond.

POSITIVES

  • Rivers has a relentless motor and is a consistent player.

  • His short-area quickness and closing burst are centerpieces of his game.

  • Rivers’ eventual usage is likely to be similar to that of Chandler Jones.

NEGATIVES

  • He did not face the level of competition in college that one might want to see.

  • Rivers’ arm length and hand size are not prototypical for his position.

  • He will need to develop a better understanding of pass rush moves and NFL blocking schemes before he is ready to compete on the next level. 

VALUE UNEARTHED

Love them or hate them, it cannot be disputed that the Patriots have a track record of getting exceptional production out of mid-to-late-round or undrafted talent. Tom Brady is the supreme example of this concept, but Julian Edelman, David Givens, Dan Koppen, Logan Ryan, Aaron Hernandez, and others were drafted in the third round or later and went on to flourish as starters. Part of the reason for this is because Bill Belichick is the coach, but he’s also the de facto General Manager in New England. When he decides to take a player, he knows exactly how that player can be deployed in his schemes and puts him to work in that role. This kind of organizational clarity is rare in the National Football League and is a big reason that we pay special attention to whom the Patriots pick.  In this year’s draft, there was a player taken who is likely to end up on the aforementioned list: Derek Rivers, defensive end from Youngstown State.

FLOW LIKE RIVERS

There’s much to like about Rivers. Watching him, you don’t see brilliance on one play, followed by head-scratching decision-making on the next-- he is a consistent player. His motor is always running hot and you will never witness him taking plays off. His lateral quickness on tape is eye-popping and will help him to generate explosion in limited space. Additionally, his burst around the edge is excellent and he closes quickly on opposing passers and ball carriers. Rivers is good at keeping his pads level when taking on blockers, and that will be very important at the NFL level. Rivers isn’t just a pass rusher-- he’s also an accomplished run defender. He excels at setting the edge and doesn’t allow ball carriers to break runs to the outside.

How Rivers is likely to be used is intriguing. He’ll have downs where he plays in a stand-up linebacker role and downs where he puts his hand in the dirt, much like Chandler Jones did when he played in New England. Jones was very valuable in this role for the Patriots and they have missed having a player like that since he was shipped off to Arizona in a trade. Rivers could easily fit into that niche and put up similar stats in time.

DOES RIVERS REEK?

Some are worried about the level of competition Rivers faced in college. Youngstown State is in the Football Championship Subdivision, where schools are smaller and where few players go on to compete in the NFL. Rivers’ dominant Senior Bowl practice and NFL Combine performances should allay those fears somewhat. Players that check those two boxes often will fit into the NFL, even if it takes some time to develop their skills to match up with pedigreed opponents.

Another knock on Rivers is that he has a short wingspan and small hands. Longer, lankier offensive tackles will have a natural advantage over Rivers that he’ll have to work to overcome. While this is disappointing, it’s not insurmountable. Arizona Cardinal Markus Golden is a good example of this. He has got shorter arms than Rivers, but logged 12.5 sacks in just his second season in the NFL. If the player has a good scheme-fit and other talents to compensate, arm length isn’t going to hold him back.

Rivers also needs to develop additional pass rush moves. His bull rush and speed rush worked often in college, but savvy offensive lineman at the pro level will stonewall Rivers quickly. Defensive line coach Brendan Daly will be tasked with helping Rivers add dip, rip, swim, club, and other pass rush moves to his repertoire and become a more complete player. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 In redraft formats, Rivers isn’t likely to splash in 2017. A best case scenario would be about what Danielle Hunter did in 2015 as a rookie-- half a dozen sacks and almost thirty tackles. In dynasty formats, Rivers has far more intrigue. It’s likely we’ll begin to see Rivers earn significant and impactful playing time in year two. If classified as a defensive end in your league and used in the projected Chandler Jones role, he could put up top-end defensive end numbers in most formats. Rivers is definitely someone who should be stashed away on rosters of 40 or more players if the individual defensive player scoring in your league is competitive with that of the offensive players.  

2017 PROJECTIONS

AARON RUDNICKI’S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

14

10

3

1

0

1

0

0

45 .00

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

15

2

3

2

1

7

1

0

39 .75

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

In the RSP Film Room, Footballguy Justis Mosqueda said of Rivers:

Derek Rivers is extremely athletic. I was a huge fan of him going into the Senior Bowl. At the Senior Bowl week, I thought he was the most consistent pass rusher of all the guys down there. At the Combine, he did everything. He basically tested exactly how you wanted him to test. 

Mike Gerken is excited about what Rivers can do, as he writes on NEPatriotsDraft.com: 

It is obvious he brings some versatility to the football field, which I am sure the Patriots liked about his game. He really does have all the physical and athletic traits to be an elite player in the NFL. He needs some time to develop his game further to become that player, but even right now, he has the talent to contribute right away as a pass rush specialist. I am really excited about this pick and can’t wait to see what he can do this year and beyond. 

Lance Zierlien of NFL.com believes Rivers is further away from being a starter:

Motor-based edge rusher with some tightness in his hips who used efficient hands and consistent effort to whip the competition in front of him. Rivers may lack the length and agility to be a consistent, stand-up rusher on the next level, but he has the talent to find a spot as a backup who could work his way into a more prominent role with time.