If there was one word to describe new safety/Viper commit Joey Velazquez, it’d be versatile. Velazquez is not only a 3-star football prospect, but also a stud baseball player as well who has top three round draft potential.
But this versatility extends to football as well. Running the ball, catching passes, gunning down the field on kickoffs, defending the run, covering passes, lining up in the slot, playing back deep or rolled up near the line of scrimmage, Velazquez shows it all on his tape.
Many of this versatility stems from the fact that Velazquez does not have a good positional fit in high school. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, he is a little too big for safety and undersized for linebacker. Fortunately, Don Brown’s defense has a perfect position for him: Viper.
This lack of a position, absence from camps, and his recent change in focus from playing just baseball to both sports in college have led him to be under-evaluated and result in a low ranking. Right now, Velazquez sneaks into the top 1,000 at 971 overall, and the No. 79 safety. Needless to say, what he shows on film does not reflect this ranking.
Let’s take a look at his junior highlights to assess what Don Brown and the Michigan coaching staff saw in him.
One of the abilities that makes a Viper like Jabrill Peppers or Khaleke Hudson so great is their ability to cut through the junk and get to the ball carrier. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and often tasked with setting the edge, this is a necessary skill. Fortunately, Velazquez showcases this skill often in his film.
This is a perfect demonstration of the plays that enamored Michigan fans toward Peppers and Hudson. Faced with a sweep featuring three (!) pulling linemen as lead blockers, Velazquez steps up, quickly bounces off the first guy and slips through the next two before they can get their hands on him, resulting in a tackle for loss.
This elusiveness and closing speed makes it hard for ball carriers to escape and results in piles of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Below is another play where Velazquez shows off this trait.
Velazquez shoves the lead blocker to the ground easily, funneling the running back in and making the tackle. He does an excellent job keeping contain, which is what the Viper is expected to do often in Brown’s defense.
Another key trait for a player who will be a quasi-linebacker is play diagnosis. Being able to read and react to a play developing in front of you is essential. Velazquez has good instincts and footwork to put himself in the right place to make the play.
This play should give Michigan fans some happy memories of Peppers.
Velazquez is over the inside receiver here against a trips-left formation. As the ball is snapped, he peeks in on the quarterback, sees him throwing laterally and shoots up the field. He is too quick for the slot receiver trying to block him and wraps up the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
Michigan fans know that running bubble screens against Michigan’s defense is a fool’s errand, and this looks like it will still be the case once Velazquez is on campus.
The offense runs some misdirection in the play, with the quarterback faking a sweep and rolling out in the other direction. The quarterback hides this well and is right behind his line so it’s hard to see, but Velazquez isn’t fooled and stays home. Once the quarterback rolls out, Velazquez is there, closing in fast and gets the sack.
Being able to see through all those moving bodies and finding the ball carrier is a great ability to have, and will translate well while at Michigan.
However, this can sometimes fail him, as Velazquez will guess wrong and take himself out of an opportunity to make a play. In the following play, he bites on the misdirection hard, getting sucked up right to the line of scrimmage.
He takes himself out of his safety role, leaving the middle of the field open for the running back. Velazquez hesitates before changing direction and chasing the ball carrier. He finally brings him down after a 10-yard gain.
This following play is another example of Velazquez biting too hard on a play fake. The end result is an interception for him, but that is mostly the result of good luck in where he is rather than making a smart play.
Velazquez comes up hard after seeing the quarterback fake a handoff. Once the quarterback starts rolling out, Velazquez realizes he needs to be in coverage and backs off quickly. Luckily for him, the a tight end is crossing the field right behind him, and Velazquez makes a frustrating pick that players of NCAA 14 are all too familiar with.
This play is why scouting is focused on the process and not the result. Velazquez abandoned his coverage area because of the play action, but lucked into an interception because he was able to backpedal quickly enough to get to the ball.
Overall, I’d say Velazquez is a smart football player who has the skills to read a play quickly and get to the ball, but sometimes he trusts his instincts too much and gets fooled. He will have to be more disciplined to avoid giving up big gains at the next level.
He also lacks the quick twitch skills that get a player ranked in the top 100. His read and react is good, but can be slow at times and he can take false steps. This only adds to the importance of him gaining discipline skills to know what he is seeing in front of him and staying in his role on the field.
One more thing I would add is Velazquez needs to work on tackling a bit more. He can make a pop when he wants to, but it doesn’t happen as often as it should for someone who can bench 390 and squat 570. His technique will have to improve to avoid him getting bounced by Big Ten backs.
Velazquez is an exciting athlete, though, as his distinction in multiple sports shows. He will be a strong candidate to take over the Viper position if Khaleke Hudson doesn’t leave for the draft early. Otherwise, he will be battling J’Marick Woods or whoever takes over the spot.
Stay tuned as we get more scouting evaluations out over the next few weeks to cover the multitude of Michigan’s recent commits!