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Julio Enciso: Libertad and Paraguay’s 17 y/o ‘phenomenon’ – scout report

Julio Enciso (173cm/5’8”, 64kg/141lbs) is arguably the most exciting emerging talent in Paraguayan football right now, with the 17-year-old attacker having recently earned his first call-up to Eduardo Berizzo’s senior national team. In the 2020 campaign, Enciso scored in his Copa Libertadores debut at just 16 years of age, becoming the youngest player to ever score in the competition this century – a record that has since been taken from him by Santos’ Angelo Gabriel.

Learning from current Libertad teammate and Paraguay legend Óscar ‘Tacuara’ Cardozo – who scored against EPL giants like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea while playing for Portuguese greats Benfica in Europe, and who Enciso has described as being “like a father to [him]” – Enciso’s gone from strength to strength in the campaign, playing fairly regularly for Club Libertad Asunción, where he has been developing since he was 11 years old.

Enciso has scored five goals and provided one assist in 999 minutes of football in all competitions this season, including four goals in 800 minutes of football in Paraguay’s top-flight, helping Libertad to win the Paraguayan Primera División’s Apertura tournament for the 2021 campaign – Enciso’s first taste of silverware in senior football.

This tactical analysis piece, in the form of a scout report, provides analysis of Enciso’s role within Libertad’s tactics this season. We’ll look at some of the teenager’s greatest strengths and highlight why he has been described as “a new phenomenon in Paraguayan football” by some, as well as some areas of improvement for the attacker and his coaches to work on, for Enciso to truly fulfil his exciting potential.

Where does Enciso play?

Enciso is yet to really be defined by one single role or position, as Libertad have utilised him in plenty of different roles and positions so far in his young career. He’s an attacker with some very impressive strengths as well as some notable weaknesses and some of the roles he’s played so far have highlighted different strengths and weaknesses in his game more than others.

The 17-year-old attacker has quite often been played on either wing, as well as the centre-forward position and the ‘number 10’ position. Enciso is very fast, and when combined with some intelligent movement which we’ll look at in greater detail later in this scout report, that pace always provides a threat behind a high opposition backline. However, he doesn’t just provide that threat in behind via his pace and movement, as thanks to his technical quality, he also provides a big threat in between the opposition’s backline and midfield line, just outside the penalty area.

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Figure 1

This is reflected in Figure 1 – Enciso’s 2021 heatmap, which shows that he spends the majority of his time quite centrally, just outside the penalty area, in either the 10 position or the half-spaces. This is true for Enciso regardless of whether he’s played as a winger, centre-forward or attacking midfielder. He loves to occupy these central positions just outside the box, where he can often find space between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines and either take a longshot, carry the ball into the box, play a teammate through on goal, or link up with a teammate before advancing into the penalty area with something like a one-two passing move.

Generally, he likes to be central in the 10 position, but as this area is often congested with little space available, he is happy to occupy the half-spaces too, especially the left half-space, which he constantly shifts into when playing as a left-winger and drops into a lot – notably, more than the right half-space – when playing as a centre-forward or a 10 – looking to cut inside onto his stronger right foot.

Again, thanks to his pace and movement, Enciso provides a dangerous threat behind a high backline, but the opportunities to exploit that space don’t present themselves as often as the opportunities to exploit this space in between the lines, just outside of the penalty box, especially as Libertad are a side who like to dominate possession, so find themselves in the opposition half a lot. The fact that Enciso provides a threat against this type of opposition as well as a high line highlights the benefits of his versatile skill set.

Movement

Enciso’s intelligent movement, in particular his runs in behind the opposition backline, is one of the big reasons why Libertad have often played him as a centre-forward this season. While he isn’t necessarily a small player, especially for his age, at 173cm (about average height for a Paraguayan man) and 64kg, Enciso doesn’t provide a great physical presence up top.

He isn’t who you want to stand with his back to goal and hold off defenders, while he also struggles to win aerial duels, winning just 17.65% this season, and is fairly easily dominated by big opposition defenders – as you would expect – when the ball is sent forward via a long ball. This is something to be aware of at present, but isn’t something to worry about in the long run as of yet – he’s 17 years old and will naturally develop physically and fill out his frame more as time progresses.

While he lacks a big physical presence and aerial ability, he makes up for that with the threat he provides behind the opposition backline with pace and intelligent movement.

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Figure 2

Figure 2 shows an example of the kind of run that’s typical of Enciso’s game, especially when playing as a centre-forward. Here, we see his teammate carrying the ball through midfield, entering the middle third and approaching the opposition backline. In response to his teammate’s carry, Enciso springs into action, signalling where he wants the ball played and begins his diagonal run across the opposition backline, moving from the right centre-back to space in behind the left centre-back.

Enciso is always making diagonal runs across the backline like this when given the opportunity playing against a higher line. The diagonal movement allows him to pick up pace while staying onside for longer than he would moving straight, and the movement across the backline makes him more difficult to mark – especially knowing how quick he is – as he can lose his marker, attack the blindside of the other defender, and find space. The teenager makes himself a nuisance for opposition defences thanks to his alertness and constant dangerous movement, which is key to his game when playing as a centre-forward or even as a wide forward.

As this particular passage of play moves on, Enciso doesn’t receive the ball, as his teammate chose another option, but this highlights the threat he poses and when played behind in situations like this, Enciso is generally very difficult to catch thanks to his pace, and his ability to dribble at pace.

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Figure 3

As mentioned previously, Enciso isn’t an aerial threat but that doesn’t mean he can’t threaten from crosses. Two of his four league goals (and three of his five goals in all competitions) this season have come from a first-time finish resulting from a teammate’s low driven cross. Enciso’s intelligent and effective movement played an important part in him getting onto the end of those low crosses. In figure 3, we see an example of Enciso moving about while making a run into the box to try and find space, while his teammate on the ball is in a crossing position on the right-wing.

At this moment, Enciso is targeting space at the back post, behind the opposition’s right centre-back, with his run, while the ball-carrier is in position to potentially float or drill a ball towards the far end of the box where the 17-year-old attacker could meet it.

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Figure 4

As play moves on, however, the wide man opted not to cross the ball, instead dribbling into the box, ending up in the position we see him here in figure 4, having progressed all the way to the byline and just outside of the six-yard box. As this player continued carrying the ball into the box, Enciso redirected his run, now deciding to target space in between the two centre-backs, aiming to zoom in front of this right centre-back, rather than behind him.

It’s very common to see Enciso target space in between opposition defenders with runs like this when Libertad create crossing opportunities. While the attacker isn’t much of an aerial threat, he uses his pace to try and burst in front of defenders in the box when space appears in front of them to be exploited. Thanks to his pace, this movement gives the defenders little time to react and sometimes, as was the case in figure 4, he can connect with his teammates cross and convert the chance into a goal as a result.

Knowing that he’s scored a couple of his goals this season for Libertad directly resulting from this run, it’s clear how this burst of speed in front of the centre-back and into space between the centre-backs helps Enciso to threaten in the box from crosses despite what he lacks in physicality and aerial dominance. He uses his positive attributes – movement and pace – intelligently to outwit the opposition.

Shooting

Enciso takes a lot of shots for his side. He’s taken an average of 3.58 shots per 90 in the league this season, which is the second-most of any Libertad player. As these numbers suggest, he’s not shy in front of goal. He likes to shoot from long-range quite often, as well as close-range, while he’s very confident in his shooting ability, as are his team. Enciso’s confidence and large shot volume are arguably justified by the fact that he’s got a shot accuracy rate of 38.24% for the 2021 campaign, which is better than the league average of 34.8%. So, while Enciso takes a relatively large number of shots, plenty of which come from outside the box, he’s fairly reliable with hitting the target.

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Figure 5

Figure 5 shows us the kind of range and position where Enciso tends to like taking longshots. As mentioned earlier in this tactical analysis piece, the attacker likes to occupy this central space just outside the penalty area. When he finds space in this area, he can use some of his most effective tools, such as his dribbling and, indeed, his longshot-taking ability, to try and hurt the opposition. In this particular example, we see that he opted to take on a long shot after finding space in this position.

Just before this image, Enciso did well to beat two opposition players consecutively with an impressive dribble. After that, he got his head up to pick out his longshot, took a couple of smaller steps towards goal, and as play moved on from this image, he sent the ball flying towards the far side of the goal at pace, managing to hit the target and pull a save out of the goalkeeper.

You could argue that it may be a better decision to continue building into the opposition’s penalty box from here instead of taking on a longshot, which doesn’t have a great chance of going in, however, Enciso is a good long shot taker, with one of his four league goals this season coming from a longshot. Additionally, the fact that a 17-year-old is willing to step up and shoot from this kind of range so often, as Enciso does, highlights his unwavering confidence, which is great to see in a young player at senior level.

If Enciso is to fulfil his potential, he’ll need a good level of self-confidence and it’s clear that this is part of his personality from the fact that he’s willing to step up and take chances at goal from range. If he was just hitting shots wildly and missing the target by some distance, that would be another story, but his confidence combined with the fact that he’s good at shooting from range is a positive for the teenager and his team.

It’s especially good to see Enciso trying his luck from range in this kind of central position, where he’s got more of the goal to aim for and his chances of scoring are better than if he were shooting from a worse angle. However, this isn’t to say that he should constantly be shooting whenever he gets the chance – there are times where Enciso’s decision-making, in terms of shooting positions, can improve.

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Figure 6

For example, here in figure 6, we see Enciso shooting from a much worse angle than in the previous example. Just before this image, Enciso was positioned close to the sideline. He drew the opposition full-back out to him before beating him and taking the ball towards the box while cutting in on his stronger right foot. It’s common to see Enciso dribble like this, which we’ll analyse in greater detail later in this tactical analysis piece.

The attacker ended up in this position, where you could argue a cross, pass or even continuing the dribble, would be a better decision, however, he opted to shoot and failed to threaten the ‘keeper, sending the ball wide. So, shot selection and decision-making are things for Enciso to be aware of and work on as he continues to develop. The fact he’s good at shooting from range and confident in doing so is great and it’s a valuable skill for him and his team but if he can be even just slightly more selective with his shots and implement slightly better decision-making in these scenarios, that could benefit him and his team.

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Figure 7

Figure 7 shows another example of a situation where better decision-making could help Enciso. Just before this image, the teenager took the ball very well on the half-turn in the 10 position – taking the ball well on the half-turn in this position is typical of him. As play moved on, he dribbled into this position, beating one opposition player with some quick footwork and getting into shooting range.

We know that Enciso is good at shooting from this position, and often it’s not a bad decision for him to take a shot on, but here, we see that an opposition defender is in position to block his shot while a teammate is relatively free, running through on goal to his right. However, Enciso didn’t take that passing option, instead shooting and as play moves on, he sees his shot blocked. So, it’s clear that while Enciso is good from range, he could become a more well-rounded attacker by improving his decision-making in certain situations and acting more as a playmaker, which figures 6 and 7 showed. However, as it’s easy to forget given his ability, we must reiterate that Enciso is just 17 years old and his decision-making will naturally improve as he continues to develop and get more experience.

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Figure 8

One area where Enciso shines inside the box, however, is his quick reactions to rebounds and balls breaking loose in the penalty area. We see an example of one occasion where he was quick to react and get on the end of a rebound in figure 8. Just before this image, Enciso’s teammate, who’s in the goal here, took a shot which the opposition managed to block. Enciso was quick to react as the ball bounced back into the box, springing into action to chase down the loose ball.

The 17-year-old’s pace combines with his alertness to help him get onto the end of loose balls in the box like this, ahead of opposition defenders, and as play moves on, we see Enciso burst in front of the ball-near opposition defenders and shoot. The attacker’s shot is also blocked due to some good defensive work from the opposition, but he was able to create a good goalscoring opportunity thanks to his pace and reactions, which highlights another big positive to his game inside the penalty area.

Dribbling

Enciso’s dribbling ability is one of the big strengths in his game. This is something that he and Libertad manager Daniel Garnero make use of as much as possible, with Enciso taking on 8.64 dribbles per 90 in the league this season – the most dribbles of any Libertad player and among the most dribbles of any player in Paraguay’s top-flight. He’s also got a 46.34% dribble success rate, which is just slightly below the league average (52.75%) and his team average (49.5%), but isn’t a bad success rate at all, especially considering how many dribbles he takes on.

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Figure 9

As mentioned in the previous section while analysing Enciso’s longshot from a wide position, the 17-year-old likes to draw opposition defenders in close to him before beating them and progressing towards goal. We see an example of this in figure 9, where Enciso is positioned on the left wing, attracting pressure from one opposition player.

We can see that this defender got very close to Enciso before the 17-year-old made his move – it’s common to see this, as the attacker has very good close control and is comfortable with allowing opposition players to get very close to him, confident that he can retain control of the ball and get past them despite their defensive efforts. Enciso is good at reacting to opposition defenders’ movements too and likes to watch and wait for them to make their move in trying to win the ball from him before he reacts and takes advantage of the fact they’ve committed to a challenge by knocking the ball past them.

Enciso loves to keep the ball close to his body, he’s observant of opposition defenders’ movements, he often takes a lot of steps when dribbling, and he’s agile with good balance. He is an impressive dribbler and can be very difficult for defenders to dispossess, even if they get close to him.

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Figure 10

As this passage of play moves on into figure 10, we see that Enciso cut inside onto his right foot after beating the defender and got into the left half-space where he took a shot at goal. This shot was good and tested the ‘keeper, again highlighting the 17-year-old’s longshot quality, especially from more central positions. However, even more than that, this passage of play highlights the attacker’s burst of speed to find space after drawing a defender to him and beating him with his dribbling quality.

While Enciso takes lots of smaller steps while drawing defenders near, he knows how to use his speed after that and this speed, combined with his dribbling quality, makes him very dangerous for opposition defenders in these positions, as he can quickly beat them and put himself in more dangerous positions, which we saw an example of here.

It’s very common to see Enciso making this movement cutting inside from the left-wing onto his stronger right foot, however, when playing on the right wing, which is also common as mentioned earlier, Enciso also cuts inside a lot.

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Figure 11

In figure 11, we see Enciso attacking the defender’s blindside with his diagonal run behind the backline, which is a very common part of his game, as mentioned earlier. Unlike the example we showed earlier, however, Enciso does receive the through ball while making his run in behind on this occasion. This puts him through on the right wing, where he could either carry the ball on the outside and potentially create a crossing scenario or cut inside onto his left foot.

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Figure 12

As play moves on into figure 12, we see that he opted for the latter. Here on the right, Enciso is almost a mirror image of how he plays on the left, in that he moved into the half-space and played the ball with his left foot – which is weaker than his right, but not bad at all for a weak foot and the player is comfortable using it, which is why we see him cut inside from the right like he does from the left.

As play moves on, instead of shooting on this occasion, as he might if he were cutting inside onto his right foot here, Enciso opts to drill the ball into the path of the teammate to his left, positioned just outside the box. His cross is played low and with plenty of pace, but is directed very well and falls beautifully into his teammate’s path, setting him up for a good goalscoring opportunity in a dangerous position.

So, we can see from these examples how dangerous Enciso can be, both as a direct goal threat and as a playmaker, from the half-spaces when he cuts inside from the wing. Additionally, he can be very difficult to prevent from finding space in these positions when he cuts inside thanks to his dribbling quality and how comfortable he is with playing in tight spaces.

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Figure 13

Enciso is a very useful tool for his team in ball progression and transition to attack thanks to his ball-carrying quality. The attacker has made 2.85 progressive runs per 90 in the league this term, which ranks him 7th in Paraguay’s top-flight for progressive runs and this highlights that he’s often tasked with carrying the ball upfield, which thanks to his dribbling ability, he’s very skilled at.

In figure 13, we see the start of a counterattack where Libertad relied on Enciso to carry the ball upfield. Just before this image, Libertad were under pressure in a deeper area of the pitch. Enciso managed to find space in this position to support his teammate under pressure, while the teammate spotted the teenager and made use of the passing option he provided by sending the ball towards him to relieve pressure.

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Figure 14

Enciso took the ball on the half-turn very well and while he quickly attracted pressure from multiple opposition players, as we see in figure 14, he was able to evade their challenges and get past them thanks to his quick feet, good close control and agility. This, again, highlights how the 17-year-old is good at keeping the ball close to his body and away from opposition challenges before reacting to opposition defenders’ movements and knocking the ball past them, before then using his pace to burst upfield.

As this passage of play moves on, we see Enciso attract more pressure in the opposition half, which he also does very well to evade and he ultimately ends up putting Libertad in a positive attacking position. So, just through this dribble, Enciso managed to help his side get out of a bad situation, evade pressure, and create a good attacking opportunity. The attacker’s ball-carrying quality is one of his greatest strengths and something his side should look to exploit.

Passing

Enciso’s passing is less impressive than his dribbling, which leads to him and his team using this skill less than his dribbling. Enciso has played just 19.92 passes per 90 in the league this season, which ranks him quite low among Libertad players. He’s also played just 1.9 progressive passes per 90 this term, which highlights that while his dribbling makes him a great tool in ball progression and transition to attack, he doesn’t tend to play many progressive passes, which makes his role in this phase of play more predictable, so this is something for him to be aware of as he continues to develop.

Enciso has played just 0.74 through passes per 90 in the league this term, which is also quite low among Libertad players, and he’s got a through pass success rate of just 28.57%, which is below the league average and Libertad average. These numbers aren’t a major surprise, as there is plenty of room for improvement for Enciso in the area of through passing.

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Figure 15

Firstly, in figure 15, we see how Enciso’s dribbling quality helps him to attract pressure from several opposition players, especially when he receives the ball in the half-space, which tends to be somewhat between defensive players’ zones. The tricky dribbler can cause a lot of disruption in the opposition’s defensive shape when he gets on the ball in this position, which was the case in this particular example, and thanks to his impressive close control and dribbling quality, Enciso often does well in these situations despite all of the pressure he’s attracting.

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Figure 16

As a result of attracting several opposition players towards him, space naturally opens up elsewhere for Enciso’s teammates to take advantage of and the teenager intelligently spots this. As we see in figure 16, after beating a couple of opposition players and evading their challenges, Enciso spots an overlapping run on the outside down the left wing and opts to play a through ball into this runner’s path. This sends the overlapping player through on goal.

This highlights how Enciso’s dribbling quality can help him to create good playmaking opportunities, however, as we’ll now go onto discuss, he doesn’t always make the best use of his playmaking opportunities.

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Figure 17

In figure 17, we see an example of Enciso playing a poor through ball. Just before this image, he demonstrated some good dribbling ability, carrying the ball upfield and creating a playmaking opportunity. He spots a runner moving in behind the opposition backline to his left and tries to play him through on goal, but the pass is ultimately misdirected and played a little bit weak, allowing the defender between him and his teammate to clean up and put an end to this potentially dangerous Libertad attack.

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Figure 18

Enciso likes to link up with teammates through short passes and likes to try and break down the opposition via one-twos. He prefers to be on the receiving end of the second pass a lot more than the first, however. In figure 18, we see an example of Enciso’s teammate playing a one-two with him, with Enciso receiving the first pass. Just before this image, the 17-year-old did very well to find space and get into this position to link up with his teammate.

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Figure 19

However, as play moves on into figure 19, we see that the through ball was played a bit too strong, leading to this goalscoring opportunity breaking down.

These two passages of play highlight how Enciso can become a much better playmaker by working on his through passing. He misdirects and puts the wrong level of power on his through passes too much at present, which leads to the playmaking chances going to waste. So, this is definitely an area for the attacker to focus on as he continues to develop.

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Figure 20

Enciso’s movement and dribbling also create other types of passing opportunities, however, which benefit his side and highlight how he can currently be useful in ball progression and chance creation. In figure 20, we see an example from a game where Enciso played as a centre-forward. On these occasions, it’s common to see him drop slightly deeper into positions like this in the ball progression phase.

As mentioned earlier, Enciso doesn’t provide a great physical presence at centre-forward, so apart from when he’s threatening to run in behind a high line, he can’t offer much to his team when playing at the very top of the attack. As a result, it’s common to see him drop off during the ball progression phase to occupy more of a 10 position. When he does so, it’s common to see his teammates use him to play simple one-twos or as part of a triangle to progress the ball from a deeper player to a more advanced player.

On this particular occasion, we see how his teammate in central midfield used his movement to help him progress upfield via a one-two. When tasked with playing more simple passes like this, Enciso is very useful for his side in ball progression.

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Figure 21

Meanwhile, in figure 21, we see how Enciso can help his side to take advantage of the space he creates for others via his dribbling by playing simpler passes very well. Just before this image, the attacker cut inside from the left wing and attracted pressure from several opposition players just inside the penalty box. Via their positioning, these players did prevent Enciso from carrying the ball further and creating a shooting/crossing opportunity.

However, all of this pressure on Enciso did create space for other Libertad players and the 17-year-old demonstrated some good vision and intelligent decision-making as he spotted a teammate on the edge of the box and quickly found him with a short pass, setting up a shooting/crossing opportunity for him in the left half-space.

So, while Enciso can improve at playing through balls and that would benefit his team, at times he’s able to help his side a lot by keeping things simple, as he did in these examples.

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Figure 22

Enciso can also improve in terms of his crossing. As mentioned earlier, he generally prefers to cut into the half-space regardless of whether he’s playing on the left or right, and so doesn’t end up in wide crossing positions a lot. However, he does get into these positions on occasion but doesn’t tend to do very well. He’s got a cross accuracy rate of just 18.18% for the 2021 campaign, which isn’t very impressive.

We see an example of Enciso in a crossing position here in figure 22. Just before this image, the winger beat a couple of opposition players in a tight space, again highlighting his dribbling quality. However, he was unable to create a threatening opportunity via his cross, which was misdirected and underpowered, ultimately falling to the opposition defender who we see here on the edge of the area.

As with his through ball ability, Enciso can technically improve his crossing ability to better take advantage of the crossing opportunities that his dribbling quality creates, so this is an area for him to be aware of moving forward. Enciso has played some creative low driven crosses at times this term, however, so he can threaten in that way, but just relying on this would make his crossing somewhat predictable, so it would be beneficial for him and his team if he can improve in this area, especially as his impressive dribbling and movement can create such good playmaking opportunities.

Conclusion

To conclude our tactical analysis piece, in the form of a scout report, Enciso is already performing far above his age level and it’s sometimes easy to forget that he is just 17 years old. There are some clear areas of improvement in his game, such as his crossing, through balls, shot selection and aerial ability, but that’s what you’d expect for a 17-year-old – especially one performing at first-team level.

Enciso shines in terms of his dribbling, longshots, movement and pace – already standing out very impressively in some of these areas in Paraguay’s top-flight. If he can work on his weaknesses while continuing to improve his strengths, then Enciso is certainly a very exciting talent to keep an eye on.