Virginia‘s impressive win on the blue turf at Boise gave me my first look this season at safety Quin Blanding. The role he’s playing in this defense is a little different, often playing two deep or single high. Despite playing deep, he is around the ball frequently – showing a nice ability to get downhill. His angles are a major plus point in his game, as is his tackling. He’s not a big hitter, but he wraps well and you can rely on him as a single high to tackle well. He may not be a fit for all NFL teams though. Many like safeties who can cover man to man, but he hasn’t done a lot of that the last 2 seasons and you saw when Roh ran a post route, he basically tackled him to draw a PI call. I think he has a top 100 skill-set, but if he can show some man coverage ability come Senior Bowl week, that will confirm him as a day two pick.
The other big name prospect for Virginia is ILB Micah Kiser. If you look at the LBs making it in the league right now, many are a little smaller and are elite athletes. Josh Perry (pick 102, Chargers, 2016 Draft) is a bigger LB who I really liked in college – but he’s currently only on a practice squad, which shows what happens to these older school “downhill thumpers”. Kizer has good size, but I don’t know if he has that extra bit of explosion in terms of lateral movement. When he sees it and gets downhill, there’s force there – but I thought his read and react was a little inconsistent. He might be best in an attacking one gap scheme – but whether he’s a late day two or early day three I won’t know for sure until I see his workout numbers – but I think he’s down on some of the projections out there.
This was my second Boise State watch and I liked WR Cedrick Wilson in the first game – and he impressed again. He looked dangerous after the catch and finished with 13 catches for 209 yards and a score. The main concern is his frame, which is slight (listed 6’3″ 188 lbs). He does have kick return ability, but they use him sparingly to protect him. I think he can push for a day two slot, depending on who else declares.
Last season, I thought Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph started the year well, but struggled down the stretch. I suspect that led to his decision to return for another year. One can also conclude he didn’t get a first round grade, otherwise he would have declared. Against TCU, it was a struggle offensively – their coverage was excellent and it left him with few options. I’ve seen some stuff about his weak arm, but there were enough throws here to confirm his arm is good enough. He had to make some tight window throws and did so. His accuracy did tend to be off when he went for the touch pass, so he’ll need to work on that. They key concern was that, at times, his eyes were too slow. He fumbled in the first half, which was on him – the internal alarm clock should have been going off in his mind – but he took the sack and it just happened he turned it over as well. As the game went on he forced things more – but he had to.
Receiver wise for the Cowboys, James Washington had the big early play – but for the most part was held in check. He looks like he may have added strength this season and frame wise might be a bit high cut (long legs, shorter torso) and while the straight line speed is there, I’ll be paying close attention to his shuttle and cone times at the Combine. Marcell Ateman is a big target and made some plays – using his frame to box out more than creating separation with his speed. He should have a career season and there’s enough there to believe he’ll be drafted.
It’s worth remembering the reason Dak Prescott didn’t go higher in the Draft – it was down to his pre-Pro Day DUI. So, people saying Nick Fitzgerald is going higher than Dak might be right – but it doesn’t mean he’s more talented. Mechanically, Fitzgerald has some issues. His front foot doesn’t step toward his target, he pushes it out toward the sideline, leaving him very chest on. He has a three quarter release and at times will stare down his target. My big question is can he make the right window throw? I’ll watch again and decide, it was difficult against a top defense, but in my first detailed watch, I’m afraid he didn’t light my fire.
Mississippi State OT Martinas Rankin is a big man at 6’5″ 315 lbs. He’s not the greatest foot athlete, but he understands exactly who he is and plays to his strengths. He uses his long arms to get into people and once that happens, he tends to win. He has a solid base, is perhaps a touch upright at times – but against two vaunted edge rushers, he had a solid game.
At the end of the 2016 regular season, I was struggling to decide whether to include Georgia RB Nick Chubb in my top 100. I didn’t think he looked great. No further removed from his injury, there’s no question he’ll be in my top 100. His quick feet, ability to cut without dropping speed and top end speed made him fun to watch – although I suspect not fun to try to tackle! The loaded backfield should keep him fresh – although it does take away opportunities in the passing game, which might cost him the first round. However, if he stays healthy, I think early day two is a reasonable expectation.
With two edge rushers who have some high grades, it was ILB Roquan Smith who caught my eye the most. His athletic ability and range stood out and if he plays like this in future watches, I’d be willing to think mid-late first round. His main weakness is getting off blocks, but not many are good at this. He looked good in zone coverage, showing a nice feel for the game. When he sees something, then look out – because he gets there in a hurry.
It was my second Penn State watch and, again, Saquon Barkley was outstanding. I’m sure people will pick at him in the process, but he’s special – he has make you miss ability and his acceleration is elite.
The other back in the big Saturday night ABC game was Iowa’s Akrum Wadley. If there’s one thing needed in the NFL it’s mental toughness – and Wadley showed it. He had no chance for much of the game – Penn State got penetration and he was kept in check. However, he kept running hard and it was nice to see him get a reward with the late – not quite – game winning TD. It was hard to really judge him against that defense, but I give him points for staying in the game mentally.
I mentioned with Micah Kiser that lacking that extra burst is a problem for modern day NFL LBs. I say that as Iowa’s Josey Jewell has the same issue. He reads the game well, is tough, puts his body on the line for his team and makes a ton of plays – but when he needed that extra burst to deal with Barkley, it wasn’t there. Unfortunately, that might mean day three despite a highly productive college player – and a fun guy to watch.
Another loss for UCLA – and again QB Josh Rosen wasn’t perfect. However, with an offensive line leaking pressure and a defense doing the same points wise against a team with struggles at QB – he has to force the issue. I feel for him a little. Hoopefully he won’t slip into bad habits – because he’s really talented – you can see the ball comes out quickly and he has first round talent on the field. We’ll see how the year pans out – hopefully he can get some help.
UCLA ILB Kenny Young was hurt against Memphis, but played against Stanford. I thought he looked good. He has sideline-to-sideline range and also short area quickness to help him beat blockers. He’s savvy – keeping the correct leverage when chasing down plays outside the tackle box. As with Roquan Smith, getting off blocks is a negative – and at times he can be a bit over-aggressive and get washed up the field – but on the whole, I think he has talent.
When I watched Stanford in Australia, I said I wanted to see RB Bryce Love against a better defense. Well, I’m still waiting after the UCLA game (sorry, Bruins fans!). However, the quickness and speed was very much that of a top 100 back. I’m not sure how much Pac-12 will be on UK TV (seeming SEC and Clemson heavy so far this year), but I can always use Draft Breakdown stuff if he declares – never a sure thing with Stanford players.
Prospect of the Week: Roquan Smith – LB – Georgia – has the athletic ability required for the modern day NFL off-line LB.