Week 12 kicked off with another look at Western Michigan and OT Chukwuma Okorafor. I have to admit in my first watch, I didn’t think he lived up to the hype – and again this one, I didn’t come away thinking “sure fire first round”. He was cut blocking more in this one, which he did effectively – but still, there wasn’t much in the way of “nasty” from him outside of one down block where he pancaked his man. In pass protection I have concerns. He struggled against outside speed and quick inside moves also gave him issues. His first step is nice, but he’s a little too narrow with his base, so the depth isn’t there – it then leaves him having to over commit outside and leave the inside open. When he locks onto his man, he tends to win – but NFL speed is going to give him problems. You can say he’s a pro RT – but modern day NFL defenses come at you from all angles now – so he might be a guard – but I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of taller guards. So, I’m afraid I’m not clicking with him as much as others…
Western Michigan RB Jarvion Franklin is an interesting prospect. In both games I’ve watched, he’s had success early in the game – getting to 100 yards in a hurry – but then they give him a break, but he then struggles to get back into the game. He seems to be a back who needs to the ball a lot to get him in the flow of the game and keep him there. So, he might not suit a heavy backfield rotation – but if someone was willing to make him the bell cow, he could be an NFL 1,000+ yard back in a zone system.
Going back two years ago, I broke my own rule with Navy QB Keenan Reynolds. I don’t like position changes, it’s just too hard to do it – there are one or two that come off, but for the most part, it doesn’t work. With Reynolds, I bought into the character, work ethic as well as the athletic ability. Drafted by the Ravens, Reynolds was on and off the practice squad last year, but cut after camp this year. He’s only just re-surfaced on the Redskins practice squad. I make the point as with South Florida QB Quinton Flowers, I believe we are looking at a position change as an NFL prospect. As a pure passer, he’s not accurate enough, I’m afraid. He’s a “plus” athlete and runner, so he will get a look – but as Reynolds has discovered, it’s not easy…
Earlier in the day, I had scanned an article on NFL.com from former NFL Draft Scout writer Chad Reuter with the top 15 non-power five Draft prospects. South Florida CB Deatrick Nichols was on the list, and to a degree, I could see why. However, I wouldn’t say Nichols is a scheme diverse prospect – so you might find him ranked as a day two prospect by some, but others will be thinking late rounds. Teams who like good press CBs will probably look elsewhere – Nichols did press some, but it’s not his game – he gave up the inside too easily and didn’t always get in a clean jam. Now, when he’s facing the QB good things happen. He almost baits the QB and he has a nice feel for routes underneath him – and he’s got an excellent break on the ball. As you could see from the pass interference call, when he has his back to the QB in man coverage, he’s not as good – so I think an off man (with S help) or off zone team will be perfect for him. But don’t expect a consensus ranking from him, because there won’t be one.
The Friday night ESPN game gave me another look UNLV WR Devonte Boyd, who finished with just two catches for 28 yards. UNLV completed just 13 passes on the night, rushing 46 times and passing 25 – so it’s easy to see Boyd didn’t get many chances to shine. I always think the best draft classes are made up of day three guys like Boyd, who might not get a chance to put up massive numbers. But it’s clear Boyd is athletic, his acceleration is good and he is quick at the line, getting the inside on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, he was a decoy much of the night – but I have a feeling he’s going to stick in the league.
I’m not going to slate Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald, but for me in terms of accuracy, or lack thereof, he needs to come back next year. He’s not NFL ready in that aspect – and while you being mobile helps, if you can’t get the ball in the right place you are in trouble. He can still take a massive step from junior to senior years – a certain Dak Prescott did, so hopefully Fitzgerald can do the same.
Mississippi State OT Martinas Rankin has a really nice first step in pass protection – enough to understand why some really like him. However, outside of that he had a mixed game, struggling at times in his matchup with Arkansas DE Briston Guidry. In the running game, Rankin looked better when in zone mode – he can stick to his block nicely, and he can move well enough. When he was moving people, he tended to have balance issues – falling off and releasing blocks. On the play where Guidry recovered the fumble for a TD, Rankin released the block too early – but there were numerous other examples. In pass protection, he plays a little high – he doesn’t trust his anchor, and his initial punch can be a bit high. He does then work his hands lower, trying to use them to get underneath his man, but that initial punch will need to be better for me. He’s a top 100 level talent, but he does have some things to work on and won’t fit every system.
I watched Kentucky/Georgia for a couple of Kentucky prospects I’ve seen on lists (both juniors) – I’ll be seeing Georgia at least twice more, and have seen them tons already, so won’t focus on them this week. TE C.J. Conrad left the game with an injury and his ankle was in a boot, so that may make his decision for him. I don’t know if he’s an elite athlete – a good one, but he doesn’t have that little extra burst that might make you think super-high pick. They didn’t throw to him much, so it was tough to tell as a receiver. As a blocker he had a mixed outing. He was better leading the way from HB, where he showed an ability to pick through traffic and get to the second level. When used as an inline TE his lack of strength showed up and he released blocks too early – including one play where he ducked his head into contact.
The other Kentucky junior is OLB Josh Allen. I would say he should come back next year for sure. He has good length and had some solid moments early in the game against the run, where he’s disciplined – but as the defense did as a whole, got worn down as the game went on and got trucked on Chubb’s TD run by LT Wynn. As a pass rusher he needs to develop a counter when someone gets his hands on him. He tends to attack his man square on, and minus that counter he struggled to make an impact in that phase of the game. There’s potential there – he had a nice INT for example – but I think he needs to develop more before he thinks NFL.
It’s always useful when two QBs go up against one another. From the UCLA/Southern Cal game, I came away thinking Josh Rosen is the better prospect. The word I would use for Rosen would be “crisp” – his release is quick and he can throw with timing and anticipation. He wasn’t perfect – but if you consider what’s around him compared to Darnold/USC, Rosen has to do more on his own to make it happen. Much of the night he did, but the INT was a poor throw and he had a couple of misses, which I’m sure he would like back. Off the field with Rosen, I have no idea, I won’t comment on that – but it will determine whether he goes very early in the Draft, or falls a little. In terms of what’s on tape, I’d take him with the first pick in the Draft. As for Sam Darnold – he made some nice plays and his ability to create from nothing is exciting. However, he has more to work on for me than Rosen. His feet are a problem – on an INT he had happy feet and he doesn’t always sort them out before throwing. That’s partly because of the offense he plays in – and I suspect may not improve. It’s easy for Herbstreit to say he needs to come back next year – but will he, in that offense, improve enough to warrant doing so? I don’t know – he’ll still be looking to the sideline for the play (and check) and he’ll still need to get the ball out quickly rather than concentrating on getting his feet under him first. There’s no question he’s talented and in an ideal world he would return, but in the days of spread offenses, I think that thinking might be changing – and it’s better to get into the league and start learning what it takes to be an NFL QB, because these kids aren’t learning that in college.
I haven’t seen UCLA WR Jordan Lasley’s name on any lists – but he’s a junior, so could declare – one assumes Mora is done at coach and that always means undecided juniors lean to declaring unless a quick appointment is made and a recruitment job is done. Anyway, he stood out – so if the Bruins make a Bowl game, he’ll be my focus.
I’ve seen UCLA LB Kenny Young ranked all over the place. I like him, but I don’t know if he has that extra burst that would make him a top 100 pick. He has good size, although is a little “high cut” (scouting term which means long legs and a shorter torso, making winning the leverage battle harder). He was around the ball a bunch and showed he can get good depth in his zone drops. If you matchup with him in man coverage, there’s the speed question.
My focus for Southern Cal was LB Cameron Smith. Like Young, he was active, usually around the ball. He’s aggressive, sometimes too much so as he takes false steps on what he first sees. When UCLA used play fakes or mis-directions, he was out of position. He’s willing to take on blockers ar full speed, but needs a little refinement to help him get off blocks. I wasn’t sure earlier in the year if he was a top athlete – I didn’t think that so much in this one, but if he does declare, I’ll be watching his Combine numbers.
After Notre Dame made UK TV for the first time last week, this week it was the turn of Washington. They have several quality prospects and I can see 4 or 5 being top 100 picks. I’ve been looking forward to seeing WR Dante Pettis the most and he didn’t disappoint with 6 catches for 94 yards. I loved how he caught the ball naturally away from his body. After the catch, there’s no wasted motion and as Rod Gilmore mentioned in commentary, he’s smooth – and likely to run faster at the Combine than some think. His punt return ability is clearly outstanding, although quite why anyone kicks to him, I don’t know! I think he’s a day two talent for sure, and it wouldn’t be a massive shock if he was a first rounder either – although I do need to study him a little more.
This is another exciting RB class – and you can throw in Myles Gaskin to the mix. He was kept in check running the ball, but he stood at as a receiver, including a 76 yard TD on a nice catch when a defender flashed in front of him. He can dance around a little too much at times, but he does make people miss, so you can understand why he does so. There will be an adjustment in the league, if he declares (most RBs do), but his acceleration is such that if you give him a crease, then look out. His backup, Lavon Coleman can play as well – a bit like Sony Michel for Georgia.
Washington’s two big DT’s are tough to move – both Greg Gaines and Vita Vea are classic two gap run stuffers. It’s hard to play – but they both did it well. Encouragingly, there were flashes from both when rushing the passer. I’m not going to say they are 10+ sacks a season guys in the NFL, but they weren’t non-factors. Many will say they don’t offer enough in that aspect of the game to be super-high picks – but I will say that football is cyclical. The QB play in the league – and in Draft prospects is not in a good place right now – but the RB classes the last two years have been outstanding. At some point, NFL defenses will need two gap guys to stop the run all over again – these two will therefore be needed, although I don’t know if we are there quiet yet. When the Patriots start taking two gap guys again, then expect the rest of the league to follow in the next 2-3 years.
With Azeem Victor suspended after a DUI arrest (which doesn’t mean he can’t go on day two – off the field stuff was a non-factor for non-QBs in the 2017 Draft), I had a long look at fellow Husky LB Keishawn Bierria. He’s flat out thin – listed at 223 lbs and not looking any heavier – but he does look to have long arms, so with added bulk he’ll be fine. He could play a hybrid SS/LB role in the nickel – I’d need to see him in man coverage, but in zone he got good depth and his hips looked good. I liked his range, his ability to dip under blockers and his willingness to attack blockers despite being undersized. He had a few plays where he bit on the wrong thing, but on the whole I enjoyed watching him and think he has a shot at a day two placing.
When I watched Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei earlier in the season, he did nothing. Now, from watching him last season, I know it’s there. Indeed, if the light had gone on this year, I could have easily seen him being a very high pick. However, it’s not happened for him – although he was better in this one. I don’t know if he’s added a little too much weight, but he seemed to be throwing blockers off pretty well – but then his feet didn’t respond, so you didn’t see those flash plays like last season. He did move well enough laterally, but the explosion isn’t there. Scouts always grade the flashes, but I don’t know if they will be willing to grade the flashes from the 2016 season. He has boom or bust written all over him.