Notes from Bowl Games – Part Three

Post now updated with FCS and FBS National Championship Game notes.

I hadn’t seen Texas A&M this season, so it was my first full game look at WR Christian Kirk.  He had his best stat line of the season with 13 catches for 189 yards and 3 scores.  In my mind, for Draft prospects, this is exactly what Bowl games can be – a wonderful platform to allow them to go out and dominate.  I was worried when he got rolled up on when blocking, but thankfully, he was okay.  Kirk is listed at 5’11” 200 lbs, so more like a RB – but the days when this is a problem are gone.  He’ll be a real mismatch in the slot as he’s flat out fast.  We didn’t get to see his plus return skills outside of a nice 17 yard PR, but he has a career PR average which is better than many return kick-offs!  He looked fast and quick in short areas, so can separate.  I liked how he got across the face of DBs and stressed them big time.  I can see him running fast at the Combine and being in contention for a first round slot.

Wake Forest TE/HB Cam Serigne also had a nice game, going over 100 yards on 9 catches with a score.  Not long ago, 6’3″ 240 lbs would have meant day three – but that’s shifted, most noticeably in last year’s Draft.  What is needed with prospects at this size is speed – and while I wouldn’t say he’s a 4.9 40, I don’t think he’s a 4.5 guy either.  I would say he’s an average athlete and that might mean day three.  As a blocker, he did a nice job from HB leading runs, but at his size he won’t be an overpowering NFL blocker.  I’ll be interested in his Combine numbers come Indy.

I also gave Wake Forest DE Duke Ejiofor a look.  He’s got a solid build and passes the eye test.  I watch a lot of edge rushers, and many can’t defend the run – but Ejiofor certainly can.  Indeed, it’s the best part of his game.  He had two tackles for loss and battled away nicely with his hands.  There were a couple of glimpses as a pass rusher, but he favoured the inside move which didn’t get him much pressure on the day.  Late in the game, he did stand up at a key time – which I always love.  He had two pressures, the second just throwing the tackle off him like he was nothing.  I have Wake on my catchup schedule – he’s interesting – from first watch I would say 4th/5th round – but if I see more evidence he can win with speed outside, I would be willing to move him into my top 100.

I’m planning an article about the QB position right before the Draft this year, and one thing I have on my mind is how slight many modern college QBs are.  Ryan Finley (North Carolina State) has a thin frame and the key concern would be staying healthy if he declares – e.g. Teddy Bridgewater and Deshaun Watson.  Outside of that, he looks to be someone who would be a day two pick right now, with an outside chance of being a late one.  While he looks over to the sideline for checks, I would say he’s given more to do at the line than some.  That is so crucial, but it’s very hard for people like us to measure it – the interviews before the Draft carry a huge amount of weight and can see a Carson Wentz rise.  Finley looks calm in the pocket, with a smooth delivery and release.  His arm looks good and he throws a catchable ball.  He can stare down his target at times, but he can get through his progressions, which I love.  At times, he’ll get something in his head and force, so ideally another year in College for him, but we’ll see what he decides.

I’m not 100% what the NFL will make of North Carolina State TE/HB/FB/RB Jaylen Samuels, but I really like him.  At times they use him as a decoy – and the defense keying on him made that a good ploy.  When he did get the ball, good things happened.  He was good as a receiver and as a runner, particularly in terms of showing power with the ball in his hands.  I’ve seen him ranked as a late rounder in a couple of places, but I have him as a borderline top 100 prospect because of his game and versatility – he’s certainly fun to watch.

The CBS commentators mentioned Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen was considering jumping to the NFL early, so I gave him a look (he’s another one I hadn’t seen on any lists…).  I remember when Bud Dupree came out, he was better against the run than as a pass rusher, and I would say Allen is the same.  He knows how to set an edge and his speed and high motor mean he can chase down plays from the backside.  He’s okay in zone coverage, although his frame is high cut (long legs/shorter torso), so I’d be interested in shuttle/cone times at the Combine.  He flashed a little as a pass rusher, but needs more refinement – certainly getting stronger would help, but he has the frame to add weight.  I wouldn’t say the “upside” is as obvious as with Dupree coming out, but it is there – but he would be one I would hope would return for another year.

I always mention the difference between my top 100 and rankings.  Top 100 = predicting the top 100 players to be taken; Rankings – attempting to predict pro success.  I mention that at this point as Northwestern RB Justin Jackson is a prospect who I really like and believe will have NFL success – but I don’t believe he will be a top 100 pick.  While he has a nice explosive short area burst and quickness, his long speed doesn’t look elite – and as he’s not the biggest, I suspect NFL scouts will question whether his game will translate to the NFL.  I believe it will and if I were an NFL GM, I’d be willing to draft him without question.  Jackson is an all-around back who has been durable and productive.  He’s patient, tough and makes his cuts at full speed.  I hope he runs his 40 faster than I think, because he can play.

I had Northwestern safety Godwin Igwebuike as a borderline top 100 prospect going on, but I dropped him.  Playing two deep or single high, I thought he was flat-footed and slow to see what the offense was doing.  He was called for holding when in man coverage against a TE (was beaten across his face) and I’m afraid he didn’t have the best game.  I guess not all prospects can stand out.

I’m not as high on Southern Cal QB Sam Darnold as some and he had a bad game against Ohio State.  Now, it’s safe to say the #5 Buckeyes were out to make a statement and the Trojans just happened to be in the way – but Darnold really struggled.  At times he looked like a rabbit in the headlights and a first half sack was ugly – he should have seen it pre-snap, audibled and got the ball out to a hot read – but instead he saw the rush post-snap, his eyes came down to the rush and he took the sack.  It looks like he relies on his sideline for checks more than Ryan Finley.  It wasn’t all his fault, but this was not the platform on which to declare early.  Ball security, or lack thereof, is a major concern and if he gets drafted by a poor NFL team and plays early, I would worry he might break.

I love Southern Cal WR Deontay Burnett, but I have to say he got run over by Ohio State as much as his QB.  Burnett fumbled, had a dropped catch and then stopped a crossing route in the face of a Buckeye onslaught in the first half.  To give him credit, he recovered to make some plays, but it felt like the game was out of reach after the first half.

I’m higher on Ohio State OT Jamarco Jones than most, it seems.  He took a little time to adjust to the speed of the defense, but once he did, he settled down to have another nice game.  Functional strength doesn’t always transfer from the field to the bench press at the Combine – but Jones looks strong.  He has heavy hands and he can stun and move people.  He’s not the best foot athlete, so I don’t think he’ll stay at LT as a pro – but I think he’s got a top 100 chance.

For Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, it was more of the same.  A unique athlete, he made plays with his feet – but when it came to throwing the football, he struggled.  He’ll make plays as a runner – but he’ll need to make his living with his arm – and while there is talent, he needs a lot of work.  The key area is his footwork – his base never seems right.  On quicker throws, he throws from a very wide base – or goes from the wide first step to a narrower base – and if you step that through in your living room (mind the dog!) you can feel how that would push a ball high.  When he has time in the pocket, and stays there, he’s narrow with his base and it makes balance difficult.  His release is also slingy and it almost feels like he’s pushing the ball up with it times – a bit like if you were trying to skip a stone on a lake.  Now, he has a plus arm and I wouldn’t want to move him to another position (far more work involved there), but he needs a bit of luck to land in the right spot.

Every time I’ve watched Iowa State WR Allen Lazard he’s gone up my board, so it wasn’t a surprise his big day against Memphis saw him nudge up a little more.  Despite limping in the second half, he was too much for the Tiger’s secondary.  Speed will be the big question for him to answer at the Combine, if he can run in the 4.5’s, he will be under consideration for a top 100 slot.

Every year the very top prospects get picked apart.  This year has been no different with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley.  I’m not going to type tons on him, because there’s no need.  He’s special, the type of prospect that only comes around once in a decade.  If you get the chance, draft him and don’t look back.

It seems the TE class this year is full of prospects where I question what kind of athlete they are.  I would add Penn State’s Mike Gesicki into that group also.  He found soft spots in zone well in this one, but he didn’t wow me with his athletic ability.  The Combine is going to be key for this group to help stack them.

While we were robbed, for the most part, of Dante Pettis, we did see Washington RB Myles Gaskin make some plays.  He must learn not to dance around too much – when he did, he struggled and on one play lost yardage.  When he got his shoulders square and got north-south, he looked superb.  He’s not the biggest back, which might limit where he gets drafted, but you’d want him on your team.

The two big DTs for Washington, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines (both juniors) struggled to make an impact in the game.  Yes, Barkley can make anyone look bad, but Gaines made no impact on the game, and Vea only a couple of flash plays.  I would imagine if they declare this will be one of, if not the, first tapes on for scouts and they won’t like what they see.  It shows against a modern offense, the like of which are in the NFL, this type of DT struggles to make an impact.  It’s why they aren’t taken as high as they were 5-10 years ago.

I’m guessing Miami will have a few underclassman declare on the back of their start to the season – but I didn’t have any on my list, so I’ll catchup when and if they declare.  I guess the top prospect in the game was Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli, who like Gesicki will go into the pot with a bunch of other similar prospects.  Again, I’m not sure he’s an elite athlete like a Evan Engram and he will need to test better than the others in this “cluster” to push for the middle rounds.

I had a look at a couple of Auburn juniors who I’d seen on lists, but they didn’t impress, so hopefully they’ll return to school.  For UCF, CB Mike Hughes had a nice game.  He didn’t really get to show off his return ability, but it’s clearly there and it would add a round to his stock should he declare.  He played a mix of man and zone in this one – but he didn’t press often.  He’s not physical with his man down the field and therefore will have less of an adjustment than prospects who take advantage of the greater contact college CB’s are allowed.  He showed he can cover in  man tightly and on the pass breakup, he looked comfortable, so much so he got his head around early to find the ball and knock it away.  His greatest area for improvement is his tackling, he missed one and doesn’t look like he enjoys that part of the game.  I would think he’ll be a best fit for a man heavy team.  With the coaching change, I guess he’ll be leaning torwards the exit, but we’ll see.

It was nice to see Derrius Guice at RB for LSU.  He was making ridiculous cuts and looked healthy.  His power is plus and he can also catch.  He looks to be a top prospect.

While LSU WR D.J. Chark made two poor decisions in the return game, he had a nice game at receiver.  He has good size and should run the 40 fast from the look of him in his routes and that combination should see him go on day two.

I’m higher on LSU C Will Clapp than most.  He’s a junior, so we’ll see what his decision is, but I like him better than Billy Price (Ohio State) as he has a better anchor.

In the three full games I’ve watched Notre Dame RB Josh Adams, he’s rushed for 133 yards on 51 carries!  I know some like him as a day two guy, but it’s tough from those watches to think of him as anything other than a day three.  I’ll watch some YouTube of his better days between now and the Draft.

I was probably the only person who wasn’t super-high on Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson.  I didn’t think he played well against Miami or Stanford.  After a rocky start, where he was on the ground too much for my liking, he settled down and I could see why he’s rated so highly.  In the running game he was getting after it – moving people, pulling, showing quick feet to get square and finishing his blocks well.  I’d still like to see him anchor better in pass protection, he was a bit high for my liking, but this was much better.

When faced with edge speed at LT, Michigan’s Mason Cole struggles.  Against South Carolina, that wasn’t the case, so it was a better game to judge him – as he’s a pro C or OG.  He’s a flexible athlete, who gets very low in pass protection – I can see him being able to use that against shorter NFL DT’s.  He locks onto his man and tends to win.  He also made some nice blocks in the running game.  Moving back to LT in 2017 hasn’t helped his stock, so he has a little rebuilding to do in the post-season process, but this was a nice start.

South Carolina HB/TE Hayden Hurst announced before the game he’s declaring for the Draft, so I gave him a look.  The first thing I do with a prospect is give an initial impression as to whether he stands out enough to be a top 100 pick.  Hurst is an OK blocker, but struggled more at in-line TE.  He looks to have solid hands, but I don’t know if he’s an elite athlete.  To be a top 100 pick you have to have an outstanding trait – even if that’s athletic upside.  I didn’t see that from Hurst, so from first watch, I’m thinking day three.

Playoff Semi-Finals

When you do this, you can lose games because you are watching prospects.  This year, I was determined to enjoy these two big games.  In the case of the Oklahoma/Georgia game, I’m glad I did as it was a classic (and that’s from someone who doesn’t often enjoy such high scoring games).  So, a few quick comments:

Georgia RB Sony Michel had a costly fumble – but we all make mistakes.  How did he react?  Well, he did so superbly, so you can check the “mental toughness” box.  It’s interesting how he’s used in the passing game more than Nick Chubb and it might make him a hotter property on Draft day than Chubb.

When I did watch someone for Georgia‘s offense, it was LT Isaiah Wynn.  Now, he’s a pro guard for sure – but he still did well.  I haven’t watched him much, but he has active hands, good hand placement and a solid base.  He uses his hands well to wash defenders up the field and he’s earned a longer/closer look from me.

Not every evaluation is easy.  Some take a handful of plays (Saquon Barkley is special – next) – while others you can’t get a handle on.  For me this year, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield is the most difficult evaluation in this Draft class.  Now, he’s clearly a top college player – but I am looking at what they will be in the NFL, which is a very different animal.  He came out against Georgia calm and confident.  There was one outstanding pass where he moved a defender with his eyes and made a big play.  He even caught a TD as it looked like Georgia were going to get blown out.  Then it started to go pear shaped.  He was holding the ball too long and making some forces.  He overthrew his man over the middle for an ugly INT (his front shoulder was pointing as if he was throwing a corner route, so he was chest on).  Then he recovered to drive his team down late in the fourth quarter – and at that point you wouldn’t have bet against him.  In the end, his team lost, and you can’t help but feel for him as he plays the game with his heart on his sleeve.  The streaky nature of his play wasn’t good though in terms of pro potential.  As I’ve mentioned before, his greatest strength (chaos) is also his biggest weakness (taking too many sacks trying to create and forcing balls).  He lacks the physical skills of a Josh Allen and when you think about tight window throws in the NFL, I worry a little.  However, I don’t know that I want to back against him.  I don’t know if further tape study will give me answers, I’m just not sure…

Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown has high rankings from many, but I want to see more nasty from him.  He’s a big guy and you expect to see him maul, but he’s more like a 290lb finesse OT.  I bet an O-Line coach will feel they can light a fire under him, but I would worry about drafting him too high.  In pass protection, his feet look heavy – and he doesn’t get his strike in early.  His hands are down by his side at times and he has the Wes Bunting “chicken wings” (hands dropping with each step in pass protection setup – and boy, does the NFL Draft community miss Mr. Bunting!).  So, I don’t see a top prospect – there’s potential with his size, but I don’t see a finished product.

I’m higher on Oklahoma LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo than most – but he got pushed around at times, getting knocked on his butt on more than one occasion.  However, he’s so quick he still made big plays.  I guess a Su’a Cravens comparison makes sense, playing a LB/SS hybrid role.

For Alabama, I hadn’t studied CB Levi Wallace closely so far, but I thought he had a nice game.  I’ll be interested to see how fast he runs, as he’s not ranked highly by many – if he can run fast, I’d be willing to put in some more tape study and think top 100 for him.

For Clemson, DE Austin Bryant had a better game than I’ve seen from him.  LB Kendall Joseph was active, but he is short – if he declares, that will work against him and I hope he knows it before he makes his decision.  WR Deon Cain, another junior, has been quiet whenever I’ve watched him – he made a couple of nice plays, but generally lost on points to Wallace.

FCS National Championship

A couple of prospects from JMU might get camp shots.  Safety Raven Greene plays the field safety role, occasional rotating to a single high free safety.  He had responsibility for the slot WR at times – but unfortunately on one such play, he released the WR – the deeper safety didn’t get over and NDSU scored – such is life as a DB.  He tackled well and was under control defending the run.  In man coverage he looked like he can turn and run smoothly, always a positive for a modern day safety.  LT Aaron Stinnie, I’ve seen before.  He struggled against edge speed a little, but his hand placement was good.  I don’t know if he can play guard at the next level, as he has some balance issues, so he might be a “RTO” (Right Tackle Only).

For NDSU, it was difficult for LB Nick DeLuca to make an impact on the game.  He was out in space for much of the first half, but played inside more in the second.  He showed he can get off blocks, getting under Stinnie to make a nice tackle for a short gain.  He cleaned up a sack on a blitz, but doesn’t look to be too dynamic in that area.  His strength is being disciplined in defending the run – he doesn’t over pursue and reads the game well.  His hips looked loose in zone coverage out in space.  He missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury, so will need to be cleared medically – but I think he has day two potential – Combine pending, of course.

FBS National Championship

My focus for Alabama was the two big names on the defensive line – DaShawn Hand and DaRon Payne.  It was pretty clear who the better NFL prospect is – Payne.  He has quickness that Hand didn’t display.  Indeed, Hand struggled to do anything against Georgia LT Isaiah Wynn.  Now, Hand was out at DE in 4 man fronts, which isn’t his game – but Wynn isn’t a pro LT either, so I figured that was an interesting matchup of interior NFL Draft prospects.  Payne was impossible for Georgia to block and he’s why Nick Chubb had a quiet night – every time they gave him the ball, Payne stopped him it seemed!  Most encouragingly for his Draft stock, I thought he was good rushing the passer as well – whereas Hand relied on a bull rush, which generally proved ineffective.

I’ve mentioned the media is miles behind this season – more than usual – and the aforementioned Isaiah Wynn is a perfect example.  I just checked NFL Draft Scout and they have him as a 6th round prospect.  No chance after the way he’s played down the stretch.  He’s not an NFL OT because of lack of length, but he’s a day one starting guard for me.  Sometimes you look at these in-season risers and wonder what the heck people are looking at – but with him, it’s clear – he can play.

Georgia RB Sony Michel again looked excellent – the more I see him, the more I like him.  Georgia LB Roquan Smith is really good, but then we knew that!

I watched Alabama’s last three games and I didn’t come away particularly impressed with Alabama WR Calvin Ridley.  He made plays late in the game, but he’s been quiet.  The QB situation does have to be noted, but I’ll be interested in where he gets drafted should he declare.

Updated: January 9, 2018 — 8:22 pm

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