When I watched SMU WR Trey Quinn in the Bowl game, he caught swing passes and nothing else. I watched the early season TCU game and this route tree was much wider. He finished with 7 catches for 116 yards and a TD, plus threw a nice WR option pass which travelled from the far hash to the opposite sideline. Listed at 6’0″ 202 lbs, he looks a lot smaller – in contested situations he struggled rather. As a route runner he has a nice stop-go move, which he used to get open for his TD on a flea flicker, but it felt like he relied on it rather. I’m not sure he’s a 4.3 burner, but more mid-4.5 – so I would question whether he will separate on deeper routes in the league. He is quick in short areas, and several of his cuts, particularly against off coverage we sharp. He catches the ball smoothly, with hands away from his body. I would say he’s borderline top 100 – the 40 time will be key for him and I’ll also be interested in how tall he really is…
This was a frustrating game for the bigger name at WR for the Mustangs, Courtland Sutton, who had 1 catch for 0 yards. Much of the day he was used as a decoy. He was doubled much of the time and when the ball was thrown his way, the passes were poor. He got a little frustrated in the second half, getting called for offensive PI, pulling a CB back on a back shoulder throw. It doesn’t change my grade on him, as it’s tough when a group of five team plays a power five team. I did learn, he’s a feisty blocker though, so WR coaches will love that!
I also found the Tulane game, where Sutton had a nice game – including a “Wow” moment, with a spectacular one handed catch. He also made a nice back shoulder catch and showed he can snatch the ball effortlessly away from his body (I would expect him to have large hands when measured at the Combine). He builds up speed after a few steps and is a long strider, but I would say he looks more athletic after the catch than in his routes, where he needs a little polish. However, he’ll make plays with a QB willing to put the ball in his locality. Quinn also had a “Wow” play, turning a short out route into a long TD, with a great move on an unfortunate CB, who was left tackling air. His routes look sharper, and his quickness is evident in them. As with the comments above, his long speed is of interest, he was almost caught on his catch and run – however, I think he’s fast enough. Expect the Patriots to be watching for his cone drill time at the Combine – if it’s very fast, expect them (and copy cats!) to be very interested.
I needed to watch Western Michigan a third time and also watch Idaho QB Matt Linehan, so I was pleased to find the Idaho/Western Michigan early season matchup on YouTube. First, not to the big name for WMU (Chukwuma Okorafor), but to CB Darius Phillips. Idaho were in control of this game, but two long punt returns by Phillips really switched momentum and the Broncos came back to win. I often write “Nice” in my notes for a good play – but I reserve “Wow” comments for special plays and Phillips made one. The second of his returns, he made a crazy jump cut move to make the first man miss and almost broke it. After that, Idaho punted out of bounds, even if it was a short punt. They didn’t throw at him much, so it was tough to tell – but he must improve as a tackler. I don’t want to compare him to Deion Sanders, but he’s a “Group of Five” version. I think he’s going to have a shot at going in the middle rounds – and if he lights up the Senior Bowl (on game day, I hope they kick to him!) then he might be day two.
Now to the bigger name for Western Michigan in OT Chukwuma Okorafor. He had some high grades coming into the year, but it looks like that enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat. I haven’t been that impressed with him and this one was a mixed bag. Early on, his hand placement was a problem. He wasn’t called for holding, but I could see a savvy NFL veteran making a move which would cause the official to throw a flag. He settled down as the game went on and was better. He’s a big man, but he’s more of a finesse run blocker – on two early stretch plays, he released the block too early, when for a top prospect you’d expect at least to stick to his man, if not drive them into the bench. He was better when asked to turn his man inside and set an edge – he did that a number of times. Now, his base in pass protection is “plus” – he has a natural anchor, which is not as common as I’d like, and he looked in complete control. I think he’ll be solid against edge speed, but I don’t know that he has left tackle feet. He has talent, but I don’t know that I’ve seen a first round prospect on tape – but I’ve seen lesser players put together a top post-season (Senior Bowl in the pit is a massive opportunity for him) and go very high, so it’s early in the process!
Idaho QB Matt Linehan is another QB who looks to the sideline for his checks. However, I got the impression he has a little more responsibility at the line than some. Linehan has an okay arm, but when he can’t step into his throws, his balls can die on him and short-hopped a couple. His deep balls tend to be dropped in, rather than be a Josh Allen frozen rope. I really liked how calm he was in the pocket under pressure, showing an ability to hang in there, keep his eyes downfield and make plays. At times though, he’s hesitant – and if he does that in the league, he’ll struggle. I think he has a shot to be drafted and stick, but in a precision and timing/West coast style offense.
I wanted to watch two more San Diego State games, so found the Stanford and UNLV games. Rashaad Penny had a fine game against Stanford. He showed patience, vision, short area quickness and long speed – plus an ability to catch the ball. He keeps his shoulders square and doesn’t dance around. While he generally makes decisive cuts and gets north-south, he does have the ability to create from nothing. His best skill is feeling the backside cut and cutting at full speed. He has make you miss and power. On the downside, his running style is rather upright and he struggled in pass protection. He got overpowered by a LB on one pass pro set, and the LB won easily as well. I would say he would prefer to get into a route – which he does well, seeing where his QB has moved to and making himself a good checkdown option – but he must improve in pass protection for sure. Interestingly, against UNLV he was much better in pass protection – so perhaps someone had a quiet word with him after Stanford! He ran the ball outside the tackles more in this one, where his speed was on show. He also ran lower, the highlight being running over an unfortunate CB! Obviously the quality of the opposition was less, but it was nice to see he can do it in pass protection.
CB Kameron Kelly is one who I think the Combine 40 time is going to be important. At the position, the 40 time is the single most important drill at any position – it makes or breaks stock. A couple of times, I worried about his long speed – one play he got a bit “grabby” and was struggling, but the QB looked elsewhere. He also was struggling to catch Bryce Love on a long TD run, in the end missing a diving tackle. He tended to play well off the line, either in off man or zone. Stanford didn’t throw much short stuff in front of him, but he did show his “click and close” on a RB dump off pass, where he finished the play with a solid tackle. He also had two sacks on blitzes, one of which was also a forced fumble. He sealed the big win with an INT – in off coverage, he had inside position and was side-on, looking for the ball, then making a nice high point catch. Kelly had another sack vs UNLV. He played more zone in this one, playing way off and making sure he didn’t get beaten over the top. His click and close was on evidence a couple of times – that looks exciting, but you don’t always see it and you can catch balls in front of him, so he needs to trust what he sees in front of him. He’s a former safety, 2017 being his first year at CB, so there’s upside if teams want to look at him at CB. If they think he’s a safety, his angles are good, but he’s not the most physical of players, so it’s about forming trust for him at that position against bigger WRs and TEs.
While watching Stanford, I had a quick look at Safety Justin Reid, who has declared, but wasn’t on my lists (there are going to be a lot due to the numbers declaring early this year). He played in the box, over a slot receiver or in two deep. I can’t say he jumped off the screen and screamed “day two”, let alone the first round mention I saw in the article when he declared. I don’t know if he can be trusted to matchup against a slot WR in the NFL – when asked to do so, I didn’t think he looked great – but did look better against the TE (who was slow). He missed a couple of tackles and also got flagged for running into the punter, which gave SDSU a first down. Clearly, I need to watch again, but my first impression was nothing special. I’ll find YouTube stuff on him to form a better opinion.
I wanted to watch three Texas games for their two early entry DB’s, one of which was Kansas State, so I could also watch CB D.J. Reed, another early entry. Reed is a plus kick returner, and that will add a round to his stock – and if he’s in a “cluster”, it might well break the tie. He has an extra burst in that area of the game. I wasn’t quite as impressed with him at CB. He had an INT on the first play of the game, but it looked like a better thrown ball would have beaten him. As it was, the ball was underthrown and he made the play. I thought there was some tightness in the hips, and I didn’t see a “click and close” when in off coverage. He’s not the most physical, so some teams won’t like that. I’ll do more work on him, but I would say he’ll run fast at the Combine, but his shuttle and cone times might be below average.
Of the two Texas DB’s, from first watch, I would say I liked Safety DeShon Elliott slightly more – but he wasn’t asked to cover man to man much, so has that weakness in his game, which might drop him on some teams boards. Elliott was an extra LB at times, but I preferred him when he was in over the top coverage. He stayed deeper than the deepest WR – and on an INT in the fourth quarter, showed some nice ball hawk skills. He has a nice frame and could play in a scheme which requires interchangeable safeties. In the TCU game, my second watch, Elliott was playing more of a deeper role, so he was in the box less. It was harder for him to make plays, but he did cut out the big plays that had plagued the Texas secondary.
When CB Holton Hill is in off coverage, he’s interested in one thing – a pick six. I could tell from his body posture, that he was waited to click and close – so it wasn’t a huge surprise when a double move undressed him and he was forced the grab the receiver and take a pass interference penalty. I suspect when I look at highlights, he’ll have a bunch of plays from off coverage, where he gambles and wins – but that’s a two-sided coin. I liked him better when he was up at the line in man coverage – he looked comfortable turning and running with his man and there was some nice traits there. He’s a little thin and like Reed, doesn’t like to tackle too much, but there’s talent there. I do strongly suspect he’ll have a few teething problems as a rookie though, because he’s a gambler and veteran NFL QB’s/WR’s will beat him. That was confirmed in the TCU game, where he thought he saw a swing pass, but the window dressing disguised a deep up and a big play was made behind him (zone coverage, he was up at the line when he should have got depth). He showed he can cover man to man when up at the line, breaking up a pass, although it hit him in the back and he didn’t turned for the ball – but he was step-for-step with the WR. He showed his click and close in off, breaking up a slant early on. I’ll post game three from these two in my next column.
The TCU/Texas game gave me another chance to look at TCU OT Joseph Noteboom, who I like. He had another good game. His feet are better than many in the class, although he is light listed at 305 he looks lighter, so I’ll need to he’s at that weight at the Combine and he can carry it in the testing. The key area his lack of bulk shows up is lack of anchor in pass protection, he plays a touch high and can be jolted off balance, although this happened only once in this one. As a run blocker, he did a nice job turning his man inside to open big holes. His athletic ability was also on show in combo blocks, one in particular outstanding. I have him in my top 100 right now, but I will need to check his weight at the Combine and also double check his shuttle/cone drills, as I think 40/10 yard split times should be fast.