The West Virginia game was the first game back from injury for Texas OT Connor Williams, and considering he had been out for almost two months, he had a good game. The thing that stood out from the game, is Williams is an aggressive player, who finishes his blocks really well. There were a number of plays where the Longhorns ran behind him, and he did a nice job opening holes. In pass protection, he wasn’t quite as good. He tended to win, generally washing his man upfield, but projecting him forward I think he needs to clean this area up a little. I’ll be interested in his arm length and height – listed at 6’6″, he actually looks more like a guard than a long tackle. At times, he has to bend at the waist to wash people upfield, and that would lead me to think he might have shorter arms than ideal. I’ll watch more on YouTube from 2016 before my final ranking.
In my third watch of Texas safety DeShon Elliott, he was asked to cover man to man a little, and looked comfortable, which was the one thing I hadn’t seen from him. He played some SS, single high FS, over the slot WR and even on the edge in some nickel looks (blitzed or dropped). I like him best as a FS – he had a great play on a 4th and 9, getting over to the sideline, keeping his eyes on the ball and tipping the pass away. He can come downhill and hit and he’s one who the Combine should help stock wise, as he has a nice frame and is athletic.
This game also gave me a chance to immediately compare another safety in this class, West Virginia’s Kyzir White. He played over a lot WR most of the time and he looks comfortable doing so. He would actually form a nice pairing with Elliott. He had two nice pass breakups, one breaking under an out route to knock the ball away – and then timing a hit well on a curl to break up the pass. Like Elliott, he can hit and was slightly more active. I would say he’s a little better than Elliott from tape – but his frame isn’t quite as impressive, so the Combine could see that flip – but on a general board, I would give him the edge from tape. On the day, it will depend what role a team needs as to who wins and gets his name called first.
When I watched South Dakota State in the playoffs, TE Dallas Goedert wasn’t 100%, so I wanted to watch him when he was. The North Dakota State game was on YouTube, so that was perfect. In an SDSU win, he made a huge play in the fourth quarter, making a one-handed TD catch – tipping the ball to himself, and making it look easy! He’s used in the slot, out wide, as a HB and also an inline TE. I like his release off the line, and as on his TD reception, attacking the middle of the field against two deep safeties gave NDSU problems. I always like to estimate a prospect’s athletic ability, but I found that a bit hard in this game. After one catch he looked slow, but on other plays he looked like a good athlete. So, we’ll wait for the Combine on that. His hands are good, and as he’s so comfortable catching the ball away from his body, he has a large catch radius. As a blocker, he needs to get stronger for the NFL, but there is effort. He doesn’t wow you in this area, but I think he can get better after some time in an NFL weight room. I’m not sure that he popped enough for me to think first round, but I would say he’s a top 100 talent. I also watched the Illinois State game, where he wasn’t as effective. As noted before, at times in his routes he looks pretty pedestrian – he might be setting up defenders for a burst of speed, or he might be coasting. He wasn’t aggressive as a blocker, sealing or giving defenders a shove and releasing. In line he was overpowered one time. It wasn’t his best game, I didn’t think…
I also had a quick look at Illinois State CB Davontae Harris, who had a nice game. He played a mix of man and zone – flashing ability in both areas. He is often side-on reading the QB, which makes it hard to break on plays caught in front of you (you have to turn your body around) and he had a couple of curls caught on him. However, he showed an ability to turn and run in man coverage – and also flip his hips in zone. If he runs fast, he will be in the late round mix.
I also had another look at North Dakota State LB Nick DeLuca. I watched two of his games early last season, before he shut it down with a shoulder injury. He was in mainly zone coverage in this one, sometimes in the flat, others getting depth from a MLB position. His hips are loose and he can get depth quickly. He was active against the run, he’s not the best getting off blocks, but that’s the case for many prospects. He might need to start as a WLB, but he reads the game well and I always enjoy watching him play. I personally think he has a day two shot, but his rankings don’t appear to be that high. He will be at the Senior Bowl, so he must be regarded by someone pretty highly, so I hope that’s the case.
I hadn’t seen the name James Daniels (C, Iowa) on any lists, but he declared early. He’s not that impressive when you first eyeball him – he’s got that “puppy fat” type of body. That changes in a hurry when you watch him play – he’s highly impressive. The first thing that stood out was how quickly he shoots his hands out in pass protection – his placement is good and he can sit and mirror also. He’s also, as one would expect from an Iowa offensive lineman, skilled in the running game. He can do the zone stuff really well, but he’s not a purely finesse blocker – he can move people and finish blocks. While he can band, I think a little more “sand in his pants” to help him anchor against top power would help him in the NFL, but I would expect him to be a day two pick and it wouldn’t shock me if he managed to sneak into the bottom of the first round.
The other Iowa early entry is CB Joshua Jackson. The first game I watched was the Ohio State game, as that wasn’t on TV in the UK, which had a massive impact on the college football playoff this season. Jackson had 3 INTs on the day, one of which was an amazing one-handed grab. Jackson love to read the eyes of the QB in zone coverage – he has nice hips, can get depth quickly when required and also read the QB and break on the ball. On one of his INTs, he passed the outside receiver off to the safety, read the QB and broke in front of the intended receiver for the pick. He tends to play off coverage, but will come up to the line, although he’s not a press guy. Teams wanting a press man CB likely won’t love him, but zone heavy teams who like their CBs to gamble will love him. I also watched the Michigan State game, where he had two pass breakups, but gave up a few curl routes. He doesn’t tend to backpedal much, indeed his skillset is much like an Alabama CB coming out. He’ll be side-on, with butt to the sideline and a curl route is too easy. It was the case in man coverage as well, so there’s perhaps a little tightness in the hips. But he’s long and I a lot of teams will really like him.
I also cast another eye on Iowa LB Josey Jewell. I have him as a borderline top 100 prospect, as I’m not sure about his athletic ability. Now, he’s tough and productive – when he sees it, he busts a gut to get to the ball. I’m not sure what he’ll run at the Combine, but I want to see it first before I say day two with him. In the Michigan State game, he was biting on play action passes hard, so his aggressiveness can work against him. I’m not saying he’s not going to be productive in the league, but in terms of where he’s going to be drafted, I suspect he might go a little lower than many suspect.
Washington State DE Hercules Mata’afa is an interesting prospect to watch. I watched the full Oregon game and then the cut-up USC, Stanford and Cal games. Despite being 6’2″ 252 lbs, he plays DE in a three man front. The line shifts, soemtimes almost at the snap, and he can line up anywhere between the five and one techniques. The system is a pure, attacking, one gap system – so his job is to get into the backfield and disrupt. He’s a quick twitch athlete with a nice first step – and disrupt he does! He may see a little time inside in the nickel, but his bread and butter will be as an edge prospect. I think he’ll need a little more craft in that role – right now I think he would be reliant on his get off and could get washed upfield to easily. His motor is high, but I had a little question about his balance as he can spend a little too much time on the ground. It’s always harder the more you have to project and you don’t see him on the OT’s outside shoulder, so it’s a tricky evaluation – although that first step will draw interest.
The Oregon/WSU game gave me the chance to have another look at Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby. On the whole, he did a nice game. A couple of times against edge speed he was narrow in his base and resorted to waist bending – but for the most part, he had a nice base. He has heavy hands and can get movement in the running game. Reports are a little mixed from the reports I’ve read from the Senior Bowl, but it sounds like he’s had a solid week. He might be a pro guard, but I would guess right now he’s a top 100 pick.
I have Oregon CB Arrion Springs in my “Sleepers” section of my top 100 page. I took the opportunity to watch him to confirm what I saw before – and I came away impressed again. He’s not the tallest, but he plays bigger than his size. He has experience in man and zone, looking equally comfortable in both. Washington State came after him on one series – he was called for a pass interference call, having his arm on his man. When in man coverage, he does like to have a hand on the receiver to feel him as he does turn to locate the ball. He will need to trust himself a little more and keep the guide hand off in the league. His best play was sticking with a double move – taking it away from WSU. I like his hips, so he should be just fine over the slot WR. I’m not sure why he’s not getting more love – we’ll see what he runs at the Combine.
Quick Notes from YouTube “Cut-up” Videos
Where possible, I like to watch full games. I guess I like to get in the flow of games, but also have a good think about a prospect as I’m watching a game. However, due to lack of availability of games in the UK, I use the YouTube “Cut-up” videos as well. One prospect I wanted to look at was Florida State safety Derwin James. I’ll be honest, in-season, I watched him early on and stopped because I didn’t think he would declare. He did. So, I put on two games and I’m afraid didn’t come away impressed. He seemed to lack an extra closing burst and was often around the ball, but not actually making the play. He seemed to be unsure as a tackler – often avoiding contact and seeming to want to keep his legs away from the pile. On the plus side, he can cover man to man – and indeed, I would say he might be a corner rather than a safety. I’ve stamped him with a borderline top 100 grade – I want to see 40, shuttle and cone at the Combine – I also suspect the medical may be a big factor in his stock, but we will be unlikely to learn anything there until we see where he’s drafted.
After watching Iowa/Michigan State, I watched cut-up tape of Louisville CB Jaire Alexander. I would say he’s a similar prospect to Jackson, but I would say a little looser in the hips and with an extra gear. Alexander is a ball hawk – and he’s capable of big plays as a punt returner. Now, he’s a real gambler and can be flat footed and people get behind him, so there will be big plays for him and the offense early in his career. I would expect him to run fast at the Combine – and if he does that, he could be talked about as a late first round pick. Certainly, he’s a top 100 pick – and I would put him a touch ahead of Jackson.