First out of the gate, I watched the NC State at Pitt game for two early entry tackles. I knew very little about NC State’s Will Richardson, but I was impressed with him. I wouldn’t expect him to be an elite tester at the Combine, and therefore not a pro LT prospect, but at his college RT, he has starter potential. In pass protection, he sits and can mirror – he’s not super light on his feet, but he got the job done. He keeps his hands up and gets his strike in early, with good hand placement – once that happens, he tends to win. I enjoyed watching him as a run blocker, he can move people – and on a late combo block he sprung a Jaylen Samuels TD run. He earned more watches, so I watched the Wake Forest full game. He played pretty well in this one also, perhaps on his heels a little in pass protection, but he sprung a long run with a nice block and won consistently in pass protection.
The other early OT entry in this one was Pitt’s Brian O’Neill, who I knew before Senior Bowl week because he catches the odd tackle eligible pass, which he did in this one. He was one of the prospects that some thought made money – while others thought he struggled and hurt his stock (sigh!). From what I saw in this and two further YouTube cut-up games (Virginia Tech and Syracuse), you are betting upside. He’s very raw with his technique – and certainly is not as polished right now as Richardson. However, he might test better than the NC State man – and that athletic upside could see him go on day two. Now, in pass protection you don’t necessarily see his athletic ability because his base is too narrow. If he learns to take a bigger first kick-slide step, his foot speed should help him. Right now, he doesn’t trust his anchor, so has to play with that narrow base – he has a thin frame and needs to get bigger and stronger. Having said that, he was up against Bradley Chubb some and despite it looking ugly, did a solid job. He also needs to work on his hand placement – he holds his hand low when setting up, and often his hands are outside. Against Syracuse in obvious passing situations trailing late in the 4th – and a DE flying off the edge – he struggled. His feet didn’t look natural and his hands were too far outside. As a run blocker, he isn’t a pure finesse blocker – but his athletic ability was very much on show. He moves really well in the open and then works to finish his blocks. There was one outstanding block against Syracuse where he got out to a CB with good speed. The Combine will be vital for him – if he tests poorly, his stock will fall big time. I also want to see if his weight is up from his Senior Bowl 298 lbs, which is too light for the pro game.
One of the reasons for watching NC State again was to watch the three guys on their D-Line who did well in All-Star games. Kentavius Street (Shrine Game), B.J. Hill and Justin Jones (Senior Bowl) earned good reviews, but when I watched them in season, I had them as nothing special. I watched them closely and came away of the same opinion against Pitt. Hill is a 0/1 technique who can stuff up the middle, but there aren’t any explosive flashes from him – and Street was very quiet. However, against Wake, Justin Jones made some noise – indeed he was impressive – showing the power to get off blocks. Not only did he clog running lanes, but he shed blocks and made plays – including a couple where he got penetration. Now, he looks slow twitch and I didn’t see much as a pass rusher, which limits how high I would put him – but at least there’s something there. Quite where it was in the other 4 games I’ve watched, who knows…
Another early entry NC State RB Nyheim Hines made two huge plays in this one – an 83 yard TD run and then a 92 yard PR for a score – he’s fast and will test well (he has 4 x 100 track experience, so that environment will not be alien to him). The question with him, for me, is lack of vision. He’s dangerous on cut back runs, but sometimes doesn’t see them, or will run into contact. In the Wake game on a toss sweep, he literally ran into a tackler at full speed, when there was a cut back on. The speed and big play ability draws you in, but I don’t know if it’s enough for day two. He’s also had durability issues – against Wake he muffed a punt, got hurt on the play and didn’t return.
One guy I would draft on day two is RB/FB/HB/TE Jaylen Samuels. I’ve really enjoyed watching him all season and he stood out again in this one. At RB he finishes his runs nicely and shows nice patience, as he did on a late 43 yard TD behind Will Richardson. They were creative in how they used him and in the modern day NFL, it shouldn’t be a problem for an OC to do the same. Some teams may pigeon hole him as a HB and say he’s too short, but I strongly feel they would be missing out on a fine and consistent player. I have no idea how the NFL will view him stock wise – but I love him and hope he goes as high as the tape says he deserves to.
I watched Auburn DE/OLB Jeff Holland in the Bowl game, but didn’t come away impressed. I gave him another look as I watched the Ole Miss game, but unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed again. Holland has some speed to threaten the edge, but he lacks anything else in his locker. Too often, he attacked his man square on and lost every single time. He lacks the size and strength to disengage. When he does win outside, it’s with speed and dip, but no hand use – so he might need a little time to develop after he’s drafted. He’s on my list to watch more on cup-up games, I’ll pick a game where he’s played well.
If I compare Ole Miss DE/OLB Marquis Haynes to Holland, I would put him above him. They are somewhat similar in that they aren’t that big and have some outside speed, but Haynes has a little more urgency to his play. He had a sack, beating a HB for speed – butt the QB Stidham tried to extend the play; Haynes was able to chase him down with a relentness edge that is needed for an NFL pass rusher. As with Holland, when he attacks his man square on he struggles to disengage – but he seems to have a little more juice when attacking the outside half. He still needs to learn better hand use and a wider array of moves, but I’d want to think about him in the middle rounds.
You don’t have to be super-fast off the edge to be productive as a pass rusher in the NFL. That’s the good news for Ole Miss DE Breeland Speaks – as he lacks the same athletic ability when attacking the edge as Haynes. He’s listed at 285 lbs, so he will fit as an inside rusher in the league, where that’s becoming trendy. His arm length measurement will be important as one thing a lot of these productive pass rushers are is long. Speaks likes to attack half of his man – either outside or inside. He has an effective inside swim – and against a guard or center inside, he should cause problems. He has a nice rip move outside, but lacks that little extra burst to get him home. I wouldn’t call him lazy – but he didn’t quite have the relentness nature as Haynes, I would say. It’s hard to rank him against a different kind of player like Haynes – but he might appeal to more teams and thus hear his name called first.
I also used this game to take further looks at Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson and CB Carlton Davis. Johnson was reported not to be 100% and that showed in terms of long speed – but it will still be something to watch at the Combine. Outside of that, he looked outstanding. He can make people miss – or get low and run over them. Unlike some backs in a spread system, he’s also featured as a receiver and looks comfortable in that area. As long as the 40 time isn’t too slow, he’ll be pushing for day two – although it is a deep RB class for the second year in a row. Davis is a tall/thin CB who in this one played press man, off man and a little zone. As a press man CB, he looks super comfortable getting his jam in and turning and running. He had excellent coverage throughout in this area of the game. In off man, he will wait a little flat footed, but then turns and runs, which again looks comfortable. When in bail, he doesn’t backpedal, but gets side-on, which I doubt the league will like as a quick out route becomes easy. There are quite a few CB’s in the mix perhaps for late first round – and it will all come down to the 40 – the most single important drill at any position at the Combine.
I wasn’t happy with my top 100 score last year and a big reason why was I spent too much time on my rankings and put the wrong people in. Just because I like a prospect doesn’t mean he’s top 100. M.J. Stewart (CB, North Carolina) is a nice example of such a player this year. I like watching him play – but if I really stop and think, I don’t know that he’s a top 100 prospect. I’m a sucker for a good press man CB and for the most part, that’s Stewart. I say for the most part as he does let people inside far too easily – and then he lacks an extra gear to stay with his man. I’ll be interested in his 40 time, but I’m not expecting super-fast – hopefully he’ll run high 4.4’s which will be good enough. Stewart may have an adjustment in that he’s physical down the field with receivers – at times he doesn’t need to be, but it might be his lack of top end speed in his head. I would also say he doesn’t have the loosest hips – there was some tightness on a couple of double moves by receivers. So, I like him – I’d draft him for sure – but if I take a step back with my top 100 hat on, I suspect he’ll be an early day three pick rather than day two.
I watched the North Carolina/Virginia Tech game, which gave me my first look at Virginia Tech DT Tim Settle, a redshirt sophomore early entry. Settle was just too much for the North Carolina line – they couldn’t block him 1 on 1. He won with raw power and there were flashes of a hugely impressive get off for such a big man. I’ll watch Settle more, but I think he’s a little raw in terms of hand use. His balance is something I’ll be keeping an eye on, as he seemed a bit out of control and on the ground too much. Despite being a huge man (listed at 335 lbs), he’s one of those NT prospects who is more of a one gap style player than a two gap drop the anchor and eat space type. If teams like Vita Vea, they might well like Settle too – although he needs more work.
This game also gave me the chance to take a first look at Virginia Tech Safety Terrell Edmunds. The first thing is that he looks impressive – he’s well put together. When he sees it, he can move – he got downhill on a running play from North Carolina’s own one yard line and almost had a safety. At times though, there’s a noticeable delay while he diagnoses – in terms of being a deep safety, he can be held by play action etc. Interestingly in man coverage against a TE, he had perfect coverage – although he didn’t have to do much of this against a poor team in a blowout win. I’ll be looking at his tackling form when I watch more – he can hit, but he doesn’t always wrap. For a team who likes size at the position – he certainly fits the bill – so he has potential for day two, but I’ll decide after further work.
Cut-up Video Notes
Miami were on UK TV a bunch this season, so I don’t particularly want to watch more full games. However, with only one game of Miami DT RJ McIntosh available, I might need to… McIntosh from one game looks like he’ll interest NFL teams as a top 100 player. He has length and quickness – a combination of which is becoming increasingly sought after as NFL defenses try to get inside pressure (quicker to the QB than edge guys). The game I watched was Notre Dame – and he gave Quenton Nelson a few problems with his movement ability. When Nelson came at him with power, he struggled more – the key improvement area for me would be for him to play lower. However, he has long arms and flashes the ability to stack/shed. You can see the upside even from one game, and I would expect him to test well at the Combine. I’ll keep an eye out for more video for him.
For McIntosh’s team mate, and fellow DT Kendrick Norton, I found two 2017 games Wisconsin and Duke. Right away, it’s clear Norton lacks the length and athletic upside of McIntosh. Norton plays the one technique role. There are flashes of first step quickness, but he lacks speed outside a short area. If he wins, it will be will a good get off and then a rip move – but often he gets hung up on blocks, often ending up with his back to his man/the play. There are a number of bigger DTs in this class, but supply-demand is lower than five years ago – so I think it will push him down to day three as there are better options out there.
One evaluation I’m finding a little tricky, is Clemson WR Deon Cain. In many of the games I watched, he was quiet. Doing a quick bit of box score scouting, if you take away Syracuse (7 catches) and NC State (9 catches), he had 42 catches – okay production, but not sparkling. I could only find one game for him – the Sugar Bowl vs Alabama. He had 6 catches, but it wasn’t until Alabama with a comfortable lead, started playing off coverage, that he showed up more. On points, he lost against Levi Wallace – including a slant where Wallace got a hand in to break up a pass, which ended up being pick off. Cain looks good and he has top end speed – but he fights the ball a little too much and needs to sharpen his routes. I did like he got after it as a blocker against Alabama though. It’s not the greatest WR class, so it’s open for someone to run a fast 40 and rise up boards – and Cain might be that guy. As with McIntosh, I’ll keep an eye out for more cut-up games to help me.