I’ve had the opportunity to watch a great deal of college football film over the past few weeks, as well as attending five games this season thus far. Prior to Saturday’s game between Maryland and Michigan, I got the chance to converse with an NFL scout. He confirmed a couple of my thoughts and enlightened me on some others.
We talked about several players, almost all of them in the Midwest region where we are both based. Among them…
Jabrill Peppers--the Michigan defensive weapon is a hot topic in draft circles. It turns out he’s a hot topic when NFL scouts report to the mothership, too. He was the first player this NFL team’s General Manager personally cross-checked, and the Director of Collegiate Scouting has also deeply investigated the hybrid safety/linebacker.
I stated my belief that Peppers is a base strong safety but plays nickel and dime LB, but I met resistance here.
“We’re not crazy about his deeper cover skills. He covers like a linebacker. Look at how good offenses attack (Michigan). They want him over the slot because he can’t handle those guys in man.”
He was quick to point out Peppers’ timing and ability as a blitzer from the slot, and he was “fine” with the speedy junior matching up with flexed tight ends.
I pointed out I slotted Peppers in the top-5 of my latest mock draft, which we then went over together for a little bit. He circled three NFL team names currently (before Week 9) slotted in the top-8 and told me, “bet on one of those” as Peppers’ destination. His team was not one of those circled (and may or may not have been one who could be) but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s former NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers, was.
Jourdan Lewis--Michigan’s outstanding cover corner figures to be one of the more divisive prospects. As anyone who has read my prior thoughts or listened to me talk about Lewis on podcasts can attest, I love his game but hate his size. With that as the backdrop, here’s what he said about Lewis,
“He’s a player I’m willing to stand up and say we should override the height issue. He’s better than Jason Verrett was at TCU. He’s better than either of the Florida guys (Tabor and Wilson) everyone loves this year.”
He went on about how well Lewis controls the route release even though he’s small. When I asked about what his report had on Lewis’ actual size, he wrote down 5093 182 with an arrow up, indicating he believes Lewis has grown in height a little since the spring practice where those measurement estimates originated.
At that size, it’s very difficult to see Lewis in the first round even though his game screams CB1 in this class. There isn’t a corner who is better both before the throw and after the ball is in the air, certainly not with Lewis’ impressive tackling. We both agreed the Combine measurements and workout numbers will be huge for the senior from Detroit.
We wound up talking about a lot of Michigan players, notably Jehu Chesson and Erik Magnuson, as well but I’ll save that for another time.
Montae Nicholson--Michigan State’s big boy safety is only a junior but this team is convinced the legit 6’2”, 220-pounder is declaring early. His name came up when talking about players who will light up the workout season.
“Underrated monster” was the phrase he used. He noted Nicholson was a state champ in both the long jump and 110 meter hurdles in high school and has a documented 38.5” vertical at his size.
What about his skills on the field?
“They (Michigan State) play him too far off the line and ask him to be passive. I’d like to see him play linebacker, you know, get him closer to the action. He’s the best guy they’ve got behind (Malik) McDowell.”
It’s worth noting Nicholson did not play in Michigan State’s loss to Illinois.
Hardy Nickerson Jr.--speaking of the Illini, they have a senior linebacker with a familiar name. Hardy Nickerson was one of the better middle linebackers of the 1990s, and now his son plays under him as a defensive coach on Lovie Smith’s staff.
I haven’t seen a lot of Illinois this year, and Nickerson is a one-year transfer from Cal so my personal analysis on Nickerson is not strong. I knew this scout has been to Illinois a couple of times this year so I probed.
“Undersized. You can be his size (listed at 6’ and 230 but that might be generous) and be okay but you have to be really fast. The kid is just an average athlete. Being the smartest guy on the field can only do so much.”
Is he draftable?
“Sure.” We then talked about several NFL teams who have linebackers who struggle in coverage and don’t read plays fast enough. Those are Nickerson’s strengths.
I asked about how much his name value and pedigree helps him.
“Some coaches will value that. It kind of takes away any questions about his football knowledge. For me, I can’t make that important. Coaches do though.”
Corey Davis--Western Michigan’s wideout is my WR1 and I’m comfortable in that assessment. That sentiment will not be shared by the NFL, I’m afraid…
“(Davis) is a solid guy. Like you said, he doesn’t have any holes to his game. The concern is what he does that stands out.”
There are questions on Davis’ burst off the line and ability to win against bigger and faster NFL corners. The latter is a fair point as the MAC isn’t exactly crawling with NFL corner talent.
The Senior Bowl--Davis expects an invite--is going to be very big for his draft stock. The impression I got, without going into deep specifics, is that he’s viewed by the NFL as more of a high-quality No. 2 receiver but not a dynamic enough receiver to be a legit No. 1 target. And NFL teams aren’t taking that kind of player in the top 40. Davis can change that impression in Mobile and/or by blazing a really good 10-yard split and 40-yard dash time. Jordan Matthews is the viable NFL Draft comparison, and he went No. 42 overall. I like Davis and his ability to win contested catches, as well as his acceleration across the middle, more than I did Matthews.
Some other quick impressions/quotes:
It’s shaping up to be an exceptionally bad offensive tackle class. How bad?
“Haven’t seen one tackle I’d put in the top two tiers”. That includes Cam Robinson of Alabama, who is not a direct eval by this scout but whom he has seen extensively. By way of comparison, last season his team had 6 tackles in the top two tiers of their system.
Player the draft media is way too high on? Brad Kaaya, Quarterback, Miami. Given what I was told here, Kaaya really needs to stay in school.
When I asked him for a player he doesn’t think the draft media values enough at this point, I almost couldn’t finish the question: Derek Rivers, Defensive End, Youngstown State.