Alright friends, welcome to the debut column writing about everything I see and think as it pertains to the NFL Draft. One definition of madness is 'a state of frenzied or chaotic activity' and I could not better sum up my love for the NFL Draft and marrying player evaluation with team building.
I am constantly studying the players and their behaviors and how they perform on the field, and then dig to see how they are off the field. The hunt for the guy that will turn the Program around. The guy who tilted things in our favor. You will find I love players who are relentless, something about a relentless player who just keeps coming back for more. Football is a 60-minute game; too many decisions and minds are made up before the game has been played until completion. As I take you through which players I like and which ones I have questions about each week, watch how much effort and relentless nature is brought up both positively or negatively when I show you what I see.
I will attach some of the best plays I see for guys mentioned here, and you can search my Twitter and these players names and find some of them have a lot of Vines and thoughts posted. 250 or so Vines have been posted featuring Draft eligible players through the early part of the season, check them out. This column encapsulates two weeks worth of action.
15 Prospects Up
1. Dan Feeney, RG, Indiana, #67 RS Senior (vs Florida International)
Looked very good from a finished product standpoint. Technique shined through, from proper hand placement across a variety of different blocks and from different angles. Was very good at locating/erasing 2nd level defenders, always getting his body in the proper position leverage wise. Only complaint was on the ground a few times in trash situations, want to see awareness there and some more balance. Wasn't tested at all from a pass rush standpoint or a player who won with a power based game. Lots to like here, has shown he can and will improve, readily seen in how technically sound he already is.
2. Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado #4 Senior (vs Colorado St)
Came in being known for his sack production from the defensive backfield spot and a patented brand of physicality. Showed that downhill style off in spades in this one. From an evaluator's perspective, I wanted to see him in coverage, how he was in man, how aware in zone. He showed good feet, able to pedal, plant, and drive on the ball. His INT was a good showing of his patience waiting for the WR to commit to his route and then undercutting him. The one thing I saw that was concerning was he had a propensity to tackle high, and to at times not stay in control bringing his feet with him to make the stop. SC Top 10 hits, but if you miss tackles in the back end you are a liability. If tackling consistency can improve, he is on par with Sean Davis from last year as far as what he can do. Tremendous versatility.
3. Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA, #98 Senior (vs Texas A&M)
McKinley immediately stood out with his play strength from a 6'2, 265 pound frame. It showed taking on pulling lineman, in his ability to split a double team with power, how effective he was at latching onto his man and controlling him until it was time to disengage. Really well coached, nice combo of length and strength. 4-3 Teams wanting a Power based DE are going to take a hard look at this guy.
4. Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina, #90 RS Junior, (vs Georgia, Illinois)
Through 2 games, Nazair Jones has been one of the most impressive players I have watched. Sporting an NFL frame, Jones combines impressive use of his length with incredible effort and a knack for finding the football to constantly be around the action. He does a tremendous job keeping his eyes up and is able to stay on his feet as he works his way towards the football, up and down the LOS. Plays I highlighted with Jones show effort, length, quickness, and the ability to really cause problems for the offensive line.
5. Matt Milano, DB, Boston College, #28 Senior (vs Georgia Tech)
Justin Simmons was a player a lot of people really liked watching play football, and I feel safe saying he 'passed the baton' to Milano this year. As you would expect from a Steve Addazio coached defender, Milano flashed really good technique, fundamentals, and understanding of the game going on around him. He played with a physical, relentless nature, and can make plays all over the field. Love how Milano plays the game.
6. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt, #41 RS Junior (vs South Carolina)
His performance in this one was 'Coaching Clinic' perfect at times. He was all over the field. I posted 8 different Vines of him making plays where you rewound and wanted to see again. He does not mess around when taking on blocks and trying to disengage and make the tackle. Arrives at the blocker with proper form and a combination of explosive hand use and ability to find the football. Uncoils on people at times. Might be overlooked by guys who are more flashy, a team will be quite thankful to add Cunningham.
7. Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas St, #75 Senior (vs Stanford)
First thing you notice with Willis is he looks the part. Has a 6'5 frame with long arms, plays with some power. Has the speed, athleticism to threaten the edge, but needs to tighten up his angle on his arc and to do a better job flattening to the QB at times. Still a work in progress as far as techniques and fundamentals, but the combo of size, length, strength, and effort lead you believe better things are still coming.
8. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford, #90 Junior (vs Kansas St)
Showed a lethal combination of length, power, hustle, and situational awareness in this game, he was unstoppable at times. Stanford used him all over the defensive front, and he was making plays in the backfield, he was making plays on the perimeter from his interior defensive line spot at times. Was a joy to watch.
9. Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa, #67 Senior (vs Miami OH)
Johnson was the most impressive player I saw who I had previously known nothing about, just a name on a piece of paper. While not a great athlete, he made up for it with quicks, effort to chase down plays, and having good awareness of what was going on in the game. He plays with tremendous power, taking on double teams and using it to get off of blocks.
10. Avery Gennesy, LT, Texas A&M, #65 Senior
Gennesy was impressive in this one before exiting with an injury, he makes it look easy at times. He plays with great balance, and when that is combined with his feet and length, he gives his man problems. Gennesy is able to mirror and re-direct with relative ease, he does a good job keeping his base with him and his upper/lower body work in tandem. Stopped his feet in pass pro and got hit with a holding call, but other than that was excellent. Want to see practice tape of him vs Myles Garrett.
11. Jonnu Smith, TEH-BACK, Florida International, #87 Senior (vs Indiana, Maryland)
Smith has put on a show as a pass catcher through two of the better matchups he will seen the scheduling, venturing into the heart of the defense focusing only on making the grab, 'no footsteps' type stuff. What really stands out is Smith's ability to transition upfield after the catch. Everyone loves 'run after catch' but how you are able to position your body before, during, and after the catch go a long way. Smith excels here. He had a False Start that screeched a well developing drive to a halt vs Indiana and he also dropped a wide open ball on a ball deep down the sidelines, however, neither of those issues showed up while watching him against Maryland. FIU uses him inline a lot, but this is not going to be where he is most effective.
12. Jamari Staples, WR, Louisville, #2 Senior (vs Syracuse)
The UAB transfer quickly stands out with an impressive ability to go and get the football. With a 6'4 frame, he is a tough matchup and it shows up repeatedly with Staples flashing an impressive 'catch radius' That term is thrown around a lot, but Staples ability to go high and to go low to make tough grab shows the QB just needs to throw the football in his vicinity. Staples will do work in traffic, something you always want to see from a guy who wins primarily as a rebounder.
13. TJ Logan, RB, North Carolina, #8 Senior (vs Georgia, Illinois)
Coming into the 2016 campaign, TJ Logan was the less ballyhooed of the RB duo that North Carolina had, primarily looked at as the speed component. Through the opening tilts of the Tar Heel season, Logan's speed has been readily apparent. He has had a big Kickoff Return in both outings, changing field position. He has flashed ability in the passing game and shows he has the juice to erase angles of pursuit vs an SEC defense. Where Logan really made me take notice was his effort in pass pro vs Illinois pass rusher Dawuane Smoot. Logan showed a willingness to take on the 265 pounder, despite his giving up roughly 75 pounds to the bigger guy.
14. Jaylen Samuels, Superback, North Carolina State, #1 (vs East Carolina)
Jaylen Samuels is probably the most versatile and productive player in all of college football, relevant to how much he gets talked about. 'Position semantics' will have people trying to come up with what to call him, but I finally came to the conclusion he is a much better version of Dan Vitals, and I borrowed the term 'Superback' Samuels has been used all over the field for the Wolfpack, end arounds, fly sweeps, from the inline position, flexed out into the slot. Vs East Carolina, Samuels really stood out with his ability to catch the football. This is very much a Charles Clay type weapon, too fast and agile for most LB's, too big and strong for most Safeties. Samuels shows he is not just getting by athletically, using technique and savvy to get open with ease.
15. Tony Adams, RG, North Carolina State, #50 Junior (vs East Carolina)
Tony Adams is a joy to watch. What stands out is how proficient Adams is in every facet of the game. He plays with power, once he is latched on, his man is going for a ride. Adams is exceptional is the run game, particularly getting to the 2nd level and getting in proper position leverage wise to take out the LB he is looking for. What was most impressive was Adams ability to play with patience and block the correct man as East Carolina twice showed pressure from an edge DB. On one occasion, the DB came, the other he didn't. Adams played both situations perfectly, showing tremendous awareness of what was going on.
12 Prospects Down
1. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri, #91 RS Junior (vs West Virginia)
Charles Harris was a player I was very intrigued by as I studied some of the bigger named players over the summer. Having expectations of a player can sometimes work for or against you, and in this case, I was very underwhelmed with Harris. He looks to have added weight, and it seemed to have sapped him of some of the explosiveness and quickness I had previously seen. What was most upsetting was one of Harris' selling points was his effort was outstanding. I did not see that same type effort vs the Mountaineers. Too many times he was content to be a spectator instead of trying to be a part of the action. Harris has a skillset that looks to be a high draft pick, but in a year with other talented pass rushers, Harris giving questionable effort, combined with his added weight give me major pause for concern where we stand at this point in the process.
2. Conor McDermott, LT, UCLA, #68 Senior (vs Texas A&M)
This game had me coining a new term when watching a player get thoroughly beaten, 'bodybag' being added to the glossary. It was about 20 plays into this game where you knew Myles Garrett was going to dominate every rep. How does he respond moving forward, is he good and got worked by a stud or does his game have major holes that will always be a problem? He never really tried to be the aggressor with Garrett, and he had help a lot
3. Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M, #11 Senior (vs UCLA)
Reynolds has a Marvin Jones type catch radius to make full extension, wow grabs. But he plays smaller than that catch radius, allows himself to be re-routed or pushed out of field of play too much. Once that is on film, you will see a healthy dose of it
4. Marquavius Lewis, DL, South Carolina, #8 Senior (vs Vanderbilt)
Really intrigued by Lewis' skillset. He has a powerful NFL frame that allows him to play outside on early downs and kick inside on passing downs. How much pass rush does he have? Is he a 5 technique only on Sunday's? How valuable is he?
5. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, #6 RS Junior (vs Houston)
Mayfield's game is built off of thriving during chaos, and without Sterling Shepard, Houston's D kept everything within structure and played sound football. Mayfield exploited a couple of blown coverages Houston had, but other than that could not establish rhythm as a passer and without the aid of the defense breaking down, he did not show he could be a consistent threat for these reasons. He needs to show he can run plays as they were designed
6. Greg Mabin, CB, Iowa, #13 Senior (vs Miami OH)
Greg Mabin has a combination of lengthball skills that will be attractive, and being opposite Desmond King means we can see him with a high % of passes headed his way. Was beaten a few times on beaut ifully thrown back shoulders or in contested catch situations. Mabin showed an ability to make plays breaking on the football, but how he responds seeing the bulk majority of the action will go a long way to telling if he will hear his name called in Aprik
7. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss #9 Senior (vs Kentucky)
Nick Mullens came into this game with his accuracy and ball placement as the strengths of his game. Early on, however, Mullens was off target quite a few times, and really was phased by pressure. By halftime, Mullens had thrown 3 interceptions and Kentucky had built a sizable lead. His timing and anticipation was thrown off multiple times, and he didn't show much in the way of operating out of structure. While Mullens ultimately regrouped and led the comeback in the 2nd half, his struggles early were something to monitor moving forward. Is he a #2 QB who can help a team in spot duty, or does the issues with pressure ultimately mean he is not in the league in a few years?
8. Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M #14 Senior (vs UCLA)
Evans epitomizes the term 'headhunter' perfectly. He goes everywhere with bad intentions. A fine line as an evaluator is how much you want to penalize a guy like Evans for overpursuing plays or being aggressive. Setting a tone type guys have value as far as letting offenses know that blood is in the water. Evans just needs to show he can be a reliable tackler?
9. Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana Lafayette, #15 Senior (vs Boise St)
McGuire couldn't get going vs a bigger, faster Boise State front. Very few creases presented themselves, and they closed quickly when they did. Where he made the most of his chance was in the passing game though. He showed showed soft hands and his big play ability was much easier to see as his space to operate increased.
10. Lorenzo Carter, ATHLETE, Georgia, #7 Junior (vs North Carolina)
Carter has movement skills that are on par with Ryan Shazier, and he is 6'6, 240 pounds. The Vine of him running stride for stride with TJ Logan is just silly when you factor in how fast TJ Logan is at 5'10, 190 pounds. Carter doesn't have the strength to really be effective at the POA, and he at times lacks true LB instincts. He is not a sack master by any means yet either. He has a tantalizing skillset, but is he Jamie Collins or Dion Jordan? I want to ultimately know what he does best.
11. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky, #2 Senior (vs Rice, Alabama)
This dude has easy speed, and he pairs it with tremendous body control as far as not having to really gear down in and out of breaks, how effortlessly he snatches the ball out of the year. Really conjures up memories of Chad Johnson. Smooth. Couldn't bring down a late thrown ball on a WR pass that was a jump ball situation vs Rice, and I was interested seeing if that trend continued vs Alabama. Between Alabama being much better in the secondary, and pass rush meaning deep shots down field would not develop, I wanted to see Taylor do work in the short/intermediate areas. Taylor showed he could make plays in this area, but the trend of not making the contested catches continued in this one. Particularly concerning was Taylor fumbling the ball while trying to make a play after the catch, as Alabama's pursuit ended up knocking the ball out of his hands. Luckily he recovered it.
12. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina, #34 Junior (vs Georgia, Illinois)
Heading into the 2016 season, Elijah Hood was the more talked about Tar Heel RB, and he has been disappointing thus far. UNC has struggled creating creases for their backs the first two weeks, and Hood's lack of burst and speed have shown up here. His partner in crime TJ Logan has been able to use his burst and speed to exploit the smallest of holes, or get the corner, and Hood is simply lacking in this department. What was most disappointing was how poor Hood did in pass protection, twice vs Lorenzo Carter of Georgia he whiffed on Carter, offering no resistance at all. Vs Illinois, it was quite telling watching Logan give much better effort vs Dawuane Smoot, especially given Hood having 30 pounds on Logan. In a loaded RB group, Hood has a long way to go before I think entering his name in the draft is a wise decision
*Myles Garrett is everything as a prospect that Jadeveon Clowney was hyped up to be. Garrett has jaw dropping athleticism and power that is really starting to figure out how to be a complete player with a pass rush repertoire that includes the Bull Rush, Spin, Rip, his hand use is really a strength at times. I already wrote 'bodybag' in my notes while watching him. He embarrassed a guy who had come in with hype. Want to see his level of dominance on a weekly basis. Would love to ask him his thoughts of where Avery Gennesy stacks up as far as guys he played against?
*One thing I am always mindful of how much a player has to do for his team to be successful, sometimes guys on bad teams get overlooked because people aren't paying attention. And sometimes they also have more of the load to carry. I think of it as 1/11. For example, the aforementioned Elijah McGuire playing for Louisiana Lafayette instead of Alabama. At Alabama he would be counted on to to do way less, and by surrounding him with a superior 10/11 players you help make the player even better. Think of it like Reuben Foster dropping to play for the Ragin' Cajuns. For Alabama, Foster is surrounded by other talented players, so 'doing his job' entails much less than what he would have to do for a less talented outfit. He would have way more of the load to bear. Elijah McGuire has to deal with being his team's best player, and being the focal point of the opponent's gameplan. Focusing on McGuire's elusiveness in the open field and above average ability in the passing game make up for certain deficiencies he might have, which is the bottom line
*Ukrapina from Pasadena. Gus Johnson uttered those 3 words with ease and it was awesome. Conrad Ukrapina is of course the Punter for the Stanford Cardinal. I couldn't help but thinking while watching 25 games in the past two weeks was how good the quality of the announce teams are. Joe Tessitore, Joel Klatt, Chris Fowler, Verne Lundquist (Verne is going to have 27 jerseys by the end of the year) Brock Huard, Andre Ware all were excellent in games I watched. They tell and narrate a story that is unfolding live, and I am always impressed with the talent of some of these guys.
*Larry Fedora blew a gasket after the refs wrongly called illegal man down field on one of his OL, and he was flagged with a 15 yard penalty for it. New rule this year can have you ejected with two of these type penalties. Compounding matters was UNC dialing hip a screen while in its own endzone and completing the pass but taking a Safety!! An incredible sequence.
*Cameron Echols-Luper with a 65 yard booming punt for Arkansas State. If the name sounds familiar to you, Echols-Luper transferred in from TCU where he played WR catching passes for the Horned Frogs
*Lovie Smith is now the Head Coach at the University of Illinois, and he has some pretty cool ties with one player in particular. Transferring into the program from California, Hardy Nickerson Jr is a LB for Smith's team. You will probably recall Hardy Nickerson Sr, a long time NFL standout at LB, and Nickerson Sr played his best ball in the late 90's for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His LB coach during that time, of course, was Lovie Smith
*Lamar Jackson has quite arguably been the single most impressive player thus far in the 2016 season, and although he is not eligible until 2018 at the earliest, he is a player worth monitoring starting yesterday. I asked myself if I was looking at the closest thing I have seen to Mike Vick during the Syracuse game, and just thinking of asking that question is pretty damn telling. He is lethal as a runner in the open field, and flashes arm talent for days. His ability as a passer will be broken down ad nauseum, and his growth here will ultimately decide just how high he can go. For the time being, just enjoy runs like this one.
Share this amongst any of your friends who have a rabid thirst for all things centered around the NFL Draft. I will continue to focus on any players that are eligible for the 2017 Draft while not regurgitating the same 57 names that it seems everyone else is constantly talking about. Every player is unique and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Finding these out for each player is ultimately the end goal, and by monitoring whether a player can improve in areas of concern is a great indicator if a player will find long term sustainable success, or will end up being a player who leaves you disappointed across the majority of his games being played.