It’s been a bit since I wrote down some draft thoughts, and I’ve been binging on several prospects and schools for the past couple weeks. Here are my notes on some players who have piqued my interest, as well as some broader thoughts about the upcoming draft class.
I’ve seen Notre Dame in person at Michigan State and home for USC. And as obvious as it might be in watching the Irish on TV, it’s even more revelatory in person…
Quenton Nelson is an amazing draft prospect for an interior lineman. The left guard does everything any NFL scheme will ask him to do at his position. His technique is outstanding, with balance and power and football IQ. Nelson could very well be the best player regardless of position in this entire draft. As I tweeted from the USC game, there is no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL Draft, but it’s difficult to envision Nelson not being great in the NFL. Not just good, but great.
Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is only a redshirt sophomore, but NFL scouts have been advised to watch him closely. He does not disappoint even though statistically the 6-5, 205 (which appears lowballing by at least 10 pounds) isn’t wowing anyone. He has quickened his feet and improved the urgency of his routes. It was quite visible vs. Michigan State. If St. Brown declares he’s likely a Day Two prospect with just average speed for his size, but he’s got some ability to be a better pro than some who will be drafted before him.
Running back Josh Adams has emerged as a legit Heisman threat. At MSU I wasn’t really paying attention to him from a scouting standpoint as he was a relatively unassuming junior. There was quite a bit of buzz before the USC game so I watched closer, and the burly Adams did not disappoint. He’s got a good combination of burst and vision, and appears to have good balance at top speed, an underrated trait (see: Kareem Hunt). I have no inkling if he’s even considering the draft at this point, but I’m intrigued to see what more he can do.
USC QB Sam Darnold needs to stay in school. There, I said it. I feel better now. I’ve watched four 2017 USC games now including Notre Dame, a game I watched from the end zone to better see the full field.
I still find a lot to like about Darnold at the macro level. He’s got the alpha dog presence and mentality, and it’s very easy to see that in person. No QB is great without that. Darnold throws a pretty ball to all levels of the defense. The velocity isn’t optimal but it’s good enough…if he can fix his number one issue: his release. Darnold has a windup where he brings the ball too low and uses an exaggerated parabolic delivery to get it over the top and out. This compounds his problem of being a reactionary thrower instead of being an anticipatory passer. He needs to see it before he throws it, and the slower release and lack of “wow” arm strength makes this a very real detriment.
The good news with Darnold is his motion can be coached up, and tweaking his feet can help his zip. He has a bad habit of turning his left (front) foot out instead of pointing it toward his target. He’ll open his hips too early, too. I hear more whispers that Darnold is staying with the Trojans for another year than I do that he’ll declare. Let’s hope so, for his sake.
Perhaps the most electrifying player I’ve seen in person this year is Western Michigan CB Darius Phillips. I wrote this about the dynamic Phillips after seeing him versus Idaho:
The standout is Broncos CB/RS Darius Phillips, who once again impressed at both of his roles. Phillips didn’t see much action in coverage, but his tackling was outstanding. He has great strength in his shoulders and extended arm, able to jolt ball carriers. Phillips leverages blocks well and uses the same instant burst he uses to get interceptions to close on the ball. He’s an ideal Cover/Tampa 2 cornerback. Phillips also didn’t get many shots as a return man but maximized the ones he got. The first tackler has yet to get him to the ground on a return this season, and Western Michigan opened at USC and Michigan State, not exactly creampuffs.
I’ve watched two more WMU games and feel even better about his tackling and work in the run game. He’s quite functionally strong for a 5-10” (which seems legit) and 190-pound corner. He’s not as instinctive in coverage as the top cover men and can get caught guessing. Phillips loves to bait the QB to throw at him and that won’t fly for everyone in the NFL, where QBs will have better arm strength and receivers will have more speed and skill. I’m still bullish on Phillips in what appears to be a draft with a lot of scheme-specific CBs.
Now for some lists…
My personal top 10 overall at this point:
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
2. Bradley Chubb, Edge, North Carolina State
3. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
5. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
6. Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
7. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
8. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
9. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
10. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Top 5 risers from my preseason take to now:
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU (Check the $.09 here)
Hercules Mata’afa, Edge, Washington State
Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
Top 5 fallers from my preseason take to now:
Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
Filipo Mokofisi, DT, Utah
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Marquis Haynes, OLB, Ole Miss
5 late-round guys I like more than most:
Anthony Winbush, Edge, Ball State
Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State
Jason Cabinda, ILB, Penn State
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan
5 players I like a lot less than most:
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State