The college football schedule seldom disappoints. NFL scouts will scatter all over the country for several marquee games, but also some more unheralded outposts with underexposed talents. The draft action kicks off Friday night with a Mountain West tilt featuring two teams I’ve yet to cover, and shifts into full gear at the late afternoon slate on Saturday.
San Jose State at San Diego State, Friday 10:30 PM on ESPN2
If you’re in the mood for some football on Friday night, one of the more exciting RB prospects is on display. Aztec RB Donnell Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing, thus far the only RB with over 1000 yards on the season. His 185 yards per game on the ground leads all of college football by nearly 40 yards (Donta Foreman of Texas is next in line at 146).
Pumphrey is short at just 5’8” but he understands how to use it to his advantage. He’s fantastic at breaking out from behind his big blockers and finding the open space. His quick feet and ability to cut sharply without losing juice, as he did on this play, are ready-made for the NFL…
One of the guys who helps Pumphrey find those open spaces is left guard Nico Siragusa, a four-year starter who looks like a solid Day Three prospect. No. 56 tips the scales at 330 but he shows athleticism in getting to the second level and frequently pulling across the formation. There is some Larry Warford to his game.
Three members of the SDSU secondary made the preseason Senior Bowl watch list. Kinetic CB Damontae Kazee is the most likely to make it to Mobile, and his solid tackling makes the 5’10” senior a nice slot prospect. Safety Na’im McGee is out for the year, which puts more of the spotlight on fellow safety Malik Smith. I see Smith earning a Shrine Game invite, as linebacker Calvin Munson also deserves.
The Spartans are thin on senior talent. The best NFL prospect on the team is junior safety Maurice McKnight. Linebacker Christian Tago hits anything in front of him, and if he can square up Pumphrey and avoid getting caught in trash it bodes well for his draft stock.
Wisconsin at Iowa, 12 PM on ESPN
Entering the season Iowa QB C.J. Beathard was highly regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects. It has not gone as planned in Iowa City. This is the company Beathard keeps in the national QB ratings…
Obviously there are other factors at play. Iowa’s line has not played as well as expected. Senior wideout and potential NFL prospect Matt VandeBerg has missed half the year and won’t play here either; there are reports of him seeking a medical redshirt for his foot injury. Still, Beathard has not shown the poise or pinpoint control needed to be more than an afterthought at the next level.
Wisconsin’s defense features two emerging junior linebacker prospects in T.J. Watt and Jack Cichy. Watt is soaking in the broader media attention he’s earned with his hard-nosed, instinctive play. Cichy was the best defender on the field in the loss to Ohio State, showing range from the interior as well as the ability to make impact plays. He’s one o the best tacklers you’ll see this year. Both have another year of eligibility and their draft intentions are unknown, but if you are watching for Beathard or the underrated Iowa RB Akrum Wadley (also a junior), know that these Badgers are highly regarded by scouts.
Purdue at Nebraska, 3:30 PM on ESPN2/ABC
This is a yawner of a contest. Purdue wouldn’t go .500 in the MAC West this year, let alone the Big Ten West, and that’s part of the reason why they fired Darrell Hazell. This is the Boilermakers first game under interim coach Gerad Parker, and they hit the road to face undefeated Nebraska.
Even so, the Boilers do have a couple of prospects worth investigating. Foremost is defensive tackle Jake Replogle, though he is questionable after missing the Iowa loss with a concussion. He doesn’t post much on the stat sheet (3 TFLs, 1 sack thru 5 games) but consistently fights double teams. Replogle is not a dynamic athlete but plays with power, savvy and just enough quickness to merit middle-round draft attention. I see him as a 5T in a Wade Philips style of defense.
Wideout Deangelo Yancey would get a lot more draft love if he played on a better team with a better quarterback. He’s 6’1” 205 and runs a legit 4.42 40. I’d show you a highlight clip of his downfield torching of Iowa’s defense but the ESPN clip is just 22 seconds long and the ad in front of it is 30 seconds. I think that’s complete BS and I won’t subject you to that rampant violation of the bro code. Anyhow, he’s worthy of a Shrine Game invite and could be a guy who wins a lot of draftnik love very late in the process.
Nebraska senior safety Nathan Gerry should be a Senior Bowler, a playmaking 6’2” and 220 pound bundle of big hits. Gerry is a strong candidate to play the hybrid S/LB role a la Mark Barron or Deone Bucannon, at his best in the box but with enough range and coverage instincts to play effectively in space too. I expect another strong outing against the overmatched Boilermakers.
Texas A&M at Alabama, 3:30 PM on CBS
A game tailor made for Brent Musburger’s velvety “You are looking live” intro. No. 1 Alabama hosts No. 6 Texas A&M in a game that will essentially decide one of the participants in the College Football Playoff. The winner here isn’t going to lose more than one game (if any) and the loser won’t make the SEC title game without a tremendous amount of luck.
There are prospects galore all over the field, but primarily on the defenses. The two best pass rushing edges are here in Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen, both top 10 overall players.
Garrett should be the No. 1 overall pick, a rare talent with the potential to make a huge NFL impact right away. He’s a more complete player than 2014 No. 1 overall Jadeveon Clowney, just waiting for his “Michigan” hit to rocket him to cultural phenom status. Keep in mind the junior isn’t 100%. Allen is the power pig at 290 rock-solid pounds and with exceptional violence in his hands. He almost looks like a boxer with his quick jab and ability to react off it. He’s a natural upfield 5T with the potential to be a more impactful version of Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward.
Those two present a stiff challenge for the offensive tackles in this game. The Aggies’ Avery Gennesy (whose name I can never type correctly) and Alabama’s Cam Robinson can help their draft profiles with strong games here. I’ve been bitterly disappointed in what I’ve seen thus far with Robinson, who is a bad combination of passive and upright in his stance. If he’s the No. 1 tackle as is listed on several reference sites, this is an abysmal year for offensive tackles. Even so, Robinson has a chance to prove himself against Garrett and talented counterbalance Daeshon Hall, who plays with lower leverage and quick feet.
Perhaps the two best safeties are in this game with Justin Evans and Eddie Jackson. While I see Bama’s Jackson as a potential CB convert in the NFL, he’s very good in Nick Saban’s playmaking safety role. The Aggies have a barrage of wideouts with Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Christian “I’m open underneath” Kirk. Jackson’s range and decision making will be tested. Watch the Aggies throw away from standout CB Marlon Humphrey, too.
Evans needs more respect from the online scouting community. The NFL scouts like him a lot more than most draftniks, citing his 2-step closing burst and high football IQ to go with his downhill hitting and pretty fluid cover skills.
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan, 3:30 PM on ESPN3
Why this game that is available online only? Because I’ll be in the stands at Waldo Stadium to catch the 20th-ranked Broncos hosting the surprising 5-2 Eagles.
I’ve written extensively about WMU wideout Corey Davis, a legit contender for WR1 in the 2017 draft class. It seems the national media is finally catching up with right tackle Taylor Moton, a 6’5”, 328-pound behemoth who is a much more solid NFL prospect than 2016 4th-round flop Willie Beavers.
I’m told Taylor Moton/OL/Western Michigan has received 2nd day grades from a few scouting departments. Week 3 riser https://t.co/mCXvIsYQyF
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) October 18, 2016
Moton is great at sealing his man with powerful shoulders and coordinated footwork. As skilled as No. 72 is, the best OL prospect on the Broncos is junior LT Chukwuma Okorafor, last year’s right tackle while Moton played right guard. If you get a chance, check out Okorafor and get a leg up on the “firsters” for next year’s class.
Those strong bookend tackles, two solid running backs in dynamic junior Jarvion Franklin and tiny sophomore Jamauri Bogan and the gifted Davis outside provide important context in evaluating QB Zach Terrell. He’s playing with a fair amount of NFL prospects in the MAC, an advantage most signal callers at the non-power 5 school don’t have.
Even so, Terrell deserves a Shrine Game invite. He’s incredibly smart with the ball, and that goes beyond his 17/0 (yes, zero INTs) TD/INT rate. Coach P.J. Fleck has an up-tempo offense with some NFL route concepts and Terrell almost always makes the proper decision. He’s even shown more ability to tuck and run as a senior.
I’m intrigued by his Eastern counterpart Brogan Roback. The redshirt junior absolutely destroyed my alma mater, Ohio University, last week. He’s put up several impressive games and has a very strong arm that has no fear. I know the NFL scouts in the region are more interested than the national media realizes.
EMU has more wins in 2016 than they did in the three year period from 2013-15 and they’re doing it largely with youngsters. Few seniors regularly play on defense, with stalwart DE Pat O’Connor the only real prospect of note. He’s got his hands full with the talented offensive tackles.
Arkansas at Auburn, 6 PM on ESPN
For whatever reason I got on an Arkansas kick this week. I watched three of their 2016 games in a row: Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss. Talk about a schedule!
I have three main takeaways from those games, and my goal in watching the Razorbacks in Auburn is to either confirm those takeaways or refute my early conclusions as being too hasty.
- Austin Allen is a future NFL starting quarterback. He’s just a redshirt junior and I have no idea if he will declare for the 2017 draft. I have a very good idea he’s a superior prospect to his older brother Brandon, a 6th round pick by the Jaguars last spring.
Allen is smallish for an NFL QB at 6’1” and 209, and the weight listing might be generous. Yet he consistently showed a big arm with sustained downfield zip and accuracy. He’s plucky, though some of that is a function of his underdeveloped sense of the pass rush. I love the vision, the delivery and the precision on anticipatory and timing routes. He throws his receiver open far better than Chad Kelly of Ole Miss or Trevor Knight of TAMU, both of whom (undeservedly) have higher draft profiles.
- Keon Hatcher is one of the best contested-ball receivers in the draft. The 6’2” senior is flying under the radar after missing almost all of 2015 with a broken foot. The numbers aren’t prolific but that’s somewhat a function of Allen being an equal opportunity distributor.
Watch him and how well he presents himself as a target, how effectively and innately he extends out and plucks the ball cleanly away from his body, how he uses his length and strength in the red zone. He’s not a vertical threat but does have a pretty nice release and can burst out of breaks. Everything I’ve seen of Hatcher in 2016 tells me he should be rated higher than Clemson’s similarly sized and styled Mike Williams. There’s your hawt take, Mr. Higdon…Williams launched himself up internet draft boards with a gaudy game vs. Auburn. Your move, Keon Hatcher.
It would be nice to see Tigers clean-up safety Johnathan Ford get some coverage assignments on Hatcher, though I suspect he’ll spend much of the game trying to contain rising TE Jeremy Sprinkle and deep threat Jared Cornelius. Ford has range and I like his reaction quickness.
- Deatrich Wise should be a solid pro right away. He gets lost in the hype and depth of SEC edge rushers, and he’s not on the same plane as Myles Garrett or Tim Williams or Derek Barnett. Speed isn’t his game. Wise is heavier and has longer arms than those guys, an ideal 4-3 base end. He’s a complementary pass rusher but does an excellent job of playing the run on the way to the pass. There is some power-to-speed to his game, a la Detroit’s Devin Taylor. Wise might even kick inside as a 5T or 4i at times in the NFL. Very good all-around football player.
Ole Miss at LSU, 9 PM on ESPN
This will be my first look at LSU since the coaching change. Les Miles’ deserved firing provides scouts with a nice tool to gauge how a player handles internal turmoil and adversity, something that invariably happens a lot more in the NFL than in college.
My focus here is on the Tigers offense, most notably RB Leonard Fournette. He is coming back off an ankle injury, but more importantly he’s coming back from clear displeasure with the old coaching staff.
He’s had a pedestrian season for an alleged top prospect, netting just 5.7 yards per carry. When considering backup/replacement Derrius Guice is averaging 9.1 YPC and shows significantly more explosive qualities in the open field, it makes me cock another eyebrow.
I’ve never been a huge Fournette advocate. While I definitely love his powerful low center of gravity and foot churn, there are a couple of qualities that bother me.
I want my strippers to have their heads down and show a bit of turf as a launching pad, but neither is a good thing for a running back. Fournette has too many runs where he is content to drop his head and just blow forward like these consecutive snaps against Wisconsin:
Ole Miss features more speed than brawn on defense, notably underrated DE Marquis Haynes, who reminds me some of Jamie Collins as an out-of-position collegiate DL who drops back and thrives at OLB in the NFL. Fournette outweighs Haynes by about 15 pounds and that certainly tempts the big back to try and simply bull through. But what separates more successful NFL big backs like Eddie Lacy and (going back) Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis is both nimble footwork and the ability to also turn a tackler braced for collision into a matador. Fournette doesn’t have that in his repertoire often enough for my liking.
Maybe the new coaching style under Ed Orgeron helps Fournette, as well as wideouts Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. Those guys all languished under Miles. All have NFL starter ability but faded luster in LSU’s down season. Lighting up Ole Miss and being productive in a game that should be a good test for Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly and his own talented wideouts will help.