Changing things up a bit this week. Instead of a broader view of more prospects in each game, I’ve opted to focus on one or two specific players in each of 10 games. Enjoy your college football and NFL Draft prep weekend!
All times Eastern
Air Force at Fresno State, 10:30 PM Friday on ESPN2
This game features one of the very first prospects to accept a postseason All-Star invite…
— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) October 26, 2016
Robinette has the coveted size with a big, muscular frame. He also has impressive open-field speed and gets to top gear quickly. Check out this TD from the New Mexico game:
— CARLTON CRAZIES (@BexleySS) October 16, 2016
He does his best work down the field. In fact, the Columbus, OH native leads the nation in yards per route run. That’s his NFL calling card, akin to Marvin Jones.
In this game he faces an interesting Fresno State defense. The Bulldogs are terrible and recently fired Head Coach Tim DeRuyter, but they do have a decent pass defense. Corner Tyquan Glass is a draft aspirant who plays the ball in the air well, though he’s giving up about 4 inches and 25 pounds.
One thing to watch with Robinette in this one is his blocking. The Falcons are second in the nation in rushing attempts, so he’s definitely got a lot of experience.
Michigan at Michigan State, 12 PM on ESPN
I live in Michigan but am not a partisan on either side here. That’s probably a better thing this year than most, as the Spartans have plummeted with losing three offensive linemen and QB Connor Cook to the NFL. They’ve struggled to do much of anything against vastly inferior defenses than the one Michigan brings to East Lansing.
It’s tough to focus on just one Wolverine defender with so many talented guys to choose from. I’ve gushed about defensive weapon Jabrill Peppers enough, and even though CB Jourdan Lewis continues to shut down anyone and everyone, I’ll look more up front.
Defensive end Taco Charlton is generally projected as a second or third-round pick. The senior hasn’t been extremely productive (4 sacks, 4 TFLs, 2 QB hurries) but context is important; Michigan rotates through the deepest DL collection in the nation, and Charlton is the best edge anchor of the lot.
He’s got fantastic length at 6’6” and generally plays with outstanding leverage for a taller guy. His weight is an open question, listed on Michigan’s official roster at 272 though at least one of the scouting services has him north of 280. That’s not insignificant in his evaluation, because it changes his projection. If he’s 272, and I trust the Wolverine program even though they steadfastly refuse to give credentialed media a depth chart, he’s a 4-3 base end a la Devin Taylor. If he’s 280-290, he’s more of a 5T in the Calais Campbell mold. That’s not me saying he’s the next Calais Campbell, just comparing physical attributes.
Taco should fiesta on the Spartans’ inexperienced line. It would be nice to see him bag a sack or blow up a screen. Impact plays do matter to NFL scouts, at least 6 of whom will be in attendance. If he’s to make it into the top 50, a dominant performance needs to happen.
Louisville at Virginia, 12 PM on ABC/ESPN2
The focus here is not anyone on the loaded Cardinals, but rather a Virginia prospect who has not shined as expected in his junior year. Safety Quin Blanding is a player I loved on tape in his first two years, the standout in a secondary that has had some NFL prospects around him.
Even though Bucky Brooks recently talked up the 6’1”, 212-pound safety, Blanding has not played as well in 2016, at least not in the 2.5 Hoos games I’ve watched. That doesn’t mean he’s playing poorly. Blanding still makes tackles all over the formation and shows great awareness and quick recognition.
What I want to see here is how well he handles the dual threat dynamic of Louisville’s explosive offense. Blanding earns his (for me) Day Two draft status by being a sound tackler but also one who doesn’t bite on superfluous activity around him. Yet with Lamar Jackson at the helm and dangerous receivers in James Quick (a likely Senior Bowl invitee), Jamari Staples (likely Shrine Game invitee) and TE Cole Hikutini (Senior Bowl worthy), Blanding has to be on his toes for all sorts of options.
My biggest critique of Blanding is that he doesn’t always change directions fluidly, and it can lead to late pursuit or attack angles. If he’s somewhere in between options more than once in this game, it’s a validation of the deeper criticisms others lobby at Blanding. But a takeaway or a tackle for loss (not his game, he has just 2 in 2 years playing well back from the line) would only augment No. 3’s draft stock…assuming he declares early.
Florida vs. Georgia, 3:30 PM on CBS
I know the powers that be don’t like the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” tagline with this rivalry game in Jacksonville, but Gators/Bulldogs will always be that boozy buffet for me.
I could definitely enjoy a few adult beverages while watching the Florida secondary. I haven’t seen Florida since the Kentucky game in early September, other than highlights, so I’m drinking in the Gator corners.
Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson are both just juniors, but it’s hard to find anyone in the draft media who thinks either will be back in Gainesville in 2018. Both could be first-round picks. Tabor brings more sizzle, and his 4 INTs show his playmaking panache. But my focus will be on Wilson, who might be the best natural cover man in the country.
The good folks at Pro Football Focus seem to think so…
SEC cornerbacks allowing the lowest QB Rating on passes thrown their way
Quincy Wilson, UF, 0.4
Tre White, LSU, 23.6
John Gibson, MIZ, 28.2
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 18, 2016
Wilson is a little bigger at 6’1” and 215, and you can see the difference when they stand next to each other. He’s got fantastic instincts in man coverage but also the superlative athleticism to recover and make plays on the ball.
You can bet both Gators are chomping at the bit with true freshman QB Jacob Eason guiding Georgia. Of course that presumes outstanding DT Caleb Brantley doesn’t bury poor Eason with his first-round skills. This might be the last draft stand for a couple of Dawgs offensive linemen, Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow, a rare left-handed center.
Washington at Utah, 3:30 PM on FS1
This critical PAC-12 tilt has scads of future NFL talent on both sides. Picking just one to highlight is so difficult. From Utah’s Joe Williams and his 500+ rushing yards in the last two games, to Huskies likely first-round defenders Sidney Jones and Budda Baker, to big Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei and playmaking safety Marcus Williams (who is injured and will miss this game), there are so many impressive talents on both sides of the ball for both teams. I didn’t even get to Washington WR and KR John Ross, one of the most exciting players and this year’s Tyler Lockett.
I wound up going with Huskies DL Vita Vea, a player who doesn’t get near enough national attention. Vea is primarily an end for Washington’s aggressive defense, but his game feels more like that of an interior player. There isn’t a lot of quickness or subtlety to his game. This is where Vea wins:
He’s too powerful for most tackles to block, especially when he attacks the inside shoulder. Yet despite being just 260 or so pounds, he has enough lower body strength and sound technique with his hands to push through guards. Vea uses those hands quite effectively to swipe away blocks. His game reminds me some of Cam Heyward coming out of Ohio State, though Vea is about 20 pounds lighter.
Utah has some big ole hosses up front on the O-line. Senior left guard Isaac Asiata and right tackle Sam Tevi are both NFL aspirants, with Asiata tipping the scales at a brutish 330 pounds. Vea will need to more than hold his own or else Joe Williams could go off once again.
Edit–Vea in fact plays at over 290. He looks it. The weight info I got was a typo.
SMU at Tulane, 4 PM on ESPNEWS
Most of the time I like to have the base formation of an educated opinion on a prospect before writing them up, especially this late in the college season. But I am fairly ignorant on SMU junior wideout Courtland Sutton.
WR Courtland Sutton having a nice night (7/83/1) – has a chance to be a top-5 WR if he declares early
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 23, 2016
I’ve seen about three quarters of the Mustangs this season, the first half against Houston last week and roughly half of the first half of the TCU contest. That was enough to see his spectacular TD receptions on a fade in the corner where he rose way above the defense to make a tightrope snag. And while that was impressive, I hadn’t paid much attention to the 6’4”, 215-pound Sutton as a prospect up to that point.
Now my curiosity is piqued. I’m also intrigued to catch Tulane DT Tanzel Smart, who I know has fans in both the NFL scouting and online scouting communities. I haven’t seen one snap of the Green Wave this year, so this will be my first exposure to a player I’ll likely see in St. Pete in January for the Shrine Game.
Boise State at Wyoming, 7 PM on CBSSN
This one is for you folks who like the sleepers. Wyoming RB Brian Hill is a player NFL scouts know well, even though he’s just a junior.
For whatever reason, I watched Wyoming’s first two games of the year and was struck by how well Hill finds the hole and keeps his feet moving. He doesn’t have a great offensive line in front of him but maximizes every yards he can get. Against Northern Illinois, No. 5 (he wore No. 8 until this year) showed physicality and a little bit of plant-and-cut vision. Against Nebraska the next week, the physicality wasn’t nearly as effective and he wasn’t as decisive with the ball in his hands.
There are growing whispers the 6’, 218-pound Hill is going to declare early. And just this week he made Tony Pauline’s draft risers piece. Boise State has a pretty solid run D (3.8 yards per carry, just 6 TDs allowed on the ground), but they’re small. The Broncos have three strong senior linebackers who top the team in tackles, the best pro prospect of which is SAM backer Tanner Vallejo. Yet none are more than 8 pounds bigger than Hill. If he can reliably churn out yardage here, something he didn’t do well against Nebraska, it’s time to buy into Pauline’s reporting of his stock rising.
Nebraska at Wisconsin, 7 PM on ESPN
Come for Wisconsin’s talented linebackers and standout LT Ryan Ramczyk, my top-rated offensive tackle. Stay for one of the more unheralded defensive prospects in the nation.
That would be Nebraska safety Nathan Gerry. A two-time All-Big Ten performer in a conference chock full of impressive safeties, the 6’2”, 220-lb South Dakota native has all the traits NFL scouts covet at the strong safety spot. He even has some ability to project as a hybrid linebacker/safety, though he probably doesn’t have the instant speed or twitchy reaction of guys like Deone Bucannon or Jabrill Peppers.
At his size, he’ll be asked to cover tight ends and backs quite a bit at the next level. While he’s good-not-great down the field, No. 25 has proven he can handle man coverage. Plays like this against Oregon show his stickiness…
Of course it also shows him guilty of holding, though it seldom gets called from that angle. The Badgers have a legit NFL tight end prospect in junior Troy Fumagali, a receiving specialist with good wiggle for a 6’6” guy. I hope to see these two matched against one another.
Auburn at Ole Miss, 7:15 PM on SEC
Here’s a glimpse into the creative process. I’m writing this piece while watching Ancient Aliens as background entertainment. In this episode, the focus is on a master race of lizard men who live beneath the earth.
Even though this normally conspiratorial “alien theorist” guy thinks it’s crazy talk, I’m intrigued. I can’t help but think Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly might be a football agent from our lizard king overlords.
Kelly doesn’t have fused skin fingers or a tail (yes, this episode featured people with actual tails as evidence), but there’s a lot of lizard king to his game. He enchants with his powerful arm, impressive downfield accuracy and ability to make tough throws under pressure in key situations.
Yet like our alleged lizard overlords, he’s kind of creepy and disappears too readily. This is a guy who openly touts his “swag” factor as his best attribute. There is a string of off-field behavior which makes Johnny Manziel seem mature and stable by comparison.
Here he’s at home against a surging Auburn team that is likely to hang 35+ on the Rebel’s mistake-prone defense. That means Kelly will have to throw a lot, often with big-time pressure from the likes of Day Two DT Montravius Adams and others clawing at his hidden tail.
I would not draft Kelly, but that doesn’t mean the NFL won’t. This is a league where Christian Hackenberg somehow was a second-round pick despite not being close to as good of a passer as Kelly. If his off-field antics and reptilian attitude don’t dissuade you, this game is a good one to watch what he does between the lines.
Clemson at Florida State, 8 PM on ABC
On the spot here is Florida State tackle Roderick Johnson. A top-10 fixture in preseason mock drafts, the 6’6” junior has not played like anything more than a third-rounder in 2016. Johnson gets too upright and narrow when he can’t reach out and engage without moving in pass protection. His hands stay too low, which exposes his chest and allows the opponent to gain the leverage advantage a little too easily.
Yet for as great as Clemson is, they don’t really have a featured pass rusher. The Tigers have 7 guys with at least 2 sacks but none with more than DT Carlos Walker’s 4.5. In other words, Clemson doesn’t have an edge dynamo. That could play into Johnson’s big hands.
He’s at his best when Dalvin Cook has the ball in his hands. Once Johnson gets locked on, he has the quick feet and balance to stay engaged and drive players with strong shoulders and quads. This is why I like Johnson as a right tackle at the next level. Pay attention to when he’s a run blocker, or when he’s in pass pro with a tight end flanking him, because that’s where his draft stock will rise back up.