This week I highlighted four players I've been very impressed by, and after that I kind of just spilled my thoughts and notes onto the paper. Some of those spilled thoughts happened to be about an already polarizing quarterback prospect, who's drawing mixed reviews from evaluators for a number of reasons.
New York, NY, October 28, 2016 (Newswire.com) - Chaos ensued this week with Ohio State losing to conference rival Penn State. The rankings are shaken up for now but we have to remember that the Buckeyes still control their own destiny. Their last game of the regular season is against rival Michigan and if they win all their games including that matchup with the Wolverines, they’ll play a much weaker foe in the Big Ten Championship and would likely earn themselves a spot in the playoff. A deep study into an SEC team this week opened my eyes to not only a supremely talented new player that had been on my watch-list, but an all around stacked defensive unit that NFL scouts will thoroughly look into. This week I highlighted four players I’ve been very impressed by, and after that I kind of just spilled my thoughts and notes onto the paper. Some of those spilled thoughts happened to be about an already polarizing quarterback prospect, who’s drawing mixed reviews from evaluators for a number of reasons. This early in the process, nothing is finalized and is likely to change immensely as we haven’t even reached the meat of conference games in the regular season.
- Tre’ Williams, LB – Auburn
Arguably, the top linebacker recruit in the country coming out of high school, Williams has had a slow start to his career at Auburn. A backup in 2014 and a rotational player last year, he finally has made his way into a starting role this season playing mostly weak-side linebacker. I say it a lot but this is a guy I had big expectations for coming into the year. So far, he’s done nothing but look exactly like the guy Gus Malzahn brought him in to be. Looking at Williams, he looks the part of an NFL linebacker at six feet two inches tall and 240 pounds. He’s evenly filled out with long arms and little body fat in his upper or lower body. When I watch linebackers on tape, I look for guys with good quickness off the snap, quick diagnosis ability in the run and pass game, physicality and finally (and mostly) athleticism. Williams has it all and shows it almost immediately as his motor never stops and you see him putting his sideline-to-sideline range on display on each and every play. Against Arkansas he easily keyed onto their power run game and was continuously taking the right run fits and physically blowing up fullbacks in the hole and chasing down running backs from behind. In the pass game he was asked to man up Razorback tight end and NFL prospect Jeremy Sprinkle on several occasions and was seen running stride for stride with him down the sideline not allowing a catch while he was in coverage. A fellow evaluator who I reached out for a second opinion on Williams responded by saying to me, “Right now the only linebacker prospect in the country I can definitively say is better and more athletic than him is Reuben Foster.” Foster is a three down dynamo for Alabama and is a top 10 player in this class so saying he’s the only prospect better than him is very high praise. Williams lacks exposure now but his prototype size, athleticism, football IQ in coverage and the run game, awareness and physical style could make him a household name by the end of the year. At this point there’s nothing he doesn’t do at a high level.
- Carl Lawson, DE – Auburn
After a lackluster and injury filled 2015 season, I came into the year a little down on Lawson. He had bulked up last year and looked stiffer and less explosive. Let me say this since watching all his 2016 games however, the old Carl Lawson is back. Lawson is once again the sudden and explosive pass rusher he once was. Arkansas had their hands full last week against an athletic and stout Tiger defense. Lawson continuously harassed their offensive tackles with an explosive first step and powerful, violent hands at the top of the arc. He also lined up inside a few snaps and stunned the guards with his quickness and twitch again getting to Austin Allen and forcing him outside the pocket. While he doesn’t have great length and is only six feet two inches tall, his expert hand usage and twitch allows him to force offensive tackles into a rushed and uncomfortable pass protection set which opens them up for bull rushes and counter moves. Moving forward I see Lawson’s ceiling in the NFL as an Everson Griffen type of player as he’ll always maintain some stiffness on his compact, bulky frame but his violent, heavy hands and explosive first step will allow him to consistently get pressure on quarterbacks."Arguably the top linebacker recruit in the country coming out of high school, Williams has had a slow start to his career at Auburn. A backup in 2014 and a rotational player last year, he finally has made his way into a starting role this season playing mostly weak-side linebacker."
- Nazair Jones, DT – North Carolina
Every time I watch Jones, I feel like I’m watching former Alabama defensive tackle and last year’s second round draft pick A’Shawn Robinson. Jones has a big, tall body at six feet five inches tall and is almost 300 pounds. He’s stout and energetic and shines in the Tar Heels four man front. Larry Fedora’s team runs a bit of a hybrid scheme and they ask Jones to two-gap a lot in which he’s shown he can effortlessly excel at. For being a tall man, Jones plays with consistent pad level and has a sturdy, immovable base. He fires his hands into offensive lineman’s chest and locks out his arms controlling his opponents. His feet are light and mobile and he can work down the line and stay in front of zone blockers. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to keep his eyes up, find the ball carrier and shed is blocker to make tackles. He’s not a super-freak athletically but he plays with nuance and consistency and would be a great fit in a three-man front in the NFL as a big run stopper. Right now he projects as a day two pick and immediate starter in a base defense.
- Tiquan “Smoke” Mizzell, RB - Virginia
Each week we mention the deep running back class and it’s becoming overwhelming to think that there are still about seven more months of evaluating to do as so many more prospects can and will emerge. This week I had the privilege to see Virginia’s unbelievably talented senior running back Tiquan “Smoke” Mizzell. He’s got solid size (5-10 200lbs) and reminds me a lot of former UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. His ability to cut on a dime, and then get back up to top speed immediately while making people miss has earned him his nickname as defenders appear to be tackling air while chasing him. He’s not huge but finishes runs with good pad level and drives through tacklers making it hard to bring him down without committing to it. He had seven catches Saturday against North Carolina and a few of them were tough catches where he had to pluck the ball away from his body or scoop it up low off the turf. Mizzell is a dynamic playmaker like Franklin was and adds another name to the list of running backs who can help your team immediately from this class.
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a record setting night in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma. His stat line read 52/88, 734 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Looking at that you’d assume Mahomes carried the team and did all he could to keep his team in the game until the end. That’s not necessarily true. I took eight hours out of my Monday to take notes and really break down the game snap by snap and came away with tons of mixed emotions on the Lubbock gunslinger Patrick Mahomes. He’s without a doubt one of the most physically gifted and athletically talented quarterback prospects you’ll ever see in your lifetime. However, his game is riddled with bad habits, mechanical and footwork issues, poor understanding of the offensive structure, hesitancy and also too much aggression. Yes, he’s a mess. Even with his gaudy stat line, I counted about 10 big throws he missed to open receivers, which would’ve accounted for about 200 more yards on the game.
All night long, he turned down open receivers running timing and underneath routes. He looked hesitant and unwilling to test tight windows in short and intermediate routes but then on the next snap he’d fire off a 40 yard throw downfield into triple coverage. His footwork is never consistent and he missed all night on out routes and deep throws because his feet were pointed away from his throws. Scrambling away from clean pockets is also a habit of his and even when the scrambling was warranted, it was usually after he held onto the ball too long and failed to see open receivers underneath. He only threw one interception but Sooner safety Steven Parker dropped two easy throws that could’ve added to that negative stat line. Texas Tech’s spread system is based on timing, tempo and a lot of easy shorter throws to make athletes have to tackle in space.
The short game then opens up the deep passing game where his speedy receivers take advantage of defenses inability to commit to solid coverage on the backend with all the underneath stuff already gashing them. Mahomes can throw from any platform or arm slot, he has a cannon for a right arm and is a big, mobile athlete who can make defensive coordinators lives hell as he’s a threat to any level of the field at all times. Much like Robert Griffin though, the system he comes from doesn’t prepare him for the NFL pro passing game and actually encourages and enables his bad habits. His offensive coordinator in the NFL has a project ahead of him as he’ll need to somehow correct all the things Mahomes unconsciously does and is wrongly rewarded for.
Keith Mullins of the Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast brought up a good point in our discussion of quarterbacks the other day mentioning that these young spread quarterbacks rarely learn anticipation or timing once in the NFL because they’ve wrongly been rewarded for neglecting it their whole career. It’s now become part of that unconscious decision-making that is so hard to change.
Mahomes is talented and is physically almost a flawless prospect, but there’s more to the quarterback position than that and the team that takes him better be aware of all the issues they’ll have to correct with him to make him a successful signal caller in the NFL.
- A loaded safety class has several top-notch talents at the position being overlooked. One of them is Auburn’s Johnathan Ford. One of our very own draft guru’s Joe Everett has been high on Ford for a while saying, “Ford looks like a running back playing safety.” What he meant I believe is Ford effortlessly moves in space and runs fast and physically with purpose. He covers slot receivers man to man in nickel looks and tackles like a linebacker. Auburn’s defense doesn’t get a lot of credit for being good but they are loaded with top talent and are one of the more physical units in the country. Ford is a leader, tone setter and big reason they’re so versatile and hard to play against.
- Another SEC defense loaded with NFL talent is Texas A&M’s fast, feisty unit. Safety Justin Evans receives a lot of publicity for his highlight reel hits and big time interceptions. He’s a first round talent and deserves the hype but his sidekick and partner in crime also has day one potential. Armani Watts isn’t as physical but plays with endless range and is becoming a very reliable tackler for the Aggies. He’s about the same height and weight as Evans but maybe a little thicker throughout. While Evans specializes in sheer violence, Watts is known for forcing fumbles and running down plays with his speed. This dynamic duo makes it very tough for opposing offenses to attack the Aggies deep and they complement each other’s styles well. Watts projects as a day two pick but could move up if NFL teams are sold on his coverage ability.
- North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky has started getting a lot of round one buzz with his size, arm talent, mobility and production. In a weak quarterback class like this one even a raw, first year starter like Trubisky has a chance to be selected in round one. Although the tools are there, his game lacks consistency and his play is very streaky and lacks refinement. He’d be best off returning to Chapel Hill and gaining another year of starter experience before declaring for the draft in 2018.
- One of the cooler names in the country belongs to Kansas safety Fish Smithson. While he possesses a sick name, his play is equally as good but goes unnoticed, as the team he plays for is perennially bad. Smithson is athletic enough to cover slot receivers and also play deep. He’s often deployed near the line of scrimmage on run downs as he’s a phenomenal tackler who wraps up and takes great angles to the ball. He then plays deeper on obvious passing downs as he’s very adept at reading route concepts and quarterback’s eyes and intentions. He brings a savvy, veteran presence when he’s on the field and is by far one of the more refined players I’ve studied this year at the safety position.
- Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher keeps showing up on film when I watch the Razorbacks. He’s not flashy but he continuously makes reliable catches in the intermediate game. His physical style and natural hands allow him to outmuscle smaller cornerbacks and make tough contested catches. At six feet two inches tall and 215 pounds he’s a thicker guy who looks like he can continue to produce at the next level. Likely destined to be a day three pick or undrafted free agent, he should find his way onto a squad eventually as a fourth or fifth wide receiver on a depth chart.
- Cornerback Desmond Lawrence from North Carolina has drawn some attention from NFL scouts this season with his aggressive style of play and long lanky frame. He’s an aggressive press cornerback who loves getting his hands on wide receivers early in their routes. Although he’s a good college player, he has a tendency to play a little high and stiff hipped and reminds me of Josh Norman sometimes. Like Norman, Lawrence would be a good fit in a zone scheme that encourages jamming guys early and redirecting them into the strength of the defense.
- Lawrence is the bigger name so far but his partner on the other side of the field is the better overall player and cover man. MJ Stewart has solid size but is more compact and not as high hipped. He’s the man coverage cornerback for the team and plays slot and outside for them. His fluid hips and quick feet are a treat to watch and he finds the ball really well. Right now he looks like another future day two pick.
- I’ve gotten a lot of questions from Buckeye fans asking me how I feel about JT Barrett’s draft stock or projection as an NFL quarterback. While I think he does what Urban Meyer asks him to do well for the most part, I don’t see him ever being more than a third stringer or journeyman/camp arm type. He doesn’t have the arm strength, accuracy or decision-making that suggest he could ever play at the next level. On top of that, Meyer’s system is in no way preparing young college quarterbacks for the pro game. Its concepts are simple and allow for a lot of easy throws and also doesn’t require much from the quarterback in either the pre or post snap phase. Some have pointed out that current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was coached by Meyer at Utah but as NUC recruiting analyst Barry Every pointed out to me the other day, Smith was already at Utah when Meyer arrived and wasn’t a recruit of his. System and lack of physical tools currently have me giving Barrett an undraftable grade.
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