Just when you thought we might be through with prospect thumbnails I have dusted off my notes from the second half of the Bowl season. By this time next week I’ll be deeply immersed in prep work for Shrine Week. But I did find some impressive work from prospects during the past couple of weeks, and wanted to share some more of them with you. Here’s a Baker’s Dozen for your consideration.
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER/WR/SOUTHERN CAL 6’2/215 #9 JR I’m going out of alphabetical order here because I witnessed one of the greatest, all-time receiving exhibitions in this season’s Rose Bowl that I have ever witnessed. And a healthy JUJU was one of the two stars. SMITH is the best WR the Trojans have had since KEYSHAWN JOHNSON. He’s not quite as “big” as JOHNSON, but is a bit faster. This young man can do it all, and seems to have a great work ethic and competitive fire. I was taking notes on him the last month of the regular season and though he played well, he was beaten up with leg & back issues, which limited his playing time and effectiveness. As I expected his health was much improved by the time the Rose Bowl rolled around. He was outstanding with 7 catches for 133 yards and a TD. He made an amazing, over the shoulder, sideline catch in the first half to set up a Trojan TD. If he comes out early (no announcement yet) his 40-time at the Combine is going to get tons of attention as teams look to ascertain his true speed. His combination of good hands, catching radius and overall size has most NFL teams salivating. If he comes out, and runs a 4.40-40 he should be a lock for Round 1 selection.
CHRIS GODWIN/WR/PENN STATE 6’1/208 #12 JR On the other side of the field GODWIN was drawing oohs and aahs with some of the same talents on display as JUJU. Nice size and great hands. Good at locating the ball in the air, and beating defenders to it, GODWIN snagged 9 catches for 187 yards and 2 TD. He’s as good looking of a prospect as was former PSU star ALLEN ROBINSON, who now plays at a Pro Bowl level for the hapless JAGUARS in the NFL. GODWIN knows how to run patterns and is excellent at finding the openings in the D. You can also bet that he does not lack speed. In order to beat a fast and athletic USC secondary, speed is a must beyond ten yards. He really grabbed my attention in the second quarter, when replay showed him making a great, behind-the-back catch on a throw in traffic. Like JUJU I would expect he is near the top of a lot of prospect lists coming out of the 2016 season, and with a spectacular Bowl performance. Several of his catches defied logic in that game. GODWIN just announced his intentions to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s moved into my Top 100 with his performance in the Rose Bowl.
The ROSE BOWL was one of the more entertaining and exciting games of the Bowl Season, and these two receivers were absolute stars.
DEREK BARNETT/DE/ER/TENNESSEE 6’3/265 #9 JR I have been lukewarm on BARNETT as a prospect because I saw him as a one-trick pony. But give the man his due, he was absolutely a game changer in the Bowl win over Nebraska. He absolutely terrorized back-up Huskers QB FYFE all day long. This game was clearly an audition tape for him and the film gets 4-stars, for both effort and execution. He was credited with 6 tackles, including 1 sack and a TFL. I am still not convinced how he fits into an NFL defensive scheme, other than as a n edge-rusher, buy I just have a feeling some clever DC will figure it out. His sack allowed him to pass REGGIE WHITE into first place alone on the Vols career sack list, although the style of play was a bit different back in WHITE’s day. But he clearly has the motor to dominate when motivated. He declared for the 2017 Draft just days after the bowl game. I will be fascinated to see how he ends being ranked heading into the Draft. I am also suspecting that there will be some serious differences of opinion on his value around the League, and even within scouting departments.
ADAM BUTLER/DL/VANDERBILT 6’4/300 #69 One of seemingly many DL in this years prospect group who plays the DL with high energy and good intelligence, He is also versatile, as he showed all season and in the Independence Bowl against NC State. He played DT in a standard 4-3 scheme, but moved out to DE in a 3-4 set in passing downs. Vandy was able to use the two different sets interchangeably, in great part because BUTLER was strong enough to play inside on the one hand, but also athletic enough to generate some pocket pressure when moved outside in the DE spot. He showed a very effective and smooth inside-reverse pass rush spin on a couple of occasions. He was credited with 7 tackles in the Bowl match-up. Vandy is not known for great defensive players, but I have a feeling this young man may just rank as draftable, albeit late, by teams looking for versatility and depth along their defensive fronts. Teams like the PACKERS & PATRIOTS come to mind.
CORN ELDER/CB/MIAMI(F) 5’10/175 ELDER had a stellar senior season for the Hurricanes. He’s a fairly little guy, who has excellent quickness and is not afraid to mix it up with the bigger boys. Take for example his play in the Russell Athletic Bowl win over West Virginia. When WVU did pass they usually went away from his side of the field. But he was in hot pursuit of the WVU running game, leading his team in tackles with 7. Not bad at all for his size. For the 2016 season ELFER recorded 76 tackles, had 1 INT and 12 PD. He’s been solid in a secondary that has sent multiple players to the NFL like ARTIE BURNS & TRACY HOWARD in 2016. At the very least I see him using his quicks and aggressiveness as a slot-nickel back. He probably doesn’t go until Draft Saturday, but by the same token he’ll probably earn a roster spot and contribute right away. I like the attitude and quickness of this little and think he can overcome his lack of size to play at the NFL level.
MATT GALAMBOS/ILB/PITT 6’2/245 PITT #47 When scouting players I always go into a game with a short list of players I am curious to watch carefully. But I always try to stay alert for “lesser” prospects who just stand out with their play in specific contests. GALAMBOS was not on my watch list for the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC with Northwestern. But all too often it was #47 chasing down a play to make the tackle. By halftime, I knew I would have to track him in the second half, based on his play in the first half. Sure enough, by the end of the contest he had recorded 15 tackles, including 2 TFL and a recovered fumble. Big numbers for a large body ILB like MATT. This is not the first time GALAMBOS has caught my eye while watching PITT play this past season. Usually i was watching several of their players on Offense, but in each instance #47 had my attention after a couple of defensive series. He stays on his feet well and wraps when tackling. He looks strong at the point of attack and uses his hands well to fend off blockers. He’s likely to be taken off the field in certain passing downs as a pro, at least early in his career. He brings some serious “pop” to his tackling and runs well enough to contribute on Special Teams at the next level. Probably best suited for a 3-4 scheme, but likely would not be lost as a pure Mike-LB. I’d be ready to draft this guy for my team by the 5th Round or so. His Combine and/or pro Day work will be a serious consideration come April.
DARIEN HOWARD/DT/WEST VIRGINIA 6’1/305 #49 It was another disappointing game under the bright lights for WVU against Miami. The Mountaineers OL could not handle the ‘Canes relentless DL pressure. But WVU hung in there for 3 quarters, in great part due to their DL matching Miami’s intensity for much of the game. HOWARD is probably just a bit undersized to play the Nose as a pro, at least on a full-time basis, but he shows good strength and awareness for his size. He also has enough gas to play some loop games and stunts to pressure and/or push the pocket. He is also active in pursuit along the line-of-scrimmage for his body type. He can eat up blockers and thus allow his ILB to pursue the ball. I like the way he battles with blockers and holds up the middle of the line-of-scrimmage. I also appreciate the way he stays on his feet and off the ground. He may end up as a mid-to-late Round pick who will fight his way onto a roster as part of a DL rotation.
KEVIN KING/CB/WASHINGTON 6’3/195 #20 KING has caught my attention several times this past season as I watched the Huskies put together a top notch 2016 season.He did so again in the Bowl loss to Alabama, where the Huskies D held up well until fatigue set in and the Offense failed to control the ball and post points. KING is the tall, long striding defender who can run with most wideouts well down the field. He is also solid in his hand use, without being too grabby. He looks to me best suited for a zone/Tampa-Two base defense. What really impressed me was his feisty attitude, and willingness to back it up with tackling skills and want-to. In the Loss to ‘Bama KING led the Huskies Defense with 9 tackles, including a TFL. That TFL came in the 4th Quarter when Alabama chose to go for it on a fourth down. That TFL turned the ball back over to the Huskies, who failed to convert the possession into a score. For the 2016 season KING recorded 44 tackles, with 2 INT and 13 PD. A couple of teammates in the secondary (BAKER & JONES) got more pub than KING, but I felt he was the more productive overall player. His nose for the ball should serve him well at the next level, and add value to a Special Teams unit or two. He’d be high on my last early on Draft Saturday if he’s still available, which may be the case thanks to a DB-rich looking Draft class.
DAVID NJOKU/TE/MIAMI(F) 6’4/240 #49 JR Following a nice performance in the Hurricanes Russell Athletic Bowl victory, this excellent athlete declared for the 2017 Draft. In that game, he caught 5 passes for 44 yards and 1 TD. As he plays more and learns more of the nuances of the TE position his threat to defenses should only grow. Though not a great blocker, he gives it a try and might grow into a complete inline TE with time. He will help make the TE group for this upcoming Draft be one of the best and deepest in quite some time. He’s an all-around athlete, who is relatively new to football. He often displays his athleticism by hurdling would-be tacklers after he catch. He may need to be persuaded to limit that practice at the next level, for fear of injury. His upside for a pro career sure looks to me to be very high. He may not hit his pro stride for a couple of seasons. If he posts the numbers most feel he is capable of at Combine testing he may be knocking on the door of Round 1 come April.
JOSH REYNOLDS/WR/TEXAS A&M 6’4/195 #11 This long, lanky receiver has been the most consistent receiver for the Aggies the past couple of seasons. And he really put on his best looking performance against K-State in the Heart of Texas Bowl. REYNOLDS battered the Wildcats secondary for 12 catches, 154 yards and 2 TD. He outran defenders with his long striding legs, and got separation with some excellent pattern running. He shows very nice footwork along the sidelines and in the end zone. He also shows the ability to outrun most defenders once he gets his hands on the ball, and shows strength, despite his wiry frame. He could make a nice addition to an NFL team as a No. 3 receiver on their roster. He may post numbers at the Combine that get him further notice, but I still have a gut feeling he will have to wait until Round 4 to hear his name called in April. But then again a lot of 4th Round players make NFL rosters at the WR position.
STEVIE TU’IKOLOVATU/DT/SOUTHERN CAL 6’1/320 #96 Stevie, used the NCAA graduate transfer rule to move to USC from UTAH. He was effective, but part of a deep DL rotation for the UTES. He was a nice depth addition to the Trojans Defense, but he really stood put at the end of the season, and in the Rose Bowl as injuries allowed him to see more playing time. He was a major force along that DL against Penn State. His final stats showed 8 total tackles on the game, with 6 of those being listed as solo tackles. Folks that’s a lot of solid work for the interior of the field. Quite often this year he looked like DT/WOODS from last years Trojans D. He is very active and he gives great effort. He was a key part of the Trojans defense shutting Penn State down in the 4th Quarter, while QB/DARNOLD rallied the Offense to victory. This is a strong, hustling player who could contribute as a pro rotational guy.
ANTHONY WALKER/LB/NORTHWESTERN 6’1/235 #1 JR Another outstanding performer who has declared for the 2017 Draft. He’s a very good athlete with a high FBI. He covers the field and makes tackles from sideline to sideline. In the WILDCATS upset win over PITT, WALKER was credited with 7 tackles. That allowed him to total 105 tackles over 13 games in the 2016 season. He is also mobile/agile enough to pick-up RB & TE in pass pro with regularity. He also looks to have picked up some of the grit and determination that marked his Head Coach’s playing career at Northwestern and on into the pro game. Having PAT FITZGERALD in his ear for 3 seasons can only have helped WALKER on several levels. Combine that bulldog mentality with his natural talent and a high FBI, and he should make quite a pro player. I look for him to end up in my Top 100 Prospect lists going forward.
BRAD WATSON/DB/WAKE FOREST 6’0/200 #25 WATSON was clearly the best DB on the field for the Wake D this season. He has excellent size for a CB, but in reality he may lack the quicks to handle the Corner in the NFL. He shows decent coverage skills, with a nose for the ball, and a serious willingness to throw his body around. He was credited with 7 tackles in the close Bowl loss to Temple. I would have also credited him with several PBU for his efforts. With his long frame, he was able to disrupt several catches with his reach, even though he was technically beaten by the receiver. He could make a very versatile sub-package performer, and I would work on converting him to a FS position as an NFL Rookie. WATSON was the team’s leading returning tackler after 72 tackles in 2015. He almost duplicated that number in 2016. He’s been consistent in grabbing 2 INT each of the past 2 seasons. I did not get a final count for this season, but he easily led the team in PBU in 2015 with 16. Special Teams should also be a Rookie niche for him as a pro. I really like WATSON’s overall game and though he may go late in the 2017 Draft I would not hesitate to pull the trigger and draft him in the middle rounds. He’s a good, not great athlete, and a solid core player for his team, IMO.