WHO CAUGHT MY EYE Week 13

By | November 29, 2017

TREVOR DARLING #73 OG MIAMI (F) 6’4/300 I always give props to players who sacrifice for the good of their team. Mark down DARLING as one of those guys, having played out at LT for a couple of years, and doing a solid job for the rising ‘Canes program. But for as solid as he was out on his LT island it looked clear to me (and surely others) that he did not have the feet, or length, to start there in the NFL. Circumstances have moved DARLING to the inside this month and it should be doing wonders for his Draft status, IMO. Sliding inside makes some of his shortcomings become less obvious and his better qualities look even better. He has a nice stout body frame and has learned to bend his knees better from his time at LT. He might feel free to put on another 10 lbs. or more as an inside man without worrying about his quickness. He may top 40 starts for the ‘Canes after an ACC Championship and Bowl Game. Any NFL team that drafts him should be confident that he’s solid enough to play OT in a pinch, as well as the OG slots, making him a valuable game day back-up. I think he has the everything he needs to become an NFL starter in a few years. He may knock on the door for the first 3 Rounds, but I like him as an early Day 3 draftee.

TREMAINE EDMUNDS #49 OB VIRGINIA TECH 6’5/245 JR This is one of the “prettiest” looking athletes in the 2018 Draft if he leaves school early, as currently expected. He’s long and lean and runs almost effortlessly from sideline to sideline. He’s very active and uses his diagnostic skills and athleticism to penetrate behind the line-of-scrimmage on a regular basis. He tallied 106 tackles in 2016 for the Hokies, including 14 TFL and 9 QBH. I see no reason why he won’t be able to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 base pro scheme. In fact he should be an every down player no matter who his Defensive Coordinator is. His potential impact makes it almost impossible to take him off the field intentionally. EDMUNDS helped the Hokies take care of business and win their regular season finale against arch rival Virginia in a 10-0 shutout. For the game he roamed the field, as usual, and recorded 9 tackles, 6 of them solo, 3 TFL, including 2 Sacks. If I look for a current pro comp for EDMUNDS I look at ANTHONY BARR of the VIKINGS, who on many game days looks like a one man wrecking crew. In the hands of an NFL DC guru, the sky is the limit for this BUTKUS Award finalist. When the Combine rolls around expect this man to impress ala a super athlete named CLOWNEY a few years ago. No doubt a First Rounder if he domes out early.

QUINTON FLOWERS #9 QB SOUTH FLORIDA 6’0/215 There seem to be some serious questions about where FLOWERS will fit in the NFL. He’s a tad short for the pro QB position (just don’t tell that to Drew Brees) and isn’t the worlds most technically sound thrower of the ball. But he’s a winner on a winning team, has a strong arm and looks like Russell Wilson when he takes off with the ball to run. On Black Friday, in Orlando, the War on I-4 took place between the 9-1 USF Bulls and the 10-0 UCF Golden Knights. The winner would face Memphis in the AAC Championship game next week. The game went back and forth all day and lived up to it’s hype ending in a 49-42 UCF win. A strong case could be made for the losing team’s QB as the game MVP. FLOWERS almost led his team to victory with a tremendous display of leadership, passing and even running for the game. FLOWERS was 24/45- 503 yards- 4 TD- 1 INT passing on the day, including several long bombs. When protection collapsed, or receivers were tightly covered, he ran 20 times for 102 yards and 1 TD. For you math challenged that’s 605 total yards from scrimmage and 5 TD. He showed excellent arm strength and decent accuracy. In all the excitement I lost count of dropped balls, but I will say his receiving corps dropped at least 4 balls on the game. My guess is that he will be in an NFL training Camp next summer, though not drafted. Then the talk will be about what position to convert him to, while he saves some team the need to carry an emergency No. 3 QB who would be unlikely to see the field in live action. This guys has an “it” factor as well as some solid QB ability with both his arm and legs. If Flowers really wants to play QB I suggest he take his skills north of the border, where the Blue Bombers have his negotiating rights. He could be a bigger DOUG FLUTIE up there IMO. Hope to see MR. FLOWERS cross the Tampa Bay bridge and suit up in the Shrine Game in January.

KHALID HILL #80 FB/TE MICHIGAN 6’2/263 It would seem to me that HILL is flying under the prospect radar for the average fan, but should be getting scrutiny from Personnel Departments around the NFL for teams whose running game disappears inside the Red Zone for lack of a lead blocking FB, like the LIONS, and others. HILL wears multiple hats for JIM HARBAUGH and his staff on game days. The big, bruising guy can line up at inline TE, FB or in an H-Back role. He’s a devastating blocker who can also catch the ball and carry it in short yardage scenarios. He displayed his versatility in the loss to Ohio State lining up an all the above mentioned manners. He caught 1 pass for 10 yards and had 5 rushes for 11 yards and 1 TD. Even tho he plays in the big-boy Big Ten he is a load that most defenders do not care to take on at full game speed. He’s not going to even be considered until Draft Saturday, but I think he has a 50/50 chance to be drafted in Rounds 6/7. If not, his agents’ phone should be abuzz with multiple teams looking to pick him up on Day 4 of the 2018 Draft. I’ll be watching for his name to show up on an All-Star Game roster in January.

SAM HUBBARD #6 DE/OB OHIO STATE 6’5/265 JR For as much pub as HUBBARD has gotten as a Buckeye I think he has gotten lost somewhat with all the Buckeyes football talent to find playing time for. I cannot believe that he did not start most of the time this season. He may have the most natural instincts to the ball of all their defenders. I also think he will be a multiple role and position guy at the next level. In fact he reminds me a lot of former Buckeyes defender and NFL star MIKE VRABEL. He can play with his hand down in a 4-3 DE spot, or stand up as a rush specialist at OLB in a 3-4 design. I feel his stats are limited because OSU coaches have so many top level athletes to divide snaps among. He also shows good awareness of what’s going on around him out on the field. In limited time against Michigan he made his mark last Saturday with 5 tackles- 4 solo- 2 1/2 TFL- 2 1/2 sacks. I would expect him to develop into a perennial double-digit sack master at the pro level. He appears athletic enough to me to be used as a spare TE ala VRABEL, as well. He still has eligibility left at Ohio State, but I can see him as ready to move on and actually increase his play count at the next level. In essence I am saying that I believe he could well be a more productive pro than he has been as a collegian. If he does come out I would expect him to be on the cusp of a Round 1 selection. The Combine may be a major factor in that possibility and I would expect good things from him in Indy. This guy is a special player and should make a big splash in the NFL working under a creative Defensive Coordinator.

BRIAN O’NEILL #70 OT PITT 6’5/300 RsJR Other than their big upset of Miami last weekend it has been a down season for the Panthers, sinking to 5-7 this year. O’NEILL is a RS Junior who has finished his Pitt career at just under 40 starts. He spent the 2017 season over at LT to help out his team, and acquitted himself well. But the majority of his starts have been at RT, which is where I would project him as a pro. He is a good, not great, athlete, but has strong fundamentals and is a natural knee bender. His Pitt offense was predominately a pro set style, with a strong mix of run/pass balance. He showed the ability to handle both roles with enough strength to move defenders as a run blocker, as well as move his feet to mirror in pass pro. After a rather shallow OT draft crop in 2017 he could be part of a deeper and improved 2018 Draft Class if he comes out. He has nice overall size, and I think his arm length will check out fine at the Combine. He also uses his arms and hands well to steer defenders around. I also like how he keeps his feet and shows good balance. He held up quite well in pass-pro against Miami, which features a high number of quick/fast edge-rushers to compete against. Where he needs to improve in pass-pro is in his strength to set at initial contact by the bigger DE in the NFL. Right now a player like CAM HEYWARD might just bowl him over unless O’Neill can create more if a jarring initial hand punch. For my money he’s in my Top 100 prospect list if he comes out now.

RASHAAD PENNY #20 RB SAN DIEGO STATE 5’11/220 To be honest, I have been waiting to profile PENNY most of the season, but the Aztecs have had a soft schedule since the beginning of October, after a strong September slate. They picked off both Arizona State and Stanford but I did not watch those games figuring SDSU would be buried alive. Silly me. Many folks also thought this team would be Offensively challenged this season with the graduation of Mr. Offense, DONNEL PUMPHREY moving on to the NFL. What was lost on those folks was the return of MR. PENNY, who rushed for over 1,000-yards in a secondary role behind Pumphrey in 2016. PENNY also was the team’s primary kick-returner last season averaging over 30-yards per return. Well, the Aztecs gave PENNY 22 carries last weekend against New Mexico, which he turned into 203 yards and 2 TD, giving him over 2,000-yrds rushing for the 2017 season. It was his 10th 100-yard rushing game on the season. He has very good balance and unless tackled low will break tackles with regularity. I was especially impressed with his willingness to run inside the tackles and burst through holes created by his OL. He doesn’t immediately bounce every carry to the outside, which is wise because he has good but not great speed. His overall running style and size remind me of RYAN MATTHEWS, who was a very solid RB, primarily for the Chargers, when healthy. His second TD against New Mexico was a 51-yard straight-line run up the gut. He may not be a speedster, but he did not allow anyone to catch up with him on that jaunt. PENNY has also shown himself to be a very reliable receiver out of the backfield when needed. He has 18 receptions in 12 games so far this season. Because he has NFL size I anticipate PENNY to have a strong chance to be a top 2 RB for some NFL team. Ad when you throw in his Return ability I can’t see him lasting past Round 3 unless he runs like a snail at the Combine, which I do not expect to happen.

MARTINAS RANKIN #55 OT MISSISSIPPI STATE 6’5/315 RANKIN makes it a trifecta of collegiate OC who have all switched out to LT as seniors and performed well enough to all be Top 10 OT prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. He joins DIETER/WISCONSIN and COLE/MICHIGAN as successful conversion projects this season. This game was a really solid test for RANKIN as he was matched up most of the night against Ole Miss DE BREELAND SPEAKS (see below). It gave me a chance to measure RANKIN’s power to control and move SPEAKS in the run game, as well as watch his feet and hand use to pass protect against Speaks who is a natural talent as an edge rusher. After this encounter I can attest to RANKIN’s ability to handle the OT slot as a pro. In his favor is the natural wide base (big ass) that allows him to anchor against power moves by defenders. He also showed mobile feet that allowed him to mirror SPEAKS in pass pro. RANKIN is just naturally strong, and bends his knees well. Maybe he projects to the right side of the line more so than the blind left side of his QB. SPEAKS had a big night, but watching them slug it our all night I would call this match-up a draw. When his prime assignment was not to block SPEAKS on a running play RANKIN did a very good job showing some foot speed and the ability to get to second level blocks. I would also see RANKIN as another guy being able to perhaps back up all 5 OL spots, which is huge in his favor as a prospect. But I have very little doubt that if not immediately, then in a year or two RANKIN will go to Training Camp and win a starting job in the NFL. Mark him down as a Top 100 prospect, likely in Round 3.

BREELAND SPEAKS #9 DE OLE MISS 6’3/290 RsJr As mentioned above in the RANKIN thumbnail, SPEAKS was part of one of the best one-on-one matchups during the battle for the football championship of the State of Mississippi. The Redshirt Junior is expected to leave for the pros given the potential upheaval of another coaching flip at Ole Miss. SPEAKS was listed as a DT heading into the 2017 season, but spent a lot of time outside at a true DE slot. He has the body and the speed to flourish on the outside and provide some QB pressure, especially in a 4-3 base defense. He matched wits and bodies with RANKIN most of the contest and had a very productive night. I still maintain that it looked like a draw to me watching them battle. SPEAKS showed a high level of intensity and got results for his hard work. He compiled an impressive stat sheet for the game with 12 Tackles- 4 solo- 1 sack- 1.5 TFL. He adds some nice bend to his speed off the snap and mixes in an occasional inside spin move and/or dip to keep the blockers honest. His biggest downside in the contest was his display of immaturity and selfishness, when he was kicked out of the game for 2 personal fouls in the 4th quarter, when the game outcome was still in the balance. The game was heated and contentious, but by running his mouth and instigating a couple of flare-ups he put himself above his team, thus depriving his teammates and coaches of his playing presence in the closing moments. That piece of game tape will not be lost in scouting rooms. He and his coaches will have to answer some unflattering questions from NFL personnel people about his maturity and temperament in the coming months. Let’s just say it put a bad taste in my mouth, as a final impression on what had been an enlightening display on the film prior to his blow-up. Top 100 talent, but…

COURTLAND SUTTON #16 WR SMU 6’4/216 RsJr This young man is clearly NFL ready and should be ranked near the top of another strong WR group in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has good speed, which can be deceiving because with his long legs it takes a while for him to reach full cruising speed. He’ll shine for a QB who is not afraid to throw up jump balls even tough he appears covered. Like many good long/tall receivers he is dynamic on sideline throws. In games I’ve watched of him he has shown good hands. I’m anxious to see what his measurables are at the Combine. SMU finished the regular season with a tight win over a scrappy Tulane squad. SUTTON did his part with 6 catches for 107 yards. It is my opinion that SMU has used SUTTON as a decoy quite a bit this season, because their QB play is adequate at best in the passing game. SUTTON loosening up the opposing secondaries allowed for short throws underneath and QB option runs. But never fear, NFL personnel people have the info they need to know that SUTTON will likely be a better pro than a collegian. When I watch him run and catch it reminds me a lot of Plaxico Burress. Take away off-field distractions and PLAX was a heck of a receiver in his day. There is talk that SUTTON will have his degree in hand and be eligible to participate in the Senior Bowl. He looks like a solid 2nd Round draftee to me.

JORDAN THOMAS #83 TE MISSISSIPPI STATE 6’5/280 I clearly recall getting my College Football Preview publication by Phil Steele last summer and noticing this monstrously large player in the depth chart section on the Mississippi State team pages. I made note of him and also noted his limited impact (9 catches) on their offense during the 2016 season. Clearly this young man grew into his body and his position on the football field heading into 2017. He has basically been the Bulldogs starting TE this season and a solid contributor both as a receiver and a blocker for their run game. He still has a long way to go to make the grade as an NFL level player, but his basic tools are hard to ignore. Against Ole Miss THOMAS had 4 catches for 65 yards, which included a long play of 24-yards which he ended by dragging at least 3 defenders the last 5-10 yards. He is also a punishing blocker who has the size to handle big guys along the DL. This guy is still a diamond in the rough and may make a solid No.2 TE for an NFL team in time. But patience will have to be exercised for a season or two by his coaches. He still has a bit to learn so he can maximize his natural athletic gifts and size to best advantage. Late round draftee as a prospect.

JESTER WEAH #85 WR PITT 6’3/210 This former track athlete has shown flashes of excellence during his collegiate career, but has also had games where he all but disappears. He was Pitt’s leading returning receiver from 2016, when he had 36 catches, which included 10 TD. Expectations were high for 2017, but the Pitt QB spot was a mess with the failure OF USC transfer MAX BROWNE to seize the job and hold it. Clearly WEAH was in part a victim of 3 different QB getting turns to pilot the offense in 2017. Last weekend in the big upset of MIAMI (F) true frosh KENNY PICKETT was the starter and he and WEAH clicked. JESTER grabbed 6 receptions for 80 yards against a tough and aggressive Hurricanes D. He’s a long strider who can leave defenders in his dust. Perhaps more precise route running, with sharper cuts would increase separation and push up his production. But then again short area quickness is not his game. He can best help an NFL team that likes to stretch a secondary deep on a regular basis. Against Miami he had a great catch in the 2nd quarter reaching back to grab a throw that was well behind him. He had a chance for a TD grab later in the contest, but the defender was guilty of Pass Interference in the end zone. WEAH didn’t get the TD catch but set Pitt up at the goal line for a score. I am a bit frightened by the fact that he doesn’t seem to be able to touch the ball often enough for his talent (ala Phillip Dorsett), but I do think the QB situation really hurt his productivity. An All-Star Game appearance could be quite helpful to his Draft prospects. Right now I see him being drafted early on Day 3.

LOGAN WOODSIDE #11 QB TOLEDO 6’2/210 So here comes another solid, well rounded MAC QB. WOODSIDE has been the full-time starting QB for the past two seasons, leading the Rockets to 19 Wins so far in that time period. He is a high FBI leader with a good, not great arm. He has decent size but is not quite as big as most pro teams desire. He’s not much of a running threat but he uses his FBI and solid field vision to extend plays. I like the fact that he doesn’t force the ball into traffic very often. Clearly that helps explain his excellent TD Pass/INT ratio. In 2016 WOODSIDE threw or an incredible 45 TD & 9 INT. This season he has 24 TD & 3 INT. For pro teams with a conservative, ball control offensive philosophy those numbers are fantastic, to put it simply. WOODSIDE is also flirting with a career completion percentage of 65%. Last week in the dominant 37-10 10th win of the season for Toledo, LOGAN went 19/29 for 300 yards, with 2 TD and a rare 1 INT. Now his team moves on to a MAC Championship game against upstart AKRON. Whether or not LOGAN has the stuff to be a franchise starting NFL QB is highly questionable. But from what I see he should at the very least make an excellent NFL back-up, and a great security blanket for some team. He should be drafted somewhere in the final 3 Rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. I’d really luv to see him for the week down in Mobile, or at the least the Shrine venue in St. Pete, in late January.

Cheers, Pigskin