The NFL pre-season is currently wetting football appetites for the real thing next month. But I want to remind you that the College season will kick off with real action first. So in advance of my posting of weekly games to watch and prospect listing, as well as my Who Caught My Eye column after each weekends games, I thought I would give you some names to watch that might not yet be on your scouting radar. Few, if any, of these guys are likely to be ranked as Top 100 2018 Draft Prospects today. But I dare say some of them will move up in rankings, while others will become very solid Day 3 guys.
SONY MICHEL RB GEORGIA 5’11/223 #1. While NICK CHUBB has gotten most of the press for the Bulldogs the past 3 seasons, in between injuries, MICHEL has shown he is a true all-purpose RB with a solid combination of running/receiving ability. I could also see him as a Kick Returner at the next level. I would expect him to run a sub-5.50/40 at the Combine. He could make a very solid, versatile No.2 RB at the NFL level. Last season he rushed for 840 yards at 5.5ypc, while catching 22 passes.
RASHAAD PENNY RB SAN DIEGO STATE 5’11/220 #20. He has toiled in relative anonymity behind a guy named PUMPHREY the past 3 seasons. Was given the chance to emerge last season and responded by running for for 1018 yards at a 7.5ypc clip. Is primarily a one-cut, between the tackles runner, who also has shown good hands catching out of the backfield. He’ll get a lot of work this season and should post big numbers. The AZTECS under Head Coach ROCKY LONG just luv to run the ball. His size and overall game may be an easier evaluation to project to the pro level come the 2018 Draft than PUMPHREY was.
JUSTIN CRAWFORD RB WEST VIRGINIA 6’0/202 #25. This JC transfer was a relative unknown in 2016 but ended up being the bell cow runner when injuries felled several other Mountaineer RB for multiple games. He will run between the tackles, but has the speed to get to the corner. Is a hard luck back story with lots of motivation to succeed and make a living in pro football. His average per carry last season was 7.3ypc. If he can just gain 10 lbs. without losing his quickness/speed he might crack Top 100 prospect lists.
MIKE WHITE QB WESTERN KENTUCKY 6’4/225 #14. By the end of the 2016 many folks in Conference USA were whispering BRANDON who, as WHITE passed for over 4300 yards at a 67% completion rate in his first full season as a starter. He also tossed 37 TD vs. only 7 INT. He’s a good sized guy who can move a bit, but is primarily a traditional pocket passer. Under a new coaching staff headed by MIKE SANFORD, it will telling to see how WHITE adjusts. The former USF part-time starter has career NFL back-up characteristics IMO.
ITO SMITH RB SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 5’9/193 #25 He’s a little guy I would compare to TARIK COHEN, who is standing out in DA BEARS Training Camp/Pre-season work. He of course rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, 1459 to be exact, while scoring 17 rushing TD. He caught 43 balls as a receiver, scoring another 2 TD. He’s a human joy stick with surprising strength, and excellent determination and effort. Great fun to watch and most of you would luv to see him as a change of pace guy for your favorite NFL team, I’d bet. He posted 8 100-yard+ games in 2016.
JAYLEN SAMUELS H-B/FB NC STATE 5’11/223 #1. His height makes him a tough player to project to the NFL. But he’s a do-it-all weapon for the Wolfpack. He caught 55 balls last season, but that doesn’t tell the true story of his value to his team. He can block, he can carry the ball and has a nose for the end zone, as indicated by his 13 total TD in 2016. He should excel on Special Teams and block well in pass pro. He can do so much, that if he posts good numbers at the 2018 Combine he should be a highly desired Day 3 Draftee.
J’MON MOORE WR MISSOURI 6’3/205 #6. The majority of the top WR prospects are usually underclassmen in today’s football world. But we cant be sleeping on the few wideouts to stick around to complete their college career like MOORE. He caught 62 balls for 1012 yards and 8 TD in 2016. He’s a long, lean target who can work the sidelines. He drops too many balls that an NFL-caliber receiver should catch. He has Top 100 talent if he can improve on his catch percentage this season. QB/DREW LOCK should be looking to improve his completion percentage above 60% for the upcoming season and MOORE could help with improved catch consistency.
MARCELL ATEMAN WR OKLAHOMA STATE 6’4/220 #3. ATEMAN looked like an emerging star after a solid 2015 campaign in which he caught 45 balls for almost 800 yards in a talented, crowded receiving group. But he missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. The star of the receiver group in Cowboys’ land this season is clearly JAMES WASHINGTON, but ATEMAN provides a deep catch option. State should have a balanced attack this season, and talented QB/MASON RUDOLPH can get the ball deep for the big target. ATEMAN could post some big numbers with his size and speed.
CHRIS HERNDON TE MIAMI (F) 6’4/252 #23. HERNDON played second fiddle as a TE last season to NFL First Rounder DAVID NJOKU. But he has the size and athleticism to be a solid 2018 Draft Prospect. HERNDON caught 28 balls last year and could double that if one of their young QB emerges as a legit passing threat. He also has the size to be a solid blocker for the running game. But he may share time with the son of MICHAEL IRVIN this season, and will have to hold off the talented sophomore. Don’t lose sight of him is my advice even if IRVIN steps up.
CHUKWUMA OKORAFOR OT WESTERN MICHIGAN 6’6/330 #77. I was a bit surprised to not see this man-mountain listed on many sights as a Top 10 OL prospect for the coming season. In games I watched he was the best OL in the MAC last season. He was the LT last year and 1st Team MAC, while NFL Draftee TAYLOR MOTON played RT. He dominates most of his MAC competition with his size, strength and solid hand usage. He can also slide his feet well in pass pro. IMO, he’s the CAM ROBINSON pro prospect for the next Draft. NFL teams with really top notch teaching OL coaches will be drooling over this specimen.
SEAN WELSH OG IOWA 6’3/295 #79. This nice looking athlete already has 33 starts under has belt splitting time between OG/OT for the Hawkeyes. You know how the NFL just luvs Iowa OL who have had the pro style blocking coaching of KIRK FERENTZ and his staff. He’s a tad under 300 lbs., but has nice length and technique for the Interior OL. There are a dozen or more OL from IOWA dotting NFL rosters every season. And many of them lack the athleticism of WELSH. He could be one of the best Combine testing Hawkeyes OL ever in Indy next February. He will bring sound technique and above average athleticism to some NFL team in 2018. He should eventually earn an NFL starting job, but could also back up at multiple positions right away.
KENNY LACY OG UCLA 6’4/305 #76. Has 21 starts at OG during his UCLAN career. 2017 may be his first season out at OT. If he can handle that job he could be a red hot pro prospect to move back inside to OG, where he has already proven himself. I am not sure he has the length the NFL likes to see on the exterior of their offensive fronts. He must also overcome the UCLA reputation of producing finesse players, who may not be tough enough to thrive at the next level. He looks to me to have the athleticism needed to play at the next level.
There are a dozen senior prospects to keep an eye on going forward. Later in the week I’ll bring you some of my favorite overlooked defensive prospects to chew on.