Bowl Season Who Caught My Eye 1.0 2020

January 5, 2020

The games are flying by with such speed and volume that my recording space is filling up on my cable system, unless I chop out my Bond Movies, which is NOT happening. So I will plug along until Bowls are finished and I have exhausted my thumbnails for players. So let’s start catching up with the following thumbnails:

A.J. EPENESA  #94   DE   Iowa   6’6/280    Jr   It is hard to comprehend that EPENESA would not declare himself for the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s a veritable “strong man” from Circus heydays of yore. To appreciate his talent and production, one has to get past the speed, edge-rusher image of many players these days. Speed is not his game. Size and power are his calling cards. When he makes his push toward the pocket, he does show some nice bend for his size and frame. He also uses his long arms to look even bigger than 6’6″. He certainly displays his base strength in anchoring his end of the line against the run. The showdown between he and Austin Jackson, (see more later below), was a classic battle of football titans, with each man having turns besting the other in one-on-one victories. For the game, EPENESA really turned it on as the Trojans turned almost exclusively to their passing game, trying to keep pace with the Iowa’s offensive onslaught. His stat sheet at game’s end listed 4 Tackles, 2.5 of them sacks, along with a Forced Fumble on a stick sack. However, stats just don’t tell the whole story for of his game by a long shot. For the 2019 season, he recorded 49 T’s,  11.5 Sacks, 4 FF’s, and 3 PD. His presence affects the game each weekend as teams concentrate on keeping him in check. I think his best playing spot as a pro will be as a DE in a 3-4 base scheme. His length, strength, power, and pass rush ability remind me of a former Steelers star who played double digit years in the League by the name of AARON SMITH.  He is not a CLOWNEY flash-type player, but I see him in Round 1, first half, instant starter who powers a DL unit! And yes, if he  comes out for this Draft he’s a sure thing in Round 1.

MAURICE FFRENCH  #2  WR   PITT  5’11/190  Sr     FFRENCH got some serious time on the field in 2018, but literally exploded in 2019. He ended up with 96 catches for 850 yards and 4 TD’s this past season. He’s not a speedster, but showed enough in their Bowl game to take a short throw and take it all the way to the end zone after 96-yards, most of it after the catch. For the game against EMU, he totaled 12 catches for 165 yards and that TD. An interesting number is his average of 7.6 catches per game during his college career. Amazingly, I have not noticed his name on any of the big 3 Star games, which tells me that he is likely to be a Combine snub, as well. He has, however, received a Hula Bowl invite, but has not accepted, as of yet. His Pro Day may be his major chance to make his mark in the minds of personnel people.  He has shown some talent on Kick Returns, which may help him get an opportunity to show more. I think he has a solid chance to be in a 2020 Training Camp as an URFA, but not likely to be drafted.

STEVEN GONZALEZ  #74   OG   Penn State   6’4/340   Sr    Has played a major role in the rebirth of Penn State football over the past 4 seasons. He has started over 40 games during that time span. He’s clearly a big body, perhaps too big for today’s NFL. Losing 10-20 lbs. without sacrificing power might be his calling card for a long term NFL job. He shows some practical blocking ability, especially in the run game with seal blocks. He drives his legs well and can move defenders where he wishes. To some degree, he reminds me of Will Hernandez, now starting for the Giants. He does not quite have the same edge to his game that Hernandez does, but he gets the job done. He should get by in pass-pro with active feet and good knee bend. I would expect him to have a pretty mediocre showing at the Combine relative to measurables, but with pads on, he gets the job done. Looks like a middle round Pick, (4-5), to me.

A.J. GREEN   #4  CB  Oklahoma State  6’1/195   Sr      It has been a bit challenging to get a serious look at his skills based on 2019, when teams kept away from his area as much as possible. He was clearly the best secondary member on the Cowboys Defense. I would expect some nice numbers from him at the Combine. He has never posted big numbers with Interceptions, but he shows very well with PD in coverage. He’ll appeal greatly to teams that use a lot of press-cover. His thin stat sheet for 2019 showed 49 T’s, 1 INT, and 5 PD. He is currently on the Senior Bowl acceptance list, which will give him a serious opportunity to impress scouts. So too should the Combine. Could find him knocking on the door of a Day Two Draft position.

DELE HARDING  #9  LB   Illinois    6’1/230    Sr     What were the odds that one Bowl game would feature the top two tacklers of 2018. HARDING was a part time player in 2018 and not necessarily projected to start in 2019. However, he played a big part in turning around the Illini to a 6-6 season and a Bowl Berth, by winning a regular job and recording 154 tackles in 2019. He also had 3 FF’s and 3 INT’s. He’s a very active player and a smooth moving athlete. He could be a late draftee, depending upon what he may show at a Pro Day. His shot at sticking to an NFL roster will clearly start with how useful he is perceived to be as a Special Teamer. If he runs well enough in testing, he might also have potential to plug into a hybrid LB/Nickel-S slot. If you’re looking for a surprise late round Draftee, look no further. Right now, he is at best a late round draftee.

AUSTIN JACKSON   #73   OT   USC   6’6/305  Jr    IMO, this is the best OT prospect to come out of Southern Cal since a guy named TYRON SMITH was a first rounder for the Cowboys and started a run of LT Pro Bowl appearances. JACKSON is bit less physically imposing than SMITH, but shows the potential and athleticism to excel at the next level. He is equally adept at run blocking and pass-pro. I feel like his match-up against Iowa DE A.J. EPENESA was one of the best one-on-one match-ups of the Bowl season. JACKSON has shown flashes of a mean streak, but plays under control. I would rate the matchup against EPENESA as being a draw at the end of the evening. A.J. seemed to have the edge late in the game, but USC was playing catchup and throwing almost exclusively. EPENESA took advantage of that and wore down JACKSON. JACKSON does look to have very long arms like his predecessor SMITH, but he’s not nearly as strong… yet. If he comes out, I look for JACKSON to be taken in the first half of Round One and be a plug-and-play Rookie.

MARCUS KEYES   #75    OG   Oklahoma State  6’3/309   Sr    I was calling for KEYES to leave school last year.  However, he went back to school and had another solid year, but without gaining much attention for his efforts. He’s nothing special, but has been starting since his Redshirt Freshman year. He has decent feet for a big guy, in a limited Interior space. His strength also shows in pushing aside big DT’s in the run game. Playing in, pretty much, a pro style Offense in Stillwater, gives him solid experience in both run and pass blocking. He has been the anchor piece for their OL the past two seasons. He’s a blue collar warrior, who shows up and does his job. I think he could warrant a late round selection.

EVAN WEAVER   #89   IB   California    6’3/245   I have to confess that I have very serious doubts about the pro potential of this very productive collegian. He led the nation, (again), in total tackles for the 2019 season with 181 tackles, 78 of them solo, including 2.5 sacks, 3 FF’s, and 3 PD. There wasn’t a whole lot around him defensively to help out most games. Incredibly, this years tackle total came on the heels of 159 total tackles last season. Watching WEAVER in the Red Box Bowl, I was impressed with his diagnostic skills and ability to locate the ball, but I also noticed that many of his tackles are well past the line-of-scrimmage and in some instances, he is cleaning up partially missed tackles from teammates. He does not appear “fast” at all, and I fear that the Combine is going to really expose his limited athleticism, causing personnel people to question how often he’ll get to the ball in today’s speedy NFL. He had best be prepared for a Day 3 draft slot and better be polishing up on his Special Teams attributes because that may be where he will have earn a roster spot, and more time to show that his style of play can be productive on Sundays. Our next shot to get a feel for his talent level will come in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, competing against some pretty talented prospects.

ROBERT WINDSOR   #54    DT    Penn State  6’4/290   Sr    Stats are important at almost every position in pro football these days, with detailed analytics, But within these stats, it is important to remember the scheme and surrounding players. WINDSOR is such a guy whose stats don’t even come close to revealing his true value. His play against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl was a good example of what WINDSOR means to the Penn State Defense. For the game, he had 2 tackles, including 1 sack. But in case you missed that game, let me tell you that he was a force all day in collapsing the pocket and harassing Memphis QB BRADY WHITE. He is a decent athlete who plays with a non-stop motor and good power for his frame. He can also run a bit and pursue an escaping QB. In 2018, he emerged while getting credited with 7.5 sacks. He recorded 3.5 sacks this past season to go with 40 total tackles. He is always around the ball and never gives up on a play. He should make a solid member of a DL rotation system as a pro. He needs to improve his ability to shed blockers and use his hands to keep blockers away from his body. He is primarily a DT prospect, but I could certainly see him as a 3-4 base scheme DE. He’s currently shown on the Senior Bowl acceptance list. I like his chances to get drafted on Day Three.

Clip notes:

Despite his high level of play, and the fact that his head coach left, Memphis Junior WR DAMONTE COXIE is currently expressing his intention to return to school to play football next fall. He certainly had an impressive showing against Penn State’s talented defense. He caught 8 passes for 132 yards in that game. He’s a long, tall target at 6’3/200. He had 76 catches on the season. If he does stay in school expect him to be high on the WR prospect list at this time next year.

Just a note for the future. Based on what my eyes saw in the Red Box Bowl, I would expect the premier LB for the 2021 Draft to be Penn State IB MICAH PARSONS. He’s a great athlete that can do anything his coaches ask him to do. He had 14 tackles against Memphis and is only a true Soph. Watch out next season, folks. He just happens to wear #11, which was also worn by LaVAR ARRINGTON for State.

A guy to keep your eye on at the Shrine Bowl could be RB PATRICK TAYLOR of Memphis. He was primed for a big season in 2019 with DARRELL HENDERSON in the NFL, (RAMS). However, he lost 8 games to injury, and I doubt he’s applying for another year of eligibility. He’s a versatile player, with good size. He did rush for over 1,100-yards and 16 TD’s in 2018, while splitting carries with HENDERSON.