It almost snuck up on me… but no, I have not missed the fact that football is back. After a surprisingly entertaining season from the fledgling USFL, and the start of the the CFL season, we finally have at least a bit more than a guy named WATSON to talk about as NFL Training Camps have opened.
And to get things really rolling this has been the week of NFL Hall of Fame festivities, which included a “game” of sorts. And it was reasonably entertaining, as long as you were willing to accept that the biggest stars on the field Thursday night were not in uniform. In fact, many of the current stars, or would be stars, like CARR/ADAMS, LAWRENCE/ETIENNE, etc never put on their helmets, except for a brief cameo from ETIENNE. TRAVON WALKER, first Pick in the 2022 Draft played briefly in the first quarter registering a Sack, as well as a penalty for roughing the QB, when he sacked STIDHAM on another occasion, but made contact with the QB’s head in doing so. Probably the star of the game was RAIDERS QB JARRETT STIDHAM, acquired this off-season from the Patriots. He looked solid as a passer, and even better as a runner. Before you Raiders fans get carried away about his potential to emerge as one of the better back-ups in the league, please remember that his current Head Coach was his O.C. for the past 3 seasons in New England. So he knows the system better than even Derek Carr at this juncture. Enough about the most meaningless of all the pre-season games to be played this month.
What I really watch for this time of year from a pro football stand-point is the progress of Rookies as most of them see extensive playing time. And over the next month many Day 3 draftees will pretty much be invisible while 2 or 3 Rookie Free Agents will cause die hard fans to ask how their favorite team managed to not draft these guys on Day 3 of the Draft.
Who you talking about Pigskin? Any on my fave team fit that bill?
It’s way to early to project the undrafted rookies who’ll make 53-man rosters in September, usually about 50 or less, but I will give you a couple names who have raised eyebrows early on, just to stimulate your saliva flow.
A lot of folks made fun of Belichick and his draftees back in April. But most of them are making progress, and appear to likely land roster spots in New England. But the name for me is an undrafted Rookie named LaBryan RAY, DL, Alabama. He’s 6’4/290 and has shown a solid combination of strength and athleticism early on. He has already shown some of that highly valued pass-rush ability. Purely and simply, it appears that RAY just got lost a bit in the uber-talented DL room in Tuscaloosa. I would say he’s a sure bet to at least make a Practice Squad, but the way he has been playing early in Camp, if the team cuts him I expect he would get claimed on waivers.
Smooth as silk, with a high FBI (football IQ) is how Bengals coaches describe KWAMIE LASSITER a WR/RS from the moribund Kansas football program. His story could make him the poster boy for good athlete/player who was trapped in a bad program. And in this day and age of that swinging door known as the Transfer Portal in college football, it may also speak volumes about his character that he stayed in the JayHawks program. Special Teams could be his primary ticket to stick with the team, but he might also win a spot as WR-4 behind CHASE/BOYD/HIGGINS.
Many times the door swings open for an undrafted player because of Cap issues and/or lack of positional depth. A player who might fit that description is Jacksonville Rookie ISRAEL ANTWINE. He’s a 6’3/309 DT who helped Oklahoma State plug the line-of-scrimmage and shut down opponents’ run games the past couple of seasons. If he could fill that role for the JAGS he might earn himself a back-up/rotational job at Rookie minimum wages.
At this time it looks like the 2023 NFL Draft will offer up a more highly valued QB group than this past Draft brought to the table. Whereas we saw only 1 First Round QB this year, and 3 more in Round 3 there might be chance of 3-4 First Rounders next year and another 3 or so before the Top 100 Picks are called. Assuming they enter the Draft everyone is well aware of BRYCE YOUNG/Alabama & C.J. STROUD/Ohio State, both being likely Top 10 Picks if they repeat their 2021 performances. But I like 3 other guys to have a shot at First Round glory, and paychecks.
TYLER VAN DYKE Miami (F)
WILL LEVIS Kentucky
GRAYSON McCALL Coastal Carolina
Speaking of future prospects a couple of young men toiling up in the Great White North in CFL action look like NFL material to my eyes.
Out in Vancouver, toiling for the B.C Lions is 24-year old NATHAN ROURKE, who played in the States for OHIO of the MAC. He’s a dual-threat QB with an above average arm and the legs to extend the play and/or take off running. He’s a solid 6’2/210 and is taking the CFL by storm as the B.C. starting QB. What I like best is his ability to read the field, extend the play and find open receivers. NFL teams might be casting their nets up north to sign this guy when his contract runs out in another year or two. Heck, Colin’s G-Men might end up pursuing this guy if Daniel JONES fails to progress this season.
Up in HAMILTON a young WR has caught my eye twice already this season. His name is STEVEN DUNBAR, Jr. who measures at 6’2/202. He may not have ideal speed for the NFL but he is a leaper, who shows good hands and his physique is ripped. He’s 26 and I am unsure about his contractual obligation to the CFL. What I do know is that there has been a steady pipeline in place in recent decades to provide a flow of wideouts from the CFL to the NFL. Remember his name.
This coming week also watch for my Top 25, 2023 NFL DRAFT prospects list here in the GBN Report website. I expect to publish a Top 25 once a month during the college season. Hey if MEL can do it, so can Pigskin. After all, we are birds of a feather… old guys who luv football.