KEISHAWN BIERRIA #7 LB WASHINGTON 6’1/230. Because he lacks the traditional bulk of an ILB BERRIA has not gotten the credit he deserves as an active, productive IB, who plays the run effectively, and has the athleticism to handle pass coverage in the middle of the field. He has a nose for the ball and pursues from sideline to sideline. With a bit of an angle he has the speed to catch up with plays to the outside if he gets the pursuit angle right. And he usually does. He did yeoman’s work on Special Teams for the Huskies against Penn State and would expect that skill set to translate to the NFL without any real difficulty. For the evening of the Bowl Game he roamed the field to record 11 tackles, 7 of them solo. With the addition of that Nickel-LB spot on most NFL defenses, I think it provides more of an opportunity than ever for guys like BERRIA. Unless he blows up his work in shorts at the Combine however, I don’t see him until Draft Saturday.
JONATHAN COOK #14 FS MEMPHIS 6’0/200 Let’s start with another bio detail that COOK began his collegiate career at ‘BAMA. After one season there he went to the JC ranks before ending up at Memphis in 2016. He led the Memphis D with 88 tackles in 2016. He had 78 tackles for the Tigers in 2017, but most importantly showed improved coverage skills. On the season he had 2 INT and 13 PD. Memphis lost a squeaker to Iowa State 20-21 in the Liberty Bowl, with COOK leading the way for the D. He had 9 tackles, including 7 solo and had a pass defensed. He was also on the spot for a big end zone fumble recovery with 4 minutes left in the game which kept the Cyclones from icing the game at that point. He is a solid form tackler, who can really blow up receivers or runners. As with many players his Combine and/or Pro Day numbers will play a big role in moving him up, or down, in his Draft position. His aggressive play and productivity will be attractive to potential NFL employers, if he can put up some good times in the 40-yard dash and cone drills. His toughness and nose for the ball put him just below a Top 100 Prospect ranking for me, in a very crowded Draft. I’ll project someone gets a bargain in Round 5 on this player. As an additional value factor I am thinking he will provide added value on Special Teams units.
DERRIUS GUICE #5 RB LSU 5’11/212 JR Unfortunately GUICE had his 2017 season disrupted on multiple occasions with relatively minor injuries that cost him playing time and touches during much of the 2017 season. And he got nicked a bit during the Bowl loss to Notre Dame. But he was healthy and determined enough to put his “angry” running style to work. He runs with power, speed and excellent balance. He also seems to have good field vision to help him make cuts and elude tacklers, when he’s not moving the pile. He has that forward lean to his running style and explodes into and thru tacklers. Best of all for today’s pro game he has shown excellent hands and pass receiving ability, which enables him to stay on the field throughout his team’s possession. GUICE was the Tigers main offensive weapon against Notre Dame in Orlando wth 98 yards rushing and 3 receptions, including 2 for TD. Despite his injury issues in 2017 he led the team in rushing with 1251 yards at 5.3 ypc. GUICE is a potential No. 1 RB for some NFL team, especially with his catching skills. I rank him just behind BARKLEY and see him being drafted by mid-First Round. If fully healthy by the end of February, expect him to put up some impressive numbers at the Combine. From what he has shown when healthy I think a sound NFL comp for him is LeVEON BELL.
DaeSHON HAMILTON #5 WR PENN STATE 6’1/206 With today’s wide open Offenses trend in the NFL the demand for both quantity and quality in a WR corps is more important than ever. And mixed in with the speedsters, quick guys, and long guys is the need to have a stable all-around guy who can run good patterns, get separation and catch the ball when it is thrown to him. Let’s call him the No. 4 wideout. IMO, HAMILTON is exactly that kind of guy. He leaves Penn State as their all time receptions leader and though not a flat-out burner he got deep behind some solid Huskies defenders on several occasions, including a fly pattern down the right sideline for a TD. Penn State won the Fiesta Bowl against a good Washington team and capped an 11-2 season. Not bad after the program was all but destroyed by the NCAA, and others, after the Sandusky Scandal in Happy Valley. He had 5 receptions for 110 yards and 2 TD. The first TD catch was a long 48-yard bomb down the right sideline, on which he showed enough burst and speed to get open behind the CB and outrun defenders into the end zone. He had 53 catches on the season, for 857 yards and 9 TD. Given the glut of underclassmen coming out for the 2018 Draft, I would project HAMILTON just outside of the Top 100 in Round 4. But he’ll need to show athleticism at the Combine to secure that position.
MIKE HUGHES #19 CB/RS CENTRAL FLORIDA (UCF) 5’11/185 JR. A lot of this nation’s football fans got their first real look at HUGHES when undefeated UCF took on Memphis for the AAC Championship Game just before Bowl season. In that back and forth shoot-out it was HUGHES who scored the go ahead/game winning TD on a return that saw him wind his way pretty much through the entire Memphis coverage unit. Needless to say that ability will boost his Draft stock tremendously. I was amazed at watching him in about 4 games this past season, including the big Bowl win over Auburn, at how calm he is fielding punts. I see a lot of successful return guys who misjudge and/or bobble punts on a game to game basis. Not this guy. He is a natural catcher, which should not be under-valued. HUGHES 2017 season stats should tell you why he is pro-ready; 44 tackles, 4 INT and 11 PBU. He’s not big, but he is fairly physical and will do the job in run support. His speed should be confirmed at the Combine and put him in the Top 100 lists of most Draft experts. He’s coming out and ready for an NFL career. He is another example that shows that even though SCOTT FROST did a great job coaching the UCF team, he was not doing it with mirrors. He had talented guys like HUGHES making plays for him.
ALLEN LAZARD #5 WR IOWA STATE 6’5/220 Certainly, one of the most pleasant surprises this past college football season was an Iowa State team, that posted a 7-5 record and made a post season appearance in the Liberty Bowl. HC MATT CAMPBELL got a lot of deserved praise in turning his team around in his second year in Ames, IA. From a 3-9 effort in 2016 to a Bowl Game in 2017 is quite a feat. This is a team that defeated both Oklahoma and TCU during their recent Conference schedule. One carryover player from the Paul Rhodes era was LAZARD, who clearly has a future in the NFL. Let’s get one likely false assumption out of the way right now: LAZARD is a long tall player who gets most of his catches on jump balls and won’t be fast enough for the NFL. I do not expect him to run a blazing 40-time at the Combine, but I will state that he has enough speed to get separation from defenders on a regular basis. He shows tremendously strong hands, and will indeed win the vast majority of 50/50 balls that come his way. He’s a high FBI player with excellent feel for what is going on around him in the field of play. In the third quarter he was alert enough to make a diving grab on a pass deflected off another player, in the end zone for a TD. He presents a very large target area for his QB with his height and long arms. Though he injured an ankle early in the second half, he had it re-taped and was out on the field all game long in a back and forth battle with Memphis. I envision LAZARD as a top 3 WR for some NFL team. He would make an excellent option for an offense with a speedy big play wideout, and a quick little slot receiver out there with him. I see his style and physical tools making him an ALSHON JEFFERY-type player in The League. He is scheduled to appear at the Senior Bowl. Looks like a 2nd/3rd Rounder to me.
HERCULES MATA’AFA #50 DE/ER/OB WASHINGTON STATE 6’2/252 JR After watching Hercules play in the blow-out loss to Michigan State I was not surprised to see him declare for the NFL Draft. First off, he and his mates on the D side of the ball are greatly outnumbered and outmanned most weekends. And because of a shortage of defensive manpower the coaches were using him almost exclusively inside as a DT. Why would he want to go back for more of being manhandled by OL outweighing him by 50 lbs. and be stuck inside where he has limited use of the key part of his game, which is quickness and natural pass-rush moves? He missed the first half of the Bowl Game because of a targeting call against him incurred in the team’s final Pac-12 Game. When he emerged for the second half he did give the D a bit of a boost but it was too little, too late. There was talk about moving him back outside for his senior year in Pullman, but I think he feared the reality of being stuck back inside again as dictated by team talent. Long term I think he has potential to make his mark in the NFL on Special Teams, as an edge-rusher and on a team that uses a 4-3 base scheme even at DE beside a really stout DT. Looking at his frame, I doubt he’s going to add any significant weight even in an NFL weight room. He is wiry strong already. At the start of the 4th Quarter he recorded a Sack which was his 22 1/2TFL in the season, which included 9 sacks. He also was credited with a QBH in Bowl action. I might also note, that even though overpowered and double teamed in game action, I still noticed him in the swarm of tacklers at the end of the majority of running plays. His timing at the Combine for speed and quickness could have a huge influence on his Draft status. For an NFL team looking for an active, versatile player I think HERCULES will make a solid Round 4-5 draftee and could become a real fan favorite in many NFL cities.
Da’RON PAYNE #94 DT ALABAMA 6’2/308 JR The Bowl action takes place primarily during the busy holiday season, so it is not inconceivable that even a solid football fan may miss watching some games because of family or other commitments. But if you missed Alabama’s Final Four Championship games, then there is not enough I can write about MR. PAYNE to enlighten you on how much he enhanced his NFL Draft stock as the Tide washed it’s way to another championship. The stats sheets are not going to paint a complete picture of his work because he grunts it out in the middle of the DL trying to hold the line-of-scrimmage against the run, and put inside pressure on the QB pocket in the passing game. Tackles and sacks are nice, but they are not the true measure for these inside sluggers. Things like taking up two blockers on almost every play, denying the QB vision of his receivers, deflecting balls coming out of the QB’s hand are all part of the tough, physical action taking place on every snap. My notes indicate “monster” nights in both the Alabama victories. In the Championship Game with Georgia, PAYNE’s name was a constant call from the TV announcers, as he totaled 6 tackles, 3 of them solo. He also was in the QB face, not to mention his head, way too often for comfort. Back in the W over Clemson, which the ‘Bama D dominated, PAYNE grabbed a deflected throw for an INT. As a reward he was put in the backfield as a blocking FB and thrown a scoring pass. he has declared for the 2018 Draft (rightly so) and is very likely to be taken in the Top 15 Picks, unless he falls on his face at the Combine.
AUDEN TATE #18 WR FLORIDA STATE 6’5/225 JR It was a tough season for the Seminoles in 2017, topped off by HC Jimbo Fisher heading to Texas A&M for SABAN money. The season was derailed early when the team lost it’s starting QB FRANCOIS to a knee injury late in the loss to Alabama. FISHER and his staff had no quality backup in place and had to throw a true frosh to the wolves, so to speak. By the end of the regular season TATE had to settle for 40 catches for 10 TD. He’s a long striding, sure handed receiver who looks to me to have very solid, catching fundamentals, including body and hand positioning. He has declared for the 2018 Draft. I am very anxious to see his arm and hand length when measured at the Combine. He reminds a lot of former FSU WR KELVIN BENJAMIN, but with a more trim, slender body. He can get behind secondaries on long patterns, and will win almost all of the well thrown jump balls that come his way. He was absolutely the offensive star of the blow-out Bowl win over Southern Miss. He had 5 receptions for 84 yards and 3 TD. It seemed like even more watching the game. He had the Southern Miss secondary back on their heels and stretched deep to the max. I believe he will indeed be a Friday Draft selection come April.
KYZIR WHITE #8 SS WEST VIRGINIA 6’2/216 Most of the pub in Morgantown goes to the offensive side of the ball, which is HC DANA HOLGORSEN’s specialty. But the WVU Defense can flat out ball. And they really had to ball-out just to keep things close (for a while) in their Bowl Game with Utah. Both teams struggled at times, but without the injured WILL GRIER, WVU really struggled at QB. There was no one to step up in that slot for them. So when opportunity knocks the strong step up, and that is exactly what WHITE did for the defense in the Heart of Texas Bowl. For the game WHITE was credited with 13 total tackles, 7 solo, and including a Sack. WHITE fits into that new hybrid Nickel-LB type player with the right size and speed to handle the running game as well as pass coverage assignments. He’s is very physical as well as athletic, which I expect to show at the Combine. For the 2017 season WHITE was credited with 81 tackles and 3 INT. He is currently scheduled to participate in Senior Bowl activities at the end of the month. He will be on my radar during the entire week in Mobile. Pay attention friends, this is a good football player, who should fit nicely into what a lot of NFL Defenses are looking to do these days.
That does it for WCME this season, but never fear. I’m off to St. Petersburg, FL Monday for the start of All-Star Games with the East-West Shrine Game. I’ll be filing reports daily.