ZACH ALLEN #2 DE BOSTON COLLEGE 6’5/275 JR At first I was highly disappointed to learn that HAROLD LANDRY/ER was still injured and being held out of the game against UCONN. After a bit of sulking I realized that it would give me a chance to watch a contest in which ALLEN would need to step up and take over the role of leading the BC front-7. ALLEN really emerged in 2016 as only a sophomore, with 36 tackles, including 6 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 QBH, 4 PBU. Even though his teammate LANDRY is a national sacks leader, it should be noted that at 6’5, 275 lbs. ALLEN is an easier position projection to either a 4-3 DE, or as a 3-4 DE, at the next level. He’s not a big flash player like his teammate LANDRY, but he plays hard every down and makes plays. He has some sack potential and may be a guy who is able to stay on the field for 3-downs, and can fit into multiple base schemes. He reminds me a bit of former STEELERS DE AARON SMITH and/or BRETT KEISEL, both of whom had productive 10-year plus careers in the NFL. Not sure he’s coming out, but I have little doubt he is ready to move successfully on to the pro game if he chooses to do so. With LANDRY out ALLEN had a really solid effort in the rain at Fenway Park last weekend against UCONN. He topped his team with 11 tackles, 6 of them solo, and 1.5 TFL. He looks solid enough to me to fit into most Top 100 prospect lists and be taken in Round 3.
SAM DARNOLD #14 QB SOUTHERN CAL 6’4/225 RSo Here is the first of my QB-trifecta thumbnail from last week’s games. After being a partial season phenom in 2016 DARNOLD has come back down to the stratosphere at least in 2017. He is actually leading the nation’s FBS QB in turnovers with a whopping 19 this season. That number is a combination of forced throws into coverage that have resulted in INT, as well as fumbles when he takes off to run when his receivers appear to be covered. Questions about his ball security issues abound, but the basic exceptional talent is still unquestionable. I still feel he looks like a true life LI’L ABNER of Dog Patch, USA comic strip fame. He is certainly the most physically imposing of the leading 2017 QB prospects. On the night against UCLA he passed for 17/28- 61%- 15.5 ypp-0 TD- 1 INT. He also had 1 rushing TD on the night. When personnel people look at his film I don’t see how he is not a Top 5 or 10 draftee. In fact if he and ROSEN both come out we could find ourselves with a repeat of the GOFF/WENTZ 2016 Draft. DARNOLD does not have the accurate touch of ROSEN at this stage of the game, and I think he never will. His arm is strong but somewhat unbridled. I would throw out a rough comparison of DARNOLD to JAMEIS WINSTON as an overall package right now. And what that means is that he will be the accepted leader of some NFL team early in his career, with enough tools to get the job done in leading his team to W’s, even if his style/form are not picture perfect. DARNOLD will bear extra scrutiny on several levels in the next several months, the least of which will be his desire to stay in his comfort zone as a college player, or plunge ASAP into the pro grid wars. I suspect we may still be waiting for his decision until the final declaration date for applying for inclusion in the 2018 NFL Draft process in mid-January. Next up, we get to see him lead the Trojans into the PAC-12 Championship game in two weeks. Whether it is this coming year, or next, DARNOLD is going to be a Top 5 Draftee because of his size, arm and overall talent. Clearly there are a half dozen NFL teams who need a franchise QB right now. Then throw in another 6 or so who would take him under an apprenticeship program for a couple of seasons like the CHIEFS are handling MAHOMES. Pure and simple, this guy is going to be an NFL Franchise QB in the near future.
JARVION FRANKLIN #31 RB WESTERN MICHIGAN 6’0/225 This guy has been a star in the MAC the past few seasons. But the question really is how does his game translate to the NFL? Against NIU he continued to put up good numbers, even though most of his yardage came early in the game. For the evening he had 27 carries, for 115 yards and 1 TD. That was his 6th straight game with 100+ yards rushing. He looks like a classic power runner, but isn’t huge at 225 lbs. He also shows very good balance to stay on his feet and will drive with his strong legs until gang tackled most of the time. He has shown the ability to sneak out of the backfield and catch the ball on dump-down throws. He had over 1300 yards rushing in 2016. He also shows a nose for the end zone, refusing to go down without a battle. Having said all of that, what I have not seen watching him in 3 games this season is impressive burst or explosion once he touches the ball. He will get what is blocked by his OL, but not much more. He must get a hole to run through right after the snap or he will just plow into the pile on front of him. He reminds me quite a bit of LATAVIUS MURRAY/Vikings who has had his moments as a pro, but who cannot create for himself. He might get drafted around Round 5, but he needs to show some speed, or quickness, or explosion this post season. The Combine may expose his limitations as an athlete.
JAMES HEARNS #98 OB/ER LOUISVILLE 6’3/245 HEARNS is a bit of an enigma on the football field. He has nice size and is a decent athlete, but wildly inconsistent. He has decent speed and moves coming off the edge in pass-rush situations. His productivity is down a bit this season primarily because he has been slowed by nagging injuries at times. He plays at a high energy and intensity level on his good days. Unfortunately he also has a tendency to lose self-control in some games. I have seen him pulled from the field for dumb penalties, and roughing-type penalties. Self control may be his worst enemy as a player. Louisville is still trying to put together a solid winning record, and get themselves to a decent Bowl venue as the season winds down. Against an outmanned Syracuse team HEARNS how a solid all-around performance; 4 tackles (all solo)- 1 Sack- 3 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 Forced fumble. That gives you an idea of his talent, versatility and athleticism. In 2016 he finished the season with 8 Sacks and 7 QBH. On his good game days HEARNS can be one tough/mean SOB. It would seem to me that he will face some serious vetting in the interview rooms with NFL Personnel people over his self-control issues. I doubt he will do anything spectacular at the Combine so mark him down as a mid-Round draftee if he passes the interview process as being coachable.
LAMAR JACKSON #8 QB LOUISVILLE 6’3/210 JR If it seems like this edition of Who Caught My Eye is heavily slanted to the QB position then so be it. Given that QB is still the glamour position on the football field it seems only logical to do so. I also think as the season winds down we have a fairly clear picture of which underclassmen may be coming out for the 2018 Draft. I think JACKSON will be headed to the pro level for 2018. He’s not likely to develop any further in the college game. So where is he as a prospect right now? I would have to say we still don’t know if he’s NFL starting QB timber or not. When in doubt he is still likely to tuck and run way too soon for NFL tastes. He has at the very least a slightly above average arm for the pros. His mechanics are wildly inconsistent and I would classify his QBing style as improvisational. He still reminds a lot of MIKE VICK, but with not as strong of an arm. Against Syracuse JACKSON passed for 270 yards on 14/26, and 2 TD, 0 INT. His running accounted for 111-yards, on 12 carries and another 2 TD. The most encouraging numbers pointing to development in his 2017 stats are 17 rushing TD, 23 passing TD, 6 INT. The reduction in his turnovers is very encouraging. He also has his weight up to 210 lbs. though he still looks rather slight. Obviously, the Combine shapes up to be a showplace for his athleticism. Clearly, JACKSON has serious potential to contribute as a Return Specialist and perhaps a WR, if the QB gig doesn’t pan out in the pro game. I think the only real question with JACKSON is how high some team will take him given his special talent and potential. Tough decision!
JUSTIN JONES #27 DT NC STATE 6’2/315 Guys like JONES can be hard to get a really good read on because they see limited action in strong DL rotation systems. Just about the time you get some notes accumulated he’s not on the field for the next possession. It can also get tough to take your eyes off of super prospect teammate DE BRADLEY CHUBB playing on that DL with him. So what I look for is how opposing offenses run their plays and block that interior line when JONES is in there. I also look for unusual stats based on position. For instance, in JONES case I find his TFL numbers to be quite high for an interior/rotational guy. In the shootout loss to Wake last weekend JONES more than held his own. He was credited with 5 tackles- 2 solo- and 2 TFL. I also noticed that he was getting some nice push on the interior and forcing Wake to pay more attention to him with extra blockers along the line-of-scrimmage. In 2016 he 43 tackles, including 3 sacks and 2 QBH. He clearly gets enough push to collapse and/or pressure the pocket on a regular basis. I think he clearly has the basics to play at the pro level, in a DL rotation. He’s most likely to fit in a base 4-3 scheme the best because of a lack of length and good, though not enormous girth. He could be a real bargain in Round 5 or 6 come Draft Day 2018. We should get a good look at him in a post-season All-Star Game.
JORDAN LASLEY #2 WR UCLA 6’1/210 JR LASLEY has been far from a model of consistency during his football days at UCLA. He has also acquired a reputation as a bit of an undisciplined person on campus and the field at times. Although you wouldn’t label his on-field play as special every week, he has had his moments that make you wonder at his overall potential. Last week’s season ending game against cross town rival USC has many people wondering if he showed what he is capable of on an ongoing basis, or if he’s just a flash player who looks like a blazing star one week and a dark hole the next. He caught 10 balls from ROSEN last weekend for a whopping 204 yards and 3 TD. He is a deep threat and outran some very athletic Trojan secondary members. He was flagged for excessive celebration after being cautioned several times by refs to tone it down. He now has 49 receptions for an average of 18.6 yards per catch this season. He has a slick, lean look about him but don’t call him skinny. He is elusive as well as fast after the catch. Let’s say his biggest need is for more mental discipline in his play. But he has game changing potential. With the upheaval in the UCLA football program, and the likely departure of JOSH ROSEN, it would not surprise me if LASLEY joined his QB in heading to the pro game. He could still be ranked as a Top 100 player if he shows well at the Combine.
JOSH ROSEN #3 QB UCLA 6’4/210 JR It certainly looks to me like the best arm talent and pro ready QB I have seen this season is ROSEN. And that is backed up by his performance in the annual rivalry match between UCLA and Southern Cal. IMO, this gave us a snapshot of ROSEN in an important game, against one of the Top 15 programs in the country. ROSEN stats pretty much speak for themselves in this contest. ROSEN was 32/52- 61.5%- 421 yards- 13.1 ypp- 3 TD- 1 Int. He drove his team up and down the field against a defense with seriously more talent than his offense. He was under constant pocket pressure as his OL was outmanned by the USC D. He showed good field vision, nice touch on his throws and excellent accuracy. Other than a handful of throws, he led his receivers expertly, hitting them in the hands, in full stride. This of course allowed his receivers to get considerable yards-after-catch since they seldom had to break stride to adjust to an errant ball. He was able to loft several long balls directly over the receivers’ shoulders. Though not the runner that SAM DARNOLD is, he was able to gain several first downs on occasion with his legs when his receivers appeared to be covered. He had a beautiful long ball throw in the first UCLA possession, which was called back on a penalty. His only glaring mistake on the evening was an Interception in the 3rd Quarter, in the Red Zone, when he forced a throw into coverage. I might add that his 61.5 completion percentage should have been closer to 67% given at least 4 drops that I counted. Just to put a bit of comparison on his pro potential to a recent top prospect, his game and skill set remind me of JARED GOFF/CAL, who has really blossomed in this his second NFL season. ROSEN looks to me like he has an incredibly high FBI for pro coaches to work with. Assuming that he comes out, and passes the interview process I would expect him to be a Top 5 pick without question.
AUGIE SANCHEZ #43 IB SOUTH FLORIDA 6’2/245 I find myself puzzled by the seeming double talk spewed forth by NFL Personnel Departments in general, when they say if you want to know what a player is really about, then watch the game tape. Then I see productive players get ignored, or passed over on Draft Day, based on numbers that they post in their underwear workouts. Quite often they get drafted very late, if at all, considering their productivity during their college career. I think SANCHEZ qualifies as one of those under-appreciated performers. Given a certain Bowl game this season SANCHEZ will probably start 50-plus games during his USF career. He has started since his true freshman season in 2014. In 2015 he posted 120 tackles, followed by 117 in 2016. He is on schedule for another 100-plus this year, and has collected a career high 3 INT in 10 games thus far this season. Against Syracuse last Friday night SANCHEZ had the following stat line: 14 tackles- 8 solo- 1 sack- 3 TFL- 1 QBH. That is big time production folks. He’s very active and seems to have a high FBI. It might be said he has that second sense as to where the ball is going much of the time. When you look at how well rounded his stat sheet reads it seems clear that he is basically a productive football player. He wears the C on his jersey and leads his teammates by example. I suspect that some NFL team is going to get quite a bargain on Draft Saturday when this guy is still around. Perfect candidate for an All-Star appearance in the Shrine Game, just across the bridge from his college campus.
JALEN SUMMERS #21 WR UCONN 6’0/185 I have liked this player since I first noticed him as a sophomore stater with the Huskies in 2015. I might make note that in that season he was voted first team AAC after recording 8 INT on the season. Since then he has moved around the secondary splitting time between CB & S for the Huskies secondary. I caught his act again last weekend in a game played at Fenway Park and watched him play a lot of man press-cover on the Corner against Boston College. He was all over the field in a lopsided loss. SUMMERS collected 6 T- 3 solo and I counted a legit 3 passes defensed. Another guy who plays like he has a very high FBI. He’s very active to the ball, which includes throwing his 185 lb. frame around in support of the run D. SUMMERS had to be helped off the field near the end of the 3rd quarter after helping on the tackle of 240 lb. A.J.DILLON, super frosh RB with B.C. Shortly after the start of the 4th quarter SUMMERS was back out on the field, back in action. I like this smart, tough athlete and am convinced he can use his versatility and experience to good advantage in NFL level defensive sub-packages. I’d use a Draft Pick for him by Rounds 4/5 in the 2018 NFL Draft.
IAN THOMAS #80 TE INDIANA 6’5/248 Thomas transferred into IU last season from Juco ranks. He was pretty much a non-factor for the Hoosiers Offense. But this, his senior season has a been a completely different story. He has missed some time to injuries but overall has been a very nice addition to their receiving corps. He is a very athletic guy and has 25 catches for the season despite some lost playing time and some QB shuffling. He was a major weapon in the win over Rutgers last weekend, pulling in 4 passes for 93 yards and a TD. His long play of the day went for 57 yards. He’s a long target who can outrun LB if matched up in man coverage. Not going to be inserted into any jumbo packages for his blocking quite yet, but can hold his own as an inline guy. It will be quite interesting to see how he works out in his undies at the Combine. If he does well there then it is likely that personnel people will view him as a late bloomer, who has considerable upside. I would agree with that evaluation. So the question may come down do an estimation of whether he’s a mid-Round or late-round draftee. A post season All-Star appearance could be a major deal for him in his journey to the Draft.