Pigskin Paul Guillemette, GBN Associate Editor, previews the players he will be watching in college football this weekend ….
Who Caught My Eye Week 5
Another weekend with a somewhat limited number of elite match-ups, but there are always prospects in action to eyeball. And as long as the match-up does not resemble David versus Goliath, it can be well worth the watch. So with an eye towards the 2020 NFL Draft, here’s what my scouting eyes saw last weekend.
DERRICK BROWN #5 DL AUBURN 6’5/325 SR
BROWN was the highest rated non-QB to NOT declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, and he’s back on an AUBURN team that appears to have found the mojo it was missing last season. Going into the 2019 season, he faced the prospect of not making as many plays as he has in the past, just because the guys around him are the best group since he has been there on the plains of Alabama. MISS STATE certainly had their eyes trained on him, and used multiple approaches to try to contain him. Even though he was only credited with 2 tackles on the day, STATE used a lot of blockers to contain him. I found it interesting that AUBURN responded by moving him around. He was shifted outside to a DE slot, especially on third-and-long situations. For a guy with his size and his quickness, when used in conjunction with his strength and size, it is startling. Besides being double, even triple-teamed most of the time, I also felt like I saw a lot of holding going on to slow him down. Not many of them were called by the SEC officials. Even when he failed to sack the QB, I noticed him walking the blocker straight back into the pocket to move the QB off his spot. I cannot imagine him getting past the Top 10 Picks in the 2020 Draft.
RAEKWON DAVIS #99 DE ALABAMA 6’7 309 SR
I watched ‘Bama host Ole Miss last weekend and kept one eye on DAVIS whenever the Alabama D was on the field. I fell in luv with DAVIS, his size and his game, two seasons ago. I watched him last season and was glad when he decided to stay in school for the 2019 season. Why? Because I was not impressed with his play much of the time last season. And he left me cold again last Saturday as well. The biggest reason for my going a bit sour on him is that I just do not see the explosion and quickness that I saw signs of back in 2017. He’s one of the last of the down lineman to respond to the snap of the ball, and his initial push at the snap does not jolt his blocker or get him past the line of scrimmage. He seems way too content to dance with the OL for the first second or two after the snap. He does not use his long arms to disengage or shed, whether because of lack of arm strength or his habit of standing up too straight, too quickly to defeat the blockers. That is often an issue with linemen 6-6 or greater on D. If he gets some pressure on the pocket he seldom is fast enough to actually lasso the QB. His change of direction is laborious much of the time. He’s not a bust, yet, and perhaps with the right coaching at the next level he can remedy some of his shortcomings. For now, I see him as a hold-the-point of attack 3-4 DE at the next level. His impact on the game is likely to be minimal at his current skill and energy level. He’s still in my Top 100, but late 3rd Round.
BRYCE HALL #34 CB VIRGINA 6’1/200 SR
Yet another superior athlete with almost perfect NFL physical dimensions for his size and position. Since we’re still in the first month of the college season, let me call upon some numbers from the 2018 campaign to impress upon you how good he is. With good size, speed, and quickness, not to mention his ball skills, he was credited with 21 Passes Defended in 2018, to go with his 2 INT’s. Pro personnel people will also be impressed with his aggressive attitude towards helping in run defense. Against NOTRE DAME, he was a big part of the secondary support when the IRISH chose to run outside. The Combine will be a huge measuring stick for him. He has shown he can dominate at the collegiate level. All he will need to do is score in the top 10% of players at the Combine to secure first round selection status. With S size and CB skills and athleticism, he is similar to former teammate JUAN THORNHILL, who is starting as a Rookie in KC this season. Expect him to follow suit in 2020, but with a better chance to stay out on the Corner.
BRYCEN HOPKINS #89 TE PURDUE 6’5/245 SR
Someone please clue me in as to what is going on with HOPKINS and HC JEFF BROHM down in West Lafayette, IN. I only saw HOPKINS out on the field twice against MINNESOTA. He was actually targeted once, and missed the stretching catch on an overthrown out-pattern. HOPKINS was lauded as a key senior for the BOILERMAKERS offense. I especially expected to see him once MOORE went out with a knee injury… but not so. He has NFL genes in his veins. His dad was a solid OT in the NFL, BRAD HOPKINS. I had not heard any talk of injuries to him before the game began. What is the deal here???
TYLER JOHNSON #6 WR MINNESOTA 6’2/200 SR
Most personnel people will say some very nice things about JOHNSON, who surprised many when he went back to school for his senior season with the GOPHERS football team. After all, he had 78 catches for over a thousand yards and 12 TD’s last season. But more than a few NFL scouts are concerned about his lack of top end speed. However, I don’t see the problem here. He wins jump balls and seems to outrun an awful lot of DB’s. His hands are incredibly reliable, and his footwork along the sidelines and in the end zone make him almost unstoppable. He was weapon number one against PURDUE with 8 receptions for 73 yards and 1 TD. He doesn’t need much separation with his length and leaping ability. What he needs to be super productive in the NFL is a vet QB who can thread the needle with accuracy. But let’s not kid ourselves. His 40-time is likely to determine whether or not he gets drafted in the Top 100 or not. No matter, other than his pay grade, I project JOHNSON to make an NFL team as the 3rd or 4th wideout next Summer. He just does too many things, too well, to be ignored.
KAMAL MARTIN #21 OB MINNESOTA 6’3/235 SR
And now for a few words about my pleasant surprise of the week. KAMAL MARTIN may be one of the most NFL ready LB’s that I have seen in the first month of the 2019 college season. This was only MARTIN’s second game of the year, having missed some time with a “minor” injury. And it only took me one quarter, (actually less), of watching to realize that he was a player whose skills and physique were well suited to the role of an NFL LB in 2019, when coverage skills might be more important most of the time than tackling skills. And he excels in both areas. His size fits the mold, and his mobility is more like that of a SS than a LB. Before I get too effusive about this guy, let’s take a look at his stat sheet for this game: 6 tackles, 5 solo, and 2 INT’s. I will also being willing to bet that he will have some multiple sack game efforts in the months to come. MARTIN will be a fascinating tool for some NFL Defensive Coordinator by this time next year, I have no doubt. His versatility will allow a good DC to design multiple roles for him in just about any scheme. A Senior Bowl invite and a healthy Combine appearance, and he could be tottering on the edge of Round One. For now, let me say that I feel like there is no way he’s not in the middle of my Top 100 Prospect list.
CHEYENNE O’GRADY #85 TE ARKANSAS 6’4/255 SR
It’s not an exceptional year for draft eligible TE’s, and despite playing on a mediocre, at best, team, O’GRADY has a good chance to be a solid mid-round draftee. He’s a good blocker with nice size and a solid frame. But what surprises is his mobility at over 250 lbs. He is a good route runner with dependable hands, and can contribute as an inline TE for the run game. After the catch, he makes tacklers pay for taking him on in the open field. He had 30 catches last season, when none of their 3 QB’s ever came close to completing 60% of their throws. This year, SMU transfer BEN HICKS looks to be a big upgrade, with A&M transfer NICK STARKEL, also looking like an upgrade overall. The team has more of a balanced run/pass option this season and CHEYENNE is a big beneficiary. Against A&M, he had a very productive game with 8 catches for 91 yards. He has 18 receptions thru 4 games, while last year he had 30 for the whole season.
JOE REED #2 WR VIRGINIA 6’1/215 SR
Quietly, HC BRONCO MENDENHALL has built up the talent base for the CAVS football program in his 4 years in Charlottesville, and especially in the receiver group. I will likely be talking about a couple more guys from their receiver corps this season, but the emerging star of the group looks like JOE REED, who caught a paltry 25 balls last season. Against NOTRE DAME, REED had 9 receptions for 107 yards, and 1 TD. He caught flair throws, long throws, and medium tosses. He is also counted on to make a lot of catches. After 5 games, REED has 32 catches already. He has that nice size, and is fast enough to get separation. I did NOT see him with any drops. As a potential plus is the fact that he also serves as a Kick Returner, averaging slightly over 27 yards per return last season. He has a nice, solid frame and can take and give out some punishment after the catch. Like many of today’s receivers who do much work after the catch, he looks like a RB after the catch. In the scouting vernacular years ago, that you don’t hear much any more, he might be considered a late bloomer.
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