Though most of this column is devoted to College Football and the NFL Draft process, I feel I must share a few thoughts now and again about the pro game. And this week I want to start there in light of the horrendous penalties called surrounding the protection of the NFL’s QB club. The Falcons “wuz robbed” as baseball fans in Brooklyn used to say (before the Dodgers pulled up stakes and moved to the west coast) when Grady Jarrett was flagged for roughing Mr. Brady. And in any poll you might care to conduct the vast majority of fans watching Jarrett sack Brady and rolling over him to assure that Brady’s body had actually touched the ground, will clearly say the refs over-reacted and blew the call, putting an end to any momentum the Falcons were gaining and leaving the ball in the possession of the BUCS.
And if we thought that call was horrendous, how about a strip sack of David Carr on MNF where JONES also had the audacity to fall upon Mr. CARR. Penalty flag on the field. I am not going to belabor this topic with another hundred words. I will repeat a mantra I began preaching over 10 years ago on this website. We appear to be only a few more steps away from changing the name of Mr. Goodell’s League to the NFFL. No that is not a typo. It stands for the National Flag Football League. And if that transpires before I die, I will flip channels and start watching Corn Hole & Pickle Ball.
Clearly, the top game in college football last week was Texas A&M visiting Alabama. And the Crimson Tide had to play the game without Heisman winning QB Bryce Young who injured his throwing shoulder the week before. At times it was far from pretty for both teams, but the action was fierce and plenty of future NFL talent was on display. RS Frosh JALEN MILROE made his share of miscues in the contest, but his talent trumped his inexperience and he did enough good things for the Tide to prevail 24-20. Clearly, the Aggies under HC Jimbo Fisher have a young, talented roster. They appear to be just a touch too inexperienced for top level competition every week in the SEC, but by season’s end they may be a very tough out. And watch out in 2023! I was particularly impressed with RS Frosh HAYNES KING, #13, who is a 6’3/200# athlete with a strong arm, and a very bright future. Their lines on both sides of the ball are deep in quality, size and potential.
TENNESSEE stomped all over LSU, in Baton Rouge. And the standout player in this one had to be QB HENDON HOOKER, who found his home with the VOLS after am erratic start in the VA Tech program. In 2021 he blossomed as the Vols QB when he completed 68% of his throws, including 31 TD, and only 3 INT. He’s off to a great start this season, while leading the Vols to a 5-0 record. They trounced the Bayou Bengals 40-13, without their top receiver in Cedric Tillman. HOOKER is athletic enough to be considered the second coming of one Joshua Doubs, not that long ago. Hooker as 17/27, 239 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int against LSU through the air. He also picked his spots and ran with the ball 10 times for another 56 yards. Combine his athletic skills with his high FBI and he’s climbing charts right now for a Heisman run, and a Top 100 Draft ranking. HOOKER would be a 25-year old Rookie next year as a pro, but he still looks to be worth a Day 2 selection spot to my eyes. By the way, he heads into a big game with also unbeaten Alabama, but this time in Knoxville. HOOKER has yet to throw an Interception this season.
While I am referring the TENNESSEE/LSU game I want to give a quick mention to a young defender who was hard to miss in this game. That would be LSU DT JAQUELIN ROY, #99, a big man (6’3/315) who impacts action along the line-of-scrimmage. After about 3 plays early in the game I said out loud to myself, ‘man, that ROY really runs well for a big guy’. And that he does. Facing double team blocking inside he did a solid job handling blockers with his hands and arms, stacking them up at the L-o-S. I have seen him in some Top 50 prospect lists and now I know why. He was credited with 3 tackles, but his overall impact contributed much more than that to this game.
My late afternoon watch last weekend was the Utah/UCLA game. It has been great to see several of the old traditional California schools, UCLA/USC, coming back into national prominence. And it was a Michigan transfer who controlled the game offensively for the Bruins in their W. ZACH CHARBONNET looked like a long-term bell cow for the Wolverines in his 2 years in Ann Arbor, but never received the top dog status that the felt he had earned there. He has gotten the carries and delivered for the Bruins of Chip Kelly. He ran for 1137 yards last season and may top that this season. He carried the ball 22 times vs. Utah, gaining 198 yards, and scored 1 TD. He is not a flat out speedster, but runs with some power, good after contact balance and can run to daylight. His 6’1/220# frame is designed to have a 20+ touch/game load. Sure looks to me like a Day 2 Draft prospect.
I do want to mention another key Bruin in QB DORIAN THOMPSON-ROBINSON, who came back for a 5th season at UCLA. At 6’1/205 he is not exactly what the NFL is looking for in the ideal QB mold. But he is versatile athlete who has improved every season as a Bruin. If you asked me outright what I thought of his pro football chances I would say he’s a great fit for the CFL, as well as the USFL or XFL. However, I just don’t see him as an NFL QB. But right now he’s a great leader and dual threat to run or pass.
There was another pro prospect RB playing in this game, from the Utes. His name is TAVION THOMAS. Nothing subtle about THOMAS. He’s a 6’2/238 battering ram, who would rather run thru tacklers than around them. His biggest asset is that he has a nose for the end zone. In 2021 he ran for 1108 yards, and scored 21 TD. Against UCLA he carried 18 times for 91 yards and 1 TD. He has a surprisingly explosive burst to get to and thru holes created by his OL, most often between the Tackles. If he can show utility in a couple of Special Team roles he should find a roster spot in the NFL, and be drafted early on Day 3 of the Draft.
It seems more than ever that you can’t have a winning football team, be it pro or college, unless you have at least a solid QB and of course a reliable back-up. So while most NFL teams are always looking for their “franchise QB” almost every other team is looking to find a developmental guy who can fill in for a couple of games if/when their starter goes down. So while I am watching hundreds of college games each Fall I not only look at the Top 100 QB candidates, but also an additional dozen or so who might have a chance to develop into solid NFL back-ups.
This week I want to highlight briefly a couple of fundamentally sound college QB who might fit into that latter group. They both now play their football in the American Athletic Conference; CLAYTON TUNE/Houston & TANNER MORDECAI/SMU.
TUNE got stuck behind Miami transfer D’ERIQ KING, for two years, and didn’t inherit the full-time starters job for the Cougars until 2021. But he had been paying attention, while serving as a back-up, and honed his game to be ready when his time came. Last season he took over full-time and completed 68.2% of his passes for 3544 yards, 30 TD passes, 10 Int. This year he has picked up where he left off and has played well. Last week he led the Cougars to a rousing come from behind win over Memphis, on the road, completing 36/57- 63%- 3 TD -0 Int. He plays with poise and still looks to have upside. I also like his size at 6’3/215. He’s not a great scrambler, but he’s athletic enough to move around a bit and extend plays. He should get the attention of some NFL scouts.
MORDECAI is an example of a good player who went to a program, Oklahoma, which continuously recruited 5-Star QB to lead their team, while Mordecai practiced and learned. In order he played second fiddle to Kyler Murray- Jalen Hurts- Spencer Rattler, while with the Sooners. He joined the Mustangs as a transfer in 2021 and won the starting job. It should also be noted that within 3 months of his transfer to SMU his new teammates voted him a team Captain. He completed 68%- with 39 TD- 12 Int. last season. I also luv his size at 6’3/218 and his well above average arm strength. He is also athletic enough to extend plays and run a bit when needed. SMU traveled to Florida for a make-up game last week with UCF. The game was very competitive, with UCF pulling away a bit in the 4th Quarter. But MORDECAI showed his overall skillset keeping the Mustangs in it until that 4th Quarter. On the night, he was 28/45- 62 %- 295 yds- 0 TD- 1 Int. My notes for the game indicate an appreciation for his poise and leadership, as well as a strong arm. I also noted that beyond his star receiver, RASHEE RICE, who caught 12 balls, he had only sporadic help from his other skill position players on the night.
Both of these two QB should be gaining interest as Day 3 developmental QB prospects as the season continues.
In case some of you don’t mind staying up late on a Saturday night to watch and scout West Coast football, I am sure some of you have noticed that Washington State has become a pain in the butt for their fellow PAC-12 bretheren. The team is now 4-2 at the halfway point of the season. Head Coach JAKE DICKERT, who took over during the 2021 season, was hired full-time for this season and he and his staff hit the transfer portal hard bringing in some serious help for their program. Chief amongst them was a young LB who left Nevada after a coaching change there. His name is DAIYAN HENLEY, an athletic 6’2/230# LB who recorded 103 tackles last season at Nevada. He also recorded 4 PBU & 4 INT from his LB spot last season. He has become the leader of their Defense in Pullman this season. What makes him so attractive to NFL scouts is that he is equally adept at collapsing a pocket or working in pass coverage against TE & RB. SoCal won their battle with the Cougars 30-14, but had to work hard to do so. HENLEY was the defensive leader recording 11 Tackles, 7 solo, and 1/2 TFL to lead his defensive teammates. I am here to tell you that he has moved into most Top 100 prospect lists that I have seen, and is likely to blow the barn doors off Lucas Oil Stadium at the 2023 Combine. Because he shows such natural coverage skills I would expect he may have a solid chance to be drafted on Day One when Draft time rolls around next Spring.
In that game I got my first serious look at the Trojans top defender in DL TULI TUIPULOTU, #49, who is developing into the Pac-12’s top pass-rusher from a DL spot, due to his 64’/290# frame. He has uncommon quickness for a man his size and can also stop the run and set the edge. I will be watching more tape of him, but was greatly impressed with his stat sheet against Washington State; 5 Tackles- 4 solo- 4 TFL- 3 Sacks- 1 QBH. If he can’t get by blockers with some spin moves or quickness, he just bowls them over. This guy is a hoss, with stallion qualities.
Gotta get going here to check out what games I am watching and taping for this week. If my life gets back to normal soon I will get back to publishing this report sooner in the week than recently.