I always get a warm, fuzzy feeling when what I watch on a football weekend that has some sort of symmetry to it. That seemed to be the case when it dawned on Saturday evening while watching my 5th game of the week that I was watching a succession of college CB who just happen to be making it appear that the CB group for the 2023 NFL Draft might indeed be one of the strongest, long on talent groups in years. And there have been some very good CB groups in recent times. My viewing had covered SEC, Big 10 and PAC-12 feature games for the week. And CB played a strong part in the various outcomes of each contest.
My viewing started with the Ohio State/Iowa and I pretty much saw what I expected from both sides. Since it was my first watch of Iowa this season I will admit that I was pretty much shocked at how pathetic their Offense was. I knew their D had been carrying them to their 3-3 record, but man their O stunk it up… yet again. MR. STROUD, my top rated QB was less than stellar in the first half against the smart and reasonably athletic Iowa D. He was inaccurate with too many throws and he absolutely made some terrible throwing decisions, highlighted by his pretty much direct throw to Iowa LB JACK CAMPBELL on the first Buckeyes possession of the 2nd half. As usual CAMPBELL led the Iowa D with 9 Tackles, 4 of them solo. He and his Iowa Defensive teammates deserve more notice and praise, but the Offense is so damn bad, and rooted in the ’60’s that watching an entire Iowa game this season seems like punishment to me.
You thought I would be talking about the CB I alluded to earlier in this piece, well how about Ohio State CB TANNER McCALISTER #15 a transfer from Oklahoma State. He of two Interceptions on the day. McCalister transferred when his Cowboys DC, JIM NOWLES, took the same job slot with the BUCKEYES this off-season. With a few injuries in their CB corps Tanner got elevated to a starting slot and has played well. He may end up back on the bench when other guys get healthy, but he may also get another chance or two to show his “game” as well.
I think I may have seen, and not to my surprise at all, the best inline TE in the 2023 Prospect group; SAM LaPORTA #84. The 6’4/245 SENIOR can of course block for the running game. That is a must in the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz. But he can also run patterns and catch the football quite nicely. Sam runs good, reliable patterns and shows soft, steady hands on the catch. In fact if the ball is within his catch radius he’s likely to snag it, in a crowd or wide open. In this game, despite poor pass protection for his QB and erratic passing, he had 6 catches for 55 yards. No other Iowa receivers had more than 1 catch. Last season he led Big 10 TE in receiving yards (670 yds) and still only made 3rd Team All-Big 10. He’s underrated and should easily be a Top 100 Prospect and Draftee. Round 3 in my eyes.
My most pleasant surprise in this game was watching Buckeyes DE/ER ZACH HARRISON hustling and actually seeking the ball even if it didn’t come right to him. His numbers didn’t dominate the stat sheet, but as you can see he was doing a lot of chasing and pressuring: 2 Tackles, both solo, 1 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 QBH. I. thought I saw him share another Sack and add one more QBH, but hey, who’s counting and sweating the details. My point here is that a guy with elite athleticism, who I have accused of sleep walking on the field in the past, was working and making things happen. Gonna need to see more of that from him to crack my Top 100 Prospect list. But I would also bet that NFL scouts are taking note of his more active approach to the games.
NFL Scouts have been singing the praises of another rising prospect for the Buckeyes in RG MATTHEW JONES. THE BUCKEYES JUNIOR has shown steady improvement this Fall. He’s as block of granite, at 6’4/310# and his massive base makes him look even heftier than he is. The most appealing, and perhaps surprising part of his game is his foot movement. He runs quite well in a limited area and on several running plays he was out of the blocks and into second level blocking territory mighty quickly. He has also shown good footwork in his pass-pro stance and balance. He can give ground a bit, but is stout enough to hold his position. The IOL group this year looks to be below last year’s level in both quality and quantity. Emergence of a player like JONES could translate into another solid candidate for early Day 3 drafting.
Before I move on to another set of game notes, I want to make comment about one more player. I will make it brief because he’s not even going to be Draft eligible in 2023, but the best overall player I saw out on the field in the IOWA/Ohio State game was MARVIN HARRISON, JR. Wide Receiver for the Buckeyes. Yes, he is the son of NFL HoF MARVIN HARRISON, who was Peyton Manning’s favorite receiver with the Colts for a decade. He’s a great athlete, smart player, with speed and hands of gold. The Football Gods need to preserve the health of this young man. He’s too good to lose to a major injury until we have watched for another decade or so. If you haven’t already, make it a point to watch him in action soon.
I was watching very closely to see how the ALABAMA secondary, which got torched with regularity last week @ Tennessee, would respond to the Mike Leach Offense this week. I was watching to see if any personnel changes would be made and how they might alter coverage strategy.A s the 30-6 score might suggest they did something right in this game. Item One, inserting LSU-transfer ELI RICKS into the starting lineup on one Corner. His presence was an immediate boost in man-coverage at LCB. RICKS is a long limbed athlete and put those long arms to use, reaching around receivers to knock down passes. He is also a flexible athlete and not afraid of being beaten deep. He was only credited on 2 tackles, but that was not why he was in the game. He stuck like glue to his man all day. Athletically, RICKS is a Top 100 cover-corner. But some off-field issues will have to be vetted by NFL Scouts.
Now, I will qualify ‘Bama’s success with plentiful drops by the Bulldog receivers, especially on deep throws. QB WILL ROGERS was only 30/60- 50% on his completion percentage. But that number should have been at least 35 completions, if not more. Flat out drops, poor foot placement on sideline throws and miscellaneous errors were Alabama’s extra defender in the secondary this week. I also felt that ‘Bama’s coaches did a better job using Brian Branch to the fullest in coverage, and letting HELLAMS & BATTLE play like the hybrid SS/LB that they both really are. Those two combined for 18 tackles, 10 of them solo jobs.
I wish to make an apology, on misrepresentation in the past, concerning the play of ‘Bama LB HENRY TO’OTO’O, who I have accused of being just a chase and tackle player, with not enough pro level characteristics to warrant serious Draft considerations. I think I misspoke and under-estimated his overall game. Praise for his cerebral leadership by his coaches has been overwhelming this season, after the Tennessee transfer recorded 112 Tackles last season, his first, at Alabama. That mark is hard to reach on a team with so many quality athletes all fighting to make plays. He’s at it once again this season and this game was a good example, with is 13 total tackles, 7 of them solo efforts. He’s also lining up his teammates and pointing out formation changes by the offense pre-snap. He is better than I originally thought at dropping into short/intermediate coverage in pass defense. His ability to handle both mental and physical aspects of the game is exceptional. Yes, he is now in my Top 100, and rightfully so.
Every year NFL teams ask their Scouting Departments to dig just a little bit deeper into the talent pool of players who will be eligible for the next Draft. Historically, the Ivy League has been on their minds, but realistically back in the recesses of those minds. Most elite players are going to be wooed lavishly by the bigger schools with wider athletic department budgets. But a few decent prospects trickle out and into NFL Training Camps. This year, one young man is standing out as a legit, draftable player.
His name is ANDREI IOSIVAS, and he is a talented WR playing for Princeton, and doing quoits well for himself, on a pretty good team. Two weeks ago I tried to watch him against Brown, but he was an invisible man that night. But last Friday night Princeton matched up with Harvard, and IOSIAV showed out. He had 9 receptions for 176 yards and 1 TD. At 6’3/205, with speed to match, he dominated the game. My first alert to him was at The Athletic, where he was featured in their annual Freaks List at spot 15 out of 100 players. Expectations are that he will wow at the Combine. Just as a quick note, he is from Hawaii, not Eastern Europe as I first guessed. Keep your eye out for his name for the next 6 months.
Speaking of Harvard, they also have a legit pro prospect in THOR GRIFFITH, a DT who hails from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I had to mention that factoid having been born and raised in the Granite State. THOR (what a great name for a football player) stands at 6’2, and weighs about 310 Lbs. He is havoc breaker in the Harvard DL. I will be watching another Harvard game, I hope, and will be scouting on him in earnest. BTW, another member for The Athletic’s 2022 Freaks List.
Then Saturday night I watched Oregon topple UCLA. My eyes were trained, whenever possible, on their likely top 2023 NFL Draft prospect, transfer CB/CHRIS GONZALEZ/#0. He has CB size that scouts salivate over at 6’/200# and he plays the run just as well as he handles man/press-cover. UCLA spread most of their targets in other directions but he had enough opportunity to impress with 5 tackles, all solo, including 1 TFL. He also was credited with 2 PBU out in man coverage. Word on the street is that he may run a sub-4.44/40 when testing time rolls around. He joined the Ducks after two solid, but frustrating seasons with yearly Pac-12 cellar dweller Colorado, which just fired HC DORRELL. Maybe Gonzalez is a fortune teller as well using the Transfer Portal to escape that floundering program. He has Day One potential if he continues to stand out for the Ducks the rest of the season.
Welcome back to good health and our starting job back to Minnesota’s #24 RB MOHAMED IBRAHIM. Te 5’10/200# dual threat RB is back in the saddle after losing most of his 2021 season to injury. Against Penn State he just notched his 7th straight 100-yard rushing game of the season. And he looks to be almost 100% back to his old self. Seemed like he might be a half-step slower on burst through holes, but he still shows strength, balance and determination. In addition he is a dependable receiver option. He is also a willing and solid blocker in pass-pro for his QB. He hits the hole with power and quickness. He looks to me like a solid prospect to fit in an NFL RB room. And is likely to play a solid leadership role in the locker room with time. It’s hard not to like this guy as a player and as a person.
Penn State has a pretty talented and deep TE group this season. The biggest eye catcher to me right now is GESICKI clone THEO JOHNSON. JOHNSON is a big dude at 6’6/260#, and he can run. Not a home run threat, but he is able to create separation and not afraid to play catch in the middle of the field. He is also a big boy blocker in the State running game, which is built around two very good freshmen. JOHNSON had a 18-yard TD catch & run in the second quarter, straight down the center of the field. Excellent “hands catch”. He finished the day with 5 receptions for 75 yards and 1 TD.
Just as an aside, I will mention Minnesota’s top TE, who is also Draft eligible; BREVYN SPANN-FORD, who is a really big target at 6’7/270. He tallied 5 catches for 68-yards and 1 TD working with a RSF QB in the absence of Tanner Morgan. I might like to come back and visit this guy again in a few weeks when MORGAN is back in the QB saddle. Guys with that size and athleticism cannot be disregarded in the scouting community.
Gotta go to meet my own deadline for this, but I will looking harder army weekend’s notes and may add to this later.
Also look for a new Top 25 Prospect Rankings piece by Friday, or before. There will be some changes.