It’s late in the season, but the hits just keep on coming, as Dick Clark used to say. The magic that had been CALEB WILLIAMS ran out on the Oklahoma Sooners as they were soundly beaten and beaten up by a high energy BAYLOR football team that handed the Sooners their first loss of the 2021 season, in a most convincing fashion in Waco last Saturday. My overall take from watching the game was that the Oklahoma demise came earlier than usual this season, but from basically the same shortcomings that have caused them to be knocked off short of a national title repeatedly in recent years: lack of physical toughness. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Sooners play with speed and athleticism, but not top level toughness. They have too many defenders that can out-run and out-jump most of their opponents, but cannot/will not battle it out with toughness. Baylor beat them with a combination of team speed and a high end combination of mental and physical toughness. Perhaps LINCOLN RILEY needs to find a way for his IT guys to program a slightly different player profile into their recruiting list criteria. They need more guys that will grind it out and dish out some physical punishment to their opponents, in this man’s opinion.
Seems clear to me that as much as the Media must be having a fun time with HC MIKE LEACH conducting pressers at MISS STATE, coaches around the SEC are going to dislike the weekly offensive fun-fest that LEACH’s teams are going unleash on them. Things started normally for Auburn in their game down on the Plains of Alabama against the Bulldogs last Saturday, but the gamelong offensive onslaught did the Tigers in eventually in a 34-43 Loss. And stat smashing MISS STATE QB WILL ROGERS (in only his second year in college) looks to be thriving in the SEC ranks.
Perhaps the most bizarre score I saw all weekend was FLORIDA beating little SAMFORD 70-52. The 70 points they scored was not the surprise to me, it was the SAMFORD team putting up 52 points against them. I thought the issue in Gainesville was HC DAN MULLEN struggling to find a full-time replacement for KYLE TRASK as QB for the GATORS. But this defensive challenge is taking on monumental proportions. At least for the short term, it doesn’t look like firing DC TODD GRANTHAM solved anything. An FBS school giving up 52 points to an FCS school???!!! Mr. Mullen better find some big dollars and bring in a “star” DC before next season. Not to mention better recruiting of true defensive talent out of the prospect rich state of Florida.
#3 DAVID BELL WR Purdue 6’2/205 I might have been tempted to put him in this column as a Sleeper, but upon further review that seems to be a ridiculous concept. PURDUE is a solid football program under JEFF BROHM, but not an elite one, like Ohio State & Michigan. Thusly, you have to look hard to find Purdue on your TV viewing schedule, especially if you don’t get BTN like I don’t. But most years they pull a couple of mid-season upsets and get more notoriety, like this year, after picking off Iowa and Michigan State. BELL should have caught my eye sooner, given that he caught 53 balls last season in only 6 games for the Boilermakers. He already has 75 catches this season for over 1,000-yards. He has above average speed, and the quickness and pattern running skills to get separation. He is also adept at fighting successfully for 50/50 balls. I also liked his work on running rub patterns (also called “pick plays”) to the sidelines. In a matchup with the Buckeyes last Saturday, in a game which Purdue was clearly outmanned, BELL caught 11 balls for 103 yards. He uncharacteristically dropped a catchable pass in the end zone in the 4th Quarter. Don’t sleep on this guy is my advice to Draftniks. He is NOT likely to make a No.1 receiver in the NFL, but he clearly has enough talent and receiving skills to earn a job as a No.2 in my opinion. Likely a 3rd Round Draftee.
#88 DANIEL BELLINGER TE San Diego State 6’6/265 Add this guy’s name to the impressive list of TE prospects for the next Draft. I took my first long, hard look at him watching the game action last weekend vs. NEVADA. He’s really as big as the numbers above indicate and he can be an old style inline TE who blocks as well as he catches. The Aztecs still like to rely on their running game as their primary offensive mode of attack, so BELLINGER gets plenty of time helping with blocks for that clock-eating, run game. But with soft hands and a huge catch radius, he also contributes to the receiving weapons they use to mix things up. For now, most of the routes are shorter throws, but he is athletic enough to expand his range of routes deeper at the pro level. He is already a preferred red zone target with his height/length advantage over shorter defenders. Against Nevada, he managed to corral 5 receptions for 26-yards, which included a TD grab. BELLINGER had 21 catches last season in an 8-game Covid schedule. Through 10 games this season, BELLINGER has 26 catches, which does lead the team. My scout’s eyes tell me some NFL team gets a very useful Rookie TE early on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.
#2 TERREL BERNARD LB Baylor 6’1/222 On a Baylor team that no one had projected to be in the running for a Big-12 Championship, the win over Oklahoma last weekend was frosting on the cake for a possible Top 10 ranking nationally if they win out over their final two games. And BERNARD is a big piece in their Defense, which is HC Aranda’s forte’. In the win over the Sooners, BERNARD showed why he is a well regarded NFL Draft prospect. His athleticism trumps his lack of prototype NFL size. BERNARD flew around the field and recorded 9 Tackles, 5 of them solo, which included 2 TFL, both of which were Sacks. He shows that hybrid LB/SS athleticism that you find on many teams in the pass-oriented pro game these days. He is a big part of the Bears pass coverage scheme. It also seems to be a consensus opinion that he will star immediately as a pro on multiple Special Teams units. Whether or not he cracks a Day Two Draft Pick is still in question. However, he’s going to have national exposure in a major Bowl Game and an All-Star Game most likely.
#8 DeMARVIN LEAL DL Texas A&M 6’4/290 Texas A&M may be a somewhat disappointing 3-Loss team, but given their difficulty in adequately replacing KELLEN MOND at their QB position, a lot of stress has been placed on a talented Defense with a great deal of pro potential players in its ranks. The most talented and athletic of them all may be LEAL, who leads their DL group. He’s an all-around player that can generate pass-rush pressure from a 3-point stance, and floats from side to side laterally along the L-of-S to stymie opponents’ run games. He is stout, but not massive. I would project him being best suited for a base 4-3 defensive scheme at an End slot. But he could certainly be moved inside on passing downs to collapse the pocket from the inside and keep mobile QB’s from slipping away up the middle. There was a series of plays late in the 2nd Quarter when he took over the game defensively, making play after play and controlling the line. For the game, he had 7 Tackles- 1 Sack- 1 Forced Fumble. He was First Team All-SEC Defense last season when A&M managed to get 10 games in, despite COVID restrictions. He’ll need to declare for inclusion in the 2022 Draft, and sorry Aggie fans, but I highly recommend he do so. He is most likely a TOP 10-12 Pick!
#48 CHAD MUMA LB Wyoming 6’3/240 I had heard and seen a few highlight clips of this guy earlier in the season, but not too many good match-up televised games for Wyoming on my TV down here in Florida. So please excuse me if I tell you I was pleasantly surprised at how athletic he looked in the game @ Boise. At a solid 240 lbs. I would dare to say he plays “fast”, with good ball location recognition. He spent more than a few plays on the Boise side of the L-of-S in this game, a tough 23-13 contest. He’s very alert at the snap of the ball, and does some nice recognition and pre-snap realignment of his teammates on many downs. He showed good mobility in pass coverage in the middle of the field. By games end, he was credited with 14 tackles, 9 solo, including a shared TFL. On the season, he already has 103 tackles, 67 of them being solo. I like the 3 INT’s and 1 PD, which support what I felt I saw of him in coverage in this game. He’s Top 100, and Top 10 on my list of “true” LB’s now that I have confirmed with my own eyes, what my ears heard from others about him. He just might post some very impressive workout numbers at the Combine.
#9 DESMOND RIDDER QB Cincinnati 6’4/215 I have been waiting for the right competitive game to thumbnail RIDDER. The game vs. USF was not what I originally had in mind, but then I realized I have held off before with others and then an injury struck and I never got the chance again that season. So here we go from a 45-28 Cincy triumph. Just as most of us had hoped, RIDDER has taken his game up another notch this season, when you look back at last year. His accuracy is up, as evidenced in this game’s box score: 31/39- 79%- 304 yds- 2 TD’s- 1 INT. Even that INT doesn’t scare me since his TD/INT ratio this year is now 22/6; another improvement. He is showing more patience in the pocket, and has learned how to throw the ball away when there are no safe options on the field for him. He is also still a running threat, with 13 carries for 65 yards and 1 TD. And he has the size and escape speed to tuck the ball, run for yardage, then get out of bounds or slide. He also seems to be more effective at making his reads before leaving the pocket. He may not be ready to take over a bad team as a Rookie, but then again, look at TREVOR LAWRENCE struggling to succeed in Jacksonville, in good part because of limited talent around him as a Rookie. With so many QB’s falling by the wayside this season ala RATTLER & J.T. DANIELS, I can’t help but feel that by the time the second half of Round 1 rolls around in this next Draft, I would be quite comfortable in taking RIDDER, and hoping for a year one of him learning from my team’s sideline and QB meeting room.
#2 KHALIL SHAKIR WR Boise State 6’/190 SHAKIR is the featured receiver for a steady Boise Offense that runs first, passes second. After a slow start, the Broncos have pulled themselves to 6-4, with a chance at a MWC title if they can run the table, which would include a season finale against San Diego State. When push comes to shove, SHAKIR is QB BACHMEIER’s top target. In the last minutes of the first half, SHAKIR was targeted and caught 3 consecutive throws to move the team into field goal range just before half-time. SHAKIR is a slightly built guy that glides through his patterns, and gets separation on a regular basis. He shows very quick feet and soft hands. If he catches the ball in stride, he is a very elusive runner in the open spaces of the field. And not too many defenders can catch up to him if he gets up a full head of steam. Through 10 games, he has 64 receptions for over 900 yds. His 5 TD total is more of reflection on their preferred offensive style of running the ball, once in the red zone. Combine numbers would go a long way in helping SHAKIR go on Day Two of the 2022 Draft. He’s learned about all he can in their Offense and it’s time to move on IMO, although he has that extended year of Covid-based eligibility.
#5 GARRETT WILSON WR Ohio State 6’1/190 The high scoring victory over upset minded Purdue solidified a couple of prospect debates that had been raging in my mind for some time now. The most pertinent one for this column is that WILSON has passed OLAVE in the WR rankings for me. But both are going in Round 1. The Buckeyes jumped on the Boilermakers early and then pulled away. Only the Purdue determination to win the second half made the final score, 59-31, almost respectable. But the big winner for me was WILSON, who almost singlehandedly won the game, with his 4 TD’s. He used his speed and tricky route running to embarrass Purdue secondary members on more than a few occasions. WILSON, who had missed the previous week’s game, recorded 10 catches for 126 yards and 3 TD’s. On top of that, he was handed the ball for 1 rush and took that 51-yards for another TD. He is a smooth route runner and is dependable when the ball comes his way, to be counted on for an almost sure-thing catch. I am thinking that posting very athletic workout numbers at the Combine or his Pro Day is also a sure thing. With now having 813 receiving yards on the season, which is a career high for him, getting to that 1,000-yard milestone is a strong possibility. I see him as very likely to develop into a Receiver-1 for some NFL team in a season or two.
MATT ARAIZA P/K #2 San Diego State 6’2/205 The GBN’s own Chief Scout Larry Parker pointed this guy out to me just before I watched my recording of SDSU beating Nevada. Formerly only the Placekicker, Araiza also took on the full-time Punting chores for the Aztecs this season and the left-footed booter is literally kicking the snot out of the ball. His gross average on 61 Punts this season is 52.2 ypp, while his net is 44.4 ypp; both lead the nation for FBS teams. He’s a BILL BELICHICK favorite automatically… he kicks left footed.
DWAYNE BOYLES LB #11 USF 6’3/227 This athletic LB had 5 tackles against Cincinnati and forced 2 fumbles. Drops well into coverage and should make a good Special Teamer as a pro. Versatility to play the run or pass will help him land a job on an NFL roster.
DUSTIN CRUM QB #7 Kent State 6’3/207 Hasn’t had a stellar supporting cast at Kent. The O has opened up a bit this season and he’s thrived in it. He’s completing 64.2% of his throws and has only 2 INT’s on the season, with 13 TD throws.
BRANDON MARTIN LB #7 Ball State 6’/230 Defensive Player of the Year last season, but it was the MAC. Missed most of the early season with a hand injury but is back and playing well… again. Versus NIU had 10 Tackles and an INT. Good athlete.
MYJAI SANDERS DE #21 Cincinnati 6’5/258 I am quite comfortable in putting SANDERS in the sleeper category, because he just doesn’t do enough to be highly touted as a prospect. But he is a big play, flash player, whose main skill as an edge-rusher is highly sought after on Sundays. His 2 tackles, 1 Sack against USF are a typical game for him overall.
ABRAM SMITH RB #7 Baylor 5’11/220 HC ARANDA had the wisdom to let his Offensive Coordinator steal LB SMITH from the defense and let him explode as the newest Baylor RB this year. SMITH now has rushed for 1,203 yds on the year, including 148 vs. Oklahoma, including 11 for TD’s, at 7.3 ypc.
MICHAEL TURK P #37 Oklahoma TURK transferred from Arizona St. to avoid a mandatory Covid vaccine, and has continued to boom his punts for the Sooners. His 4 punts averaged 55.25 yards, gross, against Baylor. He outkicks his coverage, but that may not be such a big deal with so many fast guys covering punts in the NFL.
Before I go, I feel the need to issue an apology, and an alteration in my scouting comments some weeks ago about Nevada QB CARSON STRONG, being a statue in the pocket and not the kind of mobile QB the NFL prefers these days. After watching their most recent game, I have come to realize that he is in essence playing on a bad right knee that has turned him into a semi-statue back there. He is gutting it out right now, and I mean big time. He is playing in some serious pain. What I do not know is what the long range projection for that knee mobility is. But his strong throwing arm is undeniable, and his willingness to play hurt is admirable, if not heroic. I reserve the right to change my opinion on his pro prospects between now and the Draft.
Sorry for selling you short, CARSON STRONG. Hope your knee does get better soon.