What Caught My Eye Week 11

November 19, 2020

The Covid-19 Pandemic is really taking big bites out of the 2020 College Football season, as we approach the end of 2020. My schedule sheet for last weekend showed 14 college games cancelled or postponed. 4 of those lost games came from the SEC alone. Thankfully, we were still left with a goodly number of contests, featuring some solid NFL Draft prospects. As if you haven’t already heard, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl joined the Shrine Bowl in cancelling their 2021 game. The other big news was the firing of two D1 program head coaches. GARY ANDERSEN, of Utah State, was let go during the practice week, and WILL MUSCHAMP was let go after South Carolina was whipped big time by a mediocre Ole Miss team on Saturday.  ANDERSEN has pretty much become a gypsy Head Coach after his surprise resignation from the Wisconsin job not that long ago. This was his second stint at Utah State. MUSCHAMP had posted top 20 recruiting classes the past two years for the Gamecocks, but had little success to show for it out on the football field. Despite what a difficult situation sports has found itself in within the current worldwide pandemic, these mid-season firings certainly portend more action on the coaching carousel as the season winds down in the next month or so.

Two weeks ago, I got a detailed look at Kent State QB DUSTIN CRUM in MAC action. I had been led to believe by several usually reliable sources that CRUM might be somewhat of a sleeper prospect for the 2021 Draft. After I looked up his 2019 stats, I became very interested in watching him play. In ’19, CRUM threw for 20 TD’s with only 2 INT’s, while completing 69.3% of his throws. He also rushed the ball for 707 yards. Nice numbers those. CRUM (#7) has decent size at 6’3/205, and fills out his uniform well. A few things impressed me right away in game action, like his quick release and his field vision to locate his receivers and pick out the open guys. On the night, he hit 67% of his throws for 271 yards and 4 TD’s. Disappointingly, the vast majority of his throws were dink and dunk efforts, and relied almost exclusively on run-after-catch by his receivers. He also showed poor accuracy on the few deep throws that he attempted.  Much of the time, the team runs a hurry-up, no huddle attack. CRUM also serves as the holder for their Placekicker. Kent beat a pretty poor Bowling Green squad 62-24 on the night. If CRUM somehow ends up in a decent Bowl match-up or gets invited to the HULA BOWL, I will plan on watching him once more. But overall, I think he may make a Training Camp in 2021 as an Undrafted Rookie. Right now, mark me down as not terribly excited about his pro prospects.

I also decided it was about time to take a serious look at VA TECH LT CHRISTIAN DARRISAW (#77), who most scouts see as being a First Round draftee in 2021, if he declares for the Draft. DARRISAW is a big dude, looking even larger to my eyes than his listed 6’5/311. Many reports that I have read indicate that he has progressed mightily while at Tech. My eyes saw a somewhat lumbering giant, who still has a lot more developing to do. The aspect of his play that disappointed me the most was his lack of aggression in his blocking. He does not hold or finish his blocks in the run game. With his bulk and length, he should be shocking defenders in pass-pro. Instead of doing so, he prefers to get body-to-body and hug pass-rushers, looking more like a Sumo Wrestler than a pro-quality blocker. Let’s just say I saw DARRISAW just standing around by the time the whistle blew a play dead, a high percentage of the time. When it comes to second level blocking, he often does not get a strong enough blow at the line-of-scrimmage to disrupt the first defender, and then heads out into space looking not quite sure where to find his second level target. If he declares for the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be watching for his workout numbers at the Combine, and whether or not an NFL team with a veteran OL Coach, who has a rep as a good teacher and developer of talent, is where he lands. Right now, I’d say he may be a First Round talent, but has Round 3 skills and habits in his play.

Let’s pause right here and give you Pigskin’s Top 10 Interior OL prospects for the 2021 Draft.

  1. WYATT DAVIS   Jr.  OG   Ohio State
  2. ALEX LEATHERWOOD   OG   Alabama    Currently LT for Tide
  3. TREY SMITH   OG   Tennessee
  4. ALIJAH  VERA-TUCKER   Jr.  OG   Southern Cal    Currently LT for Trojans
  5. RASHAWN SLATER   OG/C   Northwestern      Was at OT.  Opt-out
  6. BEN CLEVELAND    OG    Georgia
  7. DREW DALMAN   Jr.  OC    Stanford
  8. DEONTE BROWN    OG   Alabama
  9. CREED HUMPHREY   Jr.   OC   Oklahoma
  10. ZION JOHNSON    OG   Boston College    Currently playing OT for Eagles

In running through my backlog of recorded games, I found that I still had tape from the Week 10 game between HOUSTON and CINCINNATI. Bearcats HC LUKE FICKELL currently still has his team unbeaten and ranked, justifiably, in the Top 10. Cincy’s Jr QB DESMOND RIDDER has gotten my attention and I will be thumbnailing his play in the next few weeks. But in the game against Houston, it was RB GERRID DOAKS (#23) that really caught my eye. DOAKS is a power runner at 6’1/230 that can accelerate to-and-thru a hole, breaking tackles for 10-15 yards runs, or burying his nose into a scrum for short yardage 3rd and 4th Down gains. In this game, DOAKS had 166 yards rushing in the first half. By game-end, he had 184 yards rushing and a rushing TD. The plus from his performance in this contest was the good hands that he displayed as a receiver. I am not talking just dump-off throws. I mean some actual route running, downfield catches. DOAKS flashed a bit last season, rushing for over 500 yards, while splitting reps with MICHAEL WARREN. This year, he’s the lead dog and piling up impressive numbers. I am thinking that DOAKS would make a nice piece for an NFL RB room that is missing a power runner that can catch. He should get a late Day 3 Draft call next Spring.

In that same Cincy/Houston battle, the injury riddled Cougars still had some serious talent on the field. On the defensive side of the ball, their leader GRANT STUARD (#0) had his usual active, productive effort. STUARD led the Cougars in tackles in 2019 with 97. He has looked like a hybrid SS/LB during his time with Houston, but has added weight and plays almost exclusively as a LB at 6’1/225. He recorded 8 tackles on the day, 3 of them solo. I believe STUARD may be best served to lose 10 lbs. or so and serve as that hybrid type as a pro. He’s a heady guy, and if he can time fast enough at the Combine, he should have a solid shot as a Day 3 draftee. He shows a high FBI when diagnosing where the ball is going, and hustles to make plays on every down. Through 6 games, STUARD has recorded 50 tackles, including 1 Sack, and has a fumble recovery to his credit. He should make an NFL roster as a core Special Teamer as his team tries to determine his best role in their defensive scheme. He is already on the Senior Bowl acceptance list.

Back to MAC action. I had an enjoyable watch in the Toledo/W. Michigan game, where the lead changed hands multiple times, especially late in the contest. And there was some serious Draft level talent on display from both squads. The most eye-catching prospect was WR/RS D’WAYNE ESKRIDGE (#1) of the Broncos. There is some legit speculation that ESKRIDGE might be the fastest player in college football. He also displayed very good hands in catching 7 balls and turning those catches into 131 yards, including a 47-yard long catch and run for a TD. He also showed very well with his speed and cutting ability, returning 4 kicks for 116 yards. ESKRIDGE looked to me to be always accelerating, including coming out of breaks and cuts. He should also have value on pro level gadget plays. At 5’9/190, he’s hard to locate when looking for cuts after the catch. With his pure speed, he is gone before defenders can position themselves for a clean tackle on him. He also looks to have some ups despite his lack of height. He looks like the MAC version of Purdue’s RONDALE MOORE, which is a high compliment. ESKRIDGE came into the season under the radar after missing almost all the 2019 season, to which he took a medical redshirt. He actually had earned a starting CB job heading into the 2019 season. That’s in the past because he is clearly too valuable with the ball in his hands not to touch the ball a dozen times or more per game. He’s emerging from the shadows game by game, and now scouts are asking just how fast he really is. I will say this… he looks to be fully recovered from his 2019 injury. He is on the list of Senior Bowl acceptances

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos have one of the MAC’s most productive defenders in LB TRESHAUN HAYWARD (#23). He was the MAC DPoY recording 142 tackles during the 2019 season. Unfortunately, HAYWARD is currently playing with a club-cast on his left hand/wrist area, which clearly caused him to miss a couple of tackles and hurt his pass coverage at times. However, it should be noted that he was still in constant pursuit of the ball, and/or dropping into shallow coverage on potential receivers crossing over the middle of the field. Despite limitations, he still managed to record 13 tackles against Toledo, 6 of them solo efforts. One of them was a TFL. I also felt that I saw multiple occasions where he was held without getting the benefit of a penalty flag being thrown. HAYWARD is on the smaller size at 6’1/225, but has the smarts and athleticism to locate and run to the football. He should also make a solid Special Teamer.

All one has to do is watch the North Carolina football team pile up wins, since the return of coaching legend MACK BROWN back to his role leading Tar Heel football, to realize the program is on the rise. This program had fallen to the bottom of the ACC, and after raising it back to a winning, 7-6 season in 2019, they now look like they are firmly entrenched in the upper half of the ACC rankings. Their rousing 59-53 Win over Wake last Saturday clearly demonstrated that MACK has his old recruiting touch back in play. One of his biggest weapons this season (beyond Super Soph QB SAM HOWELL) has been senior WR/RS DAZZ NEWSOME (#5), who led the team with 72 receptions last season. The fast and elusive NEWSOME stretched the field for 10 catches and 189-yards and two long TD catch/run efforts, including a 75-yard sprint in the first quarter. He showed excellent hand/eye coordination on several of his grabs and tortured the Wake secondary with his tight route running. I must confess that I was not aware of exactly how fast and explosive NEWSOME is. This guy is clearly a Top 100 prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft.

In the backfield, MACK has a sweet tandem of MICHAEL CARTER and JAVONTE WILLIAMS. WILLIAMS had the more dominant stats for the Wake game, but I want to say how impressed I was by senior CARTER (#8), who was a dual threat as a runner and a receiver. CARTER carried the ball 16 times for 74-yards, while hauling in 4 receptions for another 55-yards and a TD. He showed very good hands on several catches and had some nice twisting run efforts, not to mention some tough yardage between the tackles. His star play of the day was a 46-yard catch and run on the first play of the 4th Quarter, on a wheel route. CARTER has decent size at 5’9/200 and is plenty fast in the open field. I think he will make an outstanding addition to an NFL RB room on a team that already has a bruising power runner on the roster. He is also listed as accepting an invite to the Senior Bowl.

Wake Forest has been a very interesting watch this season. Head Coach DAVE CLAWSON is in his 7th year in charge of the program and he has established  the ACC’s smallest school (enrollment about 5300) as a perennial winning program with some interesting players, including future pros, populating his roster. Their barnburner loss to UNC last Saturday was my fourth game watch this season of the Demon Deacons. Their highest ranked prospect this season is DE CARLOS BASHAM (#9) who most Draftniks have ranked as a first round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s a full sized young man at 6’5/280, or so, and has a reputation as a pass rush specialist. He collected 57 tackles last season, including 11 Sacks, which propelled him to 1st Team All-ACC status. So each and every time I watch this team play, I am taking notes on BASHAM’s play. You have hopefully noticed that I had not yet thumbnailed him in this space. It’s not by chance that he has been missing from mention here previously. Quite frankly, I have found his play to be less than inspiring. Through 7 games this season, BASHAM has recorded 28 tackles/20 solo, and 5 Sacks. Perhaps his stats from the UNC game will be even more illustrative for my purposes. He recorded 2 Tackles, 1 solo, 1/2 TFL, and 1 QBH, on the stat sheet reported at games end. Not first round numbers in my mind. In his defense, I will say that he is often double-team blocked by every opponent, not to mention uncalled holding. Teams also have a tendency to run away from him. He’s stout enough and long enough to set the edge against the run, if he’s not taking an edge-rush path and runs himself out of position when they run to his side. He has dominant games, and flashes as a rusher. If you put together a highlight film, he certainly is a Top Prospect. But based on every down play, he does not dominate a game. He reminds me some of another ACC player named BRADLEY CHUBB (N.C. STATE/BRONCOS), who has had a decent pro career to date, but pales in comparison to the Broncos “real deal” star VON MILLER. Do I think he gets drafted in Round One next Draft? Yes. Would I draft him that high for my team? NO! BASHAM has made an initial commitment to play in the Senior Bowl.

After several weeks off because of COVID-19 quarantine, the WISCONSIN Badgers got back into action last Saturday against Michigan, in the Big House in Ann Arbor. And it was Michigan who looked like the guys that had missed practicing and games, not the Badgers. The first quarter was an absolute abomination by the Wolverine players, while the Badgers looked dynamic on both sides of the ball. I was very impressed with JAKE FERGUSON (#84), the Badgers all-around TE talent. FERGUSON just happens to be the grandson of Badgers current A.D. and former Head Coach BARRY ALVAREZ. Listed as a Junior, FERGUSON can serve as an inline blocker at 6’5/245, but also excels as a receiver and does function at times as an H-Back or lined up in the slot. He has decent speed and very good hands. He made a leaping/falling grab for a 3rd Quarter TD amongst his 4 receptions for 51-yards. At times, he reminds me of former Badger and now Broncos TE TROY FUMAGALLI, but I think his overall game is a notch above that of his predecessor. If you will remember, he was well placed in my Top 10 TE Prospect List a few weeks back. Several shots of AD ALVAREZ enjoying the work of his grandson from a stadium box (with broad smiles) were included in the TV broadcast coverage. If the Junior comes out, I expect his name to come up on Day Two of the Draft.

I wanted to make quick note of another Badger Draft prospect in Junior ISAIAHH LOUDERMILK (#97), a rather large (6’7/295) DL. LOUDERMILK does not post huge stats most games, but due to his length, strength, and high FBI play, he influences opposing Offenses most games. He is adept at using his height and overall length to deflect passes and/or deny opposing QB sight lines at the line-of-scrimmage. He also uses his long arms, like tentacles, to reach out and catch runners who may seem to be past him, until he gets fully extended. I am absolutely enthralled to find out what his arm length is at the Combine, or his Pro Day. Against Michigan, he was credited with 2 Tackles, but affected play on multiple occasions. He’s a solid Day 3 Draftee in my book.

COVID continues to dominate the crawl at the bottom of sports channel programming. Let’s hope that somehow, someway, teams can implement protocols to forestall the infection rates that plague the country in general, and threaten the balance of football seasons everywhere.

Cheers for now.