What Caught My Eye Week 12, 2021

By | November 24, 2021

And the slaughter of college Head Coaches continues as Florida’s DAN MULLEN bit the dust after the Gators lost again, this time to Missouri. So now, IMO, the race is on to grab Billy Napier away from Louisiana/Lafayette, which just upped it’s season record to 10-1. That gives the former SABAN assistant his 3rd straight 10-Win season there. Rarified air for that program indeed. Despite his success, the folks (that would be AD & boosters) at LSU are still chasing big names, like they are involved in a game of Fantasy Football. If the folks at Florida have a fully functioning brain, they will snap up NAPIER ASAP, and let LSU continue to woo names of the unattainable like SABAN & JIMBO FISHER, who A&M will keep in College Station with bigger money, if required. Somebody better remember that last season’s biggest mistake (Texas firing TOM HERMAN) is still out there available for his next Head Coaching job.

On the really ugly side… DANA HOLGORSON, Head Coach at Houston, made a complete, obnoxious fool of himself on the sideline last Friday night ranting and raving about some questionable calls by the officiating crew. His lack of self-control also fed the fires of feistiness by his players out on the field, in an already contentious battle. Being a free spirit, which DANA has always been, is one thing. But his behavior Friday night came dangerously close to a WOODY HAYES-like meltdown.  Get a grip DANA.

It never fails, when the Football Gods are watching. After MICHIGAN STATE gave HC MEL TUCKER a huge contract extension, following a surprising, no, make that astounding, 9-1 start to their season, they went to Columbus and got routed by Ohio State. And unless they upset Penn State in Happy Valley this week, which is highly possible given the JAMES FRANKLIN popgun Offense, they will fall short of a double digit Win total. TUCKER has done an excellent job in resurrecting the Spartans, after inheriting what looked like a train wreck of a program by the time MIKE DANTONIO walked away after the 2019 season. But in less than two full seasons, has he done enough to have a Top 10 salary contract? Not really, but then again, by the time the college coaching carousel stops spinning this year, his contract may indeed look like a bargain after all.

Meanwhile, they played football games, and we were able to watch some legit pro prospects in action…

 

#55    NICK FORD     OC   Utah    6’5/315     A former OT that moved inside to help the team, has really emerged with his size/athleticism combo. His athleticism and ability to out-quick most of the Interior DL that he faces adds a dimension to the Utah Offense that many teams just don’t get. He is very good at adjusting his blocking assignment to respond to blitzes coming inside to harass the pocket. Getting to second level blocks is often a breeze for FORD. He uses his hands well to control defenders and shows good functional strength. I could see some teams projecting him back outside to OT, while others like him just fine in the IOL. Ether way, I have him solidly plugged into my Top 100 prospect list.

 

JAYLAN FOSTER  #12    S    South Carolina   5’10/195      This feisty, former walk-on has truly blossomed in his final season as a Gamecock. He began to really show up in 2020, when his 43 tackles was 4th best on their Defense. He started 2021 with a bang, getting the attention of scouts, under the new SHANE BEAMER regime in Columbia, S.C. He’s a tough competitor and is not afraid to stick his nose into a tackling scrum. He has also shown steady progression in his coverage work. Against Auburn last Saturday, in a Win that made the Gamecocks Bowl Eligible, he had 5 tackles and was in on several pass breakup plays. On the year, he now has 85 Tackles, 2 FF, 5 INT’s, and 2 PD.  I think it is safe to say that he is more than justifying that scholarship he earned after walking on. With some size limitations, I am skeptical that he will get drafted in this year’s cornucopia of talented/athletic prospects. But he should be on a training Camp roster next Summer, and will no doubt make it hard for coaches to cut him. He should earn a job in the NFL with his Special Teams effort and hustle. Luv to see these unheralded young players develop into top level starters.

 

#6    NIKO JEFFERS    ILB   Texas Tech    6’2/235    JEFFERS reminds me quite a bit of a former Red Raider playing well in Seattle these days named JORDYN BROOKS. He is a solid athlete that also hits like a ton. For most folks, Tech is just a mediocre program with little chance to win most Saturdays. But they always have a handful of pro prospects each year, and he is their top one this season. JEFFERS is most noted for his physicality and punishing tackles. TECH is overmatched most weekends in Big-12 action, but they exact a price from opponents with their wide open Offense and punishing defensive type of play. The primary reason I see JEFFERS being a solid Day 3 Draftee, is his ability to provide over-the- middle coverage in secondary assignments. On the season, he has 55 total tackles, which is about what he did in one less game than at this point last season. Included in that total is 1 Sack. But what caught my eyes about him, besides his crunching hits, is the fact that he has 1 INT this season, which he turned into a Pick-6, and has been credited with 3 Passes Defensed. Look for him in the Round 5/6 range.

 

#80  BRANT KUITHE    H-B   Utah    6’2/230     Kuithe reminds me a lot of KYLEN GRANSON ex-SMU, who now plays with the Colts. KUITHE might be a better blocker than GRANSON, but like GRANSON, he also makes a nice weapon as a receiver. Against Oregon, he caught 5 balls for 118 yards. That’s an average of 23.6 ypr. A big number for a 230-pounder. He is dangerous after the catch, because he will break arm tackles with strength and good balance. He is also an effective blocking weapon in the backfield and down in the red zone when short yardage situations arise. He should also be effective on Special Teams units with his athletic tool chest. Another early Day 3, Round 4/5 player.

 

#37   QUENTIN LAKE    S     UCLA    6’1/195     Son of former Bruin and Steelers Safety CARNELL LAKE. He is a good looking athlete that can make plays. Seems a bit strange to be talking about a defensive player in a game the Bruins won by a score of 62-33, but though Offense reigned supreme, the guys in powder blue made a few more impact plays on Defense to secure the big intra-city rivalry game. LAKE did a bit of everything to contribute to his team’s win. He recorded 7 tackles, including 2 TFL, as well as having an INT/1 PBU. He’s not in anyone’s Top 100 that I am aware of, but he does look to be positioning himself for a Day Three Draft position.

 

#72    ALEC LINDSTROM    OC    Boston College    6’3/295    Not a massive, strength guy, but has good athleticism, using solid technique and high FBI to excel for the EAGLES, playing right alongside OG ZION JOHNSON. Some have questioned if playing beside ZION night be aiding LINDSTROM in his blocking grades. It can’t hurt, but LINDSTROM was already getting attention in the Covid-season of 2020, when ZION spent time outside at OT most of the time. In fact, LINDSTROM made 1st Team All-ACC last season with ZION starting outside at LT earning 2nd Team All-ACC. He is indeed the younger brother of CHRIS LINDSTROM of the Falcons, who was a First Round Pick. I subscribe to the Gene-Tree theory of athleticism. ALEC is a Day Two prospect, Top 100, with a chance to start early in his NFL career.

#21    SMOKE MONDAY    SS     Auburn    6’3/200     In addition to having one of the best “football names” for the 2022 NFL Draft, MONDAY clearly ranks in the Top 10 of the Safety group for said Draft. He’s a physical guy who lines up in, or sneaks up into, the box a majority of the time and plays a major role in their run defense. When you combine that with good athleticism and the ability to run with RB’s & TE’s, and sometimes WR’s, you end up with a solid all around S prospect. He was very active in the close loss to South Carolina, in Columbia, with a 3rd Quarter picture-book QB hit, in a near Sack situation. His season’s stats paint a clear picture of his value and versatility: 55 Tackles- 37 solo- 1 Sack- 1 INT- 1 TD (Pick-6)- 5 PD. Look for him to be right on the cusp of Day Two/Day 3. He’s in a cluster of players for me, that are fighting for spots 90-110.

 

#56    DYLAN  PARHAM.  OG   Memphis    6’3/305      Dylan is perhaps the most athletic OG in this year’s prospect group. PARHAM has received and accepted a Senior Bowl invite. Another of those guys who kinda grew out of his High School TE days and has been a 4-year starter for the Tigers on their OL. He switched out to RT last season to help the overall OL, but is back at his ideal OG slot. His lack of height and length out at OT was obviously a shortcoming last season, but he sacrificed for the good of his team. A group of 3 transfers to Memphis that can handle OT slots has allowed PARHAM to slide back inside. NFL Personnel people make note of players who sacrifice for the good of their team in their notebooks. He has adequate body size to play inside, where his mobility and good hand usage give him a blocking advantage in protecting a mobile QB in the passing game. I will be surprised if he is not a Day Two Draftee come April.

 

#88   JEREMY RUCKERT    TE   Ohio State  6’5/260     The guy he played behind last season, LUKE FARRELL, is playing for the Jags in the NFL this season. And RUCKERT is a better all-around athlete and TE. He doesn’t see the ball very often, but what can you expect when the WR group contains OLAVE/WILSON/SMITH-NJIGBA?  Because of how the Buckeyes Offense is structured, they don’t throw a lot to their TE, who are seen more as blockers for their run game. And RUCKERT certainly answers the call in those assignments. In an upcoming Draft, where TE might be one of the best and deepest position groups, don’t expect RUCKERT until Day 3 of the Draft. Some smart team trolling for quality depth in their TE group would do well to jump on this guy if he is there as Day 3 begins.

 

#9   TAVION THOMAS    RB     Utah    6’2/225     This Juco transfer has been dominant in the power running game this season for the Utes. They give him the ball a lot in the Red Zone and he has 14 TD’s for the season to show for it. Sharing the RB spot with 3 others, THOMAS has gained a total of 742 yards at 6.1 ypc.  Against Oregon, in the big Utah victory, he carried the ball 21 times for 94 yards and 3 TD’s. He has a combination of power, agility and burst through a hole. In a word, he is a “load” for would be tacklers down around the goal line on short yardage 3rd downs. He will likely become a favorite target in NFL Fantasy League drafts, given his power, explosion and balance after contact once he smells the end zone. I will be anxious to see what kind of workout numbers he will post in his Pro Day and/or Combine workouts, if he declares. Day Three, middle rounder in my book.

 

Sleepers

ROBERT COOPER    #91    DT/NT   Florida State    6’2/335    A jumbo body that can really flash his power a few times per game. He has to get limited snaps and/or maybe lose 10 lbs. or so. Might get drafted late by a team that needs added beef for their DL. If not, he’ll be signed as a Rookie Free Agent.

HASKELL GARRETT   #92    DT   Ohio State     6’2/300    I have been rolling GARRETT’S place in the upcoming Draft around in my brain since late last season, after he proved he belonged in their DL rotation. He’s still out there and playing well. But will his game translate to the pro game at his size and level of athleticism. I am not sure, but a solid season’s work for the Buckeyes should translate into a late Draft selection, Round 6/7.

CONNOR HEYWARD  #11   TE/H-B   Michigan State   6’/230.  Another of the late-great IRONHEAD HEYWARD’s sons was switched by TUCKER’s staff to a TE/H-B type role, and has really boosted their offensive play this season. He received and has accepted a Senior Bowl invite. He has his dad’s athletic genes and body type. Might be very hard for a team to cut, and at worst, a Practice Squad was designed with a guy like him in mind.

CLAYTON TUNE   #3    QB  Houston     6’3/215    A team Captain that had a rough start to the season, with multiple turnover efforts, but he has improved greatly as the season has progressed. He is a good sized dude, with an above average arm, and a decent all around athlete. Might be worth a Day 3 Pick if he goes into the Draft.

ZAQUANDRE WHITE     #11    RB   South Carolina   6’1/215     In the depressing 2-8 Covid-season of 2020, this young man was moved over to the DB group because of lack of depth in that position group by the previous coaching staff. He is back at RB and has earned more and more touches as the season has worn on. He plays with a huge chip on his shoulder, and when I watch him play with power, energy and surprising speed, I can see why he was probably delighted by the coaching regime change this year. Against Auburn, WHITE was clearly the star of their talented RB group. He rushed 16 times for 99 yards (6.19 ypc) and also caught 3 balls, which he converted into 69 yards, most of it yds-after-catch, and 1 TD. To my eyes, he was the star of the game. And I have no reason to doubt that he has pro potential. He should see more work against Clemson and in a hard earned Bowl Game for the new BEAMER regime.

 

Some time back I did a thumbnail of MALIK CUNNINGHAM/QB/Louisville. I referred to him as a marginal NFL prospect, but not the next coming of LAMAR JACKSON, who preceded him in a Cardinals uniform. After what he did this past weekend, I am beginning to wonder whether I might want to consider revising that evaluation. CUNNINGHAM had a day for the ages in the Louisville victory over Duke last Thursday night, at Duke. Most of us were watching NFL’s Thursday Night Football I presume, but CUNNINGHAM had a performance that was breathtaking. Louisville won won 62-22. And here are MAILK’s numbers:

Passing    18/25- 72%- 303 pass yards- 5 TD’s

Rushing     11 carries- 224 yards- 2 TD’s

How are those numbers not something LAMAR himself would be proud to produce? No, I am not now projecting MALIK to sneak into the end of Round One like LAMAR did. But a look carefully at game tape, and I say he is almost as mercurial a runner as JACKSON, and is an adequate passer. If I needed a franchise QB desperately, I would have to look at this guy in the middle rounds as worth a roll of the dice. But only if said team were willing to make a total offensive scheme makeover like HC JOHN HARBAUGH was willing to do in Baltimore. And that in itself would be a massive roll of the dice.

JIM NAGY, please send this guy an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He just might steal the show, on the biggest post-season stage!

Cheers

Pigskin