What Caught My Eye Week 14

December 17, 2020

Like several other football writers, I was thinking that the 2020 season would be a hall pass of sorts for coaches, just like the NCAA tried to do with players. But apparently that concept was erroneous in its conception. The coaching carousel is in full gear, and for most teams, the season isn’t quite over yet. While Texas HC TOM HERMAN was getting a reprieve, albeit rather lukewarm, GUS MALZAHN was shown the door at Auburn. This is still a plumb job, but one has to wonder if that has changed a bit as long as SAINT NICK is running the show, and dominating the SEC, from his throne room just up the highway from the Auburn plains. Much as Auburn alums don’t want to admit it, in most cases, the Tigers recruiters are picking from the Crimson Tide leftovers in the recruiting wars. It’s a tough act to have as your top competitor.  One even has to wonder what the football powers-that-be have in mind for JIM HARBAUGH. His Wolverines looked almost woeful most Saturdays this year. It’s too early to project an ouster (I think) within the Penn State faithful, but JAMES FRANKLIN’s team looked totally unprepared for the season when it began. They have rallied to win 3 straight, but Nittany Lions football addicts are probably less than joyful in Happy Valley, PA. KEVIN SUMLIN looked like a reach to me when Arizona scooped him up two short years ago. And a 70-7 wipeout against in-state rival Arizona State sent him packing two days later. Heck, at this pace, if Notre Dame loses to Clemson for the ACC Title, even BRIAN KELLY may feel the heat. Just kidding SCOTT. As of press time this week, I had best also mention that LOVIE SMITH is out at Illinois and DERRICK MASON is gone from Vanderbilt. Stay tuned for more names to be axed in the coming weeks. Once the ball gets rolling, it’s all downhill.

Just when it seems that things are going smoothly for some programs, the poop hits the fan. Ask HC MANNY DIAZ if he expected his Miami team to get run over (literally) by UNC 62-26, in South Florida. In a convoluted sort of way, UNC did to Miami what Notre Dame did to them with their running game. They ran over and through them. It was a record setting night for the Tar Heels dynamic backfield duo of CARTER/WILLIAMS. MICHAEL CARTER, who I profiled a while back, ran for 308-yards and 2 TD’s. So today, I want to tell you how good his running mate JAVONTE WILLIAMS is. In the route of Miami, WILLIAMS rushed for  236-yards on 23 carries, including 3 TD’s. WILLIAMS (#25) is one of the best run-after-contact backs in the nation. He is a powerful guy at 5’10/220, and has great after contact balance. That characteristic is a very big deal in the NFL. He also shows the burst of speed to get to, and around, the corner. By adding his 3 run TD’s to his 16 previously recorded, then adding in 3 receiving TD’s this season, he has a whopping 22 total TD’s for the season. He just missed a thousand-yard rushing total last season, with 933, and soared past that magic mark this year. And he does not have 5 future pros blocking for him in that UNC OL group. WILLIAMS is a Junior, but if he declares for the 2021 Draft, I believe he has a very good shot at being the second RB off the board, and in Round 1. In a Combine setting, he should post numbers that excite people who have already watched his game tape. I feel pretty strongly that JAVONTE has many of the same characteristics as EZEKIEL ELLIOTT did at Ohio State.

I have probably stated this a time or two before in this space, but Alabama is one of the toughest teams in the country for me to detail their best defensive prospects. The biggest reason is that there is so much quality, as well as depth, that guys don’t get a chance each week to post big numbers, and at times my old eyes just can’t quite keep up with who is on the field on any one given play. As I always say, on top college teams, there are just not enough tackles to go around to allow big numbers very often. So you will just have to take my word when I tell you who is a hot watch for NFL scouts. One of those guys this Fall has been CHRISTIAN BARMORE (#58) who is only a Redshirt Soph. The big guy, 6’5/310, plays primarily DE in their base 3-4 scheme. So the scheme itself works against this guy getting monster TFL/Sack numbers. Let me just say that he has probably made the most progress on the field this season of any of the Crimson Tide DL. Against Arkansas, in limited playing time, BARMORE was credited with 3 tackles, 2 of them solo. Blah numbers, right. But then let me say that both of those solo efforts were Sacks. He is a load to block because he combines strength, length, and quickness for his size. I would also note that he uses spin moves and strong hands and arms to push aside, or slip around blockers, of whom he sees many double-team blocking downs. I will tell you flat out that if he comes out for the 2021 Draft, he has a shot at Round 1 based on his current playing level, as well as almost unlimited potential.

On the other side of the coin, I want to throw in a few kind words for a guy that toiled on the seriously outmanned Arkansas Defense in their loss to ‘Bama last Saturday. Let me start by saying that Arkansas thought they were getting a huge boost on their DL from Clemson transfer XAVIER KELLY. But lo and behold, by the time the season got rolling it was holdover Senior JONATHAN MARSHALL (#42) that became the frontrunner and starter at NT. MARSHALL is a little more stout than KELLY, packing 317-lbs. on his 6’3 frame. The Razorbacks are also featuring a 3-4 DL in their base scheme this year. MARSHALL has been working his butt off and holding his own in anchoring the middle of their DL. He has also shown high effort and energy in pursuing the ball from sideline to sideline. He shows some nice explosion off the snap of the ball, and more than held his own against ‘Bama OC LANDON DICKERSON all day long. I also liked the way MARSHALL used his hands to keep blockers off of his legs, and was able to push his way into the pocket area on occasion. In the ‘Bama game, he collected 4 tackles, 1 of them solo, and was credited with an important Forced Fumble. This hard working, perhaps late bloomer, may have a chance for a late round Draft selection. If he’s not drafted, I would expect him to be signed as an URFA on an NFL Training Camp roster next Summer.

It has not been an upbeat season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, and a thumping by Alabama did nothing to change that. But while we’re discussing one surprising Arkansas defender, let’s jump across the line-of-scrimmage and mention a decent prospect from the Offensive side of things. That would be LT and team Captain MYRON CUNNINGHAM (#76), a rather long LT. Coming into the opening of Summer practices, he had been listed at 299 lbs. But when the bell rang for the season opener, that number moved up to 320+. He still looks fairly lean with long arms, which he uses well to push and repel defenders. He isn’t a speedster getting to the second level and beyond, but has has good agility in his pass pro footwork. He is also well balanced and I seldom (if ever) saw him on the ground. He plays a bit high out of his stance, but that is hard to avoid when you stand 6’7″. I would like to see him have his head moving as if it were on a swivel. He has a tendency to look in one direction, only depending upon the direction of his primary blocking assignment. I saw multiple situations where had he just glanced over his shoulder, he might have helped out a teammate losing his block, or pick up a blitzer trying to loop inside. He’s a good player and is savvy, playing in every game the last three years. He could go early on Day 3 if a team feels that he can accept positional coaching and upgrade his overall fundamentals. Let’s say Round 4/5 range.

HERM EDWARDS and his NFL savvy coaching staff have recruited some big time talent to Tempe the past two years, and some of it is beginning to blossom. And did they ever show it in their 70-7 trouncing of in-state rival Arizona last Friday night. As I mentioned earlier, that game was the straw that broke the camel’s back and got KEVIN SUMLIN fired. Some of the biggest names on the team are still very young, like Soph QB JAYDEN DANIELS, but perhaps the most pro ready prospect week-in and week-out may be Junior DL JERMAYNE LOLE ( #90). LOLE is not a really big guy at 6’1, 305 lbs., but he combines very good functional strength and exceptional explosion out of his stance, along with very effective hand usage to shed blockers. I would not label him a speed edge-rusher, but more of an all-around player that can bend off the edge, and/or squeeze through the OL inside. He spent most of this night as a DE in a 3-man front. He finished the night with 7 tackles, 4 of them solo, and 1 FF. He has 1 1/2 Sacks in The Sun Devils measly 3 games. Let’s also give credit to his game long energetic style of play. He is a rugged competitor that never lets up. He just wears blockers down. If he chose to come out early, and posted Combine workout numbers that match his gameday efforts, he could find himself as an early Day 3 Draftee. Let’s mention that in the full 2019 season, LOLE recorded 72 tackles, with 6.5 Sacks and 3 QBH’s.

As often happens at this stage of the college season, more than a few of the top dogs get caught on an off-night and lose a game that they were heavily favored in. Welcome to the Swamp in Gainesville last Saturday night, where an LSU team, having a very mediocre season, hung tough, made some big plays, and waited for the Gators to fall apart. And just when it looked like Florida had stopped LSU’s last chance, Gators CB MARCO WILSON decided to rub it in after he helped stop LSU dead in their tracks, shy of midfield. He picked up a shoe that came off the receiver that he helped tackle and heaved it 10+ yards downfield. That led to a well deserved unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and LSU went down the field to kick the go-ahead, and eventual game winning, field goal. Now let’s move on to the guy I really want to talk about. Last year the Gators lost 4 of their receivers to the 2020 Draft. However, they returned plenty of talent to the 2020 Offense. The most prolific returning wideout was TREVON GRIMES (#8), who had 33 catches last season. Much like his primary running mate last year, VAN JEFFERSON, a very large part of GRIMES game lies in his Special Teams play. He’s a gunner on coverage units, and a solid blocker in the return game. At 6’5/218, he’s a large target and a strong man to move around and block as a Gunner. Against LSU in the loss, he caught 4 balls for 98-yards, including 1 TD. In 10 games this season, he already has 34 receptions, with 2 games left to play, including the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. I think it important to point out that of those 34 catches, he already has amassed 8 TD grabs. Looking at those numbers and his Special Teams skills, I think despite an exceptionally deep WR group expected for the 2021 Draft, GRIMES will be drafted in the middle rounds. He still has upside in most scouts’ minds.

Last week, I got so busy gabbing about what I saw and heard that I totally forgot to post a positional Top 10 group. So let’s jump on that right now…

PIGSKIN’S TOP 10 Edge-Rusher Prospects

  1. GREGORY ROUSSEAU    RSo     Miami (F)
  2. QUINCY ROCHE              Miami (F)
  3. JOE TRYON          Jr                 Washington
  4. DeANGELO MALONE       Western Kentucky
  5. MALCOLM KOONCE         Buffalo
  6. SHAKA TONEY         Penn State
  7. TARRON JACKSON        Coastal Carolina
  8. WILLIAM BRADLEY-KING       Baylor
  9. RAYMOND JOHNSON        Georgia Southern
  10. ELERSON SMITH        N. Iowa

While we’re right in the Edge-Rusher mode, Let’s take a look at the No. 2 guy on my list QUINCY ROCHE (#2). ROCHE spent his first 3 years at Temple and established himself as a pass rusher deluxe while with the Owls, and topped it off with a 13 sack effort in 2019. However, with almost annual coaching changes at Temple, ROCHE entered the transfer portal and headed south to the rising Hurricanes program of MANNY DIAZ. Despite the disappointing thumping at the hands of UNC, this year’s Miami team is a solid 8-2. ROCHE has had a solid campaign and cemented his reputation as a fluid, chase defender that can pressure opposing passers. In last Saturday’s brutal loss, ROCHE recorded 4 Tackles and 1/2 Sack. For the season, he now has 45 Tackles, 4.5 Sacks, 2 FF’s, and 3 FR’s. I have placed him in this group because I am not sure that he can make the transition to standing up most of the time as a pro OLB. He is still listed as being 6’3, 245 lbs. but when I watch him play, I cannot believe he is carrying more than 225 lbs. on that frame of his. Whether it’s 225 or 245, there is no way he is stout enough to set the edge as a down DE. So my conclusion is that he will project as a specialist at rushing the passer, and likely be taken late on Day Two of the Draft.

Last night, I went to my stash of recorded games and watched the PAC-12 battle for Los Angeles between Southern Cal and UCLA. Lots of offense offset by some big play takeaways by the defenses. My eyes were very quickly drawn to some offensive stars from both sides. By halftime, I was pretty much convinced that Southern Cal might have the best 3-man WR group in college football this year. TYLER VAUGHNS (#21) is the steady, good hands, good route running senior. VAUGHNS had 74 receptions last season, ranking third on his team. By the end of the night against UCLA, VAUGHNS had his seemingly typical, quiet but productive game, with 8 catches for 128 yards and 1 long TD catch of 38 yards. He’s a nice long target that runs good routes and has some speed to get separation coming out of his cuts. He has soft hands and plays the sideline throws like a ballerina. He has a thin looking frame, but seems very pliable absorbing hits. To me he has the look of a solid No. 3/4 wideout on a pro roster. In the Trojans 5 games played, he has 31 receptions for 382 yards and 3 TD’s.

Junior wideout AMON-RA ST. BROWN, whose brother plays for the Packers, is the more explosive of the two draft eligible wideouts. He displays good hands and is very good getting yards after the catch with dazzling fakes and pure strength (6’1/195) to break would-be tackles. He’s a very talented athlete, with big play potential. On the night against UCLA, he caught 10 balls for 73 yards and 2 TD’s. He is playing in his Junior year. For the short season, he has 36 catches for 404 yards and 6 TD’s. He caught 77 balls for over 1,000-yards in 2019. He’s not exactly the same guy, but his play and body type remind me of JuJu SMITH-SCHUSTER, when he played for the Trojans. I also believe that ST. BROWN can become a solid No. 2 wideout in the NFL. If he comes out, I would suspect he has potential for Round 2.

Just as a brief message for you to watch out for in 2021. The best Trojans receiver may only be a Soph by the name of DRAKE LONDON (#15), who has also played some basketball for the TROJANS and is 6’5, 210 lbs. He may be a record setter by the time he’s done next season.

On the other side of the field in that game was a combination RB/WR/RS for Chip Kelly’s Offense by the name of DEMETRIC FELTON (#10). FELTON is a 5’10/200 speedster with very quick moves to elude tacklers. He also has good speed in getting to the edge. In this contest, FELTON was indeed a dual threat option for the Bruins. He carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards, including a long run of 40 yards. He also kept busy making catches for 47-yards and 2 TD’s. Both his TD plays featured long after-the-catch runs. I think he might also make a solid Return Specialist as a pro. Surprisingly, given his less than stout body, his 2019 stats included 86 rushing carries and 55 pass receptions. FELTON is an exciting weapon, and has accepted an invite to play in the Senior Bowl.  I think he may have to wait til Day Three of the 2021 Draft to hear his name called, but he might make a very effective weapon for some NFL team in need of a game breaker.

It seems more than a touch ironic that in a week where the Hurricanes got spanked because of a very flat performance on their part, I have yet another Hurricane prospect who I wanted to mention before signing off. His name is BREVIN JODAN (#9) a pass catching TE who has missed considerable playing time because of some minor, but nagging injuries, this season. JORADN is a 6’3/245 lb.  TE in the mold of KYLE PITTS who plays about 300 miles north of him for the Gators. JORDAN emerged last season as a Soph by catching 35 balls at 14.1 ypc, and was voted First Team-ACC TE. When not out of action this season, he has been a major offensive weapon for the Hurricanes. After a slow first half, just like most of his teammates, JRODAN emerged in the second half against UNC, finishing the game with 6 receptions for 140 yards and 1 TD. In fact it was JORDAN’s 76-yard catch and run that sparked a mini-comeback for Miami, until WILLIAMS/CARTER ran the ball down their proverbial  throats in the 4th Quarter. JORDAN has worked to become an acceptable blocker, but he’s never going to be an inline TE. His value will be in his sweet spot, in the slot, leaving LB and many S in his dust in a race downfield. If he declares for the 2021 Draft I would project him on Day Two, perhaps by mid-Second Round, for a team looking for the next possible Evan Engram.

Enjoy the Conference Title games this weekend. Most of the matchups look really competitive with lots of top talent out on the fields of play.