The most notable thing that caught my eye this week came Monday after the College Football weekend was wrapped up. That was the announcement from Sports Illustrated of it’s Sports Person(s) of the Year for 2020, clearly the year of Covid-19, to people with a reasonably functioning brain. And lo and behold, whose face should appear to my eyes but that of Dr. LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF. Most football fans know him as a starting OG for the CHIEFS that opted out of the 2020 season for Covid-19 related reasons. But most may not realize that he did it to pursue his role as a physician in a long term care facility, just outside of Montreal, in his native Canada. This Doctor is an M.D. that chose to stand in the health related battle lines to try to mitigate the human toll of Covid-19, not Defensive Linemen in the NFL. My connection with LDT, albeit minor, stems from his appearance in the 2014 Shrine Game proceedings. I knew nothing about him heading into Shrine Week in St. Petersburg, FL except that he was one of the two Canadian college players present at the fund raising event for Shriners Children Hospitals. I was taken in by his effective play in the very first practice of the game week. So when practice ended, I sought him out for conversation and learned that he was studying Medicine at McGill University in the Great White North. My father’s side of the family had emigrated from Quebec Province to Manchester, N.H. to work at the Amoskeag Mills, which had once been the largest textiles mill complex in the world. When textiles went South, where the cotton was grown, some of those mills transitioned to part of the New England shoe industry. Many of those shoe workers had been French Canadians who flocked to the textile mills like my Great Grandfather had done. When my father came back from military service in WW II, Pacific Theatre, he went to work in those shoe mills. So did I for Summers during my high school and college years, thanks to his reputation as a solid, productive worker in those mills. Manchester had always been a melting pot of European immigrants, but the French Canadians represented the vast majority, and I heard as much French being spoken in those mills, as I did English. I never learned to speak French, and LDT politely conversed with me in his very solid English tongue. We briefly discussed football history and NFL dreams, as well as his future pursuit of a medical degree in his native country. I expressed my belief that based on his work in practice, he certainly had the size, especially length, and athleticism to compete for an NFL job, even though his technique might not be taught by U.S. OL coaches. I became a fan of LAURENT’s and have followed his successful career in the NFL and in the medical profession. IMO, this young man has the “right stuff” as an athlete and a human being. Until the pandemic swept him up, we had still occasionally traded a Tweet here and there. When I see his name in print, I almost feel a fatherly pride in him. Just a couple of tears ran down my cheeks in reading the article written up on him in SI. I would also add, that in this man’s humble opinion, you really got this one right Sports Illustrated. LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF is special and deserving of the praise bestowed upon him in your article and choice of him as an Athlete/Social Activist, 2020 Man of the Year. I urge my readers to check out the article and brief acceptance interview posted @ https://www.si.com/sportsperson/2020/12/07/laurent-duvernay-tardif-chiefs-sportsperson-award !
Now back to the current fields of play.
Last Friday night, I watched the Sun Belt Conference showdown game between LA/Lafayette and Appalachian State from a cold, windy and rainy Boone, N.C. I had watched both teams previously this season, and near the end of successful 2020 seasons, they were playing a showdown game for a shot at the SBC Championship. It was also noted multiple times that in their history of 8 Conference games, APP State was 8-0, with the Ragin’ Cajuns still looking for their first ever win over their now heated rival. It was sloppy, as dictated by high winds and at times torrential rains, but it was also highly competitive as the Ragin’ Cajuns hung on 24-21 for their first win over the Mountaineers. It was the third time that I have watched Louisiana play this season, and for the 3rd time, a relatively undistinguished young defender flashed in making numerous plays that had significant impact on the game. That player is named CHAUNCEY MANAC (#17) who plays the “JACK” position for their Defense. It’s a combo spot that splits time between DE and OLB responsibilities. Needless to say, the very nature of the position would indicate that MANAC had multiple roles and versatile athleticism to jump from job to job. On this “wet” night, MANAC recorded 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 Sack and 1 INT, all of which were essential to his team’s victory. He plays with high energy and FBI. He shows some quickness and chase speed for a guy who measures 6’3/252. I have not seen his name on any prospect list to date, but I will keep track of his name. He might have a chance at a late draft slot, but more likely will battle just to get signed as an URFA. But I have seen him impact 3 out of 3 games that I’ve watched him play in this season. If he can convince a team that he can help their Special Teams units, he might stick around long enough to eventually get some shots in a pro defense as well.
As the 2020 season has worn on, I have heard more and more mention of a young FS making a mark for himself for TCU, in the Big 12. TREVON MOEHRIG (#7) is shooting up lists, and if he declares (Junior), the 6’2, 208 lb. athlete may be moving in on an early Day Two prospect ranking. The Horned Frogs are hovering around a .500 record for the season, but in their big upset Win over OKLAHOMA STATE last Saturday, MOEHRIG was very impressive. He’s a natural looking athlete. He participated in run defense with 6 Tackles, 4 of them solo. However, it was his 4th Quarter coverage plays that caught my attention most. With 7:07 to go in the game, he got an impressive PBU in deep-coverage at the goal line. Shortly thereafter, he made an end zone Interception of a tipped ball to pretty much sew things up in a 29-22 TCU Win. MOEHRIG is an excellent looking athlete whom I would expect to put up some impressive workout numbers at the NFL Combine. He’s very fluid, and looks quite fast out in the open spaces of the secondary. Combine that with his size and tackling, and he certainly looks like a future NFL starting Safety.
There was another well regarded DB Prospect from Oklahoma State, in RODARIUS WILLIAMS (#8), who starts on the Corner for the Cowboys. WILLIAMS is likely a Day Two draftee, who just happens to be GREEDY WILLIAMS/Browns older brother. RODARIUS followed the more traditional road from HS recruit to pro prospect by developing his game and honing his skills in a 5-year career in Stillwater. Once settled in, he has started the last four years. He has put in the effort to learn his craft and develop physically, to a 6’0/195 CB. He has never been the ball-hawk that his kid brother was at LSU. He has only 2 INT’s in his 5-year playing career, and nine since the 2018 season, when he recorded both of those. However, the game against TCU represented his 48th straight start, during which he has recorded a career total of 31 PBU’s. He has also been taught to go for stripping the ball when tackling receivers after the catch. It was clear during the first half of the TCU contest that the Horned Frogs were avoiding throwing to receivers being covered by WILLIAMS. WILLIAMS, who came into the game nursing a foot sprain, did not return to the field in the second half and his team clearly missed him. TCU threw more and completed more in their comeback during that second half. For teams considering drafting WILLIAMS, they should be aware that he is not the gambling, ball hawk that GREEDY is, but he has shown more durability than his brother, and is more willing and capable of offering help in support of his team’s run defense. Assuming his foot sprain mends itself, his workout numbers from the Combine will go a long way in determining his Draft position, which I project to be the Round 3/4 range. He has accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, as of this writing.
A different game, but a familiar theme up next here. In case you didn’t know, I take game notes each week on at least twice the number of players that you see mentioned in this space. I will often rip up my note pages, or stop making notes, on a lot of games that become blowouts. I also am not inclined to point out players who have a bad day. If I take notes on guys who look bad for 3 games in a row, I usually just drop them from my watch list. It’s not my job to talk poorly, in detail, on most players, unless I feel strongly and hear way too much bluster about them from elsewhere. Some players never seem to have that standout game I am hoping for, but after watching their team in action multiple times I may notice that they always contribute to the effort at some level. Let me introduce you to such a player at Iowa, by the name of IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE (#6). This player, from Jersey, quietly led the Hawkeyes in catches last season (2019) with 44 catches. Coach FERENTZ, you see, prefers to run the ball the vast majority of the time, then play defense. MARSETTE, also led the team last season in Kick Returns at an average of 29.6 ypr. He shows good speed and soft, sure hands. He has decent size at 6’1/190. Iowa ended up wearing down a competitive opponent in Illinois 35-21, and it was the work of IHMIR that played a big role in physically dominating the Illini in the 4th Quarter. He ended the contest with 4 receptions for 32 yards and a TD. He was given the ball twice on their version of “jet sweeps”, which netted 44 yards and another TD. His versatility and physicality will play well on Special Teams units at the pro level as well. I apologize to SMITH-MARSETTE for taking notes on him 4 times this season, before realizing that the sum of his efforts exceeds his stat sheet numbers in many games. If I were with a team looking for a versatile, productive player to add to the bottom half of my roster, as an upgrade, I would take this guy in Round 4 to start Day Three of my Draft. If he can post solid numbers at the Combine, it might be very useful to lock up such a draft position. In reflecting on this guy’s career, I am finding it hard to believe that Jim Nagy has not indicated that he was invited to the Senior Bowl… yet!
On the other hand, I was quite pleased to see that RB KHALIL HERBERT (#21), a transfer at VA Tech, was added to the Senior Bowl acceptance list. After toiling for years in the moribund JAYHAWKS football program, he made the jump to the Hokies. Despite rushing for an average of 8.9 ypc, HERBERT opted to redshirt and transfer after 4 games last season. Despite playing under HC JUSTIN FUENTES, who luvs to rotate 3 RB’s if the talent dictates it, HERBERT has seen more action this season, including a few pass catches. Clemson clearly demonstrated their overall talent edge and wore down the Hokies to whip them 45-10. HERBERT got 21 carries in the loss for 96 yards and 1 TD. Thru 10 Games, he has totaled 1,020-yards at 7.6 ypc and 7 TD’s. They have also shown he can catch a bit by throwing to him for 10 receptions, including 1 TD. HERBERT has some pop to him carrying 210 lbs. on his 5’9 frame. And he shows plenty of burst whether it’s getting to the corner, or blasting through a hole between the Tackles. I see speed and quickness on his various runs. He plays with toughness, clearly making a statement that he may be short, but he is not small. I like this guy to fall into the late 3rd Round to fill out some team’s RB group that might lack his home run potential. See you in Mobile, KHALIL.
On the other side of the ball for Tech is another senior standout in Capt. DIVINE DEABLO (#17), who leads the unit from his SS position. DEABLO reminds me a bit of former Tech and NFL standout KAM CHANCELLOR, although at 6’3/225, he’s a good 10-15 lbs. lighter. He still hits a ton, and quite frankly is a better athlete in pursuing the ball and playing in coverage. However, I feel safe in saying that he is the most impactful S at Tech since CAM left school for the NFL. DEABLO was second on the team in tackles in 2019, with 84. He’s still that hard hitting S, but he has stepped up his work as a pass defender this season. His presence in the starting defensive lineup Saturday night against Clemson marked his 34th straight start. He does sport the Captain’s C on his jersey. For the game, he had 3 tackles and an important Interception in the end zone to thwart a Clemson drive that looked like it was headed for another score in the 3rd Quarter. He has been ranked in my Top 100 prospects since the start of the season. I would currently project him as a 3rd Round Pick. He has the size and athleticism to play as a hybrid SS/LB at the next level.
I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about a S from the Tigers D that gets very little luv beyond the Clemson football program. That would be NOLAN TURNER (#24). He has a touching back story to his career at Clemson. As most of you may know, I am at times not a fan at all of Clemson Head Coach DABO SWINNEY. I think he has never met a microphone, or camera, that he did not love. He also can’t stop talking once he gets the mic in front of his face. And I find him less than genuine too often. However, he has done some seriously good things in his tenure at Clemson. NOLAN is the son of former ‘Bama teammate of Dabo, KEVIN TURNER. Kevin played FB for the Tide and then in the NFL, primarily for the Patriots. KEVIN TURNER became afflicted by the murderous ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As KEVIN slipped away, from the killer that has no cure, DABO promised that he would give his boy NOLAN (a high school player at the time) a football scholarship to Clemson. It has turned up aces for DABO, as NOLAN has turned into a fine starter in their Defense. I think he is terribly underrated, to be frank about it. The 6’1/205 TURNER is faster than he is given credit for and has a real nose for the ball. He had only 4 starts in 2019, but still produced 66 tackles, with 10 PBU’s and 2 INT’s. In the Tech game last Saturday, he had 12 Tackles, 8 solo, with 2 TFL. In Clemson’s 2020, 10 Game season so far, he has 44 T’s, 2 PD, and 3 INT’s. I believe, from what I have seen this year, that TURNER will work out, either at the Combine or Pro Day, as more athletic and faster than people expect him to be. He’s a smart player and person, and it translates into his play on the field. I can see him as a DAY 3 Draftee, with a DANIEL SORENSEN/S/Chiefs-type pro career ahead of him. Way to go NOLAN, your dad is proud. Good job DABO, having given your ex-teammate some solace and a sense of security for his son. Now please, just learn to remember sometimes more is less when the camera rolls.
PIGSKIN’S TOP 10 DE Prospects
- JAELAN PHILLIPS Jr Miami (F)
- KWITY PAYE Michigan
- CARLOS BASHAM Wake Forest
- PATRICK JONES PITT
- MALIK HERRING Georgia
- PAYTON TURNER Houston
- AIDAN HUTCHINSON Jr Michigan
- RASHAD WEAVER PITT
- MARQUISS SPENCER Mississippi State
- DAYO ODEYINGBO Vanderbilt
Before I leave you this week, I want to say a few words about the guy at the top of my DE list; JAELAN PHILLIPS (#15) who has beguiled, yet mystified me with his play and his story. PHILLIPS was a 5-Star recruit who stayed close to home to play at UCLA coming out of high school. Things did not work out well for him with the Bruins. More than a few insiders have indicated that he fell out of love with the game of football while at UCLA. There is no doubt that a large part of the issue was a series of injuries that caused him to spend more time in rehab work than actually playing football out on the field. He grew tired of his situation at UCLA and transferred East to Miami, while sitting out the year in 2019. He seems to have reinvigorated himself, and got the break he needed to start when Hurricanes star DE/ER GREGORY ROUSSEAU opted out of this Covid season, also announcing his intent to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. I have watched the Hurricanes in action four times this season, and overall, I would have to say that PHILLIPS has flashed all the skills that he displayed way back in high school. He also seems to have fit in well with his teammates and coaches. His immaturity has also flashed several times this season, and he may lead his team in Personal Foul penalties. However, he has amassed 41 Tackles, including 6.5 sacks, as well as 3 PD and 1 INT. He has pressured the pocket consistently and showed nice play recognition, thus leading to his 3 PD, which are literally tipped passes. He is incredibly long (6’5) with very long arms. He has also added almost 20 lbs. of good weight, and is now a functionally strong 265 lbs. As Miami throttled Duke last weekend, PHILLIPS displayed his talents and high energy play with 4 Tackles, 3 of them solo, with 3.5 TFL, including 1.5 Sacks. He was very active the whole game long. It is his temperament that concerns me at times. His current temper, and seeming immaturity flare ups, will not be tolerated for long as a pro, despite his talent. Right now, he is an elite edge-rusher, but a more complete defender than that. If he comes out for the 2021 Draft, he has to be on the cusp of jumping into Round 1, given the high value placed on elite pass rush specialists. He could blow things up in workouts at the Combine if he has declared, but he will still have some ‘splainin’ to do, in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, in NFL pre-Draft interviews.
That’s about enough for this week’s prospect talk. Enjoy another weekend of a pretty much full schedule. Most teams are wrapping things up in the next few weeks in this convoluted Covid-19 season.