What Caught My Eye Week 15

December 26, 2020

It was a strange weekend on the College Football landscape with an unusual hodgepodge of make-up games and Conference Championships. Some of the games were shootouts til the final possession (SEC), others were pure butt kicking (ACC). DABO SWINNEY made a BIG stink about Ohio State not deserving a spot in the Final Four, but despite only playing 6 games, and winning them all in this pandemic year, normal rules are out the window.  The Buckeyes are clearly one of the top teams of the season. I don’t think a non-Power Five team stands much of a chance ever getting into a Final Four, but I also believe that Cincinnati’s squeaker of a win over Tulsa in a steady rain storm, made it easier for the Selection Committee to ignore them. The ARMY football team beat Air Force to finish their season with 9 Wins and did get a Bowl date, only to have it all tarnished by the acknowledgment of a cheating scandal at the academy. I am old enough to recall a few previous scandals at the academy, late last century, but back then there was no counseling and second chances. Cheat and you were expected to resign your appointment to the academy . It might be a refection on our morals in this century that even military academies have relaxed standards for dishonest behavior.

There’s an old saying about “saving the best for last” and that is what several players and several teams did this past weekend. None did it better than OHIO STATE RB TREY SERMON in the Big Ten Championship game against NORTHWESTERN. After a combative and competitive start to their game Saturday, the Buckeyes rolled over the Wildcats for the final 3 quarters of the contest. And when the dust had cleared, the school rushing record for a single game, held by Heisman winner EDDIE GEORGE, had been eclipsed by grad transfer SERMON. SERMON ($#8), who technically speaking doesn’t start, carried 29 times, gaining 331 yards and scoring 2 TD’s. I thought SERMON was an excellent back during his time with the Sooners, but I believe their philosophy of sharing the rushing load at Oklahoma, which began in earnest under BOBBY STOOPS, frustrated SERMON. It took SERMON a while to adapt to Ohio State with the Covid induced lack of on-field practice time, but his workload increased as the season wore on. He is a solid combination of power, contact balance, speed (though not a track star), and good vision in the open field. He also displays decent hands, although his 3 catches in this game netted a paltry 4 yards. He has quick feet and uses them to make very sharp cuts at the line of scrimmage when he sees a gap to run through. SERMON is yet another guy that has helped make me change my mind regarding the quality of this season’s RB Draft prospects. A lot of NFL teams should be able to add quality to their RB room for 2021. SERMON should make a solid NFL rusher, but likely will still be waiting to be drafted when Day 3 begins.

I decided early that this would be a good game to keep my eyes on WYATT DAVIS (#52), the Buckeyes best OL on the 2020 squad. DAVIS plays at RG and should be the first Interior OL taken in the 2021 Draft, unless we see Northwestern’s RASHAWN SLATER slide inside as a pro. DAVIS has very nice size at 6’4/315 and very nimble footwork for an Interior lineman. Davis is only a junior, but is expected to declare for the 2021 Draft process. He’s a natural knee bender who plays with functional power and is adept whether woking as a run blocker, or in pass-pro. Playing in the Ohio State Offense has provided valuable experience in a pro style power offense. I was very impressed, in watching him closely, with how he uses his hands and arms to keep defenders off his body in pass-pro. He is more athletic than JONAS JACKSON, who played the other OG slot for the Buckeyes in 2019 and went on to be a starter at OG for the LIONS as a Rookie. I believe he will get a Draft call in Round 2, fairly early, next Spring.

There is one more Buckeye, who plays on the other side of the ball for them, that I want to mention here. His name is HASKELL GARRETT (#92) and he starts at DT this season after serving his time as a back-up in the rotation talent pool always available on that DL in Columbus. GARRETT is listed as 6’2/300, and is surprisingly mobile for his girth. He is also very alert to where a play is headed and beating blockers to the gaps to get a shot at the ball carrier. He also picks his gaps and creates pocket pressure on a regular basis. He is active and productive, forming an excellent tandem working in concert with Junior DT TOMMY TOGIAI. If you only scan a defensive stats sheet, you will likely miss how effective this guy is doing his job at the line of scrimmage. In the 3rd quarter, he used his anticipation and athleticism to time a tipped ball at the line-of-scrimmage and deflect a PEYTON RAMSEY throw harmlessly to the ground. He also pushed the Wildcats QB out of the pocket on multiple occasions as well. He’s working his way from a backup player into a Day Three Draftee.

As strange as this Covid season has been, I continue to be amazed and applaud the Sports Gods for granting the wisdom to sports czars to follow science (in most cases) and in the big scheme of things bring us solid sports products to watch. I was pleased to get a look at the Southern Cal football product twice in the past week. Other than a lack of depth, grown out of recruiting numbers being down (only 13 signees last off-season), the program has some very legit pro prospects, some of whom I have thumbnailed recently. After watching the Pac-12 Championship game last weekend, I wanted to mention a Junior S/LB named TALANOA HUFANGA (#15). He is a junior that has been very productive in leading the Trojans D. He recorded 90 tackles for them in 2019. He’s very versatile and is all over the field. In fact, he reminds me of a large version of TROY POLAMALU, at 6’1/220. I see him as another example of the hybrid S/NLB, who can handle multiple roles in a Defense. He has solid ball skills in coverage and can really chase down the ball as a LB. Against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, he recorded 12 tackles, 10 of them solo, with 2 TFL, which both just happened to be Sacks. The Trojans managed to play 6 games this Fall, and in those contests HUFANGA recorded 62 tackles, 40 solo, 3 Sacks, 2 FF’s, 1 PD, and 4 INT’s. That should give you an idea just how comprehensive his skills are. Just in case you might be among the math challenged, his tackles total means that he averages just over 10 tackles per game. I have been impressed with his play, and if he comes out early, I will be watching for his Combine/Pro Day workout numbers. I think he will make a solid Day Two Draftee, and could thrive under a creative NFL Defensive Coordinator.

So while we are looking at the Safety positions, let’s show you Pigskin’s Top 10 S prospects, which in this case number 11.

  1. JEVON HOLLAND       Jr   Oregon
  3. PARIS FORD       Jr     PITT
  4. HAMSAH NASIRILDEEN       Florida State
  5. RICHARD LeCOUNTE          Georgia
  6. ANDRE CISCO       Jr     Syracuse
  7. JAQUAN BRISKER       Penn State
  8. TALANOA HUFANGA     Jr      Southern Cal
  9. DIVINE  DEABLO           Virginia Tech
  10. SHAWN DAVIS        Florida
  11. DAMAR HAMLIN        PITT

It’s a good group with multiple skill sets. The majority of players on this list have shown the ability to play coverage, as well as the willingness to tackle in run support D. HOLLAND and MOEHRIG both have a chance to end up in Round One.

The big showdown rematch between Clemson and Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game was pretty much over by half-time. Needless to say, a lot was made of the fact that this time around, Clemson had super-star QB TREVOR LAWRENCE healthy and running that Offense. And he certainly reinforced his spot at the top of the 2021 Draft. However, I felt like the biggest difference was the play of the Clemson Defense this time around. And the leader of that D is a Senior IB by the name of JAMES SKALSKI (#47). He’s listed at 6’0/234, but I would bet he’s under 6′ tall, so I’ll just say 5’11 and quit at that. He’s not going to wow the talent evaluators with any of his numbers to be posted at workouts, but if you get out the game tape, you see a legit pro prospect that luvs the game of football. Last season, 2019, when he was healthy all year, he recorded 105 Tackles, only 3 less than Super Star teammate ISAIAH SIMMONS. This season he has missed multiple games with a couple of injuries, so his stats are way down. However, if you watched Notre Dame trying to run the ball and re-assert their run-game dominance from the first matchup, then you realize how much SKALSKI means to his team. I would expect him to play an early down role at LB as a pro, with time on just about every Special Teams unit. He should also be a positive influence in any team’s locker room. All that being said, he’s not getting drafted until the late rounds, perhaps not at all. He’s a blood and guts football player, and there is still room in the NFL for more players of his ilk.

I enjoyed watching the Big-12 Conference Championship game. It is quite clear that a young Sooners team was not ready for prime time action at the beginning of the pandemic season. It is also clear that Sooners talent is still plentiful, SPENCER RATTLER is the real deal, and their Defense might be a little bit better than the last few years version. But a very big part of the team’s emergence on Offense has been a relatively obscure JC transfer named RHAMONDRE STEVENSON (#29), who looks like a FB at 245 lbs., but totes the rock like a bruising RB. When the season started, their top RB, Kennedy Brooks, elected to take a Covid Opt-Out for the season. This became problematic because their Senior RB TREY SERMON exercised his Grad Transfer option and moved on to Ohio State. I recounted his exploits back at the beginning of this piece. It took a while for STEVENSON to fill the void, because of a 6-game drug test suspension, but he has clearly done so in the second half of the Sooners season. Against Iowa State, he carried 18 times for 97 yards, which averages out to over 5 yards a pop. He also slipped out of the backfield for 4 receptions and 36 yards. He’s a bruising, hard charging runner that has surprising acceleration through a hole, and good speed for about 15-25 yards. He also has the fundamentals down as a blocker. I believe he will make some NFL team a very effective power back option in their RB group. Quite frankly, if some NFL team in need of the power component to their backfield room doesn’t draft him, then shame on the personnel departments. He will be in my Top 250 prospects list for certain now. He should be drafted sometime on Day Three. But rest assured he will have some ‘splainin’ to do in the interview rooms with NFL Personnel People.

I decided it was time to gird up my loins, and make a final determination on whether CREED HUMPHREY is the best damn OC in college football, or a pumped up, overrated collegian with not much of a pro future. The young man looks pumped up and kinda puffy to me, not unlike the Pillsbury Dough Boy. And I just don’t see him dominating defenders that are smaller and less talented than he is touted to be. But having said that, I would then add that he looks very natural in his pass protection work. He back-pedals with ease and has sturdy balance. I find him standing around watching the end of plays nowhere near a block, but I also see him at times leaving his double team assignment and helping a teammate who is about to lose his man for a potential TFL/sack of RATTLER. He can’t keep up with really speedy defenders, but that’s in good part why he’s on the interior, not on the edge at OT. He needs to wind up on an NFL roster for a team with a solid teaching OL Coach. There is no way I see him in Round One, and I am not even sure about Round 2. But I will say that he is a Top 100 player and the best OC prospect around right now. I would also say that he should come out for the Draft now, because I am not convinced his current situation is going to improve his pro prospects thru coaching or scheme next season. He is not a sure plug-and-play guy, but has long term starting potential.

Now let’s wrap up this week’s analysis with one of the biggest puzzles in the QB pool. Details are different, but I see DESMOND RIDDER (#9) of Cincinnati as this year’s QB scouting challenge, much like JORDAN LOVE was last year. There are two major differences that work in RIDDER’s favor. He is leading an undefeated team into the Bowl Season, and he has been their starter for 3 years. He has the athleticism that LOVE showed at Utah State. I am also impressed with progress he has made as a passer. In 2019, leading his team to an 11-3 record, he completed only 55.1% of his throws and had a barely acceptable 18/9 TD/INT ratio. This season he has completed 66.5% of his throws and improved slightly with a 16/6 ratio. In their Conference Title Game, which was played in cold, windy, rainy conditions in Cincinnati, RIDDER completed 19 of 29 throws, 65% and 2 TD passes. He also rushed 16 times for 83 yards and 1 TD. He’s a solidly built young man at 6’4, 215 lbs. Half of those runs were RPO decisions, the other half were scrambles out of a collapsing pocket. He is not pro-ready right now, and is only a Junior. However, if he enters the 2021 Draft class, I suspect he will be an early 3rd Rounder, competing for an NFL starting QB job in 2022 or 2023. I like him as a prospect, better than I did LOVE from the last Draft.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.