What Caught My Eye Week 5

October 9, 2020

There are times when due to the lack of other viewing options one is forced to watch a game that they might otherwise have skipped right past. I found myself in that position last Friday night. The only palatable televised game for me to watch was BYU hosting La Tech. Nothing outstanding to my mind, but likely a competitive contest with a few player names that I can recall noticing last season. As soon as I tuned into the brief pre-game discussion, a smile crept across my face. They were talking about BYU QB ZACH WILSON. I was quite impressed watching him 2 seasons ago when he was a frosh for the Cougars.

WILSON still has a baby face, but a couple of things struck me while watching a few minutes of pregame warm-ups. He had a more solid, mature looking body. In two years, he had pumped up to 6’3, 210 lbs. And he wore C for Captain on his uniform. The game hadn’t even reached half-time and I was already delighted with WILSON’s performance. He is still an athletic performer with very good speed for a QB. In that sense, he reminded me a bit of STEVE YOUNG. He was very animated and clearly controlled that Offense. He gains yardage with his legs when pass plays fizzle out and has the strength to make deep throws. He extends plays when the pocket collapses and appears to read the field quite well. BYU pounded La Tech overall, and WILSON’s stats clearly showed his influence on the outcome. As a passer, he went 24/26 for a 92% completion rate. His passing yardage was 325 yards with a 2/0 TD/INT ratio. He also toted the rock for 43 yards on 8 carries, including another 3 TD’s. #1 is a junior, but if he decides to declare for the 2021 Draft, I think he could rank as a candidate for late First Round consideration. I still like this kid a lot!

There was another fairly well known name on the defensive side of the ball for BYU. His name is KHYIRIS TONGA (#95), a massive (6’4/320) senior . He is NOT a dominant player, ala HALOTI NGATA, during his playing career. However, he is a huge,  solid anchor for a DL. He shows good functional strength and could help numerous NFL teams in their attempt to control the running games of opponents. He gets a little push, and plays out most downs to the whistle. He carries himself with an upbeat, smiling personality and is popular with his teammates. Don’t expect sacks, but he can use his strength and straight-line power to push the pocket. For this game, he recorded 2 T’s and 1 QBH. I think he projects to Round 5/6 as a rotational run stuffer, especially for a base 3-4 defensive scheme.

My Saturday viewing kicked-off with another SEC showdown game featuring South Carolina visiting Florida in Gainesville. I see the Gators as a Top 10 team, and the Gamecocks will be fighting to finish with an above .500 record. We talked about QB TRASK and his superior play after the Gators swarmed Ole Miss two weeks ago. His numbers weren’t quite as good in this contest, but still mark him as a highly regarded QB for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Remember that the Gators were loaded at the WR position last year, with 3 players drafted and all making NFL rosters. The cupboard was far from left bare, but it is up to a couple of the talented remaining receivers to emerge as replacements. The star of the receiving corps (other than TE PITTS) against South Carolina was senior KADARIUS TONEY (#1), a relatively smallish (5’11/190) speedster who caught only 10 balls last season while also backing up SWAIN/CLEVELAND as a Return Specialist. TONEY was “the Man” for TRASK last Saturday with 6 receptions for 86-yards and 1 TD. He also returned 2 Punts for 42 yards. TONEY is fast, as well as quick. He also shows very nice contact balance to avoid going down on first contact. He should make a deep threat as a pro, and may see a lot of time in the slot. He showed his turbo-charged speed on a 57-yard TD catch and run in the 3rd Quarter.  This guy should be climbing up prospect ranking lists if he keeps this up. I will say Round 4 for now.

I watched the Tennessee/Missouri game into the second half. And the two guys I wanted to study both showed exactly what I expected to see. Which is a good thing for both players.

TREY SMITH (#73) is absolutely massive at 6’6/335, but shows uncommon agility for a guy that big. He absolutely stuns defenders with his hand punch. And I don’t mean just his first blow. Defenders who are trying to get past him and into the backfield can expect to get multiple hand punches as he stands his ground and gives up very little ground back into the pocket area. He also displays enough straight line speed and agility to get up to second level blocks in the running game. Like a flash of lightning, I jotted down a note that he reminded me both in size, and style of play, of now Chiefs OG KELECHI OSEMELE, who has been holding together a depleted OL group for the defending Super Bowl champs. OSEMELE has been bulldozing defenders for 8 seasons in the NFL. Look for SMITH to be a Day Two Draftee come the 2021 NFL Draft.

Lined up on the other side of the line-of-scrimmage from SMITH was perhaps Missouri’s top player in NICK BOLTON, LB (#32). BOLTON is a very active, athletic LB who basically makes sure his defensive teammates are properly lined up before the ball is snapped. Then his job is usually to follow the ball. This is the traditional see ball, get ball style of play, but with a twist. BOLTON is also proficient at dropping into short coverage, especially over the middle of the field. His coaches will tell you what a smart player he is, in addition to his athleticism. BOLTON is a junior that recorded 107 tackles in 2019, his first full year as a starter. He also recorded 8 PBU’s and 2 INT’s, which should give you a clear indication of how versatile he is against both the run and pass. In the Loss to Tennessee, BOLTON was credited with 17 tackles, 8 of them being solo. BOLTON is a bit less that the ideal height for an NFL IB at 6’0, but weighs a solid 232 lbs. I do not expect that to be much concern when scouts review his game tape. I expect BOLTON to declare for the 2021 Draft and be an early Day Two draftee.

I also wanted to mention that I liked what I saw of Tennessee WR JOSH PALMER (#4). PALMER is the leading returning Vols wideout from 2019. With JENNINGS and CALLAWAY both on NFL rosters this season, PALMER’s 34 receptions from last season were third most overall. He has nice size at 6’2/200, and looked to be running some tight routes. He also showed good hands and some nice footwork on sideline catches. His speed does not look elite, so he will clearly be labeled as a possession receiver in scouts’ notebooks. I’m figuring that PALMER can’t miss overall in his pro aspirations. He’s a native Canadian and most certainly will bring serious interest from CFL teams if he can’t impress NFL scouts enough to make an NFL Training Camp roster.

While watching the ALABAMA/TEXAS A&M game, it became clear to me that I was watching one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football this season, in the person of JAYLEN WADDLE. WADDLE battles weekly with teammate DeVONTA SMITH for the title of best WR on the ‘Bama roster. What sets him apart from SMITH is his Return abilities and quickness, though SMITH might be a tad faster in a straight line sprint. In the first quarter, it became clear that WADDLE was a beast and was going to be a clear and present danger to the A&M defense. He is a scary blend of flat out speed and elusive open field quickness and vision. WADDLE (#17) is a 5’10/185 junior, and creates excellent separation on his routes by exploding out of his cuts and leaving defenders to eat his dust. He shows good contact balance and breaks tackles once at top speed. I am anxious to see what his speed is running a Combine 40, and other on-field drills. Against A&M, he caught 5 passes for 142 yards and 1 TD. The TD was a pretty catch and run of 87 yards. He also returned 1 Punt for 11 yards. He has been mentioned in the same breath as TYREEK HILL by some NFL scouts. I’m not sure he’d win a straight line sprint with HILL, but he brings that same kind of explosiveness with the ball in his hands.

I spent a good deal of time during this game watching the work along the ‘Bama OL of both LT ALEX LEATHERWOOD (#70) and LG DEONTE BROWN (#65). I do believe that LEATHERWOOD, despite his solid work at OT for the Crimson Tide, will be making a position switch as a pro, inside to OG. LEATHERWOOD does not have the elite foot speed and balance that pro teams are looking for on the outside. He works hard and gets good grades on game tape, but he struggles with lateral movement against speed rushers and gets overpowered by big DL. He gets by at the SEC level, but he needs to hide some of his limitations playing on the interior at the pro level to my eyes.

I think BROWN is the prototype of the inside road grader that can propel a team that runs the ball between the tackles to create large holes for RB’s to plow through. I have not often seen players at his size (6’4/335) who show the explosion and strength that BROWN does. He also may have the biggest body base that I have seen, watching blockers in the past. He shows very good balance and can blast defenders with his hand punch power. I also like the way he stays on his feet. I only saw him get rocked a couple of times by a pro sized DL for the Aggies, but he recovered his balance quickly and looked for someone else to block. I was also impressed that BROWN stayed on the field all game long without needing a “blow” which is pretty common with jumbo sized linemen on either side of the line-of-scrimmage. I might also add that I thought he was more than adequate setting up and keeping the pocket secure up the middle. I would not hesitate to grab this guy on Day Two of the Draft, especially if my team practiced a run heavy offensive scheme.

Staying in the SEC for a moment… everyone wants to hear about the QB when the Draft approaches. And why not? The NFL , and football in general, passes more and more every season. And it’s more fun for Fantasy Leagues and other forms of gambling. Last weekend, I wanted to put the magnifying glass on KELLEN MOND of Texas A&M. My first observation is always to consider the opponent when I watch a player at any position. I throw out the QB stat sheet for any of these FBS schools piling up points and stats against Campbell right now. However, facing the Alabama D is a major challenge. They have just as many 5-Star athletes playing on the D as they do on the Offense. MOND has been the starting QB for the Aggies since his true frosh season. He has provided a positive influence on their Offense not only with his arm, but also with his legs, but he just has not progressed like I though he would. His accuracy is still erratic and that may be attributed to some inconsistent mechanics as well as difficulty processing what he sees in trying to read the defense. He also forces too many throws into traffic, resulting in more INT’s than you see from top tier QB prospects. Last season was his highest college career completion percentage at a modest 61.6%, and his 21/9 TD/INT ratio was also disappointingly average at best. Against the tough ‘Bama D, he was 25/44, 58.3% with 3 TD passes and 1 INT. ‘Bama’s smothering Defense was partly to blame for his mediocre performance, but his deliberate decision making and lack of timing with his receivers accounted for many of his incompletions. I just do not think his overall skills will translate to play at the NFL level. He might make a pretty good XFL QB if that League does return in 2021.

Enjoy  you game viewing this weekend. The elite games are few but prospects abound everywhere  these days. Only a few weeks before the BIG Ten joins the fun. Can’t wait.