Not that it should come as any surprise, but while watching college games in Week 6 of this fractured season, it reminded me that a college QB is more important than ever to his team. The same could be said for pro QB’s as well. So let’s start this week’s WCME with a breakdown of my Top 10 2021 Draft eligible QB’s. Some have yet to play this year, and some have opted out already. So be it… these are my guys today.
- TREVOR LAWRENCE Clemson
- JUSTIN FIELDS Ohio State
- KYLE TRASK Florida
- ZACH WILSON BYU
- TREY LANCE North Dakota St
- MALIK CUNNINGHAM Louisville
- MAC JONES Alabama
- SAM EHLINGER Texas
- JAMIE NEWMAN Georgia/Wake Forest
- BRADY WHITE Memphis
And out of the blue comes a player whom I had not reconnected with on my prospect board in MALIK CUNNINGHAM (#3) Louisville QB, who has more than a few similarities to his predecessor as a Cardinal named LAMAR JACKSON. Now don’t get too excited because I am not about to tell you that some NFL team is going to find the next LAMAR when they select CUNNINGHAM in one of the next two drafts. However, he has played well while with Louisville and possesses at least some of the physical traits of JACKSON. Let us settle something right away. MALIK used to be Micale, but he got tired of the sports world getting his unusual first name wrong. So he now is listed as Malik. He is indeed a superior athlete with run/pass abilities. Last season as a sophomore, he won the full time starting job and posted some relatively impressive stats. He completed 62.6% of his throws for 22 TD’s and only 5 INT’s. He also stretched his legs out to run 482 yards and another 6 TD’s. Last weekend, the Cardinals fell to Ga Tech in Atlanta, but CUNNINGHAM held up his end of the bargain going 19/33, 229 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT. He also rushed for 50 yards and another 2 TD’s. My observation would also be that he’s playing with a pretty young group of skill guys, and they have dropped more than a few of his throws. As you saw above, I have him ranked as my 6th best QB Draft prospect for 2021 if he chooses to declare. I might add that he’s a lot of fun to watch on game day.
Almost everyone wants instant gratification in everything these days. That has led many people to overlook some players that are traditionally called late bloomers. Watching the Cardinals play last week, I couldn’t help but notice a young man who has really started to flash as an impact player on Defense. JARED GOLDWIRE (#90) DT, is a big fella (6’6/305) who came to the team via the Juco route. He was a part time starter (5 starts) last year and added some good weight to get over 300 lbs. and has developed into a solid pro prospect and impact defender this year. Against Tech, he was credited with 6 tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL and 1 xtra point blocked. I am thinking his athleticism and muscular body will show quite well at the NFL Combine next year. He doesn’t use his hands and arms well enough to disengage from blockers, thus allowing lesser athletes to take him out of plays, but I believe he is enough of an athlete to be coached up in techniques like that. Right now, I see him as a potential Day 3 Draftee.
TRAVIS ETIENNE (#9) RB of Clemson was one of my Top 5 RB prospects last season, and I was quite surprised he decided to play a senior campaign at Clemson, but he’s back and making ACC opponents miserable with his running, blocking and receiving, much to the delight of QB LAWRENCE. During his stay at Clemson, he has taken slight frame and currently totes the ball at almost 210 lbs. And he sure does NOT look like he has sacrificed any speed weighing almost 20 lbs. more than he did as a frosh. He has shown good hands and of course excellent elusiveness in the open field as a receiver. He may be most proud of his improvement as a blocker in the pocket, which his coaches gush about. Clemson made mincemeat of Miami in Clemson last Saturday night with a 42-17 win, which wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. Other than LAWRENCE himself at QB, ETIENNE was the offensive star on that night. He carried the ball 17 times for 149 yards and 2 TD’s. His long run was a sideline tightrope journey of 72 yards to the end zone. He also caught 8 balls for another 73 yards. He is the real deal, and I will porcelain right now that he’s the top RB for the 2021 Draft, and a sure-fire Round 1 prospect. A great player and a fun guy to watch.
The Longhorns of TEXAS seem to be building the program back to prominence under HC TOM HERMAN. And a big part of that process is improving the talent base through recruiting the rich harvest of Texas high school football. The base of that recruiting is bringing in the big country boys who play on the line-of-scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. A big win in the rebuilding of that presence has been led by LT SAM COSMI (#52), now a junior, who has been starting since his frosh season, and though a Junior this year, may be a leading OT prospect for the 2021 Draft. COSMI is still a long lean lad that the training staff has been trying to bulk up with good weight since he got to Austin. He is now listed at 6’7, 310 lbs. and uses his length, athleticism, and great hand use to excel. He is not a bulldozer in the run game, but can push his man around and seal off inside pursuit. He is especially effective in pass pro, where agile footwork, long arms, and good hand use keep edge rushers tied up and off his body. I have him rated in my Top 10 OL rankings if he comes out early. His best may still be untapped at the collegiate level.
SAM EHLINGER (#11) is finally a senior in his TEXAS football career. Last week in the 4 OT Loss to Oklahoma, it marked his 37th career start and his final game in the Red River rivalry. Despite more Sam Heroics, the Longhorns lost in 4 OT’s to Oklahoma 45-53. With a little more help from his teammates, EHLINGER could easily be an all-time QB in almost all good categories. The question now is quickly becoming, will his style of play and physical attributes translate to the NFL? I have little doubt that he gets drafted, and can make an NFL roster, but I tend to think he’s more likely a career backup, with a few starter trials that just don’t quite make it. His arm looks about average to me, but I am not sure about his accuracy in today’s pro game where the vets are now approaching 70% completion percentages. He likes to move around a lot, and some of that is from lack of support, but the pros will be head hunting on this solidly built scrambler. His 2019 stats give you an idea of his overall game; 65.2% completion average, with 32 TD’s & 10 INT’s. He also rushed for 663 yards and 7 TD’s. Get the picture? It’s pretty much the same this year. I am just not sure that he reads the field quickly enough, nor gets his throws off soon enough to not become an INT machine in the NFL. However, I think some NFL scouting departments will luv his style and think their coaching staff can develop him. We shall see, but I will say this right now… if you have not seen him play, do so in the next couple of months. He’s a one man army and lots of fun to watch. Let’s borrow a historic football name and call him Slingin’ Sammy Ehlinger!
LANE KIFFIN appears to be off to a flying start as the new head man in Oxford, MS. He is operating with a revamped Offensive scheme and the Rebels are scoring points in bunches. The Defense is still in a transition stage, but with time and another solid recruiting class (which is anticipated), Ole Miss could be back in the hunt as a challenging test every week for their opponents. One of the factors in today’s college football that is showing significant impact on leveling the playing field is the Transfer Portal, which is allowing student/athletes to escape bad situations at their original school of choice. It’s almost like a job search website. And players who have earned their degrees can move on to greener college pastures without waiting penalties. One such player is KENNY YEBOAH (#84), who is a grad transfer from Temple, where he has had to endure multiple Head Coach changes. YEBOAH is an athletic, pass catching weapon, not totally dissimilar to former Rebel EVAN ENGRAM, now in the NFL. He’s a long target at 6’4, and can block a little with his 240 lb. frame, but getting downfield and outrunning LB’s and S’s is his main game and he’s been very productive at it already this season. In the shootout Loss (48-63) to Alabama last weekend, YEBOAH caught 7 balls for 181 yards and 2 TD’s. His long play was a catch and run of 68-yards and a TD. His work was part of a high scoring event, but don’t write off his productivity too quickly. He was still working against a very talented Crimson Tide D. He’s a smooth strider with good hands and is a true big play threat. He is seemingly headed for a high prospect rating in what could be a banner Draft for the TE position next Spring.
I was totally shocked when NAJEE HARRIS (#22) of Alabama did not turn pro after last season. I had him rated as one of the top 5 RB’s for the 2020 Draft, with Round 2/3 potential. Well, he’s back for 2020 and doing some amazing things for the Tide. I currently like him as the No. 2 RB Prospect right behind Mr. ETIENNE, who I spoke about above. There is a new look Offense in Tuscaloosa this season as 2nd Year Offensive Coordinator STEVE SARKISIAN implements even more of his philosophies on their Offense. And a part of it involves getting the RB position into the passing game more. NAJEE is proving to be just what SARK is looking for. But in an absolutely fascinating (as long as you’re not a Defense fan) shootout with OLE MISS, HARRIS was given the ball 23 carries as runner, just like in the old days with ‘Bama. He responded with a monster performance of 206 yards on those 23 carries. And the end zone was his favorite place to conclude his efforts, with 5 rushing TD’s. He also caught 3 balls for another 42 yards. He was fast; he was elusive; he was overpowering. He reminds a bit of DERRICK HENRY, but not quite as strong. However, he may have a bit more finesse to his game. He is listed as 6’2/230 right now and is a game breaking threat with the ball that also punished defenders who must take him on. He’s a solid First Rounder on my prospect list!
Sticking with the SEC for a minute, I luv college football enough that scouting for pro prospects is not my sole interest in watching as many games as possible. I get almost as excited by no-names who emerge on Saturday, with not much chance to even get a sniff from the NFL. GEORGIA is ranked, and looks good as usual this season, but has had a nightmare trying to fill the shoes of 6 year starting QB JAKE FROMM. OK, it was only 3 years, but it felt like forever, just ask opposing SEC Coaches. He’s now siting and learning for the NFL BILLS. UGA Head Coach KIRBY SMART, thought he had the spot filled with Grad Transfer JAMIE NEWMAN from Wake Forest. The Covid-19 pandemic caused NEWMAN to opt-out and start training for the NFL. Since then, they have been trying to get former Southern Cal QB J.T. DANIELS declared medically eligible for immediate insertion into their program. DANIELS has been rehabbing his injured knee, and may show up in uniform some game in the near future. So, for now, enter STETSON BENNETT (#13), who came to Athens via the JC route. BENNETT is slightly undersized in today’s QB world at 5’11/190. And his arm is not a rocket, and he won’t win a 40-yard dash contest. However, he’s a quiet, confident leader, with a big chip on his shoulder, trying to live out his dream of leading the UGA football team. And he is doing just fine, thank you. Versus a solid Tennessee football team last Saturday, BENNETT went 16/27 for 238 yards and 2 TD’s. He also rushed 6 times for 22 yards and another TD. Did I mention that the Bulldogs are unbeaten with him at the helm?I find his story totally refreshing and am looking forward to him leading his team on. But no, he won’t be on my prospect list any time soon.
Georgia is stacked with underclassmen, some of whom will likely come out for the 2021 Draft. Their secondary is loaded with prospects, but perhaps their most productive prospect on D is their LB MONTY RICE (#32) who is a senior. RICE led the team with 89 tackles last year. He is off to a great start for 2020. Last week in the big win over Tennessee, he was a major impact player. He was credited with 8 tackles, 5 of them solos. He had 2 TFL, one of them a strip sack, which he recovered and ran back for a TD. He also recovered a second fumble in this game. He’s not an elite player from a pro perspective and will probably be a Day 3 guy, say Round 5. However, he does do a lot of the dirty work and will likely play some key roles on Special Teams as a pro.
Big Ten football is almost ready to join the Pandemic Play Party, so hang in there folks.