What Caught My Eye Week 9

November 4, 2020

It was a tough weekend for college players and I don’t mean on the field. It seems that several fairly well known name players had difficulty sitting behind the wheel of motorized vehicles and staying safe and sound and sober. The true irony here for me is that the two most prominent names involved in these incidents were both in my notebook as being discussed in this space, this week. I think upon further review, we will skip the discussion about Iowa’s WR IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE, since he was charged with OWI and will now face a 1 game suspension this weekend against Michigan State. I will, however, share my notes of Georgia S RICHARD LeCOUNTE, who was not charged in his accident, though he will likely miss a couple of games because of relatively minor injuries suffered in the accident.

LeCOUNTE (#2) is a slightly undersized player at 5’11/190, but is a very good all-around athlete with a high FBI. He basically runs the secondary for the Bulldogs based on his reads of opposing Offenses out on the field, lining his guys up and directing coverage situations. He shows good speed and quickness, as well as a willingness to throw his body into action. Last year in his 14 starts, he posted 61 tackles, third most on the team. And he’s showing more of that willingness to lay the lumber this year. In the defensive contest with Kentucky (14-3), LeCOUNTE was credited with 13 Tackles, 6 of them solo. But what makes him special is that he is also smart and active in pass defense. Against Kentucky, he was credited with 3 PD, just missing an Interception on one. He is also timely in making plays at critical moments in a game. In the 3rd Quarter against the Wildcats, he was in the right place at the right time to recover a fumble to stop a drive. Late in the game with Kentucky driving, he posted a PBU on a 4th Down play. There is a chance that he gets taken in the Top 100 of the 2021 Draft, but even if he lasts until Day 3, I would expect him to be a starting NFL S by this time next year. And yes, in his spare time, he should be a very valuable player on Special Teams. Good luck to him on a quick and full recovery from his accident wounds.

Many NFL scouts believe UGA has a couple of solid DL prospects for the Draft just about every year. Most folks also feel that the top SEC programs collect top talent along the DL every recruiting season. For instance, in this years UGA Frosh group, 4 of their 25 players are DL, and that’s down a bit from the usual half-dozen every year. So in essence, quantity and quality means it is hard to gauge how good some of their DL really are because of shared playing time in that position group. HC KIRBY SMART collects DL like some people collect classic cars. Junior JORDAN DAVIS may be their highest ranked DL prospect, but no sooner was I making notations on his early play last Saturday, then his #99 jersey disappeared. Turns out, he was out for the remainder of the game with his right arm in a sling on the UGA sideline. Never fear, plug in DEVONTE WYATT (#95) to replace him. And by the end of the first half, I was taking notes on WYATT’s efforts. WYATT is a strong 6’3/301 lb. inside guy who plays strong and does show some limited mobility. My one complaint would be that, at times, he is too content to just stay engaged with his blocker if the ball goes outside. However, in his expanded time on the field, he ended up with 7 tackles, 2 solo. He spent most of his Saturday in slide proximity to the football.  I think he could provide an NFL team with a solid rotational player that can fill multiple spots along the DL. He should be a solid Day 3 Draftee.

I had made a few notations in my scouting notebook in the Minnesota/Michigan game in the first week of Big Ten action about RB MOHAMED IBRAHIM (#24). IBRAHIM was the No. 2 RB last season at Minnesota, gaining over 600 yards while playing second fiddle to RODNEY SMITH. But clearly IBRAHIM has become the man this year, and is headed for big numbers, unless HC FLECK uses him up by mid-season. Against Maryland, the 5’10/210 IBRAHIM carried the ball 41 times for 207 yards and 4 TD’s. All 4 TD’s came in the first half, as did much of his yardage. Disappointingly, the Gophers coaches continued to pound him between the tackles the entire second half, despite Maryland lining up 7-8 players in the box much of the time to stop him. But clearly IBRAHIM’s talent and effort exceeds the strategic acumen of his coaches. He has decent speed and and gets to the corner, but his best work is cutting to open spaces and bouncing off tacklers running between the tackles. As many scouts might say, ‘this kid has some juice’  when they hand him the ball. He is a North/South runner and reminds me some of MARK INGRAM, now of the Ravens. I don’t think he gets drafted until Day 3, but if he tests well enough in Indy who knows?

A few times each weekend, if I watch enough games, a couple of players really catch my eye, that might mot have been on my radar at all previously. My biggest pleasant surprise last weekend was DONTAY DEMUS, Jr. (#7), WR of Maryland. DEMUS is a sculpted, 6’3/217, wideout with good speed and excellent hands. DEMUS can stretch the field, or catch the ball in traffic on medium routes. He looks to to running good patterns. He led the challenged Terps passing attack last season with 41 receptions, including 8 TD’s. As the Terps came from behind to nip the Golden Gophers in OT, DEMUS collected 7 receptions for 101 yds, 14.4 ypc and a TD. He is only a junior, but if he keeps this up, I think his eyes will turn to a pro career and the 2021 NFL Draft. TUA’s little brother, TAULIA, is now DEMUS’ QB and looks to be a quick learner. This should mean more passes in general in the Terps O, with DEMUS being the main recipient of the added receiving work. I will be watching his numbers, but am already impressed by his athleticism and receiving skills.

DEMUS is the only wideout I had in mind for a thumbnail this week, so let’s take a pause here and look at my Top 10 WR list for the 2021 Draft. I found this group hard to judge because more than a few have opted out of play this Covid season, as well as the recent injury ending the season for ‘Bama’s WADDLE.

  2. DeVONTA SMITH    Alabama
  3. JAYLEN WADDLE  Alabama   INJ
  4. RONDALE  MOORE    Purdue
  5. RASHOD BATEMAN   Minnesota
  7. CHRIS OLAVE    Ohio State
  8. SETH WILLIAMS   Auburn
  9. TYLAN WALLACE   Oklahoma State

A Draftnik friend of mine sent me a text over the weekend, simple saying Fresno State’s RON RIVERS will be on an NFL roster next season. I had dutifully recorded the Fresno/Colorado State game and was fixing to watch RIVERS and a couple of Rams players for possible inclusion in this space. Did my viewing Monday afternoon and you were correct Brian. I share your regard for his talent after watching game tape. Let’s start with the backdrop info that his father, RON, also played at Fresno State from 1991-93, leaving the school as it’s second leading career rusher. Then he played in the NFL, perhaps most notably as a back-up for BARRY SANDERS in Detroit. So now you know that he has the kind of gene pool that Pigskin likes. What makes RIVERS so attractive to me as a pro prospect is that he is a complete RB. By that, I mean he can rush, he can catch, and he can block in pass pro. He is a bit small at 5’9/195, but in today’s NFL, those numbers don’t automatically disqualify you for an NFL job. At the worst, his pro team may want to limit his touches most games. Against a solid Colorado State team, RIVERS carried the ball 23 times for 95 yards and 2 TD’s. He is really dynamic with the ball in his hands, with a combination of speed, quickness, and elusiveness. But the frosting on the cake for today’s talent scouts is his ability to catch and run as a a receiver. On that front, RIVERS caught 5 balls and scooted for 69 yards and another TD. I would also note that he doesn’t just catch dump-off throws from his QB. He actually gets out into routes, as evidenced by the TD catch. I will add to the player assessment and say that he will also get drafted in 2021. Probably not until Day 3, but someone is going to want this young man and his talents to help round out their RB room.

Since I mentioned Colorado State players in the previous paragraph, I want to mention the play and prospect potential TREY McBRIDE (#85) TE. He’s a full sized guy at 6’4/260 lbs., or so. He showed very good hands in this contest and the ability to create separation on his routes. He had 45 catches in 2019, and with the loss of senior WR WARREN JACKSON to Covid Opt-Out, he may end up leading his team in receptions this season. McBRIDE can crank up the speed once he gets the ball in his hands and hits the open field. He also looked to be a solid blocker, and capable of handling an inline TE position. In the game against Fresno, he had 8 receptions for 130 yards and a TD. With his frame and his playing tools, he looked like a legit 2021 Draft prospect if he comes out early.

I must confess that in many cases, if I get a man-crush on the play of a guy the first few times I watch his game tape, I may indeed find it hard not to continue to like his chances as a solid Draft choice from that point on. Such a guy is ALARIC JACKSON (#77), OT of Iowa. Watching his play against a fundamentally sound Northwestern squad, I came away still thinking of him as a very solid First Round OT prospect. Perhaps not as high as his former teammate TRISTAN WIRFS went at Pick 13 this past Draft, but not far behind that slot. JACKSON has been a starter since his freshman season. He’s a powerful man at 6’6/320, and looks to have long arms and a powerful hand punch. Coming out of the Iowa program, he has had very solid coaching in OL play, and also worked in an offense that requires their OL to be proficient in both run blocking and pass pro. JACKSON can handle both and does so quite effectively, thank you. Though he’s not a road grader per se, I like the fact that he does not feel the need to dance on his feet too much and prefers to initiate contact even with edge-rushers in front of him. He then jolts them with his powerful hands. My notes start out with the comment, “I luv his quickness for his size”.  He’s the complete package, IMO.

I had been looking forward to MAC play opening up (this coming week), and a player I wanted to eyeball carefully was big DT (6’4/310) JACK HEFLIN of N. Illinois. Then as I did my projection for the Iowa/Northwestern game, I became aware that HEFLIN (#96) had made the short distance transfer from DeKalb, IL to Iowa City and was a Hawkeye. Good move on his part, IMO. It gives him a season at the Big Ten level of play, in a program that plays some standard pro defensive scheme of a 4-3. And I was not disappointed at all with what I saw. I knew that he was not a ballerina in pads, but more so a big body with enough muscle and short area quicks to hold up that line-of-scrimmage. He also showed some nice awareness as to where the ball was going. He plays to the whistle, and though I would not expect Sacks from him, he can push the pocket and keep the QB from stepping up into the pocket to escape the outside rush. Late in the 3rd Quarter, he made a very nice TFL of a RB trying to break to the outside. Again, a case of ball awareness that some guys just don’t have. He was spelled occasionally, but played a very high percentage of snaps against the Wildcats. At game’s end, even in a loss, HEFLIN was credited with 7 tackles, 4 of them solo. That’s a very nice day’s work from the DT position.

And now we come to the case of a very good, if not great, college defender that still has scouting people trying to decide if he can transition his game from college to pro play. His name is PADDY FISHER, (#42) an Inside LB who has been playing in the image of his Head Coach and former Wildcat, LB PAT FITZGERALD. This game was his 40th start in his Wildcats career. FISHER burst onto the scene as a starting LB as a true freshman, and recorded 113 tackles. He posted 116 tackles as a soph, and 89 tackles last season in a disastrous 3-9 season for the Wildcats. However, some scouts think he lacks the foot speed to play at the next level, and others want to move him outside to a 5-technique and turn him into an edge rusher. I watched very closely on Saturday to see how FISHER would handle pass overage over the middle of the field. I felt like he played Iowa TE SAM LaPORTA to a draw on crossing patterns. He just missed one INT and did have another PD. He was his usual self in ball pursuit overall, totaling 11 tackles, 6 of them solo. Several of those solo tackles were on receivers taking dump-offs and him not allowing them to get yards after the catch. I have been surprised that a majority of Draftniks I have read do NOT even have him late in their Top 100 lists. That leads me to believe that a guy as productive and football smart as FISHER will likely have to wait to Day Three for his name to be called. How about if I just project that he will play more NFL football than more than a few guys who get drafted ahead of him. Think BLAKE MARTINEZ, who has been a top ten tackler League wide his entire NFL career!

My final prospect for this week’s discussion is CB TRE BROWN (#6) of Oklahoma. I refer to him as a mighty-mite player at 5’10/186. But don’t talk about him in the same breath with so many ‘ole’ DB’s who think tackling is beneath their skill level. BROWN will likely get most of his pro action as a Nickel Corner, which has basically become a starting position around the League. He has great quickness and burst to the ball, and will not hesitate to play the slot receivers tight. He also reads the QB’s eyes and anticipates where throws are going. And best of all is his absolute desire to be one of the leading tacklers at the CB position in any game he plays in. Oklahoma, after struggling to an 0-2 start, seems to be rolling now, piling up points and playing some solid Defense against Tech. On the game, BROWN was credited with 6 tackles and 2 PD. He is absolutely an annoying thorn in the side of offenses that he lines up against every weekend.  The Sooners prevailed 62-28 over Texas Tech and BROWN is playing a large role in their defensive growth as a team this season. Mark him down as another Day Three Draftee!

We are getting close to Pac-12 and more non-power 5 Conference play. Looking forward to full slates over the next month, starting this coming weekend.