WHO CAUGHT MY EYE Week 1, 2020

September 20, 2020

This continues to evolve into the strangest, most trying year in US/World history. And nowhere has it been felt more than in the world of sports. Just when one thinks the new rules and guidelines have been clearly defined, something changes… again. Now, just as many of us have accustomed ourselves to the concept of no Big Ten or Pac 12 Football this Fall, the former has changed course and announced an 8-game season to begin in mid-October. Pac 12 meetings are in place to do the same thing. But for now, I will plod along with a slightly modified version of WCME, which begins… now…

Let’s start two weeks ago with a fairly significant upset of Iowa State by LA/Lafayette in Iowa. Head Coach BILLY NAPIER may have something brewing down in bayou country. NAPIER led the Rajin’ Cajuns to an 11-3 mark last season, with 3 players drafted by the NFL. And he had 82 returning lettermen when the year began.

But, perhaps the most heartening performance of the game was by Cyclones ER/DE JaQUAN BAILEY, who missed the final 9 games of the season with an injury. I never would have guessed that he was coming back from major surgery by watching him perform against Lafayette. He showed his old speed off the edge as a pass rusher (including 1 sack), and even hurdled blockers on several occasions. He will be a solid candidate for Top 100 Prospect lists if he keeps that kind of effort up. Listed at 6’2/255, a key question will be whether he can stand up as a pro OB, or just be a ER specialist.

Iowa State QB BROCK PURDY has some strong support from certain quarters as a pro prospect, but he had a disappointing performance in the loss. He was not much more than a 50% thrower and did not show the mobility that I remember him having last season. In his defense, I was unimpressed with his receiving group, who created little separation and dropped multiple throws throughout the game. He’s a junior that could come out for the 2021 Draft if he picks up the tempo, but can return for one more go at it if needed. The return of TE CHARLIE KOLAR, who missed this game with an injury, will likely boost PURDY’s performances. KOLAR stands about 6’5/250, and caught 51 balls last season. We should be talking about KOLAR as the season progresses. He is near the top of a very talented group of TE’s that are eligible for the 2021 Draft.

Back to the Rajin’ Cajuns for just a moment. They have a very strong, tag team rotation at RB in ELIJAH MITCHELL (1147 YDS/16TD) and TREY RAGAS (820 YDS/11TD). Both players are about 5’11/215, and are legit NFL prospects. The catch for both of these guys in today’s NFL is the reality that their offense does not throw to their RB. Keep your eyes on these guys and their team overall. I know I will be doing so.

It would not be “overkill” to put a weekly item about TREVOR LAWRENCE in these articles after every Clemson game. As boring as it might be to extoll his virtues as a football player, it would be well deserved. This guy may be the cause of a veritable stampede among some two dozen NFL teams to “tank” for a shot at drafting him to guide their franchise. In a very dominant Clemson team performance in their opening win over Wake Forest, LAWRENCE posted what are pretty much ho-hum numbers. He was 22/28, (only just under 79% completion percentage), for 351 yards and 1 TD. He has shown us in the past year that he excels as a runner, and is also an undisputed leader within his team’s locker room. He’s the best all-around QB I have seen since a guy named ANDREW LUCK stomped through the Pac-12 a decade ago or so. What may be most impressive is just how skillfully he runs the Clemson offensive scheme each week. This is a QB Superman in disguise as a long haired Clark Kent. I might suggest the biggest question mark leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft will end up being who goes at Number 2, after LAWRENCE is taken.

Speaking of star power and football excellence, I could not keep my eyes off of MYLES MURPHY, Clemson’s 5-star frosh DE in the Wake contest. MURPHY stands 6’5, weighs 275 lbs. and may make a guy named CLOWNEY totally forgettable in ACC annals. In his collegiate debut, MURPHY posted 7 tackles, including 2 sacks. By halftime, the Wake coaching staff must have been trying to implement their own defensive scheme of Where’s Waldo. MURPHY looks to be a super frosh who must be schemed for on every down he plays.

Watching the Notre Dame/Duke opener, I had to chuckle when TONY DUNGY, disguising as NBC’s color analyst, compared DUKE TE NOAH GRAY to TE DALLAS CLARK. CLARK, you may remember, played for DUNGY with the Colts, back in the day, but I felt it was a pretty weak comparison. CLARK was amongst the early group of large sized NFL WR’s in disguise as TE’s. Not many LB’s had the speed to keep up with guys like CLARK down the field. GRAY is a more traditional TE, who at 6’4/245 can block, and will run most of his routes in the 5-10 yard range. GRAY does show good hands and is said to have a high FBI. Against the Irish, he had 5 catches for 68 yards. In 2019, he caught 51 balls. If the usual number of TE underclassmen enter the 2021 Draft, they will comprise a very strong TE group, making GRAY a likely Day 3 selection.

The Fighting Irish appear to have a solid, experienced OL group again this season. I specifically eyeballed LT LIAM EICHENBERG, #74 against Duke. He’s a long (6’6), lean (305), and athletic player. I was impressed by his footwork in pass pro, but he certainly is not a strong run blocker. He is way too fond of trying to cut block on running plays away from him. He spends way too much time on the ground, by choice, and that precludes him from helping out downfield if his runner get’s beyond 5 yards or so. That habit will need to be coached out of him at the next level. Another solid prospect that I see on Day 3 of the 2021 Draft.

Duke QB CHASE BRICE, formerly of Clemson, showed some solid glimpses of talent and potential for Duke. Under the guiding hand of HC DAVID CUTCLIFFE, he looks to have solid NFL potential. Now the key is for him to show the patience and wisdom to work through a two year apprenticeship under CUTCLIFFE, instead of heading for the NFL in 2021. Against a solid Notre Dame Defense, BRICE was 20-37 for 259 yards. Not great, but not too bad of a start for his Duke career. His 6’3/225 frame is a good fit for the pro game.

Florida State, under HC Mike Norvell, lost it’s opener against Georgia Tech, primarily because of a mistake prone offense, operating behind a mediocre to poor OL group. However, the Seminoles have some serious talent on Defense, per usual.

The base stud of the group is senior DL MARVIN WILSON. He’s a big guy at 6’5/315, who shows power and some short area mobility. Based on this game, I would also say that he displayed some push into the Tech pocket. Tech wisely spent most of the day double-team blocking WILSON with two OL. In the first quarter, I caught him man handling the two blockers assigned to him, throwing one to the ground and the other out of the way to tackle a RB right at the line-of-scrimmage. That’s the kind of work needed to excel at the pro level. He’s reportedly a smart locker room leader. There is first round (late) potential in this man.

The most impressive defender to my eyes in that game was a familiar name to pro football fans. His name is ASANTE SAMUEL, Jr. whose dad was an NFL CB, most notably with the PATRIOTS. This Samuel might be about an inch taller than dad at 5’10, and is a smallish 185, but he shows no fear as a tackler. In the Tech loss, he had 5 tackles, 4 of them solo’s. However, his real forte’ is in coverage. And on the day, he recorded 2 Interceptions. Since pick-offs can be ascribed to luck, more than skill, I will point out that he officially recorded 14 PD last season. He clearly possesses a very nice combination of speed and quickness. Only a junior, if he decides to leave school early for the NFL, I would suggest that he will be ranked as Top 10 CB prospect.

I’ll have more for you on Who Caught My Eye later in the week, as I catch up on game tape watching.