The college football season has truly begun, after a “fake” start the final weekend of August. We were presented with a full slate of games, with some high powered matchups. There were plenty of upsets, and even more close calls for highly ranked teams. Expectations are that we will be watching a plethora of legit NFL candidates in maybe a post-pandemic season.
One of the highlights of my weekend watching involved a young man that I don’t see as an NFL prospect, but his presence on the field on Sunday night warmed my heart. Former UCF star QB McKENZIE MILTON made his return to football for the Seminoles, leading a strong 4th Quarter comeback and sending the game into overtime. MILTON suffered a gruesome knee injury back in 2018, almost costing him his right leg. After two plus years of medical procedures and rehabilitation, he took the field and showed some of his old magic. I must confess, I grimaced every time he fled the pocket, but he survived some solid hits. Welcome back to football Mr. MILTON, and bravo for your courage and determination.
Now on to the prospects who caught my eye with their play last weekend…
JAQUAN BRISKER. #1 S Penn State 6’1/205 It was an old fashioned Big 10 slugfest in Madison last Saturday with Penn State heading back home with a hard fought victory 16-10. And one of the biggest influences on the Penn State D was BRISKER. He was all over the field, and especially pursuing the ball in trying to stop the Badgers running attack. BRISKER had to be helped off the field 3 times to be revived and cleared to re-enter the fray. When the smoke cleared, he had himself 4 tackles and an all important INT very late in the game. BRISKER was expected by many to be in the 2021 Draft class at the end of last year’s Pandemic season. However, after initially accepting a Senior Bowl invite, he reversed his decision and decided to come back for the 2021 season. HC James Franklin got his defensive leader back. BRISKER and his teammates are off to a most positive start with their Camp Randall based victory. And so is BRISKER as one of the Top 10 S prospects in this year’s draft prospect group.
DONTARIO DRUMMOND #11 WR Ole Miss 6’1/215 We all know that QB MATT CORRAL blossomed last season as a top notch college QB, and a pro prospect. And his top receiver was ELIJAH MOORE, who is now in the NFL with the Jets, as their Second Round Pick. So who steps up this season to catch the bulk of his passes? How about DRUMMOND, who burst into that star role on Monday night with 9 catches, on 10 targets, for 177-yards and a TD. He had another TD called back on a holding penalty. His size is quite appealing, and dare I say he certainly gets separation. He looked to be a dependable hands-catcher, but what really got my attention was his speed and elusiveness after the catch. He found holes once in the secondary and got considerable YAC. I will predict that he and Corral will terrorize SEC defenses this season. Right now, I would plug him as a Round 4 Draftee, and rising.
DANIEL FAALELE #78 OT Minnesota 6’8/370 The hgt/wgt numbers are a guesstimate at this point in the season, but needless to say the former 400-pounder has made the transition from an amazingly huge human being to a better than average football player during his time playing for Coach Fleck. He starts at RT and is a road grader as a run blocker, while showing some nice knee bend and agility while pass blocking. I also like the fact that he doesn’t just stand around watching after his initial assignment is over. He keeps moving, looking for another defender to crush most plays. He reminds me some of former Sooners monster ORLANDO BROWN, now with the Chiefs. Given his combination of size, that can blot out the sun, and better than average mobility, he has to be seriously considered for a Top 100 Prospect ranking.
JAKE FERGUSON #84 TE Wisconsin 6’5/242 The grandson of Barry Alvarez, the Godfather of Badgers football’s resurgence this millennium, JAKE has developed into the best overall receiver in the football program right now. Without much help from the wideout group, and a disappointing opening game for QB GRAHAM MERTZ, FERGUSON displayed his abilities and provided his team with the spark it needed on Offense several times. He was targeted 11 times, making 9 catches. But his 52 yards gained on those catches should be taken as an example of how non-existent any downfield passing attack was in this game for UW. FERGUSON’s highlight play of the day was a diving catch of an underthrown ball in the red zone, which he tipped to himself and extended to catch, as he dove inside the 5-yard line. It was special, and preceded the Badgers only TD of the day a couple of running plays later. FERGUSON isn’t often asked to block since he is their best receiving weapon, including downfield, but he has the body to play some inline, and can be a weapon coming out of a slot position. He has a chance to sneak into the Top 100, but this year’s TE group is deep, and unless MERTZ picks up his game, FERGUSON is not going to live up to his receiving potential in this Offense that we saw Week One.
JEREMIAH GEMMEL #44 LB UNC 6’1/225 The Tar Heels lost a lot of talent to the NFL after last season. And if you watched UNC fall to VA TECH, then you realize how bare the weapon cupboard is to help QB SAM HOWELL generate offense and score points. So the D will have to step up mightily this season. The leader of that Defense is SR JEREMIAH GEMMEL who holds down an ILB spot. GEMMEL is a worthy successor to departed CHAZZ SURRATT, who now plays in the NFL. In fact, while SURRATT led the team in tackles last season, GEMMEL was not far behind him. GEMMEL recorded 78 tackles with 2.5 Sacks last season. And he really shined when dropping into pass coverage with 4 PBU’s and 1 INT. Not big by NFL standards, he reminds me some of another former UNC LB named COLE HOLCOMB. I felt HOLCOMB was too small and not athletic enough to do much in the NFL, but he’s starting for the Washington Football Team these days. To quote The Who, “I won’t get fooled again…”. GEMMEL is a smart, efficient player. He’s a dependable tackler, and is very instinctive chasing the ball. GEMMEL tied for the team high in tackles with 7 against VA Tech. I can’t really see him being drafted until Day 3 of the Draft, likely after Round 4, but I will continue to track him this season, and always keep the HOLCOMB story in mind before I dismiss him from being draftable.
KYLE HAMILTON #14 S Notre Dame 6’4/220 No surprise that HAMILTON starred in the 2021 season debut against FSU. While the Irish Offense exploded behind the throwing of transfer QB JACK COAN in the first half, it was up to the HAMILTON-D to stifle the FSU Offense later in the game. HAMILTON more than did his share of that task with 6 Total tackles and 2 INT’s. He’s a superior athlete with do-it-all athleticism and FBI. He covers the field with his long frame, and has a knack for making plays down the field. He’s an underclassman, but he is indeed Draft eligible after this season, and is likely to declare for inclusion in the 2022 NFL Draft. Historically speaking, you won’t find many Top 10 NFL Draftees at the S slot. But if HAMILTON is going to play this well all season, then mark him down as in the Draft and a likely Top 10 Pick. Some NFL teams will likely see him as a better LB candidate than S. For now, I will state that he may fit quite comfortably as a hybrid type defender.
JERMAINE JOHNSON #11 DE/E Florida State 6’5/260 Given the logjam of quality talent on the Georgia Defense, JOHNSON decided to take his talent to FSU, just a bit south of Athens, for his final collegiate season. HC MIKE NORVELL and his staff are working hard to resurrect the Seminoles football program, and based on their OT challenge to Notre Dame Sunday night, things seem to be coming together. JOHNSON looks to already be the leader of their 2021 Defense. JOHNSON was absolutely dominant in the game, especially in the first half. He posted 7 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.5 Sacks by halftime. The IRISH adjusted their blocking a bit to contain him, limiting him to 1 second half tackle. The good news for Seminoles fans is that he’s a major step up in making plays in opponent’s backfields compared to most of his new teammates. The good news for JOHNSON is that with much less overall talent at FSU, he has a chance to really wow NFL scouts this season with standout play. The perfect marriage in Tallahassee! JOHNSON has a legit chance to move into the Top 100 Prospect lists this Fall.
PHIDARIAN MATHIS #48 DL Alabama. 6’4/312 Going back to last season, MATHIS has looked to me like the most active, productive player along the Tide DL. He is stout at holding the line-of-scrimmage, and gets penetration into the backfield on a regular basis. He seemed to pick up right where he left off at the end of last season, in the opener with Miami. MATHIS spent a lot of time combining with some edge guys to collapse the pocket around highly rated QB D’ERIQ KING. He is also quite stout at the L-o-S against the run. Despite seeing limited playing time because HC SABAN has the quality depth to play two deep on his DL group, MATHIS recorded 5 tackles. He plays with high energy on each and every snap, and gets results despite being double-team blocked at times. His combination of size and effort make him a solid pro prospect, with a chance for a Top 100 Prospect ranking.
THAYER MUNFORD #75 OT Ohio State 6’6/320 MUNFORD is in his 3rd year as a starter for the Buckeyes and now sports the Captains-C on his chest. And if you watched the Buckeyes opening game victory, just like me, you might have been a bit surprised to see him playing most of the game at the LG slot. He played his usual effective, smart game showing his athleticism and solid footwork all day long. The long-armed athlete is still an OT in my mind. We will have to see if the move inside is temporary or fixed in an attempt to get the best 5 OL on the field at the same time. MUNFORD has performed well for the Buckeyes as their starting LT the previous two seasons. He had started 20 of 20 games over the past two seasons, and was named to the All Big 10 first team for his work in 2020. Watching play inside at OG in the first game, it was easy to notice how effective he was at pulling to the corner to run block. Not surprising at all, given his athleticism. He’s in my Top 100 as an OT from a Draft perspective.
CHRIS OLAVE #2 WR Ohio State 6’1/190 Over the past two seasons the Buckeyes have sent a half-dozen receivers to the NFL. And a big question this year for some was whether new QB C.J. STROUD would have the quality receivers needed to pull along the play of an inexperienced QB. Quite a silly question as OLAVE quickly demonstrated in Game 1. OLAVE had to share the receiving load with a couple other pro prospects (WILSON/RUCKERT) last week, but he was the big play guy. He finished the day with 4 catches for 117-yards and 2 long TD’s. He got clear separation all day against a veteran Minnesota secondary, and reminded me a lot of a Heisman Guy named DeVONTA SMITH from last season, with his yards-after-catch, snaking runs through secondary defenders. Some have questioned his speed to be a deep attack weapon. I don’t know what his 40-time will be at the 2022 NFL Combine, but he looked pretty darn fast to my eyes in this first game. He’s in the running for a Round One selection, and I wouldn’t bet against him.
JACK SANBORN #57 IB Wisconsin 6’2/236 SANBORN was far from being recruited as a 4/5-Star athlete coming out of high school, but he has played a lot of football for the Badgers and has become their best all-around defender in what will likely be his last campaign in Madison. His FBI is off the charts, as is his competitive motor. He was asked to step up his pass rush work against Penn State and was applying pressure to QB SEAN CLIFFORD all game long in a 10-16 defensive struggle. On the day, SANBORN earned credit for 5 tackles, including a Sack. Those numbers don’t even begin to illustrate the time he spent chasing the ball, and influencing Penn State’s Offense. I doubt that he will blow any scouts away with workout numbers between now and the Draft, but game tape should generate interest in him on Day 3, in the middle Rounds.
The first full week of the 2021 season was a rousing success overall. Some major upsets, and a lot of close contests that looked like walkovers on paper. Looking forward to a fine season, and lots of pro prospects to keep an eye on. Back at you next week Draftniks and football fans.