Due to a NCAA scheduling glitch, last weekend left us with almost half of the FBS top teams with a bye week. Yet even if the matchups are a bit lacking, there are always serious prospects in action, and I believe we have some under-the-radar types here for your consideration.
It is pretty much undeniable that the biggest interest generators are QB. How can it not be, when on an annual basis, 6-plus NFL franchises will admit that they still don’t have their true Franchise QB in place. So let’s start with a young man who was a relative unknown to yours truly: JAMIE NEWMAN, WAKE FOREST, 6’4/230, JUNIOR. Due to injury bugs getting into the WAKE locker room, NEWMAN got his best chance to date to earn a starting job this season, and he has made the most of that opportunity so far. The big and athletic young man now has the DEMON DEACONS sitting with a 7-1 record, due in large part to his season’s stats of 67.2% completions and a TD/INT ratio of 20/5. He is also athletic enough to extend plays with his legs. Against NC STATE, he played with a shoulder harness on his non-throwing left arm, which was impacted later in the game. In addition to good accuracy on his throws, he is also a very good deep ball thrower, thus spreading the secondary out defensively. For this game, NEWMAN went 25/38- 66%- 287 yards- 3 TD’s- 0 INT’s. I’m hoping that he will stay in school for his senior season of starting, but he has the tools to handle a pro career, IMO.
Now let’s move on to another relative unknown who set an NCAA D-1 record for productivity on the scoreboard in the big MEMPHIS win over previously unbeaten SMU. This guy’s name is ANTONIO GIBSON, who primarily plays WR for the TIGERS. GIBSON was a JC transfer who joined the program in 2018. His contributions to the MEMPHIS offense were minimal last season, but he seems to be breaking out this season. GIBSON was a one man wrecking crew, who scored 3 TD’s against SMU. GIBSON lined up at times in the backfield and carried the ball 3 times for 97 yards, including a 78-yard TD run. He also caught 6 balls for 130 yards and another TD. And last but not least, he also scored a TD on a 97-yard kick-off return. For the night, he returned 3 kicks for 159 yards. At his size, (listed as 6’2/220), his speed to make these big plays is impressive. Just on this game alone, I have to believe a serious number of NFL scouts are going to want to see more of him in action. In fact, I believe this game alone might be enough to get him a Combine invitation. Amazing performance, especially for a relative late bloomer and anonymous performer. Way to go ANTONIO.
I wonder what it is about excellent athletes having the name LAMAR JACKSON?! The RAVENS QB of that name is looking like the second coming of MICHAEL VICK these days. So last Saturday, one of my focus watches was the disappointing NEBRASKA team’s losing effort at PURDUE. And the key player for my watching was the CORNHUSKERS jumbo sized and very athletic CB named LAMAR JACKSON. This serious NFL Prospect just happens to be a CB who stands 6’3 and weighs 215 lbs. Yes, those are his actual measurements. And he does show the speed and athleticism to play CB. Want some evidence in case you have not seen him in action yet this year? How about a performance that included 5 tackles, 4 of them solo, and 1 Interception. This guy really is a cover Corner right now. On the season, he is listed as recording 29 Tackles, with 12 Passes Defensed, and 3 Interceptions. If he’s not quite quick-twitch enough for NFL tastes as a CB, then how about a S, or even a nickel/hybrid role? Against PURDUE, it was clear that his press-cover positioning was preventing the PURDUE QB from even going to his side of the field most of the time. He’s a sure tackler and not a “big-hit” artist, but he got some very solid hits on PURDUE receivers and runners in this game. Chances are that NEBRASKA will have to run the table (UW, MARYLAND, IOWA) to get to a nationally viewable Bowl Game this season. So let me get my request out early; Mr. NAGY, get that Senior Bowl invite out immediately to this guy!
#4 AMARI HENDERSON CB WAKE FOREST 6’1/185
Once we get past every NFL team looking to find their Franchise QB, spots as Edge-Rushers, Left Tackles, and cover-CB seem to rank highest as must-have prospects. After watching HENDERSON in that WAKE route of NC STATE, the nice sized CB stood out in my eyes. He’s a smooth runner, with fluid hip rotation, who also shows exceptional cover skills. I’m pretty sure that his post-season 40-time will more than satisfy, by NFL standards. HENDERSON emerged big time in 2018 when he recorded 10 PBU’s, but his lack of any INT’s may have wrinkled some eyebrows among personnel types. He seems to have put any concerns of that nature to bed with a knack for the pick this season. He has 4 for the year. His overall stat sheet for the STATE contest were exceptional, with 6 tackles, 5 of them solo, 4 PD and 2 INT’s. The latter two numbers demonstrate his ball skills, while his tackle count shows his willingness to help in run support. I am strongly encouraging our Chief Scout LARRY PARKER to take a close look at film of HENDERSON to determine justification to elevate him into his Top 100 prospect rankings. This kid is a smooth operator out there on the Corner.
Just a quick note to follow up on a player that I mentioned last month, PURDUE TE BRYCEN HOPKINS. I had mentioned his lack of playing time vs. MINNESOTA, wondering if he was in Coach BROHM’s doghouse. If he was, then he got the message and Coach BROHM gave him another shot. Last Saturday in the PURDUE win over NEBRASKA, HOPKINS seemed to be on the field for the majority of offensive snaps, and responded with 8 catches for 97 yards. The young man has NFL genes, (Dad is OT BRAD HOPKINS), and a long frame, which includes nice sure hands as a receiver. It appears that his deficiency as a stout blocker keeps him off the field at times. However, NFL personnel people may emphasize his receiving ability over blocking issues. I’m hoping that DAN SHONKA is watching him with an eye on the Shrine venue.
Gotta luv those highly active LB prospects who cover a lot of ground and can combine coverage skills with tackling acumen. I felt pretty strongly that I saw both from OREGON LB TROY DYE, #35, in the big win last weekend at SOUTHERN CAL. Sporting a large playing cast on his right hand/wrist, DYE recorded 4 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL. Those aren’t blockbuster numbers, but I sure as heck saw him impact a lot more plays than that. He put USC’s frosh QB SLOVIS on his back several times with inside blitzes. He certainly played in this contest with an angry attitude, and did so all over the field. He shows decent speed and good football instincts. He kinda reminds me of former STANFORD and present PACKERS LB BLAKE MARTINEZ in his playing style. Going into this season, DYE was coming off of consecutive 100+ tackle seasons, including a career high 115 stops last season. His combine numbers will have a lot to say about where his place in the 2020 Draft lies.
#2 LAMICAL PERINE RB 5’11/227 FLORIDA
I clearly must state that it is not my style to talk about a prospect by criticizing his Head Coach, but I feel obligated to do so in this instance. Against GEORGIA last Saturday, I felt that DAN MULLEN and his staff did their weakest coaching jobs in their two years with the GATORS. And I am a big fan overall of Mr. MULLEN, as a collegiate head man. I bring this up because I think their handling of the talented and versatile PERINE in the UGA game was sad, for both the player and his team. PERINE has been the best all-around RB in Gainesville for the past two seasons, IMO. He’s a tough, strong runner between the tackles, and blocks up a storm in pass-pro. He also shows a pair of reliable hands as a receiver, and will fight for yards after the catch. In 2018, with a better OL group to lead the way, PERINE averaged 6.2 ypc. So far this season, his average is down to 4.6 ypc on 491 yards rushing, but he has also improved as a receiver with 24 catches already. He scored 6 TD’s in their first 8 games, 4 rushing, 2 receiving. After a tough first quarter, dominated by the BULLDOGS run D, PERINE saw little to no action until the 4th Quarter, when someone on the coaching staff realized that Perine was still in uniform for them. Too little, too late, but not on PERINE, IMO. In his limited action, he only had 9 touches. He had 2 catches for 10 yards, and 7 rushes for 31 yards. He’s not gonna be a Day One or Two draftee, but he’s going to be in an NFL Training Camp next summer, and will fight for a roster spot in a pro RB group.
#35 BRIAN HERRIEN RB/KR GEORGIA 6’0/210
I have learned over the years of evaluating pro football prospects, that there is a small amount of gold to be harvested from the back-up player ranks. The top college programs recruit so many 4 & 5 Star high school players, that not all can earn starting berths. As the NCAA has made transfer rules significantly easy for players to be eligible, more players who are log-jammed on deep rosters move on. However, there are still players who may be well suited for jobs in the NFL or CFL. GEORGIA football features an elite RB named D’ANDRE SWIFT, who just might take his talents to the NFL as an early round draftee in April, but they also have a talented back-up to him in HERRIEN. BRIAN does not have the blazing speed of SWIFT, but he is a versatile, productive player who often shines when given his touches. Those touches have come a bit more frequently this season than last, when HERRIEN sat behind both SWIFT and a guy named HOLYFIELD, who you should remember. Against the tough GATORS Defense, HERRIEN did a bit of everything. He carried the ball 7 times for only 13 yards, but he also caught 4 balls for 46 yards. Of those catches, one might be considered a key play in the contest. Early in the 3rd Quarter with the game outcome still very much in doubt, he sneaked out toward the right sideline and made a leaping grab that gained a first down, to keep a drive alive, which was the best catch of the day on either team. He also works as UGA’s Kick Returner, and had 2 of those for 51 yards. He has also earned time on Special Teams with coverage units. I might also add that combined, he has scored 8 TD’s this season. I don’t expect him to be drafted, though it would not shock me if he was, but I fully expect him to be on a Training Camp 90-man roster next Summer. I could also see him being a tough final cut for most NFL teams to make after they get a Camp taste of his ability and his desire to play football.
You should know by now that PIGSKIN PAUL is a strong fancier of football genes in a player’s family. That gene pool quite often trickles down the family tree. I am sensing that I see such an example at play on the MICHIGAN roster. The Wolverines LT is a senior named JON RUNYAN, #75, whose dad had a solid NFL career, much of it with the EAGLES. He too was an OT. The current RUNYAN, who stands 6’5 and weighs about 310 lbs. was not an immediate star in Ann Arbor, but worked his way into a starting job. Last season was his first year as a full-time starter, and he earned 1st Team All-BIG TEN honors. He’s back starting again in his senior season and handling himself very well. He is not great at anything that I can see, but he does his job, and finds time to help others when called upon. His footwork is good, not great, in forward or reverse. He uses hands and arm action to keep defenders off his QB and/or RB. He may be worth giving a shot on the QB’s blind side as a pro, but I am expecting a move to RT to accommodate his less than dancing feet. He is not an overpowering bulldozer, but seems to have solid functional strength. Maryland defenders were outmatched trying to make plays through him. I envision him as a Round 4 Draftee next April.
PENN STATE grad transfer JUWAN JOHNSON/WR #6 is finally healthy and starting to make plays for OREGON with QB JUSTIN HERBERT. He could be a big weapon down the stretch.
CHIP KELLY seems to have his UCLA Offense starting to click, as they won another game, after their 0-3 start. Finally healthy, RB JOSHUA KELLEY, #27, is piling up yards as expected.
PITT has a pretty vanilla looking Offense much of the time, but that should not diminish the value of their top WR prospect in MAURICE FFRENCH, #2.