Who Caught My Eye Week 11

November 13, 2019

Some great college action with multiple teams falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, and the SEC game of the year being a slugfest.

After struggling with injuries for the past two seasons, ANTOINE WINFIELD/SS/MINNESOTA has bounced back to his form as a true frosh in 2016. After checking with GBN details expert Larry Parker, it is certified that even though WINFIELD is listed as a sophomore most places, he is indeed Draft eligible for 2020. However, it’s no sure thing, because he has already been granted 2 extra years of eligibility because of his brief 2017/2018 seasons. First, let me note that I loved the play of his CB dad of the same name who played at OHIO STATE, and was a first round draftee by the BILLS and a perennial pro bowler with the VIKINGS. This WINFIELD is almost the same size as his dad at 5’10/205, but don’t call him small. He’s a great combination of skills, FBI, and physical style of play. As the GOPHERS continue to “row the boat” for HC P.J. FLECK, WINFIELD is shining as a team leader Safety, who can handle coverage like a CB and strike like a LB. In the big W over PENN STATE, ANTOINE recorded 11 tackles, 9 of them solo, and also hauled in 2 Interceptions. His ball skills are exceptional, as evidenced by him now having 7 INT’s on the season, thru 9 games. He also closes incredibly fast on the ball and breaks up numerous throws. If WINFIELD declares for the 2020 Draft, I would expect him to be hovering on the edge of Round 1. His medical gives cause for pause, and because of that, he will be scrutinized heavily during the Combine medical portion of the proceedings. He will also be vetted heavily about his injury history. But I suspect more than a few pro teams will be looking for ways to give him a passing grade, medically. He plays like a first rounder, but look for him in the Round 2/3 range from most teams. To my eyes, he is an upscale version of LAMARCUS JOYNER coming out of college, on a skills basis. Let me set the bar even higher: WINFIELD might be the next TROY POLAMALU.

I was set to make TUA a scouting watch for this game, but he was clearly limited by his recent ankle surgery. I’ll try to watch him closely in the Iron Bowl, at closer to full health. However, there was still plenty of talent to scrutinize with these two teams in action. Bama’s receiving corps is just incredible from a talent standpoint. Their backups could help almost any team in the country. In the final analysis, I have to give my tip of the cap to DeVONTA SMITH, #6, who probably has the best hands of the entire group, and is incredibly fast after the catch. His biggest question mark is his thin frame. SMITH is 6’1, and weighs only 175 lbs. And yes, he looks as thin as you might expect, but he is a TD maker who gets separation on a regular basis. Against that excellent/talented LSU secondary, SMITH finished the game with 7 catches for 213-yards and 2 TD’s. His long play of the game was an 85-yard TD which featured a nice catch and some fancy open field moves to take it to the house. I’m not sure what his 40-time is, but I don’t see people catching him from behind once he secures the ball on the fly. His thin frame will be a concern to some scouts, but if he comes out early, (he’s only a junior), I don’t see how he lasts beyond Round 3 of the 2020 Draft.

Despite the scoring fest in the BAMA/LSU game, (46-41), both teams featured some serious pro prospects on the defensive side of the ball. A guy who has fascinated me with his big play versatility is ANFERNEE JENNINGS, #33. JENNINGS plays a sort of hybrid DE/OB in their defensive set, with an emphasis on rushing the passer. For the game, he recorded 8 tackles, 4 solo, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, and 1 QBH. When the ball is snapped, the opposing QB has to know where JENNINGS is coming from, ala Where’s Waldo. Despite his large frame, (6’3/259), he is often asked to slide back into coverage. He’s an intimidating sight for TE’s and RB’s as they slide out short and see him waiting to meet them. He is a defensive catalyst, who makes things happen. On the season, he now has 56 T’s, 33 solo, 6 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, and 4 PD. In some shape or form, he may end up being very similar to an ex-BAMA defender named HIGHTOWER, who has been a versatile defensive leader for Mr. BELICHICK up in NEW ENGLAND. At the least, I see him as a 4th Rounder, if not earlier to a team with a vivid defensive scheme imagination.

On a defense filled with stars, most of them with NFL futures, another guy that caught my eye in the big showdown with LSU: TREVON DIGGS, CB, #7. DIGGS has that highly desired size in the minds of most NFL defensive coaches at 6’2, 207. With that kind of size, athleticism, and a nasty attitude, it opens up a multitude of positional uses for DIGGS at the next level. He can do battle with today’s bigger receivers, while also having enough ball skills to engage in hand-to-hand combat for the ball in the air. He could certainly be looked at in a hybrid role, as well as a shift between CB and S roles within game situations. Against LSU, he showed his physical nature with 10 Tackles, 5 of them solo. His season stats show his versatility; 32 T,’s 2 FR’s, 3 INT’s, and 5 PD. He finds the ball and goes to it. When the Combine rolls around, we’ll get a much better feel for his speed and quickness, but out on the field, with pads on, he’s a tough hombre for opposing offenses to deal with. I’m not quite ready to commit to Round 1 potential, but he certainly looks like a valuable commodity for Day 2 of the Draft.

It seems as though I have been watching LSU DL RASHARD LAWRENCE for a lot longer than 4 seasons. Most of the time, he’s not flashy and doesn’t pile up stats for tackles and sacks, but he’s a big stout body, (6’2/310), who can hold the line-of-scrimmage and rise to the occasion as he did against ‘BAMA last Saturday. His stat sheet was solid, but not impressive in and of itself. He was credited with 4 tackles, 1 solo, 1/2 TFL, and 2 Sacks, but watching him in action, I felt he contributed a lot more to their winning effort than those numbers. LAWRENCE began the game with some serious penetration and stout play against the run. It wasn’t long before BAMA was double team blocking him on most plays. He stood out again, especially in the 4th Quarter, when both defenses were gassed and trying to rally a few more plays to stop an opponent’s possession before it ended up in scoring range. My notes say that he got 1 sack, along with a couple of hurries on TUA in the 4th Quarter . I also credited him with 2 tipped passes. LAWRENCE is an early Day 3 guy for me in the 2020 Draft, who could thrive in a DL rotation.

One of the great coaching jobs in college football for my money is what MATT CAMPBELL has done in completely turning around the IOWA STATE football program. In his fourth season there, he has turned a perennial bottom-feeder into an annual Bowl team, and a tough out for every team in the conference. After looking severely overmatched for a half against OKLAHOMA in Norman, CAMPBELL and his staff got his team set straight during half-time and the SOONERS had to hang on for a one-point victory 42-41. It could easily be said that the CYCLONES don’t lose many games, they just run out of time some weekends. Don’t look for many 5-star recruits to show up in Ames, IA to play for the CYCLONES, but they get players with chips on their shoulders who buy in and bust their butts every Saturday. One of my favorite CYCLONE players is #42, MARCEL SPEARS/LB. He’s a bit undersized by pro standards at 6’1/224, and I don’t think he’s running an exceptional 40-time at the next Combine. However, I do think he’ll make an NFL roster next Fall as an ace Special Teamer and a situational back-up in some team’s LB corps. SPEARS could be the kind of player who sees the field on D because of injury, and once out there, will be hard for coaches to put back on the bench. He does a bit of everything on the grass, as evidenced by his final stats in 2018, when he had 69 tackles, 2.5 Sacks, 5.5 TFL, 3 PBU’s, 2 INT’s, and 5 QBH’s. He’s a heat seeking missile in his pursuit of the football. As usual, he played a key role in the effort to upend the SOONERS last Saturday. He recorded 10 T’s, 6 solo, 1.5 TFL, and 1 sack. He was also floating around in pass coverage duties. On the season, he now has 70 tackles with 3 games left on the schedule, plus a likely Bowl appearance. I’d have my eyes trained on this guy late in the Draft as a versatile addition to my roster, in multiple roles.

On the SOONERS side of things, I almost always find myself zeroing in on DT NEVILLE GALLIMORE, #90, when the SOONERS D is on the field. He’s not an overwhelming player, but he’s thick as a brick and shows flashes of dominant play. In a way, he reminds me of previously mentioned RASHARD LAWRENCE/LSU. He is not going to fill the game stats sheet with big numbers most weeks. But to my eyes, I can see him influencing what opponents do in attacking and blocking him. He was only credited with 1 Tackle and 2 QB Hurries against IOWA STATE, but I thought that while others faded late in the game, he turned up his motor and did some major work chasing ISU QB BROCK PURDY. GALLIMORE is listed as being 6’2, 300 lbs. He looks all of that to me, but can still run and pursue along the line-of-scrimmage, or behind it. An interesting side note here is that GALLIMORE is a native Canadian. I would project him as a late round NFL draftee, but a very high pick by some CFL team.  NFL salaries are seriously higher than those in the CFL, but it certainly gives him a fallback position of job security, going forward. I’m hoping we see him in the Shrine Bowl come January.

The 2020 NFL Draft is shaping up as a potential bonanza for teams in need of RB help. Most of the top rushers are underclassmen, who will indeed be draft eligible at the end of this season. With a month left in the season, plus Bowling For Dollars, I have not changed my mind from the beginning of the season when I tabbed JONATHAN TAYLOR #23 of WISCONSIN as the best all around talent in the RB group. TAYLOR is deceptively strong with the ball under his arm, at 5’11, 219 lbs. He is also sneaky fast as he glides through defenses with great balance and field vision. The BADGERS have been struggling in the past month, and after two straight losses to OHIO STATE and ILLINOIS, they faced a key rivalry matchup with IOWA last Saturday. No one expected a new-fangled air show in Madison, and in more of an old fashioned slug-fest, it was TAYLOR who carried the bulk of the UW Offense. TAYLOR rushed 31 times for 250 yards. His long run was a 42-yarder, and he averaged 8.1 ypc. He also caught one pass. After a couple of weeks of modest, (for him), numbers, his effort carried the day for Bucky Badger’s boys. On the season, he now has 1,259 yards rushing at 6.1 ypc and 15 TD’s. He has also shown good receiving skills with 18 receptions for 151 yards and another 4 TD’s. I feel strongly that TAYLOR is a better natural runner than former BADGER, MELVIN GORDON, now of the CHARGERS. He’s at the top of that RB totem pole, and a clear first round draftee.

Misc. Notes:
After a couple of seasons under the radar with modest results, P.J. FLECK’s boys continue to row-the-boat, and are now 9-0 for the season, after a pretty solid W over PENN STATE. I was not shocked at the result, feeling that the PENN STATE Defense was vulnerable to the pass. Like most folks, I do see a blossoming star for STATE in Soph TE PAT FREIERMUTH. The big guy, 6’5/255, is an absolute GRONK-like beast, catching and running over people after the catch. He caught 7 balls for 101 yards in a losing cause. I will say, however, that his blocking needs a lot of work for overall greatness. Keep your eyes on him in the 2020 college season.

I had intended to thumbnail ‘BAMA QB TUA TAGOVAILOA in the showdown with LSU, but I backed off after seeing that he was clearly not 100% on that surgically repaired ankle, despite statements to the contrary from Coach SABAN. Being unable to freely scramble around took a big piece out of his normal game, but clearly he showed guts and talent.

Superstar performance award from a relative unknown, this past weekend, has to go to LSU RB, #22, CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE, a 5’9/212 spark plug that showed up HUGE for the TIGERS and kept their Offense moving the whole day against ‘BAMA. The mighty-mite was the LSU hero on this day. He carried the ball 20 times for 103 yards and 3 TD’s. He also caught 9 balls for 77 yards and another TD. I give him my game MVP vote, unconditionally.