Who Caught My Eye Week 12

November 21, 2018

Sad to say that multiple big time prospects have had their 2018 seasons ended by major injuries. A few may return by Bowl time, but then again others will never be 100% to even fully test out prior to the Draft itself. I have a growing list of players who I intended to thumbnail and failed to get to before they were injured. And so it goes in all sports. So let’s move on to some guys who did play, and Who Caught My Eye in last week’s games.

This young man has been touted as a star since being recruited to FSU. He has survived the coaching change, and is now playing at a high level. His NFL position will have to be defined by Personnel Departments around the League, but what everyone knows is that if put in a position to succeed, he could become an elite pass-rusher, and maybe more. He got off to a bit of a slow start in 2018, but has come on strong in the last month of action. In an all important Win over BC, BURNS had a productive and disruptive effort. He was credited with 7 tackles, 3 of them solo, including 2 TFL and 1 Sack, but he influenced what the Eagles Offense did on many more plays. He is the kind of player that must be located on every down, and schemed to control. He is long, with good quickness off the snap of the ball. I was also impressed that in a game not decided until the last minute, he was still running around showing stamina and determination. I think his best bet will be as a standup OLB in a 3-4 base scheme. In that scenario, he can work on functional strength, without trying to add weight, which could negatively affect his natural quickness. I would expect some major workout numbers at the Combine, if he enters the 2019 Draft. Accordingly, I would not be surprised if some team took him late in Round 1.

I found the Nebraska games unwatchable in the weekly losses, as they piled up the first two months of this season. Clearly, there was a major learning curve going on for players to do things the Scott Frost way. Plus, this is not a team loaded with an over abundance of star athletes. Clearly, things are looking up, and we are now getting a look at what FROST and his staff may have in store for the Big Ten in another year or so. So I tuned in as the ‘Huskers took on the Spartans in Lincoln. It was cold and windy, and not a pleasant day for two average QB’s. But when the ‘Huskers were on defense, I found a lot of interesting players to watch. Perhaps the best senior defender was OLB GIFFORD, who I was totally oblivious to when I started note taking. But the nice sized LB was impressive from the start. He has NFL size for an OLB, and moves quite well. He also looked to have a high FBI, and got in on a good many plays. He showed some coverage ability, and a bit of an edge rush. But his forte was stopping the hard charging/physical Spartan running game. He has fundamentally sound tackling technique and looks like a tough guy when battling with blockers. Numbers from 2017 give you an idea of his overall versatility. He had 30 T’s, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks, 1 PD, and 1 INT. I would note that he had a hip injury that caused him to miss playing time the last month of that season. This season, he already has 59 tackles, and 5.5 Sacks. Right now, his coaches would tell you that he is the one defender they do NOT want to have to take off the field. My guess is he may not be drafted, but should get many teams to choose from as an URFA.

It seems to me that one position on the field that requires a massive translation when trying to translate a player’s worth from college to pro ball, is at Safety. In a lot of instances, college teams line up their S so deep, they are out of your television screen at the snap of the ball. Other than when they are playing a prevent, long yardage D, the NFL requires their S to man-up at times, play on-the-box against the run, assume the hybrid S/LB role, and even more. GLENN is one of the more athletic, multi-tasking S’s in college football, IMO. In 2018, he just missed triple digit tackles, with 98. But he also was credited with 2 INT’s and 7 PBU’s. Watching him play, I get the impression that his FBI is sky high. Against a surging PITT squad last Saturday, he had 11 Tackles, 9 of them solo, 1/2 Sack and 1 PD. This was his 5th straight game with double-digit tackle totals. I feel like he does an excellent job breaking down to adjust to really quick players, and to get himself in a good firm posture to make tackles. I think he is generally a very underrated football player. Please remember those 98 tackles in 2017, which was 19 more than Bengals draftee JESSIE BATES, GLENN’s partner at the S slots last season. Somehow, GLENN will have to post some impressive Combine numbers to convince the scouts that he deserves a 3rd Round draft slot.

For the second time in less than a week I watched (on tape) a solid WR prospect for the 2019 Draft look mediocre primarily because his QB could not accurately get the ball to him when he was open, just like MORGAN below. Even so, JOHNSON had a solid game effort against Ohio in a losing cause. Of the first three targets of Johnson by touted QB TYREE JACKSON, two were totally uncatchable and the third he caught for a 48-yard gain was badly under-thrown requiring JOHNSON to come back and fight two defenders for a catch as he fell to the ground. It didn’t get much better the rest of the night as QB JACKSON finished the game throwing 9/21, 43%, 116 yards, 2 INT. Jackson also turned the ball over on a red zone fumble. JOHNSON is an impressive looking athlete, with nice hands and some power to battle with defenders. I am not sure how fast he truly is, but on his 48-yarder he was behind the secondary until he had to slow down for the under-thrown ball. Perhaps a good showing at the Senior Bowl and a solid Combine workout could move him into First Round range. Time will tell how high he goes, but I do believe he will be in the Top 10 WR list, even with an anticipated glut of underclassmen wideouts declaring. Let’s say Round 2 for now. I liked what I saw of this guy, even in a bad loss.

LEWIS was clearly the Bearcats best and most polished receiver in the game with UCF, in which Cincinnati caused some nervousness by keeping the score under control for a bit more than half of the contest. He has nice length and had a smooth stride running patterns against an aggressive and athletic Knights secondary. He displays a smooth catching style, and finds the ball in the air well. I also thought that he ran some nice precise patterns for his QB RIDDER. For the game, he had 5 catches for 75 yards. On the season, he now has 46 catches and 4 TD’s. In 2017, he had 61 catches to lead the team, which was more than double his closest fellow receiver. This year, Cincinnati runs the ball much more, with the emergence of MICHAEL WARREN as a bell-cow back. I doubt LEWIS gets invited to the Combine, but if he can post a sub-4.50 40-time at his Pro Day, he’ll insure a Training Camp roster spot for 2019, even if he is not drafted.

Under HC Addazio, the Eagles are built on aggressive Defense, and an Offense powered by a strong running game behind a solid, usually veteran, OL. This season, LINDSTROM, a former OT who slid inside to OG, is the primary force in that blocking front. His size is suited well for the interior, as is his game. He shows solid, if not elite, athleticism, as well as strength, and plays ’til the whistle sounds. He has good footwork and functional strength. He is also quick to jump to the aid of those beside him who may be having some difficulty with their blocking assignments. He now has over 40 starts in his BC career. He excels as a run blocker, but also holds his own in pass pro. As a group, the BC OL manhandled the Seminoles DL last Saturday, and also protected QB ANTHONY BROWN well, overall. Look for Lindstrom’s name to crop up early on Day 3, perhaps in Round 4 or 5. At least to start with, he could have great value as a 4-5 position backup on game day. He might also battle for a starting job a couple of years into his pro career, if he picks up some polish from an NFL OL Coach.

The son of the NFL player of the same name looks to me like he has the ability to follow in his dad’s footprints into the NFL. A nice sized guy with fluid running skills. He had 61 catches in 2017, and was named All Big Ten, 1st Team. With a frosh QB at the helm, on a cold and very windy day in Lincoln, it was a frustrating game for MORGAN against Michigan State. His first 3 targets on the day were either poorly thrown, or were wind blown balls that gave him little chance to make the catch. On the day, he caught 4 balls for 67 yards. MORGAN showed good speed to get to the edge on his first punt return of the game. Despite a new coaching staff, new offensive scheme, and a frosh QB, MORGAN has surpassed his work in 2017 with 63 catches for 923 yards, and 7 TD’s, with one game left to go in 2018. He is also a good blocker downfield, which is a must to most NFL teams. I am guessing good, not great, numbers at the Combine and a mid-Round Draft selection on Day 3. He should be able to use his frame to good advantage, handling multiple jobs for some NFL team. He might really help himself with a January Star Game appearance.

For every game I watch where a targeted player disappoints, causing me to slide to another guy on my watch list, there are also some guys who stand out far above what I had expected of them. Such was the case of Maryland as a team, and PRINCE as a player against Ohio State. The best way to describe PRINCE, is to label him as stout. Right now, he is a potential NFL OG, playing RT to help out his team. It should also be noted, that PRINCE is playing for his fourth OL Coach in 4 seasons. How many times can you adapt to another coach’s way of doing things? That’s a lot of unlearning and relearning to do folks. Roll all of this out there, and NFL scouts have to give bonus points to this guy as a prospect. Even without NICK BOSA, the Buckeyes DL group is talented, with some depth. PRINCE, in particular, handled his opponents effectively all day long. He was even shifted out as an extra lineman on the outside in unbalanced OL formations, which the Terps used throughout the game. He displayed strong leg drive, and solid upper body strength. His arms are not especially long, which is another reason I see him shifting inside to OG as a pro. He fires out low at the snap, and keeps his legs driving. On this day, I felt the less heralded PRINCE outplayed his better known namesake, (ISAIAH) Prince of Ohio State. DAMIAN has enough talent to play in the NFL, in this man’s opinion, and should be drafted, albeit in a later round.

The Terps had an impressive day battling the Buckeyes to overtime on Saturday last. And one of the most impressive performers on Defense was S SAVAGE, who was all over the field, all afternoon long for the Terps. On the game, he had 9 tackles, 7 of them solo, and 1/2 TFL. But that does not even begin to tell the story of his day. He’s a bit undersized by NFL standards, but he plays fast and hard. He also plays smart, very smart. In the 3rd Quarter, he jumped a pass and deflected the ball, high enough to enable teammate DAVIS to post a pick-six for a 31-17 lead. Next possession, he made an excellent open field tackle on a short throw. He also recorded a PBU in the end zone with 50 seconds left in the game, to keep Maryland in the lead. He sees the ball well in the air, and goes and gets it. At times he is beaten deep, but unless the ball is perfectly timed and placed, he recovers to make a play. The S group for the 2019 NFL Draft is not top heavy with talent like last year, but it is deep and solid, which would include SAVAGE, based on what my eyes saw against Ohio State, and his career stats. I would project him for Round 5/6 on Day 3 of the 2019 Draft.

It seems to me that TRANQUILL has been at Notre Dame for about 6 seasons now. I think it’s because he’s played a lot of games during his 5 years there. He’s started every game for the past 3 seasons in South Bend. He broke in back in 2016 as a starter at S for the Irish. He moved inside to LB in 2017, adding over 10 lbs to his frame for the job of a LB. He is still decent in coverage, though his added weight has slowed him down a bit, IMO. He had 85 tackles in 2017. He ‘covers the field’ is the best way I can describe his play. In the beat-down of Syracuse, TRANQUILL recorded 7 tackles, 4 solo, and had 2.5 TFL, 2 of them sacks. I think he might be asked to lose 10 lbs or so, and play a lot of in-the-box hybrid SS as a pro. I am also guessing that he’ll earn his keep as a Rookie, leading some Special Teams units. He can, and will, do just about anything his coaches ask of him, and you’d best believe that in today’s diva dominated NFL, a willing competitor is appreciated by NFL coaching staffs. He’s not a star, and far from dominant, but his motor never stops, and I cannot remember too many flags thrown at this guy by the zebras over his career. This is a multi-purpose player who should be a Day Three draftee.

Happy Thanksgiving folks!