Once again, this year it sure feels like there are an inordinate number of player injuries, seriously affecting significant prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. I had intended to thumbnail Oklahoma RB RODNEY ANDERSON for last week’s column, but Oklahoma was rolling roughshod over Florida Atlantic and he never saw the field in the second half with 100+-yards and 2 TD on his resume’ already. Then by yesterday I was reading the reports that he suffered a serious knee injury in Week 2 and was out for the season. And so it goes. So let’s move on to some guys who did their thing in Week 2 and to my knowledge are still healthy. These potential pros caught my eye!
OTARO ALAKA #42 LB 6’3/240 TEXAS A&M There was clearly a lot of talent on display in the TEXAS A&M/Clemson contest and ALAKA emphatically earned himself a place among those potential 2019 NFL Draft prospects with his game performance. He was very physical and mobile in his play. He can drop into shallow coverage, but really excels at attacking the line-of-scrimmage. He looks like a prototype for a 3-4 base D, as an Inside Backer. Has a strong looking, physical build. Runs all game long, pursuing the ball. ALAKA hit the coveted double digit tackles total of 10 for this game. Most impressively the was credited with 3 solo stops, 2 1/2 TFL. He was the team’s second leading returning tackler after 76 stops in 2017. He had the look of a player who finds the ball quickly and moves to it faster than most LB. Look for him to be a Day 3 Draftee next year.
DeANDRE’ BAKER #18 CB 5’11/185 GEORGIA I came out of the sound thumping of South Carolina by the Bulldogs with the considered opinion that I am not likely to see a better all around NFL CB prospect that this man while watching prospects play this Fall. He is fearless and takes on all comers in press-coverage for the Bulldogs. I also expect that he will put up impressive numbers come the 2019 Combine. He could be the best CB from UGA since a guy named Champ Bailey. He grabbed a deflected ball early in the game and sprinted to the end zone for a pick-six. He was so excited that he jettisoned the ball before crossing the goal line, so a teammate scooped it and got credit for the TD. He is also a very aggressive and willing participant in run support. At the end of the victory, BAKER was credited with 6 tackles, 4 of them solo, with 2 PD. His ball skills are superior as evidenced by his 9 PD and 3 INT for the 2017 season. This player should be in Round 1 come next April, IMO.
KELLY BRYANT #2 QB 6’4/220 CLEMSON I was not preparing to thumbnail BRYANT, at least not this early in the season. I think I was caught up in the Frosh QB Trevor Lawrence fever that dominated much of the summer at Clemson. But by the second half of the Win over A&M, when it became clear that BRYANT would be the man responsible for taking over the Offense and deciding the outcome of the game, I watched his play carefully. I still agree with many that he is not DeShawn Watson (not quite), but he looks plenty good to me. BRYANT has nice size, good athleticism and a strong throwing arm. He used both his arm and legs, not to mention his head, to finish the game going 12/17, for 205 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT. He also rushed 15 times for 54 yards and another TD. His versatility will make him a solid NFL back-up QB prospect for plenty of teams around the League. Based on his work in this game (and others) don’t lose track of him as an early Day 3 Draftee in next April’s Draft. If he holds off LAWRENCE as the starter (and finisher) and Clemson is in the Final Four come January, BRYANT might move his draft stock up into Round 3. Keep watching him folks. He looks to me like a guy who has what it takes to play on Sundays, starting next season.
CLELIN FERRELL #99 DE 6’5/260 CLEMSON JR Count me in as one of those who was surprised that FERRELL did not declare for the 2018 NFL Draft as a RS Soph. But here he is, back in school and leading perhaps the most talented DL in college football history. I am still of the opinion that all four Clemson starters will be drafted in the Top 50 Picks of the 2019 NFL Draft. FERRELL is a very impressive combination of steady play, with flashes of dominance. While DT/LAWRENCE was the dominant force in the first half against A&M, it was FERRELL who saved the best for last and recorded 2 sacks in the second half. For the game FERRELL was credited with 3 tackles, all solo and all of them TFL. He’s a long, lean super athlete ala JADEVEON CLOWNEY, who also played in South Carolina just down the highway in Columbia. Last season FERRELL recorded 63 tackles, which included 9.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, with another 12 QB Hurries. To put it quite simply, expect FERRELL to declare for the 2019 Draft, and explode at the Combine, ala CLOWNEY, thus sewing up a Top 10 Draft Pick selection. He is a difference maker, pure and simple.
ELGTON JENKINS #74 OC 6’4/315 MISSISSIPPI STATE JENKINS is one of the most athletic looking OC I have seen in recent memory. He could be this years version of Iowa’s JAMES DANIELS, who was the 39th Pick in the 2018 Draft. JENKINS is very athletic, with good functional strength and excellent mobility for the Interior OL. He also looks like he has extreme confidence in his ability to move around and he floats smoothly after snapping the ball. He got to second level blocks with good frequency against K-State. He’s a natural looking knee-bender, whose biggest area of improvement might come from adding a bit more overall functional body strength in an NFL weight room. He has played all along the OL during his career, and such versatility could help his value to an NFL team. The game with K-State was his 23rd collegiate start.
DALTON RISNER #71 OT 6’5/300 KANSAS STATE Speaking of collegiate starts, the game against Miss State was the 40th start at Kansas State for RISNER. He has started at both OC and OT within those 40 games. Though I would not rate him as a potential, full time NFL starter as a prospect, he sure looks athletic, and big enough to handle any OL spot as a valuable game day back-up. He has twice been an all Big-12 1st teamer. He showed more athleticism, and mobility than I expected in the game with Miss State, quite frankly. But unless he far exceeds my expectations at the 2019 Combine, I would expect him to be a mid-Round draftee, say Round 5 based on what I have seen of him the past two seasons. Don’t lose track of this solid player as you prepare your 2019 Draft lists.
DEEBO SAMUEL #1 WR/RS 6’2/210 SOUTH CAROLINA. Pro personnel people are watching the work of SAMUEL very carefully this season, in part to see how healthy he looks after suffering a season ending injury after only 3 games last season. But also because a healthy DEEBO is a versatile, explosive weapon for the Gamecocks. He may in fact be a bigger version of former Gamecocks star and current NFL RAMS performer PHAROH COOPER. SAMUEL started his day against a tough UGA D, by turning a seeming reverse into a nice 13-yard TD pass. He was unable to shake free for anything else big on the day, but did catch 6 balls for 33 yards. SAMUEL is a dynamic weapon for the Gamecocks offense and could/will be used as a Return Man on Special Teams as the season progresses. He has the look of a Top 100 Draft Prospect, but he has got to stay healthy in 2018 and post some big numbers to confirm that kind of status. The hope is that he will get more productive as the season progresses and he works out the after-effects of last season’s injury. Good things are expected for the Gamecocks this season, and a healthy/productive SAMUEL needs to be a big part of things.
JEFFERY SIMMONS #94 DT 6’4/300 MISSISSIPPI STATE JR Another Draft eligible player who was just too impressive to ignore in the big State road win over Kanas State. He is the best DT to play at State since either CHRIS JONES, or maybe even FLETCHER COX. He has an impressive combination of size, strength, and mobility. He is quick off the snap and has strong, active hands to keep blockers off his legs. He is quick enough off the snap to shoot through gaps onto the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage, and can pursue to the sideline if needed. Despite being double-team blocked all day long he was disruptive all game long. He managed 4 tackles, all of them solo. Despite not getting a sack he had 2 TFL and 1 QBH. He recorded 60 tackles in 2017, which is a high number for the interior DL. This guy is a difference maker, who can likely play in any base front a pro team might use, but I think would be most productive at DT in a 4-3 scheme, where his strength and athleticism can be best put to use. He clearly has the ability to make him attractive by the middle of Round 1, if he comes out early for the 2019 Draft.
BENNY SNELL #26 RB 5’11/223 KENTUCKY JR An awful lot of college football watchers have not caught on to the solid job that MARK STOOPS has done in building Kentucky into a yearly, competitive football program in America’s toughest conference. There are many factors at play to put together a successful football program, but talent is still at the heart of things. And despite the wide-open, high scoring RPO offenses spreading across the country many of the most successful head coaches would still tell you they want to build off a solid running attack. And Stoops has a one of the nations best workhorse ball carriers in Junior BENNYY SNELL. SNELL has rushed for over 1,000-yards in both of his previous seasons with the Wildcats, at an average of over 5 yards/carry. SNELL is not flashy, but is well rounded and dependable. He will get what is blocked, and then some thanks to good field vision and forward lean to most of his runs. He is also a decent receiver option, and a willing and effective blocker in pass pro. He shows good balance and powerful legs which keep him driving for additional yardage after initial contact. In the big road game W over Florida, SNELL carried the ball 27 times for 175 yards, which included taking snaps out of the Wildcat Offense late in the game to run out the clock. He may not be flashy most of the time, but should be draftable early on Day 4 of the 2019 Draft. He reminds me a lot of the BEARS JORDAN HOWARD in style and productivity. Expect him to come out for the 2019 Draft given his 3 year workload.
KaVONTAE TURPIN #25 WR/RS 5’9/169 TCU. EXPLOSIVE! That would be the one word description I would use for Mr. Turpin. He is small, but has multiple skills in his talent arsenal. I believe he can do all the things that another small dynamo named Darren Sproles has done as a pro for over a decade. And I also believe he is faster than Sproles. This past weekend TCU had a Friday night game, in a steady rain against SMU, and it was TURPIN who kept his team in the game early, when SMU seemed to have the edge. He got TCU on the board with a 78-yard Punt Return, during which he weaved through a ton of traffic and then outran everyone to the end zone. He scored another TD later on a 42-yard pass reception and run. For the night TURPIN caught 4 passes for 64 yards and had 3 Punt returns for 112 yards. As a pro, I would expect that he might be limited to about 12-15 touches per game, but he has the potential to break some big plays just like he did in this game. He would also make an effective decoy, helping to stretch the field on most secondaries. I would expect him to be a Top 100 Draftee likely by some team that lacks explosive play-makers on their roster. As they cleverly say at TCU, big play time is “Turpin-time’.