The Big Ten got back into action and it was good. But for now, let’s look at my Top 10 TE prospects list, which is dominated by Underclassmen, who we are assuming will declare early for Draft inclusion from the NFL.
- PAT FREIERMUTH Penn State Jr
- KYLE PITTS Florida Jr
- BREVIN JORDAN Miami (F) Jr
- JAKE FERGUSON Wisconsin Jr
- MATT BUSHMAN BYU INJ.
- TONY POLJAN Virginia
- KENNY YEBOAH Ole Miss
- CHARLIE KOLAR Iowa State Jr
- JOSH PEDERSON LA/Monroe
- NOAH GRAY Duke
My first watch of the weekend was Nebraska/Ohio State. The Cornhuskers gave it a go for a while in the first half, but eventually the Buckeyes roster talent and a plethora of Nebraska penalties turned it pretty much into a rout. I thought it interesting that Buckeyes HC RYAN DAY apologized for the final TD of the game for his team, which looked a lot like a “rub it in your face” score in the game’s final minute. He claimed his Frosh back-up QB got carried away with the excitement of the moment at the end of a nice drive into the Red Zone. He stated his intent to call Nebraska HC SCOTT FROST to apologize. I wonder if FROST took the call or sent it to voice mail.
I kept one eye peeled to Buckeyes LT THAYER MUNFORD (#75) most of the game, and I liked what I saw. He was a Big Ten All-Conference second teamer last season as a Junior. He is a long (6’5) fellow and showed good footwork in pass-pro. He is NOT a power road-grader, but has good functional strength, at 315 lbs. He used his long arms effectively to keep defenders out away from his body. He also displayed good balance and stayed on his feet, and off the ground. He is fundamentally sound and may have the athleticism to improve going forward as a pro. Right now, I would expect him to be an early Day Three Draftee, with a chance to move into Day Two with more efforts like this one as the season progresses.
Some weeks ago in this space, before the Big Ten and SEC began play, I mentioned that I felt the PITT Panthers might have the best tandem of DE Draft Prospects in the nation. I am not backing off that assertion right now, but if it is true, then I believe we watched another DE duo that may be not far behind them at MICHIGAN. Last weekend, the Wolverines put a licking on the Minnesota Golden Gophers and their Defense was a big part of that beatdown. Keying that defense was the DE combo of KWITY PAYE (#19) and AIDAN HUTCHINSON (#97). Their basic style of play and specific skills are rather different and compliment each other very nicely. PAYE, at 6’4/272, is the more explosive of the two, and his ability to pass rush and pressure the QB are the keys to his game. The Gophers seemed to be keeping PAYE pretty much under control for the better part of 3 quarters. However, as the game came down to crunch time, PAYE exploded and kept QB TANNER MORGAN on the run and on edge. PAYE recorded 3 TFL, including 2 Sacks in the final 20 minutes of the game. He ended up being credited with 4 Tackles total, and I felt like you could add another 2-3 QBH’s. Pro Scouts are hot on his trail, trying to discern whether he is a Day 2 or 1 talent. Meanwhile, HUTCHINSON was steady and productive from the first snap until the final gun. HUTCHINSON, stands 6’6 and carries 270 lbs. on that frame. He is more of an all-round talent than PAYE, but lacks that speed and burst to the QB. He sets the edge very well and uses his long frame and arms to disrupt a QB’s ability to find throwing lanes along the line-of-scrimmage. HUTCHINSON was credited with 6 tackles, 5 of them solo, and 1 PD, when he deflected a pass at the line-of-scrimmage on a MORGAN throw. AIDAN is a junior who will have to decide whether to go pro or not, but he clearly has the make up to play effectively in multiple roles along the DL. I don’t see HUTCHINSON until Day 2 of the Draft, but no later.
Being an old guy, I am never thrilled when my sport’s change significantly in their rules or schemes. One of my pet peeves these days is the disappearance of true FB’s from NFL rosters and schemes when many NFL teams have a need for that extra blocker around the goal line. For instance, most of them insert one of their TE’s in an H-Back role. In more cases than not, their blocking is nowhere near as effective as a good old Fullback. What a pleasure to watch Michigan FB BEN MASON in action! Mason stands 6’3 and weighs somewhere above 250 lbs. He hits like a runaway truck. He is a better than average athlete and occasionally they throw him a bone with an actual touch or two on Offense. In this game, they threw a pass to him which he caught and bulled forward for an 8-yard gain. MASON is also a key player on Special Teams for the Wolverines. He luvs to hit and will do any dirty work required by his team. There is still a place on an NFL roster for a true FB that has the skills and energy of BEN MASON. At best, he’s likely a late rounder, or even an URFA, but I will tell you there is great value for a guy like him on an NFL 53-man roster.
It was a tough day for MINNESOTA, which had the misfortune to have a cobbled together OL in the Loss to Michigan. However, some of their talent and row-the-boat attitude of Head Coach P.J. FLECK did shine through. They will win some games in this crazy Covid season. And their top offensive weapon will likely be WR/RASHOD BATEMAN (#0), who stands 6’2/210. He is not an all-out speedster, but he gets open deep and gets separation short. He plays sideline routes like a ballerina, with his footwork to stay inbounds. He had 60 catches in 2019 and opted out of the 2020 season when the Big Ten announced they would not have a Fall football season. He then opted back in when they announced they would play an abbreviated conference season this Fall. He was limited by the Michigan D in the first half, but did get his game in gear in the second half. On the evening, he caught 9 balls for 101 yards, with a long of 38 yards. He runs good patterns and shows reliable hands on the catch. He is also the winner on the majority of 50/50 balls that he battles defenders for. I think he will have a shot at being a late first rounder in the 2021 Draft, with no doubt of a second round slot, if not. I firmly believe he will be leaving college football after this season.
In a shocker last weekend, a sloppy Penn State team was upset by an aggressive Indiana squad in Bloomington, IN. State looked like a team that had not practiced for weeks because of Covid restrictions, but that was not the case. Needless to say, I was most anxious to watch PAT FREIERMUTH (#87), State’s big, athletic TE that more than a few folks refer to as Mini-GRONK. At 6’5/258, he is indeed just a bit shorter than GRONK, but the body sizes in general are comparable. FREIERMUTH is likely to be the first true TE drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. He is a very good receiver who shows dependable hands and can outrun most LB’s and a few S’s that try to cover him. He had 43 catches and 7 TD’s in 2019. Against IU, after a slow start, he ended the game with 7 receptions for 60 yards and 1 TD. Some would say that his weakness is not being much of a weapon on deep throws. But what troubles me is his lack of blocking for his size. He does not look dedicated to improving his blocking, or looking for contact to assert himself. I, for one, am not really excited by guys his size playing as slot receivers for lack of physicality. He is still my top ranked TE, partly because he has the size needed to be an inline TE, but he sure doesn’t play like a traditional TE. He will most likely end up as a Day 2 draftee. I cannot see him in Round 1 for my team..
Speaking of which, Indiana’s Jr. TE PEYTON HENDERSHOT (#86), at 6/4/250, was even more lacking in physical presence than FREIERMUTH. He did indeed line up in a slot position more often than not. HENDERSHOT also dropped several throws that seemed to catch him by surprise in his route. I will take a look at him later I the season.
I really liked what I saw out of IU DT JEROME JOHNSON (#98), who is stout (6’3/305) but can pursue the ball. He keeps his head on a swivel and reacts to the ball. He recorded only 2 Tackles on the day, but recovered a fumble and had an INT on a tipped ball. His 2019 stat sheet caught my eye during my pre-game roster perusal. He was the third leading returning tackler for the Hoosiers with 43 stops, as well as 5 sacks. Those are some nice numbers for a DT of his build. He’s a good athlete but I will credit much of what he accomplishes on the field to a high rev motor, as well as field awareness of what is happening around him. He might be good enough to get himself drafted, albeit in the later rounds. He may have enough talent and energy to fit in an NFL team’s DL group.
Another DL with about the same skill set and playing approach also caught my attention in the Oklahoma State/Iowa State contest. His name is CAMERON MURRAY (#92) of the Cowboys. He plays inside most of the time, and at 6’3/305, matches JOHNSON’s size. I liked his intensity and generally smart play. Like JOHNSON, he shows excellent awareness and ability to react to action around him. He is certainly not a sack master, but with a combination of expulsion off the snap and relentless effort, he can push or collapse the pocket from the inside. He recorded 4 Tackles, 2 solo, and had 1/2 TFL. He’s not quite stout enough to hold up on the Nose, but he could fit inside in either 2 or 4-man DL sets. He does a nice job getting his hands up to block the QB’s vision of passing lanes. He had 3 PBU’s last season by deflecting low throws over his spot on the DL. Another guy who might get drafted late.
I am happy to report that Oklahoma State WR TYLAN WALLACE looked fast and totally recovered from his late season injury last season. He looked to be running good routes and making sharp cuts. He also looked his old self, making acrobatic catches on high throw 50/50 balls. He looks to have a very high vertical jump. That jump showed itself at the end of the game when he skied high to catch a bouncing onside kick attempt by Iowa State with 49 seconds left to play. That recovery sealed the W for the Cowboys. He also has a reputation for being very strong and physical battling defenders for the ball despite a lack of large size at 6’0, 185 lbs. I felt I saw that trait on several occasions. His good hands and sideline footwork set him up for more than his share of sideline catches. On the downside, I just didn’t see him getting much separation. He may require a very accurate QB who can fit the ball into a small target area against top level NFL CB’s. On the day, after a slow start, WALLACE recorded 5 catches for 76 yards. I liked what I saw, but I am pretty sure that workout numbers at the Combine will dictate how high or low he goes in the 2021 Draft, almost more so than his game tape.
And now, I have perhaps saved the best for last this week. I doubt I would get very little argument if I said that the best Pro Prospect on the Oklahoma State roster was RB CHUBA HUBBARD (#30), the Canadian lad that is one of the top 3 RB’s on my prospect list. HUBBARD is listed at 6’0/208 and rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2019 at 6.4-ypc, including 21 rushing TD’s. HC GUNDY doesn’t feature CHUBA in the passing attack, but he did collect 23 catches last season. CHUBA is not a power back, nor is he a speedster, but he shows good field vision to elude potential tacklers in space or in a crowd. He also shows good contact balance, especially if defenders hit him high and do not wrap up. He started slowly in the game with Iowa State, as did the entire Cowboys Offense. But like many RB’s, he wore out the opponents Defense, especially in the second half. Just before halftime, he gave a glimpse of things to come with a winding 32-yard TD scamper. Once Okie State got the lead, HUBBARD was a big part of eating up clock time with the running game. At the end of the day, he had a total of 139 yards on 25 carries (5.56 ypc), including that 1 TD. He actually reminds me of a former Oklahoma State RB named THURMAN THOMAS. CHUBA should have a very good chance at landing a First Round selection spot in the 2021 NFL Draft.
If you are a die hard Draftnik, I encourage you to keep reading the GBNReport.com, as Colin and Larry do work daily to keep you up to date about transfers, opt-outs, opt back-ins and all kinds of Draft projection updates. As I finished up this article, Colin had just posted the news that Miss State RB KYLIN HILL had opted out of the remainder of the 2020 season to rehab and train for the Draft.