ANDRE DILLARD #60 OT 6’5/305 WASHINGTON STATE
Once again Mad Scientist MIKE LEACH has his team achieving things that few of us projected from them last Summer. And without doubt, some of their success is indeed due to the creativity of LEACH and his staff, but let’s also acknowledge that they do find talented players and develop them for their system and schemes. One of the steadiest risers in that regard is their LT DILLARD. He has been a starter since his Sophomore season, and in 2017, he gained PAC-12 Honorable Mention. This year, he looks to be elevating his play to that of a Top 100 Draft prospect. My notes, from watching him perform in the big upset over Oregon two weeks ago, have me describing him as an “adequate athlete, fundamentally sound”. He has very good foot movement in all directions in pass pro. His arm length looks adequate, and he uses his hands effectively to fend off rushers. Also looks flexible with natural knee bend. Overall, his biggest need appears to be more functional strength. Judging run blocking technique in the aerial circus Offense of LEACH is somewhat problematic. But my biggest desire is for him to sustain his run blocks a bit longer. I think he’s a solid Day 2 draftee, who will continue to develop under a good teaching OL Coach, like a BILL CALLAHAN.
JAYLON FERGUSON #45 DE/ER 6’5/260 LA TECH
I have a mixed review on this player after watching his team upset Florida Atlantic in Boca last week. Let’s start with the positives. He’s a nice looking athlete with a somewhat slight frame, but good length, who can turn on the jets as an edge-rusher. He also showed some football smarts. He was able to make a couple of impact plays during the contest and finished with some nice stats: 6 tackles, 5 solo, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QBH. That QBH was late in the 1st Quarter and took place in the red zone, where every yard counts. He also had a fumble recovery in the 2nd Quarter. Having said all of that, he left me cold with his medium energy intensity and willingness to watch on most plays away from his side of the field. He was also manhandled more often than not against the run game, unable to set the edge and being washed aside easily by the OT. I also saw only one pass rush move the entire game, which was an outside speed rush, which often took him well past the QB pocket, and effectively out of the play. He needs more weight and strength, plus a more willing attitude to fight the OT for his position. Being a finesse player with limited technique makes him a risk for success as a pro. He may have to be moved to OLB, and there are no guarantees he can play in reverse. He ain’t no MARCUS DAVENPORT, and does not possess Top 100 skills at this point, to my eyes. He may be highly sought after as Day 3 of the Draft begins, especially if he posts superior athlete numbers at the Combine.
GREG GAINES #99 DT 6’2/315 WASHINGTON
For the past couple of seasons, GAINES and his DL partner VITA VEA created an almost impenetrable wall for opposing offenses in the PAC-12. VEA is toiling in Tampa Bay this season after being a 2018 first round draftee. GAINES was a 2nd Team PAC-12 performer last season, and is having a bigger season in 2018, as he is the clear leader of the DL. GAINES appears to me to be about as wide as he is tall. But his mobility far exceeds what I would expect from his body type. Let’s look at his output in the showdown loss to CAL: 10 T, 6 solo, 2 TFL, 1 Sack. Without VEA around, GAINES has really stepped up and already has exceeded most of his stat totals from last season, with 4 games yet to play. The inside clogger had 30 tackles in 2017, and already has 42 in 2018. How does a fire hydrant on feet get to the ball that often with all the speed on the field, from guys weighing 100 lbs less than GAINES? Whenever I watch the Huskies, I marvel at the number of times I see GAINES in the pack of defenders chasing opposing runners all the way to the sidelines. And it’s not a soft 315 lbs he is carrying around. He jolts RB’s and QB’s when he gets a clean shot on them. I like his talent best in a 4-3, playing on the Nose. But I also see him as being stout enough to play the pure Nose in a 3-4 alignment.
BRECKYN HAGER #44 DE/ER 6’3/255 TEXAS
HAGER, whose bloodlines include NFL pedigree, is an interesting prospect. With his flowing locks sticking out below his helmet, he looks like Clay Matthews at times. IF I said he played like his hair was on fire, we might have to classify it as a 3-alarm blaze. He does play with a high intensity level and shows no shortage of energy. At the very least, he should make an immediate solid contribution as an NFL special teamer, and a passing-down edge rusher. But he might be able to contribute even more, if he can make the conversion to playing part of the time as an OLB. In the close loss at Oklahoma State, he was a big contributor with 9 tackles, 7 of them solo, with 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, and 1 QBH. Once we get into the Round 4/5 range of the 2019 NFL Draft, he could become a valuable player for many defenses. An All-Star venue could be of great value to him in establishing interest from multiple teams. I also suspect that he will be able to post some solid numbers at the Combine testing.
MITCH HYATT #75 OT 6’5/305 CLEMSON
HYATT’s start at LT in the beat down of FSU last weekend was HYATT’s 50th start for the Tigers. He’s garnered ACC honors since his true frosh season. He may not be an elite athletic guy, nor a physical phenomenon, but he plays his ass off every week, and keeps his QB upright the vast majority of the time. He pretty much shut out FSU edge-rusher supreme BRIAN BURNS in the latest game. I was expecting a fierce match-up, and even had BURNS’ name on my notebook page prior to game time. It wasn’t until HYATT was called for a hold on BURNS with 0:30 left to go in the second quarter, that I could clearly call a BURNS victory when they were matched up. HYATT wins with technique and persistence most of the time. Has he enough talent to start in the NFL? I’m pretty sure he does, even though his lack of great foot speed may force a move to RT as a pro. He also has a balanced offensive scheme to work in, which means he has run and pass blocking experience in his tool box. I love watching some of his seal blocks in the running game. He is not an elite athlete, but he finds ways to get the job done, play after play. He is right on the border for me between Round 3 or 4. If 100 underclassmen come out again watch for HYATT to slip into Round 4.
COLLIN JOHNSON #9 WR 6’4/212 TEXAS JR
This young man is my favorite receiver on the Longhorns, now explosive, offense. He led the team with 54 catches in 2017, and is running neck and neck with fellow junior HUMPHREY as the top Longhorns receiver. But I think JOHNSON is the more reliable and consistent target for QB EHLINGER. In the tough loss to Oklahoma State, JOHNSON hauled in 5 catches for 65 yards. He is an absolute champ at winning 50/50 balls and making defenders pay every time they have to tackle him. Though not a speedster, he can present quite a challenge for smaller DB’s to get him down after the catch. I will be curious to see the official numbers on his hand size, arm length, and wingspan. I expect some impressive numbers at the Combine if he comes out early. The way he has progressed from last year to this, I can see him evolving into a No. 2/3 wideout at the NFL level. He might rank as good enough to go in Round 3 if his Combine speed/quickness numbers impress enough.
PATRICK LAIRD #28 RB 6’0/205 CAL
Let me state right away that LAIRD is a late Draft Pick, if not an URFA next Spring. But if you like productive, versatile guys, he’s likely to be a solid roster addition. In 2017, he rushed for 1,127 yards at 5.9 ypc, while scoring 9 TD’s. He added another 45 receptions, including another TD. His gritty play also cries out for success, contributing on Special Teams at the next level. CAL is sitting at 5-3 right now and is a thorn in the side of most of their opponents. LAIRD’s rushing yards are down a bit this season (660), but he already has 34 receptions thru 8 games. In Cal’s upset Win over Washington last weekend, LAIRD had 22 carries for 83 yards, and 4 receptions for 28 yards. His all-around play reminds me a bit of recent Cal RB DANIEL LASCO, who was with the Saints, but may be done as a player because of injury. He should also make a valuable, positive locker room presence for some NFL team.
DEXTER LAWRENCE #90 DT 6’4/340 CLEMSON JR
LAWRENCE is the behemoth of that stellar DL unit for the Tigers. He is simply massive, and plays accordingly. He may not post huge stat lines (2 tackles this past week), but he has great influence on an offense, as he holds the point of attack and stymies opponents’ ability to run between the tackles. Some of the things you see him doing are surprising and catch your eye. In the 2nd Quarter, when CHRIS WILKINS came in as a RB and scored on a short yardage TD run, the FB leading the way was LAWRENCE. Lawrence didn’t actually block anyone, but screened off two defenders. The bottom line is, that not only is he huge by any standard, but he also has uncommon athleticism in that body. On several occasions, I noticed his absence on the field on second down and long, and assumed it was because it was an obvious passing situation and a chance to give him a blow. But no, on both occasions he was back out on the field on 3rd down, and providing outside pass-rush pressure on the pocket. Even though DEXTER never got a sack against FSU, he was right in the face of QB FRANCOIS when he threw an INT in the 2nd Quarter. I also noticed LAWRENCE in pursuit of FSU ball carriers all the way to the sideline on several occasions. I would also note that LAWRENCE does a very good job keeping on his feet and off the ground until the tackles are made. This man-mountain is special, and reminds me of a young HALOTI NGATA at times, which is a very high compliment in my scouting book. Assuming he comes out early for the 2019 NFL Draft, I would expect that some team in need of a standout DL anchor will tab him in the first half of Round One.
GARDNER MINSHEW #16 QB 6’2/220 WASHINGTON STATE
With the NCAA loosening its transfer rules in recent years, some previously obscure player names are cropping up more and more as key players for their new teams, and serious contenders for NFL Draft spots. One such guy is Cougars QB MINSHEW. He’s a decent sized guy, with an above average, live arm, who has caught on quickly to what HC MIKE LEACH wants from his starting QB up in Pullman. After a slow start last Saturday night, the COUGARS came storming back to topple the Cardinal in Palo Alto. MINSHEW led the way with an elite performance. MINSHEW went 40/50, 80% for 438 yards, with 3 TD and 0 INT. He throws with good accuracy and reads the defense well to determine where to look to find an open receiver. He also throws a nice catchable ball for his receivers. In a year where the QB Draft Class looks to be well below the quality of last year, MINSHEW would certainly seem to be in the top tier prospect group right now.
MATT NELSON #96 DT 6’7/295 IOWA
Let’s start by clearing up the Iowa riddle of which NELSON is which on the 2018 football team. ANTHONY is a junior DE, who is also very long (6’7), and has some serious pass-rush ability. MATT is the senior DT along the exceptional Iowa defensive front. Though he gets some push up the middle, his main role is that of the anchor along that DL. For those of you old enough to remember the Vikings Purple People Eaters during their multi-season Super Bowl appearances last century, the stars were named PAGE, ELLER and JIM MARSHALL, who drove QB’s crazy with constant pass rush pressure. But they, of course, had a 4th member along that DL named GARY LARSON, who was the stay at home anchor. MATT NELSON is that for Iowa, and has potential in my eyes to contribute as a solid pro. Iowa got bested by a deeper talent pool and a home field advantage, by Penn State 24-30. NELSON did his usual, solid job as that DL anchor, recording 6 tackles, 2 solo, 1/2 TFL and 1 QBH. His length has been key in allowing him to deflect passes at/near the L-of-S, as well as hindering opposing QB’s from finding throwing lanes, by obstructing their view downfield. NELSON is not likely to star as a pro, but could be a valuable asset in a DL rotation. Watch for his name in Rounds 5-7 in the 2019 NFL Draft. I hope to see him in January at the Shrine/Sr Bowl venues.
SHELDRICK REDWINE #22 S 6’1/195 MIAMI (F)
For a guy who does not get paid for scouting, I feel like I watch a lot of college football for scouting purposes. And with the Hurricanes back on the radar under HC MARK RICHT, MIAMI is a regular watch for me in recent seasons. And it seems to me, that more often than not, a player who catches my eye is S SHELDRICK REDWINE. He may not get the ink that some of his DB mates do, but I really like the way this young man patrols the secondary for the “Canes. REDWINE seems to have football radar in his head somewhere, and the game at B.C, was a prime example. In a hard fought loss, REDWINE led his team with 14 tackles, 8 of them solo efforts. Although he had no picks on the night, REDWINE already has 3 INT on the season. Mark him down as an early Day 3 draftee next April, and a serious contributor on Special Teams for his pro team, while he earns playing time in their secondary.