The week before conference championship games is usually a quiet one for NFL draft fans, but not this week. Instead, it's been a roller coaster of information and analysis.
We've lost two quarterbacks to season-ending ACL injuries. The No. 2 overall player in the class decided to head back to school. And as NFL teams dig in on prospects, concerns are growing about the No. 1 player in the class.
This and so much more awaits you in this week's Scouting Notebook.
|Carlos Hyde||RB||Ohio St.||Ohio State's big back started the year way down on my board, but he has risen through the ranks after seeing his improved speed, agility in the hole and second gear. Hyde is powerful, aggressive and picks up tough yards on the inside because he sees the hole and hits it. There's no tip-toeing through the tulips with this guy. He's in the top 100 range near season's end.|
|Quandre Diggs||CB||Texas||The University of Texas has churned out exceptional defensive backs under coach Duane Akina. Add Quandre Diggs' name to that list. Playing in a nickel cornerback role against Texas Tech, Diggs shut down future first-rounder Jace Amaro. Diggs, who is listed at 5'10" and 200 pounds, kept Amaro (6'6", 260 lbs.) in check all day as the Longhorns cruised to an easy win on Thanksgiving. A junior, Diggs could head back to Austin or toss his name into the NFL draft, where he's a likely top-100 pick.|
|Zack Martin||OL||Notre Dame||Shutting down the Stanford defense, and especially Trent Murphy, is no small task, but Zack Martin was outstanding in his pass protection against the Cardinal defense. Martin, who plays tackle but projects best to guard at the next level, has top-50 potential.|
|Gregory Robinson||OT||Auburn||Auburn left tackle Gregory Robinson jumps off the film anytime you turn it on. Playing in a spread-out scheme, he's shown athletic ability, vision and strength protecting the edge and kicking out in the run game. He's only a redshirt sophomore, but he's on the NFL's radar and has first-round potential.|
|Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State||Derek Carr is doing his best to shatter the record for largest in-season move on my big board. His physical tools are off the charts, with arm strength and ball placement to excel on every throw. And his biggest flaw, his pocket presence, continues to improve. He's in the top 10 currently.|
|Zach Mettenberger||QB||LSU||No quarterback prospect in the 2014 class has a more impressive arm than Zach Mettenberger, but NFL teams will be looking at his knee. Mettenberger is out for the year with an ACL tear, and with a normal nine- to 12-month recovery, he's looking at a long road before playing in the NFL. His draft stock will hinge entirely on his rehab, but there could be a brave team to draft him late first round and stash him for the future.|
|Andre Williams||RB||Boston College||A riser in last week's edition, Williams' draft stock took a hit when he left Boston College's game with an injury after totaling just 29 yards rushing against Syracuse. Williams has the production, power and experience teams love, but his speed will be questioned heavily. He needs to get healthy for the team's bowl game and then commit to speed training for the combine.|
|Michael Sam||DE||Missouri||The Missouri Tigers may have taken down Texas A&M, but defensive end Michael Sam wasn't an impact player. Instead, it was teammate Kony Ealy who stole the show on defense, leaving Sam too often out of position or tangled up with a blocker. Being able to use his hands to come off a block is Sam's biggest weakness, and against Cedric Ogbuehi, he struggled.|
|Taylor Lewan||OT||Michigan||Taylor Lewan has rare physical ability and upside, but his technique is too often sloppy. Against Ohio State, he was caught bending at the waist and lunging his upper body to reach defenders. Those are sloppy habits that will leave him exposed against NFL pass-rushers. Lewan, who was the No. 1 tackle entering this season, is slipping to the mid-first-round range.|
|Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M||Johnny Manziel's ability as a pro quarterback remains in question depending on whom you talk to, but his play against Missouri won't help silence critics. Facing a fast, pro-style defense, Manziel struggled. Once Mizzou took away Mike Evans, the A&M passing game stalled. Manziel is creative in the pocket and dynamic on the move, but he has yet to consistently show an ability to make a second or third read on a play. He's a first-round quarterback, but there's work to be done before he's NFL-ready.|
The Scout’s Report
— Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced he will return to school for his redshirt junior season. The 20-year-old dual-threat star ranked as the No. 2 overall player in the draft before his announcement and will head into next season as the No. 1 prospect. Mariota's decision to return is a wise one, and it's something I talked about here last week. He still has room to grow and the reality is his age and lack of experience would have been a negative in the draft process. Now, Mariota can work on his game while making a run at a national title and a Heisman Trophy season in 2014.
— I spoke with three area scouts this week who all like Derek Carr as a top-five pick. Possible destinations for him include Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota and Oakland, but keep an eye on the Cleveland Browns. Carr fits the profile that general manager Michael Lombardi and head coach Rob Chudzinski want in their quarterback.
— Clemson's Tajh Boyd has accepted his Senior Bowl invite. This is a huge stage for quarterbacks to build or break their draft stock. With Mariota staying in school and Mettenberger injured, Boyd has a chance to fill the void in the first round. Last year, EJ Manuel came into the week as a mid-round prospect and elevated himself to the first round.
— Also accepting Senior Bowl invites this week: WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), DB Jaylen Watkins (Florida), C Weston Richburg (Colorado State), DB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), FS Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) and RB Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky).
— One player who hasn't yet received a Senior Bowl invite is Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. A top prep player and son of former NFL defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, the young defender has had an up-and-down career at Texas due to injuries. He's closed out the season strong, though, and could be a late add to the Senior Bowl roster.
— Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has decided to forgo his final year of college and enter the draft. Purifoy is a talented athlete but a raw technician in coverage. He looks like a Day 2 player on my initial board.
— Speaking to people close to the Texas A&M program this week, they tell me that Johnny Manziel is a "lock" to enter the 2014 draft. He's just waiting until the regular season ends to make his announcement. The feeling is Manziel's announcement may be a distraction to the team if made too soon.
— Other top A&M underclassmen—Mike Evans and Cedric Ogbuehi are both reportedly "50/50" on whether to enter or not. A source tells me Ogbuehi "wants to make sure he's maxed out his draft stock" before entering the class early.
— The LSU Tigers are expected to lose a large number of underclassmen to this year's draft, but don't automatically count wide receiver Odell Beckham among them. Sources tell me Beckham isn't likely to leave school unless he's thought to be a top-15 pick. Beckham is a first-round talent, but his chances of going in the top 15 will be affected by the decisions of teammate Jarvis Landry and Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
— Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a favorite of mine, ranked as my second-best quarterback prospect. That's not a sentiment shared by some NFL teams. One scout I spoke with this week complained about Bridgewater's "terrible body" and the team's weak schedule. The junior hasn't yet declared, but there are rumors his value around the league isn't quite on par with the media's love affair with him.
A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
What is the most important aspect when evaluating an NFL prospect? I asked five area scouts that question this week, and they all gave the same answer or some variation of it—speed.
One NFC East scout told me they are trained to look for athletes first and then move on to the technical aspect of the position. He noted that "especially on defense, [redacted] wants athletes. Big bodies with speed."
This goes against what common knowledge may indicate. NFL scouts aren't looking for production first and athleticism later, but the opposite. Speed is the only thing that cannot be coached, and in an industry where coaches must have the confidence in their ability to develop players, that's huge for the draft process.
Next time you're at home scouting players, remember that it's the speed on the field that the scouts in the press box are drooling over.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
The May draft won't feature Marcus Mariota or Bryce Petty. Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will be rehabbing ACL surgeries. Logan Thomas and Stephen Morris failed to turn physical gifts into solid quarterbacking. Whom does that leave as the No. 2 signal-caller in the class?
Fresno State's Derek Carr is the top senior quarterback on the big board and now the second overall prospect at the position. With his name becoming more and more popular each day, here's a sneak peek at Carr's NFL ability.
Strengths: Carr has high-level physical ability. He possesses the arm strength to make throws all over the field without decreased velocity or depth. His ball placement is excellent on 2013 film in a more spread-out offense, but going back to 2011 in a more pro-style system, you still see good timing and anticipation on passes. Carr is mobile enough to make plays when he has to stretch the pocket, and he shows good enough athletic ability to accurately throw on the run. He's able to adjust his arm angle to get passes by defenders or to throw in tight passing windows. Carr's experienced, too, having started for three seasons at Fresno. During that time he has had to learn two very different offenses and has shown no struggles to pick them up or execute them on the field.
Weaknesses: Carr's biggest flaw may be his last name. As the brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, people will undoubtedly connect the two. The younger Carr is a smarter player in the pocket than his brother was in the NFL, but he has had to overcome issues in the pocket as well. Carr too often faded away from the line of scrimmage and threw off his back foot when facing inside pressure. This has been improved upon somewhat, but it can still creep up on film when he's getting hit. While Carr's maturity will be praised—he's married with a child—that can also be a negative, as some teams want young quarterbacks with little to no off-field responsibilities pulling them away from the film room.
Pro Player Comparison: Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Forget what you might think about Cutler the person and look at his physical abilities. That's Derek Carr. He has the arm to throw the ball into tight windows, is confident enough to test defenses, and is mobile enough to open the offense up with roll-outs and scrambles.
The Big Board
|2||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|3||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M|
|8||Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State|
|9||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|10||Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State|
|11||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|12||Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|17||Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|20||Michael Bennett||DT||Ohio State|
Matt Miller's 2014 Big Board
10. One year ago, heading into a weak quarterback class, we told fans to "wait till next year." Next year is here, but the QB class could once again be weaker than expected. Mariota's return to Oregon weakens the class considerably, as do injuries to Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray. With Bryce Petty also returning to Baylor, the quarterbacks will be a group to watch in January and February.
9. Again, I love the decision to return to Oregon by Marcus Mariota. You can only be a college quarterback for so long. The NFL can wait.
8. I love the talent at wide receiver in this year's class. Sammy Watkins is an A.J. Green-level prospect, and the depth in the first 50 picks is amazing. Marqise Lee (USC), Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham (LSU), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Allen Robinson (Penn State) and Mike Evans (Texas A&M) could make this one of the best receiver classes I've scouted if they all enter the draft.
7. I hate seeing injuries to anyone, but especially to senior quarterbacks Mettenberger and Murray. Both players will miss their team's bowl game, which ends their seasons not on the field but standing off of it on crutches.
6. I love the talent we're seeing at tight end in the college game. Eric Ebron from North Carolina has rare Vernon Davis-like skills and will be a very nice weapon in the NFL. Add in Jace Amaro, who is a nightmare in the slot, and you have two first-round-caliber athletes at the position.
5. I think Case Keenum is worth a long look at quarterback in Houston. The Texans have nothing to lose in the next four weeks, so let's unleash Keenum. The team allowed him to make plays in Week 13 against the New England Patriots and he put 31 points on the board. With a high draft pick coming their way, the Texans need to see what they have in the young quarterback.
4. I think the Jay Cutler situation will be interesting in Chicago. Word is leaking that the team doesn't want to use the franchise tag on Cutler, which means he could enter free agency. How many teams would pony up to sign the talented but oft-injured passer? A lot of them. Cutler would make teams like Cleveland and Minnesota instant playoff contenders.
3. I think Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery are real-deal, elite young talents at wideout. They're here to stay, folks. Now let's get them both consistent quarterbacks to work with.
2. I think the NFL Network is going to have a hard time selling Texans vs. Jaguars Thursday night, but there's a ton at stake for draft positioning. Houston has the No. 1 pick as of today, but the Jaguars are close behind. Whoever wins the matchup could officially knock themselves out of the race for the first overall pick.
1. I hate that college coaches can leave a job, and a contract, with no penalty, but college athletes can't leave school without sitting out a year. Steve Sarkisian can jump to USC, but the players he recruited are at the mercy of whomever the University of Washington hires as head coach.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@movethesticks, Daniel Jeremiah
Mariota made huge strides from last year to this year and he's just scratching the surface of his potential. Good decision.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 4, 2013
A former NFL scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, Daniel Jeremiah now works for NFL media as an analyst covering the league and the draft. His experience in NFL war rooms and on the road as a scout makes him invaluable as a year-round follow.
Burp the Baby
If you're sitting in the stands at the Senior Bowl and hear team scouts talking about quarterbacks who keep burping the baby, don't be confused—there aren't actual babies out there. This phrase refers to quarterbacks who continually pat the football before throwing it.
This is a bad habit as it telegraphs when they're throwing, takes time away from their motion, and keeps the ball in their hand longer than needed. Burping the baby can also be a sign of a quarterback with smaller hands who wants to keep better control of the ball before taking his off-hand away for the pass.
What I’m Watching This Weekend
1. Texas at Baylor
|Texas offense||Texas defense||Baylor offense||Baylor defense|
RB Malcolm Brown
WR Mike Davis
LT Donald Hawkins
DE Cedric Reed
DE Jackson Jeffcoat
CB Quandre Diggs
CB Carrington Byndom
SS Adrian Phillips
QB Bryce Petty
RB Lache Seastrunk
OG Cyril Richardson
DE Shawn Oakman
SS Ahmad Dixon
The Big 12's biggest game of the week features a ton of offense from Baylor against a Texas defense loaded with future NFL prospects. The key matchup will be Lache Seastrunk and Cyril Richardson in the run game against the Texas defensive ends. Expect big things from Reed and Jeffcoat when attacking Bryce Petty, but can they hold the edge and contain the speedy Seastrunk?
2. UCF at Southern Methodist
|UCF offense||UCF defense||SMU offense||SMU defense|
QB Blake Bortles
RB Storm Johnson
WR Jeff Godfrey
DT E.J. Dunston
QB Garrett Gilbert
WR Jeremy Johnson
CB Kenneth Acker
There are not a ton of high-profile prospects in this game, but in a week that features a light schedule, all eyes will be on Central Florida's Blake Bortles. With the quarterback class unexpectedly weakened, Bortles could benefit most if he enters the draft a year early. Take time to check out his dual-threat, Ben Roethlisberger-lite type of play.
3. Ohio State vs. Michigan State
|Ohio St. offense||Ohio St. defense||Michigan St. offense||Michigan St. defense|
QB Braxton Miller
QB Kenny Guiton
RB Carlos Hyde
WR Corey Brown
OT Jack Mewhort
OG Andrew Norwell
C Corey Linsley
LB Ryan Shazier
DT Michael Bennett
CB Bradley Roby
FS Christian Bryant
SS C.J. Barnett
WR Bennie Fowler
OT Fou Fonoti
LB Max Bullough
LB Denicos Allen
CB Darqueze Dennard
SS Isaiah Lewis
The game may not be as one-sided as the draft prospects list, making this a must-watch event. The key here is the defense. Being able to evaluate Ryan Shazier, Michael Bennett, Bradley Roby, Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard on the same field is a Big Ten scout's dream. Also, how well does Carlos Hyde run against a Spartans defense that's suffocating at times? It's a big game for Hyde.
4. Stanford at Arizona State
|Stanford offense||Stanford defense||Arizona St. offense||Arizona St. defense|
QB Kevin Hogan
RB Tyler Gaffney
WR Ty Montgomery
OG David Yankey
OG Kevin Danser
DE Josh Mauro
DE Henry Anderson
OLB Trent Murphy
ILB Shayne Skov
ILB A.J. Tarpley
FS Ed Reynolds
RB Marion Grice (inj.)
FB Chris Coyle
WR Jaelen Strong
OT Evan Finkenberg
DT Will Sutton
LB Carl Bradford
Will Sutton has a chance to be the first defensive tackle off the board in May, but how well he handles the Stanford offensive line is key for his game film. David Yankey has a shot at being the first guard drafted if he declares early, making his play against Sutton equally important. With Marion Grice injured, the Stanford linebackers might not get a strong test, but they're still talented enough to warrant an evaluation every chance you get.
5. Missouri at Auburn
|Missouri offense||Missouri defense||Auburn offense||Auburn defense|
QB James Franklin
WR L'Damian Washington
WR Marcus Lucas
TE Eric Waters
OT Justin Britt
DE Michael Sam
DE Kony Ealy
CB E.J. Gaines
RB Tre Mason
FB Jay Prosch
OT Greg Robinson
DE Dee Ford
DT Jeffrey Whitaker
CB Chris Davis
FS Jermaine Whitehead
The Auburn offense against the Missouri defense is appointment viewing, but the scouting matchup is the Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson against the athletic Missouri pass-rushers. How well Robinson works in space against long, speedy ends like Kony Ealy could help determine whether he's ready for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore year or not.