2015 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Preseason Scouting Notebook

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2015 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Preseason Scouting Notebook
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There is something great about walking outside on an August morning and feeling that dew in the grass, the hint of another hot day in the air, and knowing, with every bone in your body, that football season is just around the corner.

With the 2014 college football season kicking off this weekend, it's time to dust off the Scouting Notebook and start our weekly look at the upcoming 2015 NFL draft. This weekly feature (every Friday) will be published as a complete resource on rumors, news, notes, insights and analysis surrounding the 2015 draft class.

Let's get started.

 

The Scout's Report

- Let's kick things off with a great quote I received this week from a top-level AFC scout: "(The) key is to not miss on under-the-radar seniors this time of year. Plenty of time to evaluate the juniors." 

- Speaking of the senior class, everyone loves a sleeper, and NFL scouts are raving about quarterback Bryan Bennett from Southeastern Louisiana. The former Oregon player was a backup to Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota but started for the Lions in 2013. At 6'3", 205 pounds, he has the athleticism and arm teams want at the next level.

- How does the Josh Shaw (USC) saga affect his draft stock? On my board, he won't move down just yet. Two ankle injuries, a suspension and lying to the police is both bad and embarrassing, but you have to know when to chalk these things up to his being an immature kid. More background work is needed before Shaw moves down my board, but he will carry an asterisk into the season as a player with off-field questions.

Doug Benc/Associated Press

Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Jameis Winston (Florida State) are two of the most popular players in all of college football right now, and three NFL scouts I spoke to this week said they will not be evaluating the quarterbacks at this time, as the expectation is that they will return to school for the 2015 season. Team scouts will generally not look at underclassmen in the fall if they expect them to return to school. On my radar, I expect Winston to declare for the upcoming draft.

Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor) has drawn high praise off the field for his leadership and personality, but one quarterback expert I spoke to this week noted that Petty's biggest obstacle heading into the NFL will be learning pass protections and route combinations coming out of Art Briles' scheme.

- The senior quarterback class doesn't look overwhelmingly good this year, but the junior class is strong. Everyone knows about Mariota, Brett Hundley and Winston, but I'm told by several area scouts that Michigan State's Connor Cook is a guy to watch for a "Blake Bortles-type rise" up boards.

- Area scouts are already circling the November 28 matchup between Iowa and Nebraska, but expect a lot of general managers at this game, too. Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff are both top-five players for me heading into the season.

- The name most fans want to know about right now is Jameis Winston, and one scouting director told me that the Florida State quarterback "has the best tools of any passer in the country, but the character really worries me." 

- While not a college player, one name to monitor closely this season is that of Duron Carter. The former Ohio State/Alabama/Coffeyville Community College player is now in Canada, playing for the Montreal Alouettes. Due to his CFL contract details, the 6'5", 209-pound wide receiver cannot play in the NFL until 2015. It's expected that Carter will attempt to enter the NFL as a free agent and not sign a future's contract—something any player not on an NFL roster when the 2014 season ends can do. 

 

Five Up, Five Down

Each week Five Up, Five Down will monitor the movements of players on my draft board.

5. QB Jameis Winston, FSU

This summer, I sat down to watch every throw from Jameis Winston's 2013 season, and it was impressive. The redshirt sophomore is draft-eligible after this season if he wants to head to the pros, and based on what I saw on film he's ready. Winston is currently a top-five player on my board. 

See the full scouting report here. 

 

4. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

Hundley received the in-depth treatment this summer, too, and offers exactly what the NFL wants in a quarterback. He's big, strong, athletic and is asked to get through progressions and make NFL-level throws for the Bruins. Hundley, a redshirt junior, has top-pick potential.

USA TODAY Sports

 

3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas

No player will benefit more from Charlie Strong's hire at Texas than big defensive end Cedric Reed. The senior end is up to 272 pounds after playing the 2013 season at 258 pounds, per TexasSports.com. And Reed told me that weight gain is all muscle thanks to a new training program under Strong. My No. 2-ranked defensive end heading into the season, Reed has the tools to be a starting edge player in the NFL.

 

2. CB Marcus Peters, Washington; 1. OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington

The best part of evaluating players is watching the film to see one guy (for example, defensive tackle Danny Shelton) and having your eyes pulled away to another player. That happens often watching the Washington Husky defense.  

Both Marcus Peters and Hau'oli Kikaha look like first-rounders heading into the season. Now that Kikaha is completely healthy—he missed all of 2011 and 2012 with knee injuries—the defense should be among the most talented in the country. Peters has ideal cornerback size (6'0", 190 lbs), speed and instincts. With Kikaha pressuring quarterbacks, Peters will have his shot at plenty of interceptions.

Both players carry a first-round grade in the preseason.

 

1. WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma

The Dorial Green-Beckham story is a long one, but worth reading.

To sum it up—talented Missouri wide receiver with breakout potential is accused of domestic violence (but not charged) and then dismissed from the team. He lands at Oklahoma, where the team requests immediate eligibility for the 2014 season. The NCAA (wisely) denied this appeal.

Now Green-Beckham will likely sit out the season, and it's up in the air whether he'll ever play college football again. He is 2015 draft eligible, and like Josh Gordon before him, could use a season of character building at a new program (Oklahoma) before declaring for the draft. 

Due to off-field red flags and his not being on the field in 2014, Green-Beckham's stock is in serious decline.

 

2. DE Devonte Fields, TCU

Another super-talented player kicked off his team this year was TCU's Devonte Fields. The Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Fields was expected to transfer to Stephen F. Austin but backed out after the NCAA didn't grant him a waiver to play this season. 

Fields was separated from the TCU football team after he "surrendered to authorities on a misdemeanor assault warrant, stemming from allegations he threatened his ex-girlfriend and punched her", per ESPN's Joe Schad

Fields may head to a junior college next, but like Green-Beckham, he is eligible for the 2015 draft. I'm told by junior college coaches that Fields is not eligible to leave the state of Texas due to charges from his domestic-abuse case, or else he would have landed with a new school already.

 

3. WR DeVante Parker, Louisville

Injuries are the worst part of football, and my top-ranked senior wide receiver is feeling that pain right now. DeVante Parker was Teddy Bridgewater's go-to guy last fall, but the stud wide receiver will miss six to eight weeks with a broken fifth metatarsel in his left foot, per the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Parker's injury will cause him to miss a large part of the 2014 season, but as long as he's healthy enough to finish the year, participate in the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, his stock could recover.

 

4. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

For the second straight season, an injured throwing shoulder will cause Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to miss games. This time, it will cost him the entire 2014 season. 

Miller's status as a quarterback prospect was already up in the air (see my full report on him here), but with a healthy 2014 he at least had the chance to show NFL teams the improvements he made when working with quarterback guru George Whitfield this offseason. Now, Miller must rehab and make a decision on if he's ready for the NFL or another season of Buckeye football.

 

5. CB Josh Shaw, USC

Josh Shaw went from hero to embarrassment in record time this week, and NFL teams will be watching for more details about how he managed to injure both ankles "falling" from a balcony.

Shaw was voted a team captain this summer, though, and has no record of off-field issues. Still yet, with the NFL focusing more and more on domestic issues, Shaw's situation must be watched. That creates a negative on his scouting report. 

 

Scouting Report: Ameer Abdullah

Throughout the 2014 college football season, one senior draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report. Up this week, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.

Running Back, Nebraska

5'9", 190 pounds

Strengths:

Strong one-cut runner with the vision to get upfield in a hurry. Has a running style that will easily translate to the NFL. Doesn't waste time or dance in the hole and instead shows good burst and body lean working through traffic. Shows the second gear to be a home run hitter in space and can make defenders miss in the open field. Runs behind his pads well and reads blockers on the go. Shows good awareness on the field to down-and-distance and time management. Has experience and production as a receiver and can be used on screens or lining up in the slot.

 

Weaknesses:

Spent considerable time in a Pistol offense and not a conventional one- or two-back set. Too often he lets his feet die upon contact instead of driving through tacklers. Worked in a stretch-zone offense and may be a scheme-specific runner. Strong enough to break arm tackles but isn't a power runner.

 

Pro Player Comparison: Shane Vereen, New England Patriots

 

Scouting Dictionary 

"Point of Attack"

Imagine a 230-pound running back coming through the hole and meeting a 250-pound linebacker, both moving at top speed. That's one heck of an explosion, but it's also the point of attack.

In football scouting terms, "point of attack" is any time an offensive player and a defensive player meet. A left tackle locking up an edge-rusher would be the moment the tackle's hands meet the defender's body.

How does this get used in a scouting report? An example might be, "strong at the point of attack" or "backs down at the point of attack". Ideally, every football player is strong, aggressive and technically sound at the point of attack.

 

The Big Board 

Here's a look at my preseason Top 25 players, which includes draft-eligible underclassmen carrying a first-round grade.

Preseason Top 25 NFL Draft Prospects
Rank Pos. Rank Player Pos. College
1 1 Marcus Mariota QB Oregon
2 1 Leonard Williams DT USC
3 1 Randy Gregory DE Nebraska
4 1 Brandon Scherff OT Iowa
5 2 Jameis Winston QB Florida State
6 3 Brett Hundley QB UCLA
7 2 Cedric Ogbuehi OT Texas A&M
8 1 Vic Beasley OLB Clemson
9 2 Michael Bennett DT Ohio State
10 1 Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB Oregon
11 2 Shaq Thompson OLB Washington
12 2 Cedric Reed DE Texas
13 2 Marcus Peters CB Washington
14 3 Dante Fowler DE Florida
15 4 Shilique Calhoun DE Michigan State
16 1 Todd Gurley RB Georgia
17 3 Andrus Peat OT Stanford
18 1 Landon Collins SS Alabama
19 1 Sammie Coates WR Auburn
20 2 Melvin Gordon RB Wisconsin
21 3 Ronald Darby CB Florida State
22 2 DeVante Parker WR Louisville
23 5 Mario Edwards DE Florida State
24 4 P.J. Williams CB Florida State
25 3 Mike Davis RB South Carolina

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report

 

Parting Shots

10. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new NFL policy (per ESPN's Adam Schefter) for domestic and sexual violence this week in a letter to NFL owners. A first offense will cost the player (or team personnel) six games, with a second offense incurring a lifetime ban. This affects the NFL draft, too, as Goodell indicated that college offenses could mean an increased penalty for the first offense. NFL teams will be forced to evaluate college players with an existing abuse record differently.

9. Given this new policy on domestic and sexual violence, NFL scouting departments must seek clarity on what defines a first offense for college players. Green-Beckham was accused but not charged. The same for Winston. If the NFL considers that a "first offense," it's huge for determining draft value. I have reached out to the NFL office regarding this and will update next week if they comment.

8. Increased specialization and hybrid schemes have led to many NFL position classifications becoming outdated. "Tight end" no longer means the same thing as it did 10 years ago because today there are "Y" Tight Ends (blockers on the end of the line) and "F" Tight Ends (slot receivers and flex players)—and to make things more confusing, there are players who can do both. Something I'll toy with this season is expanding the positional classification. For example, a ranking for slot receivers, "F" tight ends, edge defenders, nickel cornerbacks and more in an effort to be as team- and scheme-specific as possible in rankings and write-ups.

7. Millions of dollars exchange hands each year as NFL draft prospects work with specialized trainers, coaches and nutritionists to prepare for the scouting combine and their pro day. Three of the most well-respected predraft trainers are former NFL players: LeCharles Bentley, specializing in offensive linemen, and former quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Kevin O'Connell. Keep an eye on which prospects these coaches sign as a pretty good indicator of which players NFL teams value at each position.

6. This season of Hard Knocks on HBO has, once again, been very good. But the most controversial bit thus far would be the language used by defensive line coach Bryan Cox and special teams coach Keith Armstrong. I've long felt that the general public is not ready to see behind the walls of NFL locker rooms and meetings, but this series peels back the protective layer and lets fans see and hear what life in the league is like. For better or worse.

5. The location of the 2015 NFL draft has not been set yet, but the idea to move the draft from New York is a smart one. Fans—either in Chicago or Los Angeles—deserve a draft closer to home. And if the draft is in Los Angeles this year, as many expect it will be, then look to Chicago as a landing spot for 2016. This makes the most sense, to rotate the draft between the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast every three years is the right move by the NFL.

4. The NFL is becoming more focused on speed and specialized skills, which makes Washington's Shaq Thompson unique to me. I love his upside and potential as a junior defender. Thompson could play outside linebacker or safety in the NFL, but will also see snaps at running back this year. As long as he can stay healthy, NFL teams are going to love this from him. 

3. The waiver wire in the NFL has always been an underrated aspect of team building, but with practice squads now holding 10 players, picking up talented players cut by other teams has a bigger role. Peter King of MMQB had a great note in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" about the Houston Texans requiring their college scouts to evaluate NFL rosters, thanks to the team holding the top priority in the waiver wire. Each year, the team with the worst record from the previous season has first dibs on waived players, so expect to see more NFL teams following this example.

2. A question I receive most often is as follows: "Which players do you watch when looking at college tape?" My process is this: start with the highest-ranked player from a team and go through to watch his snaps. Once that is done, move on to the second-highest ranked player, and so on. During these player-specific looks, I'll keep a second sheet of paper handy to make notes about other players to watch or track for later viewings. 

1. Whether or not to include underclassmen in predraft rankings was a hot debate surrounding the 2014 NFL draft. My personal policy is this: If a player is expected to be a top-50 pick, he will be included in my rankings. Outside of that, any underclassman entering the NFL draft will be evaluated once they have declared their intention to leave school. 

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