NFL Draft 2015: Updated Prospect Radar, Post-Preseason
The college football season is underway, and so are preparations for the 2015 NFL draft. While players and teams attempted to win their season-opening games this past weekend, scouts across the country focused in on the nation’s best senior players, such as Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, and other players who could declare for the draft after this season, such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
No one’s draft stock is determined in the first week of the college football season, but there were certainly some players who raised their profiles—and others who failed to meet expectations—in their initial games of the year.
Which players have already put their professional-quality skill sets on display in Week 1, and which prominent names have already had flaws in their games exposed? The following slides take a look at some of the week’s most noteworthy studs and duds among players who are eligible to go pro in 2015.
Stock Up: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, Jr.
This Week: 15 carries for 198 yards, 3 TD; one catch for five-yard loss; 100-yard kickoff return TD
Who is the best running back in college football? The answer to that question looked clear during Georgia’s season opener vs. Clemson on Saturday.
Clemson’s defense is athletic and features multiple NFL-caliber players, but it was no match for Georgia junior running back Todd Gurley.
Gurley is a big back, listed at 6’1” and 226 pounds by Georgia’s official athletics website, but he’s no plodder. He’s a physical runner who runs through arm tackles with ease, yet he also consistently uses his vision to find open lanes and has the breakaway speed to leave defenders in the dust.
Using all of those tools to his advantage, Gurley had a day full of spectacular highlights Saturday.
His scoring runs came from 51, 23 and 18 yards out. Gurley's 293 all-purpose yards set a Georgia school record. His end zone-to-end zone kickoff return—the second of his career—showed rare ability for a man of his size.
During an in-game update on ABC’s Saturday Night Football coverage, anchor Robert Flores summed up Gurley’s performance well by alluding to a popular rapper known for siding with frontrunning sports teams.
“Todd Gurley is so dominant right now, Drake is trying to get in touch with him badly,” Flores said.
No running backs were selected in the first round of either of the past two NFL drafts, but Gurley appears well on his way to breaking that drought in 2015, assuming he declares for the draft after this year and stays healthy this season after an injury-riddled sophomore campaign.
Current Draft Projection: Round 1
Stock Up: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia, RS So.
This Week: Seven total tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble
Todd Gurley wasn’t Georgia’s only potential first-round pick to start his season off with a career game on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ second-half dominance against Clemson wasn’t only because of how effective Gurley ran the ball, but also because of the outstanding play of their defense, especially Leonard Floyd.
Floyd had an up-and-down first half but made a living in Clemson’s backfield in the final two quarters. He finished the game with two sacks, one of which was a strip sack, but he also brought pressure and/or made plays around the line of scrimmage on many other snaps in the game.
Floyd’s second playing season at Georgia is just beginning, but if his 2014 debut is any indication of what’s to come the rest of the year, he could emerge as a very high draft selection should he choose to declare for the 2015 draft.
An outside linebacker in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defense, Floyd combines an exceptional burst with very quick hands, and can blow by blockers as a pass-rusher and blitzer. A very good all-around athlete who can change directions fluidly, Floyd proved Saturday that he is a chess piece who can be moved all around the Georgia defense to make plays.
Listed at 6’4” and 230 by Georgia’s official athletics website, Floyd would need to bulk up to be an NFL edge defender, and he needs to show more as a run defender at the line of scrimmage and/or in space. That said, he has the length coveted in NFL pass-rushers and an athletic wow factor.
Redshirt sophomores don’t often declare for the draft, but Floyd is already 22 years old and his draft stock will only rise if he continues to bring pressure the way he did Saturday.
Current Draft Projection: Round 1
Stock Up: Amarlo Herrera, ILB, Georgia, Sr.
This Week: 12 total tackles, 3.5 total tackles for loss, two sacks
If Georgia vs. Clemson had been a hockey game, Amarlo Herrera is the player who would have had joined Todd Gurley and Leonard Floyd as one of the three stars.
Herrera doesn’t project to be an early-round draft pick like Gurley and Floyd do, but his performance Saturday should certainly make NFL scouts take notice of the senior linebacker.
By the numbers, Herrera was the most productive player on Georgia’s defense Saturday.
Herrera was already known to be a solid playmaker in the middle of the field, but he displayed a more complete game Saturday than he ever had before. He demonstrated the range to chase plays outside, while he also had a tremendous game attacking the backfield as a blitzer.
His 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks were easily career-high totals. By comparison, Herrera had just one half-sack to his name going into his senior year and recorded only five total tackles for loss through all of last season.
Herrera will have to prove that his breakout game was no fluke, but he legitimized himself as an NFL prospect in Week 1.
Current Draft Projection: Round 5
Stock Down: Josh Shaw, CB, USC
This Week: Did Not Play
Josh Shaw didn’t take the field for his team’s season opener, but no potential top prospect did more to damage his stock than Shaw did this past week.
At first, Shaw looked like a hero when USC published a (since-removed) story on its official athletics website last Monday explaining that the senior cornerback, who had been named a team captain, suffered two high ankle sprains when he jumped off a balcony in order to save his nephew from drowning.
The validity of Shaw’s story came into question by the next day, however, and he admitted on Wednesday that the story was a “complete fabrication,” according to a statement on USC’s website.
Previously held in high regard as a man of character, Shaw’s accountability and maturity will now be heavily scrutinized by NFL teams leading up to the 2015 draft.
Furthermore, it remains unclear why Shaw lied about how he suffered the injury; the Los Angeles Police Department is currently investigating whether Shaw was involved in a domestic violence incident, according to Gale Holland and Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. It is also uncertain if and when he will return to the field this year, both because of his injuries and because he has been suspended indefinitely by USC.
Prior to the incident, Shaw was considered to be a potential first- or second-round draft choice. A versatile defensive back with experience playing both corner and safety, Shaw is a skilled playmaker with NFL tools.
At this point, however, it’s tough to project how much Shaw’s draft value could be affected by the incident. It may concern some NFL teams more than others, but it is impossible to determine how far he could fall until the severity of both his injuries and what happened off the field are known.
Current Draft Projection: TBD
Stock Up: Cedric Ogbuehi, LT, Texas A&M, Sr.
This Week: First career start at left tackle
Opponent: South Carolina
New Texas A&M starting quarterback Kenny Hill became an instant sensation Thursday as he passed for 511 yards and three touchdowns in the Aggies’ 52-28 season-opening win over South Carolina. But while it’s much too early to know whether the sophomore signal-caller will emerge as a top NFL prospect, one of the players who had a key role in Texas A&M’s offensive success Thursday is well on his way to establishing himself as a very early draft pick.
One of the reasons Hill was able to have immediate success was that he was consistently well-protected by his offensive line. The leader of that effort was Cedric Ogbuehi, a senior who could become the third Texas A&M left tackle in as many years to end up being a top-10 draft selection.
In his first game on the blind side, Ogbuehi looked fantastic. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller said Ogbuehi was “everything I’d hoped he could be at left tackle” on Thursday, while Buffalo Bills Draft’s Joe Marino described his play as “silky smooth.”
It would have been reasonable to expect Ogbuehi to have some issues with his technique and footwork at his new position, but that didn’t appear to be the case Thursday. He consistently shielded the edge effectively against outside pass-rushers, while he demonstrated his ability to burst to the second level and pick up downfield run blocks.
Ogbuehi’s not much of a power player, but he looks to have the length and athleticism that NFL teams covet in an offensive tackle.
He faces stiff competition to be one of the first tackles selected this year—Iowa senior Brandon Scherff, Stanford junior Andrus Peat and LSU senior La’el Collins all project as potential top picks—but if his season debut was any indication, Ogbuehi could emerge as the nation’s best player at his position.
Current Draft Projection: Top 15
Stock Down: Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M, Sr.
This Week: One tackle, one pass breakup; beaten in coverage on two TD passes
Opponent: South Carolina
Thursday’s victory over the favored South Carolina Gamecocks was a fantastic start to the season for Texas A&M as a whole, but it was a rough night individually for senior cornerback Deshazor Everett.
Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson completed two deep touchdown passes—a 69-yard connection with Nick Jones and a 46-yard connection with Damiere Byrd—and on both plays, the receiver who caught the pass ran right by Everett.
On Jones’ touchdown, Everett simply was beaten in a one-on-one matchup and was unable to catch the receiver on a diving tackle attempt from behind. The second touchdown allowed might not have been entirely Everett’s fault—he seemed to be picking up a different assignment while Byrd ran free—but it still exposed a lack of awareness on the cornerback’s part.
Everett also had multiple missed tackles and was flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty.
Inconsistency is Everett’s problem. He is an athletic, hard-hitting defensive back whose range and ball skills enable him to be a playmaker, but he has also been too prone to giving up big plays.
He has the potential to be one of the first cornerbacks drafted from this year’s senior class if he becomes a more technically consistent player, but he’ll be a Day 3 pick at best if he continues to struggle the way he did Thursday.
Current Draft Projection: Round 5
Stock Up: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State, Sr.
This Week: 11 receptions for 203 yards, 1 TD; one punt return for two yards
Opponent: Oklahoma State
Although he was overshadowed by first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin last season, Rashad Greene actually led Florida State in receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,128) in its 2013 national championship season. He’s one of the best wide receivers in college football, and he showed it in Florida State’s season-opening win over Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
On a night when reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston was not at his best (more to come), Greene stepped up to the plate as his go-to target.
The senior wideout showed his big-play ability on a number of occasions in this game, as he picked apart Oklahoma State’s defense for a 50-yard touchdown, a 51-yard gain and a 37-yard gain.
His measurables might prove to be unspectacular in pre-draft workouts, but he regularly displays the ability to extend plays for significant yardage in the open field. He’s a sharp route-runner with a natural stride; he regularly catches the ball and can do damage from both outside and the slot.
If Greene continues to play as well as he did Saturday, he could solidify himself as a second-round draft choice.
Current Draft Projection: Round 2-3
Stock Down: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, RS So.
This Week: 25-of-40 for 370 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT; five rushing attempts for nine net yards, 1 TD
Opponent: Oklahoma State
Fifteen starts into his career as Florida State’s starting quarterback, Jameis Winston remains undefeated. His game to open the season Saturday, however, was one of the worst games he has had as a collegiate signal-caller.
In his third two-interception game of his Seminoles career, Winston threw the ball more times than he did in any contest of his redshirt freshman year. Winston never looked fully comfortable at any point throughout the game and seemed to be forcing the issue.
Winston got caught staring down his receivers too frequently, which led to his two interceptions and a number of other close calls. He was also sacked twice on plays when he kept the ball in his grasp longer than he should have.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback is one of the favorites to be the No. 1 overall pick if he declares for the 2015 draft, but he will face nitpicking of both his skill set on the field and behavior off the gridiron.
As a result, Winston must cut down on the throwing mistakes and questionable decisions that plagued him in Week 1 in order to maintain his position as one of the draft class’ star prospects.
Winston made some impressive downfield throws Saturday that put his strong arm on display, and he made enough plays—including a spectacular 28-yard touchdown run that words can’t really describe—for his team to pull off a 37-31 victory. Even in a game below his usual standards, it was evident he has the physical tools to be a potentially great NFL quarterback.
Going forward, however, Winston must display improvements in his decision-making and accuracy from how he performed Saturday.
Current Draft Projection: Top 5
Stock Up: Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA, Sr.
This Week: 16 total tackles, one forced fumble, one interception returned for TD
There were many standouts on the UCLA defense in the team’s season-opening victory against Virginia—the Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns—but no one shone brighter in Saturday’s win than senior linebacker Eric Kendricks.
Kendricks spent the past two years playing in the shadow of fellow UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who went on to be the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and he’s still overshadowed in UCLA’s linebacker corps by sophomore phenom Myles Jack. That said, Kendricks is a quality NFL prospect in his own right, and he put that on full display Saturday.
The athletic, instinctive defender put his range on full display as he made tackles all over the field in Week 1, while he also impressively undercut a pass at the line of scrimmage to pick it off and return it 37 yards for a score.
Kendricks explodes to the ball in small spaces and hits hard. He’s undersized for an NFL inside linebacker, listed at just 6’0” and 230 pounds by UCLA’s official athletics website, but his skill set should enable him to overcome that shortcoming.
A team captain who is a clearly established leader and playmaker, Kendricks could be well on his way to establishing himself as a second-round draft choice in 2015, much like his older brother Mychal Kendricks did in 2012.
Current Draft Projection: Round 2-3
Stock Down: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA, Jr.
This Week: 20-of-33 for 242 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 15 rushing attempts for 39 yards, 1 TD; two fumbles lost
As physically impressive as any quarterback in college football, UCLA’s Brett Hundley displays the tools to be a top-five overall pick when he is at his best, but he has to be much more consistent in his junior season if he is going to challenge Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to be the 2015 draft’s top quarterback.
He didn’t display that necessary improvement in the Bruins’ season opener.
Had it not been for the aforementioned efforts of Eric Kendricks and his defensive teammates, UCLA likely would have been defeated by Virginia. Hundley was never able to bring his offense, which mounted just one scoring drive, into rhythm on Saturday.
The Bruins’ lackluster offensive performance shouldn’t be placed solely upon Hundley—the quarterback was under constant duress behind a struggling offensive line—but as CBS Sports’ Rob Rang noted, Saturday’s game exposed Hundley’s flaws when under pressure:
He failed to look off defenders, at times, which contributed to three of his passes being deflected at the line of scrimmage. It wasn't the only area in which Hundley's undisciplined eyes led to problems; something that NFL scouts will be sure to note. Whenever a Cavalier pass rusher broke free, Hundley would drop his eyes and look to run even when he was able to elude the initial defender.
Hundley did not throw any interceptions on Saturday, but he lost two fumbles.
The 6’3”, 226-pound dual-threat made some impressive downfield throws and picked up some yardage when scrambling, but he needs to prove to NFL scouts that he can be a more efficient, less mistake-prone passer from the pocket. Until he puts it all together, he’ll be a fringe first-rounder rather than a top selection.
Current Draft Projection: Round 1-2
Hidden Gem of the Week: A.J. Stamps, S, Kentucky, Jr.
This Week: Eight total tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception
Just one game into his career as a college football player at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, junior college transfer A.J. Stamps is already making a name for himself at Kentucky.
In his first game for the Wildcats on Saturday against Tennesee-Martin, Stamps led his team in tackles. The athletic safety showed impressive range as he flew all over the field to make plays.
Stamps had two spectacular highlights in his FBS debut: an incredible one-handed interception that got him in the Top 10 Plays on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and a tackle for loss on which he exploded into the backfield and upended the runner three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s too early to know what caliber of NFL prospect he is; after all, he’s only one played game at Kentucky and no games yet against FBS competition.
That said, Stamps has enough size to be an NFL safety (listed at 6’0" and 199 pounds by Kentucky’s official athletics website), and both his athleticism and ball skills should put him on the radar of NFL scouts. It’s probably unlikely that he would make the leap to the 2015 draft as an underclassman, but Stamps is already exceeding expectations.
“I'm really impressed with him,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Stamps’ play after his debut, according to Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Current Draft Projection: Too Early to Tell
Small School Stud of the Week: John Crockett, RB, North Dakota State, Jr.
This Week: 17 carries for 138 yards and 3 TD; one catch for 26 yards
Opponent: Iowa State
North Dakota State, the three-time defending champion of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, continued to prove that it can hang with the big schools, as the Bison defeated Iowa State on Saturday, by a score of 34-14, for North Dakota State’s fifth win in as many years against an FBS team.
Junior running back John Crockett played a big role in his team’s successful season opener. By leading the Bison with 164 yards from scrimmage, highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown, Crockett proved he is ready for his first season as North Dakota State’s feature running back.
North Dakota State has sent some players to the NFL in recent years and has legitimized itself as a source of some professional-caliber talent, but it remains very important for its prospects to take advantage of every opportunity they have to put their skills on display against large-school competition.
Crockett certainly did on Saturday; the Iowa State defense proved no match for him.
It would be a surprise if Crockett declared as an underclassman for the 2015 draft, but the tape he put together Saturday will help his case whenever he is being considered for a shot at running for an NFL offense.
Current Draft Projection: Round 7 or Undrafted Free Agent
Other Notable Performers
Two wide receivers stood out in Saturday afternoon’s shootout between Alabama and West Virginia. Alabama junior Amari Cooper, arguably the top pass-catching prospect for the 2015 draft, got his season off on the right foot with a 12-catch, 130-yard performance. The most impressive receiver on the field, however, was West Virginia senior Kevin White, a big and athletic wideout who had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Although Oklahoma State came up short in its bid to upset Florida State, two of its individual performers made names for themselves. Tyreek Hill, a junior college transfer making his debut at the FBS level, displayed dangerous speed and agility as he gained 278 all-purpose yards on 22 touches as a runner, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah flashed impressive pass-rushing ability, as he sacked Jameis Winston twice.
It was a rough week for USC off the field leading up to its first game, but the Trojans ended up playing fantastically on the field in a 52-13 win over Fresno State. Junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams, a potential top-10 draft choice, started off the season strong by recording three passes defensed—including an interception—and seven total tackles.
Michigan had no trouble with Appalachian State this time around, and the star of its 52-14 win Saturday was junior wide receiver Devin Funchess, who caught seven passes for 95 yards and three touchdowns. The 6’5”, 230-pound target is a great athlete for his size; he is a mismatch-creator who projects as a move tight end in the NFL and could be the Eric Ebron of the 2015 draft class (Ebron, from North Carolina, went No. 10 overall this May).
A rare physical specimen who is listed at 6’9” and 280 pounds and is also an explosive athlete off the line of scrimmage, Baylor junior defensive end Shawn Oakman has the potential to soar up draft boards this season. He looked like he could be well on his way in Baylor’s season opener against Southern Methodist, in which he recorded two sacks and forced a fumble. Oakman is a raw talent who must be able to sustain his success against tougher competition, but his ceiling is very high.
NFL Draft Injury Notes
A number of projected early-round picks had to leave their season-opening games early due to injuries.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina, Jr.
Davis, one of the nation's most talented running backs, ran the ball just six times for 15 yards against Texas A&M on Thursday. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Davis is doubtful to play Saturday against East Carolina, according to CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor, Sr.
Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor, Sr.
Petty sat out the second half of Baylor's win against Southern Methodist with a lower back bruise, while Goodley left the game early with muscle tightness, according to John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Petty and Goodley form one of the nation's most dynamic passing combinations, and both have the potential to be high draft choices, but Baylor coach Art Briles said their statuses are uncertain for Baylor's next game Saturday against Northwestern State, according to George Schroeder of USA Today Sports.
Update, Monday 5 p.m. ET: Petty is considered to be "day-to-day with two cracks in the transfer processes of his back," according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. Briles is hopeful that Goodley "will return to practice in a few days," according to Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben.
Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State, Jr.
One of the more intriguing defensive prospects in the nation, Fackrell went down with injuries twice in the first half of Utah State's loss to Tennessee on Sunday, and he did not return after going down grabbing his knee on the second occasion. His status was uncertain as of Sunday night, according to Jeff Hunter of the Deseret News.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska, Jr.
Gregory, an explosive edge defender with the potential to be a top-10 draft choice, is expected to miss Nebraska's game Saturday vs. McNeese State after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Sunday, according to Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com. He was injured during the first series in Nebraska's win vs. Florida Atlantic in Week 1.
All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all measurables courtesy of official school athletic websites, unless otherwise noted.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.