Here are my initial reactions on the performances of some of the nation’s top prospects in Thursday night’s Clemson/Georgia Tech game.
Georgia Tech defensive back Morgan Burnett looks like the nation’s best ball-hawking safety. His instincts are second to none and he consistently makes plays on the football. Burnett looks like an absolute missile when asked to close on throws in front of him and possesses the coordination to consistently get his hands on the pass. He definitely has the makings of an impact player at the next level.
Speaking of talented safeties, Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel also deserves positive feedback. McDaniel is a big, well-built strong safety (6'1", 210) who exhibits impressive range and ball skills when asked to track the football down the field. He has a tendency to get a bit overextended with his footwork when asked to flip his hips and turn, but he gets up to speed quickly and exhibits a good closing burst on plays away from his frame. With a weak senior strong safety class this season, if McDaniel chooses to come out, he would instantly become one of the top prospects at the position.
The more I watch Clemson’s hybrid DE/OLB Ricky Sapp, the more I think he’s at his best when asked to play in space, attack downhill and use his closing speed and length to make plays on the ball. He’s still learning how to keep himself clean when standing up in a two-point stance, but once he deciphers the play, he’s tough to block on the outside. Sapp looks like a guy who could definitely make an impact as a rush linebacker at the next level and will be a very hot prospect for those 3-4 defenses in need of an athletic pass rusher at draft time.
Coming into his own
Clemson defensive back Marcus Gilchrist has made a smooth transition to the free safety position this year, where he can use his range and athleticism to consistently ball-hawk in the secondary. Gilchrist, a former cornerback who was listed second on the depth chart behind seniors Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor last season, has definitely displayed an ability to make plays in the secondary and could end up being the best prospect of the three.
He’s only going to be better in the pros
There’s been some talk that Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer is more of a system running back and that his game won’t translate well to the NFL. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that Dwyer will not only be a productive back in the NFL, he’s only going to be better at the next level.
When Dwyer gets to the NFL, he’s going to be asked to start from eight yards behind the line of scrimmage and have the luxury of a fullback standing in front of him, as opposed to now, where he starts from a three-point stance four yards from the line of scrimmage.
My point is, if Dwyer is able to show effective instincts and vision running between the tackles from four yards away from the line, and can still generate the type of burst and power to run through tackles, imagine how effective he could be in a traditional set. He’s going to have more space to read the line of scrimmage and be able to build up more speed in the NFL than he does right now in the Georgia Tech offense. I absolutely love his upside and think the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option attack has only further enhanced his game in preparation for the NFL.
The maturation process from track guy to football player
It’s no secret that Clemson track star/wideout Jacoby Ford has the speed and athleticism to make it in the NFL, but now I’m really starting to see an improvement in his game as a route runner. Ford finished the game with five catches, 109 yards and one touchdown and his deep speed was on display on the big 77-yard touchdown grab he had in the third quarter.
However, I was more impressed with his ability to change gears and set up opposing corners out of his breaks. He looks a lot more comfortable coming off the line and is no longer trying to do everything at full speed. Ford is a guy who has the ability to create a lot of mismatches from the slot at the next level if he continues his improvement as a route runner.
The guy can do it all
Clemson’s C.J. Spiller is clearly the nation’s top senior running back, and his ability to hurt you in both the run and pass game are two big reasons he’s going to go early in the 2010 draft. Not only did he looked very comfortable and patient picking his way between the tackles, but the guy is simply dynamic in the open field. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield consistently creates mismatches in the pass game and allows him to make plays on the perimeter and down the field.
My final and most important note from this game is the development of Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan. I wrote about Morgan during the summer and came away impressed with his natural athletic ability, power and upside, but I felt that in order for him to take his game to the next level he needed to improve his flexibility and overall footwork off the ball. And what I saw Thursday night was a guy who played with a much lower pad level than last year and was consistently able to take a positive first step off the snap. In turn, he was absolutely dominant in all areas of the game.
If Morgan is able to keep up this type of play, there’s no doubt he’ll be a first round pick. The question is: how high does he go? I had him ranked fifth on my junior defensive end list, which came out last Friday. But after seeing the improvements he made to his game in the offseason, there’s no reason he can’t and won’t be the top-rated defensive end in the county and a legitimate top-10 pick. Morgan’s performance was truly eye-opening.
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