2016 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Wild Card Weekend

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 2016 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Wild Card Weekend
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The Scout's Report

Sean Payton announced in a press conference Wednesday that he's staying with the New Orleans Saints as head coach. I'm told by sources with the San Francisco 49ers that the team never felt comfortable with sending a second-round pick to the Saints in exchange for Payton.

— If I had to zero in on a coaching candidate for the 49ers now, it would be Hue Jackson. The team seems set on going after a coach with an offensive background, and Jackson is the best quarterback mentor on the market now that Payton isn't available.

— Ohio State redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalin Marshall was a surprise entry into the 2016 NFL draft class, and area scouts I spoke to this week put in him a range between the second and fourth rounds of the draft—depending on workouts, given his smaller sample size on film.

— "He's a home run hitter." That's what one college scouting director said about Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon. He's been climbing my draft board as of late and has a good chance to be a Day 2 selection.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

— Ohio State lost nine underclassmen to the NFL draft, including wide receiver Michael Thomas. Said one scout this week, "He's the most underused receiver in America." Thomas drew a comparison to Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd from this longtime scout.

— Clemson redshirt sophomore Mackensie Alexander is expected to enter the 2016 draft class, according to team sources. When I asked around about him this week, one area scout mentioned Alexander hasn't recorded an interception in two seasons. I countered with this amazing stat: Alexander has allowed just two touchdowns at Clemson and none in the last 23 games he's played.

— Speaking of Clemson, I'm told by team sources that a significant number of underclassmen will likely follow defensive end Shaq Lawson and declare for the upcoming draft. Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Kevin Dodd, Jordan Leggett and Cordrea Tankersley are all leaning toward declaring at this time.

 

Five Names to Know

5. No. 7 CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia

No, not the country music legend. This Daryl Worley has been a monster cover man in the Big 12, posting nine interceptions and 15 passes defensed in the last two seasons. Worley, a junior, has some baggage—he was arrested for battery and suspended by the team in September 2014—but his size (6'2", 198 lbs) and ball skills are going to turn heads.

 

4. No. 98 DL Hassan Ridgeway, Texas

One of the hardest players for me to evaluate so far in this class has been Hassan Ridgeway. (And yes, I struggle to evaluate players. I argue with myself frequently.) He graded out well against the run in 2015 but has never been a dominant pass-rusher. I'm trying to find the right place for Ridgeway to excel in the NFL at 6'4" and 307 pounds. As such, he's someone I'm watching a ton of this week, given his decision to leave early for the NFL.

 

3. No. 1 CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State

As senior cornerbacks go, Kevin Peterson is without a doubt one of the best in the country. He's physical with good size (5'10", 190 lbs) and enough speed (estimated 4.6 in the 40-yard dash) to be a good No. 2 cornerback in the NFL. To start scouting him, turn on game film against Josh Doctson and Kevin White in 2014.

 

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

2. No. 45 LB Deion Jones, LSU

If you liked Telvin Smith and Kwon Alexander, you're really going to like Deion Jones. He's a little undersized (6'1", 227 lbs) but has the athleticism to play all over the field. A senior, Jones came on strong this year in a bigger role, posting five sacks, nine quarterback hurries and 10 quarterback hits, according to my charting.

 

1. No. 55 G Christian Westerman, Arizona State

The 2016 draft class looks to be strong on interior offensive line prospects, especially at offensive guard. One of the few top-tier guard prospects to actually play guard in college, and not tackle, is Christian Westerman. Helping his case even more is that Westerman is training with LeCharles Bentley before the Senior Bowl and combine. If Bentley's track record with O-line training is any indicator, Westerman will enter the NFL a better lineman than he was in college.

 

Scouting Report: Will Fuller, Notre Dame

Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 7 Wide Receiver Will Fuller, Notre Dame (6'0", 184 lbs)

A junior, Fuller announced earlier in the season he was returning to Notre Dame before changing his mind and declaring for the 2016 NFL draft this week. After I saw Fuller in person once (vs. USC) and watched four other games on film, here's my preliminary report on him.

 

Strengths

Fuller is an exceptionally fast receiver with an explosive first step and initial acceleration. He can beat press coverage with his movement at the line of scrimmage and has a tough demeanor on the field. Fuller is an accomplished route-runner with good speed to carry defenders deep and the flexibility and strength to break off routes. He's able to accelerate through breaks and create separation working back to the ball.

Fuller's body control is also worth noting. He adjusts well to the ball thrown over either shoulder and has the presence of mind to adjust his speed and his body to find the ball. He's a good over-the-shoulder receiver.

At Notre Dame, Fuller lined up on the outside of the formation and in the slot. He has the size and speed to do the same in the NFL. Another underrated aspect of his game was his participation as a blocker in the run game. Fuller isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.

Defenses must respect Fuller's speed by playing off him at the line of scrimmage, but as seen against Texas and USC, he's often too fast even for a cushion at the line to cover up. With his ability to sell breaking routes on the fly, Fuller projects as an instant impact deep threat in the pros.

Fuller has a knack for finding the end zone, posting 29 touchdowns over the last two seasons to go along with 138 catches and more than 2,300 yards. With an average of 20 yards per catch in 2015, Fuller established himself as one of the best playmakers in the draft class.

 

Weaknesses

The major weakness when looking at Fuller are his dropped passes. He put 10 passes on the ground (five of those on deep routes) in 2015 and 11 in 2014, which demonstrates an ongoing problem of looking the ball in.

Fuller is a body catcher who doesn't look the ball in cleanly. He'll also get excited in space and try to accelerate away from the catch before he has the ball secured. An NFL team must be willing to live with a drop per game with Fuller while it tries to fix his concentration drops and the way he jumps to catch the ball with his body instead of attacking it with his hands. Fuller doesn't so much high-point the ball as he does hug it into his frame.

 

Pro Comparison: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

 

The Big Board

This past week I released a new mock draft and an updated top-300 big board, so there isn't a whole lot going on here to update you guys on. So, instead of a big-board update, here's a look at the players I'll be watching for in the Alabama vs. Clemson national title game.

Alabama vs. Clemson Scouting Watch List
Alabama Clemson
QB Jake Coker (#14) RB Wayne Gallman (#9)
RB Derrick Henry (#2) TE Jordan Leggett (#16)
RB Kenyan Drake (#17) G Eric Mac Lain (#78)
TE O.J. Howard (#88) T Joe Gore (#73)
C Ryan Kelly (#70) DE Kevin Dodd (#98)
DE A'Shawn Robinson (#86) DE Shaq Lawson (#90)
DL Jarran Reed (#90) DL D.J. Reader (#48)
DL Darren Lake (#95) LB Travis Blanks (#11)
DE Jonathan Allen (#93) LB B.J. Goodson (#44)
LB Tim Williams (#56) LB Ben Boulware (#10)
LB Dillon Lee (#25) CB Mackensie Alexander (#2)
LB Reggie Ragland (#19) SS Jayron Kearse (#1)
LB Reuben Foster (#10) CB Cordrea Tankersley (#25)
CB Cyrus Jones (#5)
SS Eddie Jackson (#4)

Matt Miller

 

Parting Shots

7. The 2016 Senior Bowl roster is starting to take shape with another announcement of accepted invitations coming out each Tuesday. Here's the roster as it stands now, but remember that players can (and will) drop out between now and late January:

Updated Senior Bowl Rosters
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
QB Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech DE Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford DE Jason Fanaika, Utah
QB Cody Kessler, USC DE Carl Nassib, Penn State
QB Dak Prescott, Miss. State DE Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech
QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech DE Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
RB Kenyan Drake, Alabama DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
RB Tyler Ervin, San Jose State DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
RB Aaron Green, TCU DE Jihad Ward, Illinois
RB Chris Swain, Navy DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas DT Matt Ioannidis, Temple
FB Soma Vainuku, USC DT Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
FB Dan Vitale, Northwestern OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
WR Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State OLB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
WR Leonte Carroo, Rutgers OLB Deion Jones, LSU
WR Josh Doctson, TCU OLB Joshua Perry, Ohio State
WR Jay Lee, Baylor OLB Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State ILB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia ILB Josh Forrest, Kentucky
WR Chris Moore, Cincinnati ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
WR Jordan Payton, UCLA ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford
WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma ILB Tyler Matakevich, Temple
TE Jerell Adams, South Carolina ILB Antonio Morrison, Florida
TE Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky ILB Jared Norris, Utah
TE Henry Krieger Coble, Iowa CB James Bradberry, Samford
TE Jake McGee, Florida CB Maurice Canady, Virginia
TE Nick Vannett, Ohio State CB Sean Davis, Maryland
TE Bryce Williams, East Carolina CB Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa
T Vadal Alexander, LSU CB DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary
T Willie Beavers, Western Michigan CB William Jackson III, Houston
T Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech CB Jonathan Jones, Auburn
T Joe Dahl, Washington State CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana
T Taylor Decker, Ohio State CB Eric Murray, Minnesota
T Spencer Drango, Baylor CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
T Kyle Murphy, Stanford CB Tavon Young, Temple
T Jason Spriggs, Indiana S Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee
T John Theus, Georgia S Jeremy Cash, Duke
T Cole Toner, Harvard S Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
G Josh Garnett, Stanford S Jordan Lucas, Penn State
G Connor McGovern, Missouri S Jalen Mills, LSU
G Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas S Tyvis Powell, Ohio State
G Christian Westerman, Arizona State S Darian Thompson, Boise State
G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State K Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA
C Jack Allen, Michigan State K Ross Martin, Duke
C Evan Boehm, Missouri P Riley Dixon, Syracuse
C Nick Martin, Notre Dame P Alex Kinal, Wake Forest

SeniorBowl.com

6. Underclassman declarations are starting to be announced as players make plans before the January 18 deadline to enter the 2016 NFL draft. Here's a look at the notable announcements thus far:

2016 NFL Draft Underclassman List
QB Jared Goff, California DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State DT Kenny Clark, UCLA
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska
RB Jordan Howard, Indiana DT Quinton Jefferson, Maryland
RB Paul Perkins, UCLA DT Austin Johnson, Penn State
RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame DT Chris Jones, Miss. State
RB Kelvin Taylor, Florida DT Darius Latham, Indiana
RB Dwayne Washington, Washington DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas DT Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
FB Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State EDGE Kamalei Correa, Boise State
WR Bralon Addison, Oregon EDGE Alex McCalister, Florida
WR Demarcus Ayers, Houston EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland
WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
WR Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan EDGE Ron Thompson, Syracuse
WR Corey Coleman, Baylor LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina LB Travis Blanks, Clemson
WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame LB Ben Brown, Mississippi State
WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona LB Su'a Cravens, USC
WR Kenny Lawler, California LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State LB Myles Jack, UCLA
WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss LB Steve Longa, Rutgers
WR De'Runnya Wilson, Miss. State LB Steve Weatherly, Vanderbilt
TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
TE Austin Hooper, Stanford CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
T Caleb Benenoch, UCLA CB Artie Burns, Miami (Fla.)
T Shon Coleman, Auburn CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
T Jack Conklin, Michigan State CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
T Jerald Hawkins, LSU CB Xavien Howard, Baylor
T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU
T Denver Kirkland, Arkansas CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss CB Corey Tindal, Marshall
G Alex Redmond, UCLA CB Cleveland Wallace, San Jose State
K Roberto Aguayo, FSU CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
S Vonn Bell, Ohio State
S Keanu Neal, Florida

NFL.com

5. Black Monday came earlier than ever this season, with many of the head coach firings happening Sunday night of Week 17. After a wild week of movement, here are the current openings at head coach and general manager:

NFL Job Openings
Coaches General Managers
Cleveland Cleveland
Miami Detroit
New York Giants Philadelphia
Philadelphia Tennessee
San Francisco
Tampa Bay
Tennessee

NFL.com

4. The success of Zack Martin, Joel Bitonio, Brandon Scherff and Kyle Long has made the prospect of moving from tackle in college to guard in the NFL more appealing to both player and team. And it's worth noting that my top two guards in this year's class—Cody Whitehair (Kansas State) and Denver Kirkland (Arkansas)—are college left tackles. Add in Vadal Alexander (LSU), who played right tackle this year, and three of the top five guard prospects are lining up on the edge in college.

Why is this a trend? Because it creates a guard prospect who has experience in space as a pass protector. Guys like Whitehair and Kirkland are tough as nails and strong but lack the quickness in their feet to play left tackle in the NFL. Put their skill set at guard and you have a Pro Bowl-caliber prospect.

 

3. Who wants to play a game of "Guess the Prospect"?

This wide receiver is 5'10", 178 pounds and runs a solid 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. He posted 98 catches, dropped just two passes, created 21 missed tackles and posted 12.5 yards per catch and 7.5 yards after the catch on average. Oh, and he's one of the best kick and punt returners in the game.

So...who is it? Tyler Lockett? John Brown? Antonio Brown?

Houston's Demarcus Ayers.

The junior wideout left his mark on the college football landscape before leaving for the 2016 NFL draft, and while he's not a perfect prospect, he has a lot of the same characteristics as the aforementioned studs. They all fell in the draft due to size and role concerns, but in a league focusing more and more on speed and versatility, Ayers is intriguing.

 

2. With recent hires of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta by the Cleveland Browns—a lawyer with an analytics background and a baseball executive with an analytics background, respectively—there has been a lot of talk about "Moneyball" in the NFL. Seemingly, a lot of the talk comes from people who never actually read the book and only watched the movie.

"Moneyball" isn't about on-base percentage or assigning an advanced statistic to every player to determine his worth. The heart of the idea was finding undervalued players who excelled at something. Scott Hatteberg is the best example on the baseball side of things, but in the NFL this has been happening since Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams took over the New England Patriots. It's about finding what a player does well and using him in that role.

Don't let terms like "Moneyball" scare you. No one is going to put a math test on your TV screen during the NFL draft. The idea of increasing analytics in the NFL won't have scouts out of a job.

 

1. Let's close this out with some massive self-promotion. Also, this is a handy list of links in case you missed anything in a busy week.

Round 1 Mock Draft

Updated Top-300 Big Board

20 for '20: Quarterbacks

20 for '20: Running Backs

Top Landing Spots for Joey Bosa (video)

Top Landing Spots for Jared Goff (video)

 

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.

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