The Scout's Report
— As NFL teams meet and get ready for Senior Bowl week (January 25-30) in Mobile, Alabama, information about rankings is starting to leak out. For example, I've spoken with seven teams (scouts, coaches or general managers) that have Mackensie Alexander over Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Ramsey at defensive back.
— More draft board notes: Three teams I spoke with this week have Ohio State free safety Tyvis Powell ranked ahead of teammate Vonn Bell in the secondary. Both are Round 2 players on these boards.
— Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams announced during media day before the national title game that he's been cleared by doctors and will return to the team in 2016. Before fracturing his neck in a Week 1 accident, Williams ranked as my top wide receiver for this class.
— "Go watch him against any good team and tell me how he did. He's overrated." That's what one college scouting director told me this week about Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. Games against Ole Miss and Houston would definitely back up this statement.
— Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith underwent knee surgery last week, and according to Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton, he's expected to make a full recovery after tearing his ACL and LCL. More on Smith below.
— North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz led the Bison to his second straight FCS title (five straight for the team, two for Wentz as a starter) this season. I reached out to get a feeling on Wentz's draft stock after the game, and one high-level AFC scout told me he's the No. 1 quarterback on their board, even though they don't expect him to be around when they pick late in the first round.
— O.J. Howard dominated the national title game, leading to talk about him as the No. 1 tight end in the nation. Howard's size (6'6", 242 lbs) and speed (estimated 4.49 from scouts) make him appealing, and you can explain away his lack of production due to Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin's run-heavy scheme. And after seeing what he did to Clemson, there's a good chance some team drafts Howard in the first round.
— The other standouts from the title game were Clemson defensive ends Shaq Lawson (No. 90) and Kevin Dodd (No. 98), and both declared for the draft after the game. I've heard Dodd is a Round 2 grade from scouts, but I'm putting both in my top 25.
— Other Clemson underclassmen declaring for the draft are cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse. Alexander, who left the game early with a hamstring injury, is the top-ranked corner on my board. Green and Kearse, however, played the entire game and were torched by the Alabama passing attack. Both players are intriguing NFL options, but they'll want to burn the Alabama game film.
Five Names to Know—Senior Bowl Offense Edition
5. No. 22 RB Aaron Green, TCU
A true three-down back with excellent hands and route-running skills, Aaron Green has the tools to impress on the field in Mobile thanks to his pass-catching chops and quick running style. He's a poor man's version of Ameer Abdullah.
4. No. 9 WR Jordan Payton, UCLA
Jordan Payton had a great season at UCLA (78 catches, 1,106 yards, five TDs) with Josh Rosen at quarterback, and at 6'1" and a solid 212 pounds, Payton has the body and speed to catch the eye of scouts in one-on-one drills against Senior Bowl cornerbacks.
3. No. 89 TE Jerell Adams, South Carolina
Adams has talent and could have a Clive Walford-like week in Mobile where he overcomes his college scheme to make plays on a big stage.
2. No. 55 G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is the top-ranked offensive lineman accepting an invite to Mobile, and he has a chance to be a legit top-20 pick in this year's class. A left tackle at Kansas State, he looks like a future All-Pro at guard.
1. No. 78 T Cole Toner, Harvard
I've written about Toner before, and even though he's listed at tackle, his best pro position is center (a la Mitch Morse). A good week can push him into Day 2 of the draft.
Scouting Report: Darron Lee, Ohio State
Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.
No. 43 Linebacker Darron Lee, Ohio State (estimates 6'2", 235 lbs, 4.55 40 time)
Lee is an off-the-ball linebacker with the ability to play as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, or as an inside linebacker in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme if he can add 10-15 pounds to his frame. That's something he's done during his time at Ohio State, given he came to Columbus as a 185-pound quarterback.
After beginning his career as a safety, Lee moved to linebacker before his redshirt freshman season. At Ohio State he's played as a "Sam" (strong-side) linebacker and is asked to cover in the slot, blitz off the edge and stop the run in space. His versatility is a big strength.
During his two seasons as a starter, Lee accumulated 13 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 29 quarterback hurries, 107 tackles and three interceptions, per Pro Football Focus' charting. In 2015, he earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
On the field, Lee checks all the boxes for quickness, agility, explosiveness and overall athletic ability (AA). His positional versatility, as mentioned above, allows him to be a match for every NFL team. Lee gets very good depth on his pass drops and shows smooth hips when playing in coverage. His comfort in space is obvious on film, and he's often found outside the hashes on the college field lined up opposite wide receivers. From this position, Lee is utilized as a pass-rusher, coverage linebacker and run defender. He's a solid tackler in space and closes to the ball in a hurry. Lee is a chess piece defenses can use against spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks, given his range and athleticism in space.
Off-the-ball linebackers must be able to cover, blitz, squeeze the edge and stop the inside run. Lee does the first three very well. His play speed and versatility are big selling points to his draft stock, and he can have a Day 1 impact as a sub-package linebacker (a la Telvin Smith). Lee classifies as a developmental linebacker, but a rare one in that he can have an immediate value.
Lee can be slow to diagnose and make his initial read when attacking the ball. He's been able to cover this up in college thanks to his speed and athleticism, but his instincts must be quicker in the NFL. Lee likes to play in space and can be hesitant to stick his head in on inside run plays. He is not a stack-and-shed linebacker, which isn't necessarily a weakness, but something that must be known.
As a very good athlete, Lee looks the part on the move in coverage but doesn't show great balance when coming up to attack the run (especially against Notre Dame). His overall instincts and tenacity are questionable when he's asked to come up and play the ball. Lee needs time to develop at linebacker, given his relative youth there (two seasons). He may get burned early in his pro career, but at the same time he'll also make plays if put in a position to attack the football as a defensive threat.
Pro Comparison: Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers
The Big Board
So much is changing across the NFL landscape with new hirings, new firings and new players entering the NFL draft pool. That means it's time for a quickie mock draft. Just one round this time.
|1. Tennessee||T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss|
|2. Cleveland||QB Jared Goff, California|
|3. San Diego||T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame|
|4. Dallas||DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State|
|5. Jacksonville||CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson|
|6. Baltimore||CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida|
|7. San Francisco||QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State|
|8. Miami||DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson|
|9. Tampa Bay||FS Jalen Ramsey, FSU|
|10. New York Giants||DE DeForest Buckner, Oregon|
|11. Chicago||WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss|
|12. New Orleans||LB Myles Jack, UCLA|
|13. Philadelphia||QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis|
|14. Oakland||DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|15. Los Angeles||WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State|
|16. Detroit||T Jack Conklin, Michigan State|
|17. Atlanta||LB Darron Lee, Ohio State|
|18. Indianapolis||DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss|
|19. Buffalo||G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State|
|20. New York Jets||LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama|
|21. Washington||LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame|
|22. Houston||RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State|
|23. Minnesota||T Taylor Decker, Ohio State|
|24. Cincinnati||WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame|
|25. Pittsburgh||NT Jarran Reed, Alabama|
|26. Seattle||DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida|
|27. Green Bay||NT Andrew Billings, Baylor|
|28. Kansas City||T Jerald Hawkins, LSU|
|29. Denver||DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson|
|30. Arizona||DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama|
|31. Carolina||CB Eli Apple, Ohio State|
8. 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:
|QB Brandon Allen, Arkansas||DE Sheldon Day, Notre Dame|
|QB Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State||DE Jason Fanaika, Utah|
|QB Jake Coker, Alabama||DE Carl Nassib, Penn State|
|QB Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech||DE Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech|
|QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford||DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor|
|QB Cody Kessler, USC||DE Sheldon Rankins, Louisville|
|QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky|
|QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State||DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma|
|RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech||DE Jihad Ward, Illinois|
|RB Kenyan Drake, Alabama||DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech|
|RB Tyler Ervin, San Jose State||DT Matt Ioannidis, Temple|
|RB Aaron Green, TCU||DT Austin Johnson, Penn State|
|RB Chris Swain, Navy||DT Adolphus Washington, Ohio State|
|RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas||ILB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri|
|FB Soma Vainuku, USC||ILB Josh Forrest, Kentucky|
|FB Dan Vitale, Northwestern||ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia|
|WR Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State||ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford|
|WR Leonte Carroo, Rutgers||ILB Tyler Matakevich, Temple|
|WR Josh Doctson, TCU||ILB Antonio Morrison, Florida|
|WR Jay Lee, Baylor||ILB Jared Norris, Utah|
|WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU||OLB Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State|
|WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State||OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State|
|WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia||OLB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia|
|WR Chris Moore, Cincinnati||OLB Deion Jones, LSU|
|WR Jordan Payton, UCLA||OLB Joshua Perry, Ohio State|
|WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma||OLB Joe Schobert, Wisconsin|
|TE Jerell Adams, South Carolina||OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma|
|TE Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky||CB James Bradberry, Samford|
|TE Henry Krieger Coble, Iowa||CB Maurice Canady, Virginia|
|TE Jake McGee, Florida||CB Sean Davis, Maryland|
|TE Nick Vannett, Ohio State||CB Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa|
|TE Bryce Williams, East Carolina||CB William Jackson III, Houston|
|T Vadal Alexander, LSU||CB Jonathan Jones, Auburn|
|T Willie Beavers, Western Michigan||CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana|
|T Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech||CB Eric Murray, Minnesota|
|T Joe Dahl, Washington State||CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State|
|T Taylor Decker, Ohio State||CB Tavon Young, Temple|
|T Spencer Drango, Baylor||S Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State|
|T Kyle Murphy, Stanford||S Jeremy Cash, Duke|
|T Jason Spriggs, Indiana||S K.J. Dillon, West Virginia|
|T John Theus, Georgia||S DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary|
|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||P Riley Dixon, Syracuse|
|C Jack Allen, Michigan State||P Alex Kinal, Wake Forest|
|C Evan Boehm, Missouri||K Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA|
|C Nick Martin, Notre Dame||K Ross Martin, Duke|
7. 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:
|RB Derrick Henry, Alabama||DL Maliek Collins, Nebraska|
|LB Scooby Wright, Arizona||DL Vincent Valentine, Nebraska|
|WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona||TE David Grinnage, North Carolina State|
|G Denver Kirkland, Arkansas||CB Keivarae Russell, Notre Dame|
|RB Alex Collins, Arkansas||LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame|
|RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas||RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame|
|TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas||T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame|
|G Avery Young, Auburn||WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame|
|T Shon Coleman, Auburn||CB Eli Apple, Ohio State|
|CB Xavien Howard, Baylor||EDGE Joey Bosa, Ohio State|
|DL Andrew Billings, Baylor||LB Darron Lee, Ohio State|
|WR Corey Coleman, Baylor||FS Tyvis Powell, Ohio State|
|EDGE Kamalei Correa, Boise State||QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State|
|WR Roger Lewis, Bowling Green||RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State|
|QB Jared Goff, California||SS Vonn Bell, Ohio State|
|WR Kenny Lawler, California||WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State|
|CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson||WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State|
|DL Kevin Dodd, Clemson||CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma|
|DL Shaq Lawson, Clemson||LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma|
|FS T.J. Green, Clemson||EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State|
|FS Travis Blanks, Clemson||DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss|
|SS Jayron Kearse, Clemson||T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss|
|WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State||WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss|
|P Eric Enderson, Delaware||RB Byron Marshall, Oregon|
|EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky||WR Bralon Addison, Oregon|
|CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida||C Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State|
|EDGE Alex McCalister, Florida||DL Austin Johnson, Penn State|
|FS Keanu Neal, Florida||QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State|
|RB Kelvin Taylor, Florida||WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt|
|WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida||LB Steve Longa, Rutgers|
|K Roberto Aguayo, FSU||CB Cleveland Wallace, San Jose State|
|FS Jalen Ramsey, FSU||WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina|
|EDGE Leonard Floyd, Georgia||TE Austin Hooper, Stanford|
|RB Keith Marshall, Georgia||EDGE Ron Thompson, Syracuse|
|WR Demarcus Ayers, Houston||DL Hassan Ridgeway, Texas|
|DL Darius Latham, Indiana||T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M|
|RB Jordan Howard, Indiana||DL Kenny Clark, UCLA|
|FB Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State||G Alex Redmond, UCLA|
|CB Rashard Robinson, LSU||LB Myles Jack, UCLA|
|T Jerald Hawkins, LSU||RB Paul Perkins, UCLA|
|CB Corey Tindal, Marshall||T Caleb Benenoch, UCLA|
|DL Quinton Jefferson, Maryland||WR Thomas Duarte, UCLA|
|EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland||LB Su'a Cravens, USC|
|QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis||LB Nick Vigil, Utah State|
|CB Artie Burns, Miami (Fla.)||EDGE Stephen Weatherly, Vanderbilt|
|DL Willie Henry, Michigan||CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech|
|T Jack Conklin, Michigan State||RB Dwayne Washington, Washington|
|DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State||CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia|
|LB Ben Brown, Mississippi State||RB Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia|
|WR De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State||WR Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan|
6. Black Monday has come and gone. After a wild week of movement and surprises, here are the current openings at head coach and general manager:
|Team||Old Coach||New Coach|
|Cleveland||Mike Pettine||Hue Jackson|
|Miami||Joe Philbin/Dan Campbell||Adam Gase|
|New York Giants||Tom Coughlin||Ben McAdoo|
|Philadelphia||Chip Kelly||Doug Pederson|
|San Francisco||Jim Tomsula||Chip Kelly|
|Tampa Bay||Lovie Smith||Dirk Koetter|
|Tennessee||Ken Whisenhunt/Mike Mularkey||---|
5. Head coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide took home another national title Monday night, and this stat was so amazing that I had to share it here: Saban is 5-0 all-time in national title games. Five wins. Zero losses.
Even more impressive? Every recruiting class Saban has signed at Alabama has won a national championship.
4. During the national title game, many folks on Twitter wanted to know my thoughts on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is a sophomore.
Normally, I have a rule about not looking at players who aren't draft-eligible, but with the "20 for '20" series running here on B/R, I had to take a look at Watson. What I saw was very, very impressive—good enough for Watson to enter my 2017 NFL draft advance work as the No. 1 quarterback in the class.
3. Who were the biggest risers from the title game? Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd was all over the field, dominating the Alabama offensive line (and the Oklahoma offensive line before that) at left defensive end. Dodd had three sacks in the team's loss and proved that he has the size, speed and power to be a first-round prospect in this class.
On the Alabama side, no player was more impressive than tight end O.J. Howard. With Howard's impressive size and speed, he was always thought of as a promising talent, but in one game he capitalized on the potential and proved his upside with production. That will push Howard into the conversation to be the top tight end in this class.
2. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered an awful injury in the Fiesta Bowl, and it left many wondering what would happen to Smith's draft stock. Prior to the injury, Smith ranked as the No. 2 player on my board, but will NFL teams still value him in Round 1?
Smith suffered an ACL and LCL injury, per Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton, and a full recovery is expected. For comparison, that's the same injury Tyrann Mathieu suffered in early December 2013. Mathieu played 13 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014 and was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.
That gives hope for Smith's status, and we could be looking at a Todd Gurley (No. 10 overall pick) or Cedric Ogbuehi (No. 21 overall pick) type of selection in the 2016 first round.
1. Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo tweeted this week that Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns would move on from Johnny Manziel. Given the team's status in free agency and the draft, with picks No. 2 and No. 32 overall, the Browns have options.
In free agency, it's unlikely the Browns would break the bank for Sam Bradford or Brock Osweiler. Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick could be available and would be interesting, but Jackson and the Browns have to feel pressure to get this right. That leads us to the draft.
With the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Browns will likely have a shot at Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and the other quarterbacks in this class given the Marcus Mariota-led Tennessee Titans pick in front of them. If I'm in that room when the pick comes up, Goff is the guy to lead Cleveland to the promised land.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.