Matt Miller's Week 9 NFL Scouting Notebook: Updated Top 50, Scout Q&A and More

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterNovember 4, 2016

TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 22:  Quarterback Luke Falk #4 of the Washington State Cougars warms up before the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There is never a dull moment when you cover the NFL and NFL draft for a living.

This week brought us the NFL trade deadline, the blockbuster Jamie Collins trade, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings appointing new offensive coordinators and the suspension (again) of a super talented Oklahoma running back. 

Need to catch up on all that? I got you.

Here's what's below:

  • Luke Falk leaving school?
  • Updated Top 50 Big Board
  • Jamie Collins trade thoughts
  • Names to know, injury updates
  • ...and an interview with an anonymous NFC scout

               

The Scout's Report

—Early this week, I reported that sources close to Washington State quarterback Luke Falk told me he was expected to declare for the 2017 NFL draft. That got twisted around until Falk was asked at a press conference if he was declaring. Of course the starting quarterback isn't going to say in the middle of the season that he's declaring. That doesn't change what I've been told—he will declare after the season.

—"I'm in love with his arm and his 'don't give a f--k' attitude on the field, but I need to do a lot more work on that scheme and his mental side." That's what a Big 12 scout told me about Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes this week. For the record, I'm a big fan of Mahomes' raw tools, and it should be noted we just saw an Air Raid quarterback (Jared Goff) drafted No. 1 overall last year.

—Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd left the team this week and is expected to transfer to a new school to play in 2017, according to a source with the Volunteers and teammates I spoke to this week. Hurd let his teammates know he wants to play wide receiver or tight end at his next stop. As an athlete, Hurd is very impressive, but NFL scouts I've talked to this week had negative responses to a player who "quit on his team" and "doesn't want to take hits." Those are perceptions Hurd will be working against at his next stop.

—"I know he's your guy, but when are you going to write about Peppers not having any turnovers in three seasons?" That text from an NFC scout rattled me. Surely he was wrong. Nope, he's right. Jabrill Peppers hasn't recorded a turnover at Michigan—he did force one fumble so far this year. So, Mr. Scout, I'm writing about it now, and I'm sure it will be an issue teams bring up when evaluating the hybrid defender this April.

—Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is one of the most talented backs I've seen this season, but he has a history off the field that is concerning. Mixon was suspended for the entire 2014 season at Oklahoma after allegedly punching a woman in the face. Now he's suspended again, for one week, for breaking team rules. His talent is undeniable, but one scouting director I spoke to said, "We don't touch players who put their hands on women. Period."

         

5 Names to Know

5. CB Sidney Jones, Washington

One of the best cornerbacks in the nation plays the majority of his games late on Saturday night when most of the country is in bed or spending quality time with the family. That might be why you haven't heard a lot about Sidney Jones, but that should change as scouts begin talking to media members more regularly.

When viewing Jones, I've always been impressed with his fluid hips and how quickly he's able to make transitions when breaking on the ball or adjusting with a route. He has NFL size at 6'0" and 181 pounds, but he may want to pack on some weight to be a better player in the run game.

From a player-comparison perspective, I see Jones a lot like Kevin Johnson. Johnson was a thin, quick, technically savvy cornerback at Wake Forest who went in the first round of the 2015 draft to the Houston Texans. Jones has a shot to go in that same range starting at the middle of the first round if he declares for this year's draft—something I expect he will do.

           

4. WR Amara Darboh, Michigan

When I talked to NFL scouts this summer as I prepared my watch list for the season, Michigan had three pass-catchers that multiple evaluators pointed me to—Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. Butt and Chesson were the prized prospects, though, with Darboh seen as a potential late-rounder.

If Saturday's game against Michigan State is any indicator, he is closing the gap on his teammates. Darboh went off for eight catches and 165 yards. Stats can lie about a player's ability and potential, but he earned those yards with smooth route running and easy moving on a 6'2" frame. 

As the draft nears, Darboh is the kind of player who could sneak into the top 10 of wide receiver rankings.

        

3. RB Joe Williams, Utah

Joe Williams was on my summer watch list and had a nice row dedicated to his play in my database for 2017 draft prospects. Then he retired. Then he came out of retirement to rush for 332 yards—a school record—in his second game back. Williams is showing the game-changing speed and the on-the-go vision to get himself into the NFL.

Williams will have to answer questions about stepping away from the team. According to ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings, he said it was because his body felt worn out. But if he wants to play in the NFL, there will definitely be interest from teams with the way Williams is running the ball.

               

2. DL Montravius Adams, Auburn

The 2017 defensive tackle class isn't expected to be a great one outside of Alabama's Jonathan Allen. That creates a void at a position where there are generally four to five players drafted each year in the first round. Auburn's Adams has the talent to start climbing boards and get into the top 32.

A 6'4", 310-pounder who has played two seasons at nose tackle, Adams is scheme-versatile and has a nice combination of power and quickness to handle different roles and responsibilities. With his on-field production and potential, he's a name to know.

                

1. DL Jarron Jones, Notre Dame  

Notching six tackles for loss against Miami last weekend put Jarron Jones on this list, but he was a high-ranked prospect according to multiple NFL scouts I talked with over the summer. Jones' high potential is finally showing up on the field, which is a great thing for the graduate student's draft stock.

A natural 5-technique in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense, Jones is showing the length and power to excel in a pro 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.

                     

3 Questions with: an Anonymous NFC Scout

Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke with an anonymous NFC scout about the running back class, West Coast sleepers and who should win the Heisman.

   

Bleacher Report: Last week I asked a scout to stack the quarterback class. How do you feel about this year's running back crop?

Scout: This was billed as some elite running back class—it's not. [Leonard] Fournette is a freak, but everyone knows that. Dalvin Cook is exciting, but he's not close to last year's first-rounder [Ezekiel Elliott]. [Nick] Chubb is a third[-rounder] from what I've heard in our group. The big kid at Texas [D'Onta Foreman] is the one to watch if he comes out. I like him better than Derrick Henry.

           

B/R: Spending most of your time on the West Coast, which players are we in the media sleeping on?

Scout: The entire Washington defense is NFL-quality. Not just the secondary, either. Their linebacker, [Azeem] Victor, will play a long time in the league, and both defensive tackles [Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls] have a chance to go Day 2.

Marcus Williams at Utah is nice; he's probably Day 2 right now based on what I've seen. It's a good safety crop, but he stands out as a playmaker. 

                

B/R: You watch more college football than anyone voting for the Heisman Trophy. Who gets your vote?

Scout: Lamar Jackson. Hands down. Did you see what he did to Florida State? Now, I don't know yet where he'll play in our league because I haven't studied him, but he's the most exciting player in college football.

             

The Big Board

Last week, I mentioned that I was erasing my Big Board rankings and starting over from scratch on a new Top 50 before unveiling my complete rankings this coming Wednesday. Here's a preview of that Top 50, including the top seniors, juniors and redshirt sophomores.

Updated Top 50 Big Board
1EDGE Myles GarrettTexas A&M
2RB Leonard FournetteLSU
3DL Jonathan AllenAlabama
4LB Reuben FosterAlabama
5FS Jabrill PeppersMichigan
6SS Jamal AdamsLSU
7WR Mike WilliamsClemson
8CB Quincy WilsonFlorida
9RB Dalvin CookFSU
10QB DeShone KizerNotre Dame
11QB Mitch TrubiskyNorth Carolina
12EDGE Derek BarnettTennessee
13QB Deshaun WatsonClemson
14EDGE Dawuane SmootIllinois
15DL Malik McDowellMichigan State
16CB Gareon ConleyOhio State
17RB Christian McCaffreyStanford
18FS Malik HookerOhio State
19CB Jalen TaborFlorida
20EDGE Tim WilliamsAlabama
21QB Brad KaayaMiami (Fla.)
22T Cam RobinsonAlabama
23EDGE Solomon ThomasStanford
24T Ryan RamczykWisconsin
25TE O.J. HowardAlabama
26EDGE Takkarist McKinleyUCLA
27EDGE Charles HarrisMissouri
28CB Marshon LattimoreOhio State
29CB Sidney JonesWashington
30EDGE Carl LawsonAuburn
31WR John RossWashington
32DL Charles WalkerOklahoma
33LB Zach CunninghamVanderbilt
34WR JuJu Smith-SchusterUSC
35G Dan FeeneyIndiana
36FS Justin EvansTexas A&M
37QB Mason RudolphOklahoma State
38LB Raekwon McMillanOhio State
39LB Jarrad DavisFlorida
40CB Jourdan LewisMichigan
41CB Desmond KingIowa
42DL Caleb BrantleyFlorida
43TE Jake ButtMichigan
44TE Bucky HodgesVirginia Tech
45RB D'Onta ForemanTexas
46QB Patrick MahomesTexas Tech
47EDGE Ryan AndersonAlabama
48S Marcus MayeFlorida
49G Quenton NelsonNotre Dame
50DL Chris WormleyMichigan
Matt Miller

 

Parting Shots   

10. In talking to a high-level scout over the summer, he said something offhand that's stuck with me since, so much so that I have it up on the bulletin board behind my desk:

"Great players don't have to be debated—everyone knows they're great."

At the time, I didn't put much stock into it, but while evaluating the 2017 draft class, I'm constantly going back to that one sentence. Great players don't have to be debated. We didn't debate Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston—you all knew they were players. The same with Von Miller or Julio Jones or A.J. Green

When looking at this year's class, the really great players are already rising to the top of lists. Myles Garrett, Leonard Fournette and Jonathan Allen stand out as those players we really don't need to spend too much time debating.

 

9. One of my favorite draft events is just around the corner with the 2017 Senior Bowl set to kick off on January 28. As we get closer to announcements about who will be playing, let's take a look at the quarterbacks I expect to be invited.

 

C.J. Beathard, Iowa: A smart, tough, accurate passer on a team that has struggled this season, Beathard is likely to get a mid-round grade and may be the highest-ranked senior in this year's Senior Bowl crop.

Luke Falk, Washington State: A redshirt junior, Luke Falk could be invited if he graduates this semester and does go ahead with declaring for the draft. Given the questions about the Air Raid scheme surrounding Falk, this would be an ideal event for him to showcase his talent outside the system.

Brady Gustafson, Montana: An underrated quarterback from a small school, Brady Gustafson isn't quite Carson Wentz, but there is some intrigue about his arm and his NFL potential. He has a late-round grade currently.

Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: It wouldn't surprise me if Chad Kelly pulls a Connor Cook or A.J. McCarron and declines an invite to the Senior Bowl—and I don't think the organizers would be too disappointed either. Kelly has a late-round grade currently and would be a fringe invitee on my list.

Trevor Knight, Texas A&M: The former Oklahoma quarterback is the leader of the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. That, plus his ability as a mobile quarterback out of the pocket with a strong following should get Knight an invite.

Sefo Liufau, Colorado: Entering Thursday's game against UCLA, Liufau had yet to throw an interception this year while leading the surprising Buffaloes to a Top 15 ranking. More and more evaluators are starting to talk about his pro potential, which should lead to a Senior Bowl invite.

Seth Russell, Baylor: Arguably the highest-ranked player of the seniors over the summer, Russell has battled injuries this season that may see him decline an invite, but if he's healthy, he should be in Mobile, Alabama, for the same reason as Luke Falk—to show he can quarterback outside the scheme at Baylor.

Davis Webb, California: The Senior Bowl is a great event for Webb given his football IQ and arm strength. He can really gain some ground on the top quarterbacks and make himself money with a strong week in front of scouts in what's expected to be a weak group of passers.

 

8. Here's one I've never seen before—the Jacksonville Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson last week and promoted quarterback coach Nathaniel Hackett to the job. OK, that's normal. This isn't—the Jaguars are bringing in an outside quarterback guru, Adam Dedeaux, to fix Blake Bortles' mechanics. In-season. 

At this point, the Jaguars have nothing to lose, and maybe getting back with a comfortable voice will help Bortles fix what's ailing him, but the idea of bringing in an outside consultant in the middle of the season to help your quarterback is unprecedented. 

I have a ton of respect for Dedeaux, and he knows his stuff—it's not about if he's qualified to help—but this move doesn't show a ton of confidence in the Jaguars' existing coaching staff. 

 

7. The New England Patriots traded one of the NFL's best players—linebacker Jamie Collins—to the Cleveland Browns this week for a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. That pick is one the Browns are expected to get back from the league as a compensatory selection for losing center Alex Mack in free agency.

What took me by surprise here was that Collins seemed like a cornerstone for the Patriots' future. In fact, when the team traded Chandler Jones this offseason, many opined that the move was to free up potential salary-cap space for Collins' impending contract...a contract that won't happen in New England now.

Why trade Collins now instead of keeping him for a Super Bowl run and then collecting a 2018 compensatory selection—likely in Round 3—when he walked in free agency? There are a few possible reasons:

  • The Patriots wanted a 2017 third-rounder instead of a 2018 third-rounder.
  • Collins' play was slipping, as former assistant to the Patriots’ coaching staff Michael Lombardi suggested on WEEI 93.7 FM (via CSNNE.com), and he was freelancing too much.
  • Collins' lack of an extension had become a locker room distraction.

Any of those reasons would be enough to warrant shipping off your best linebacker, and it's tough to go against Bill Belichick's track record on moving players out of town.

 

6. It's worth circling back here to note that this is the first use of the new rules allowing for the trade of compensatory selections. The formula for deciding which teams get which comp picks isn't public information, but we do know there will be 32 awarded each year. In preparation for this week's mock draft, I took a stab at projecting the third-round picks the league will award.

Projected 2017 Compensatory Selections
TeamPickFree Agent Lost
Baltimore RavensRound 3Kelechi Osemele
Carolina PanthersRound 3Josh Norman
Cleveland BrownsRound 3Alex Mack
Denver BroncosRound 3Malik Jackson
Denver BroncosRound 3Brock Osweiler
Los Angeles RamsRound 3Janoris Jenkins
Miami DolphinsRound 3Olivier Vernon
Matt Miller

  

5. One last compensatory pick note: The Cincinnati Bengals are in great shape here. The team is likely to gain picks for losing Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Reggie Nelson and Andre Smith. It wouldn't be a surprise to see seventh-round picks awarded for losing Emmanuel Lamur, either.

Something to remember the next time your favorite NFL team loses a handful of free agents and doesn't make big-money moves to replace them.

 

4. You guys love to rank things against each other—someone even asked me to rank the best cheese for a grilled cheese (answer: jalapeno pepper jack). But this was a good one: Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette?

1. Leonard Fournette: Just a rare human being. There is nothing he can't do out of the backfield. Fournette is the perfect combination of power, speed, balance, agility and vision. He's only limited by the imagination of the offensive coordinator.

2. Ezekiel Elliott: A modern-day LaDainian Tomlinson, Elliott is an exceptional runner and receiver out of the backfield. He's single-handedly improved the Dallas offense with his all-around game. Elliott isn't as physical as Fournette, and I imagine he's not as fast either. That puts him second.

3. Todd Gurley: Last year's Rookie of the Year came back from his season-ending ACL injury at Georgia faster and with a bigger impact than anyone could have predicted. Looking at the three as draft prospects, Gurley's injury has to put him third, but I would also say that he and Fournette are very similar backs with Fournette being a bigger, stronger, faster version.

 

3. The game of the week from a scouting perspective is also a huge rivalry: LSU vs. Alabama. Here's a look at the draft-eligible players I'll be scouting this week.

LSU vs. Alabama Watch List
Alabama PlayersLSU Players
WR ArDarius StewartRB Leonard Fournette
TE O.J. HowardWR Travin Dural
T Cam RobinsonWR Malachi Dupre
DL Jonathan AllenC Ethan Pocic
DL Dalvin TomlinsonDL Davon Godchaux
EDGE Ryan AndersonLB Kendall Beckwith
EDGE Tim WilliamsEDGE Lewis Neal
LB Reuben FosterCB Tre'Davious White
CB Marlon HumphreyS Jamal Adams
Matt Miller

 

2. Nebraska taking on Ohio State won't just be a good football game—it'll also give scouts a real look at the talent on both squads in a marquee matchup. This type of game is a favorite of mine to scout because you get to see players in a pressure situation. 

Nebraska vs. Ohio State Watch List
Nebraska PlayersOhio State Players
WR Jordan WesterkampQB J.T. Barrett
LB Michael Rose-IveyRB Curtis Samuel
LB Josh BanderasWR Noah Brown
CB Chris JonesWR Corey Smith
S Nate GerryC Pat Elflein
G Billy Price
EDGE Sam Hubbard
EDGE Tyquan Lewis
LB Dante Booker
LB Raekwon McMillan
LB Chris Worley
CB Gareon Conley
CB Marshon Lattimore
S Malik Hooker
Matt Miller

 

1. The Cal Bears taking on Washington isn't likely to make many must-watch lists for the weekend, but this is a game you should watch if you're like me and are trying to figure out who the top quarterbacks in this class (and next year's class) will be.

Cal vs. Washington Watch List
Cal PlayersWashington Players
QB Davis WebbQB Jake Browning (2018 class)
RB Khalfani MuhammadWR John Ross
T Steven MooreTE Darrell Daniels
G Chris BorrayoEDGE Joe Mathis
EDGE DeVante WilsonDL Elijah Qualls
CB Antoine AlbertDL Vita Vea
LB Azeem Victor
CB Sidney Jones
CB Kevin King
FS Budda Baker
Matt Miller

     

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