We're 10 weeks into the NFL season, and I'm promising you, this week's Scouting Notebook is the best one so far this year.
Here's what's below:
- Deshaun Watson not a first-rounder
- Updated mock draft
- An overrated Alabama defender
- Names to know, injury updates
- ...and an interview with an NFC scout
The Scout's Report
—The biggest news in the college football world right now is the decision of Oklahoma redshirt junior Charles Walker to leave school to begin preparing for the NFL draft. Walker's decision has been met with criticism. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops accused him of quitting on his team. What did NFL scouts and coaches I asked say?
1. "We'll put up with a lot of s--t, but not quitters."
2. "Talk to anyone [at OU] and they'll tell you he's not even hurt. He doesn't want to get hit anymore."
3. "You already have three concussions, and now you're gonna quit the team? Hope he got his degree."
There could be scouts and coaches out there who applaud Walker for making a decision to benefit himself, but I didn't find any after asking around this week about how this move would affect his draft stock. The Walker situation will be watched very closely by teams, reporters and other athletes who have undoubtedly considered the same move.
—Deshaun Watson entered the 2016 season as the consensus top quarterback in the class, but struggles on the field have potentially pushed him down the board. How far? NFL Network's Lance Zierlein says he hasn't heard one NFL person with Watson as a first-rounder.
It's still early, and for transparency, I do have Watson with a top-32 grade, but the fact that in the heart of the season scouts aren't warm on the Clemson junior will say a lot about how he's viewed this spring.
—Stud Washington linebacker Azeem Victor suffered a broken leg several weeks back and will miss the rest of the year. The good news for Washington fans is that Victor told Adam Jude of the Seattle Times he will return to the team next season and not enter the NFL draft. I had a Day 2 grade on Victor before injury.
—Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen might be the fastest player in college football, but two torn ACLs have Allen stepping away from the gridiron to focus on his professional track career, according to Tyson Alger of the Oregonian. Allen would have been a late-round prospect on the field but is an Olympic-level hurdler with a bright future in that arena.
—The Alabama defense is absolutely loaded with NFL talent, but one AFC scout I spoke with said to pump the brakes on cornerback Marlon Humphrey. "I think he's overrated. You guys don't see how stiff he is or that he can't turn and run." Humphrey has a Round 2 grade on my board currently.
—A longtime former NFL general manager reached out this week to ask me about the top quarterback prospects and share notes. Here's what he told me on the Big Four:
1. "[Deshaun] Watson's interceptions are going to crush him. And he's small. He's a lot like your guy [Teddy] Bridgewater, actually."
2. "I would advise [DeShone] Kizer to leave because I don't think [head coach] Brian Kelly is helping him, but you really wish he had another season of experience under his belt. He could be the one we all fall in love with between now and April."
3. "Why do you like [Mitch] Trubisky? One-year starter who couldn't beat out that Williams kid [Marquise]? Stop looking at his stats."
4. "He's so skinny and that back-foot throwing he does scares me, but at least he's the smartest of the crop." — on University of Miami (FL) quarterback Brad Kaaya
5 Names to Know
5. WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
Isaiah Ford makes some big plays on Saturdays, and college football fans are starting to take note of his talent as a route-runner and as a receiver thanks to his seven touchdowns for a much-improved Virginia Tech team.
My only issue with Ford is drops. I've charted five drops already this season, and in talking to a coach at Virginia Tech, they've also counted five drops in each of his last two seasons. Ford sees about 100 targets a year, per this coach, so the five drops might be something NFL teams are fine with, but it's definitely a concerning factor when evaluating him as a potential Round 1 receiver.
4. LB Duke Riley, LSU
Duke Riley was a part-time player until 2016 on a loaded LSU defense. But this season he's come into his own as a kind of safety/linebacker hybrid. Riley is flying all over the field against the run and pass when you turn on the film—and he's usually making more of an impact than his more-hyped teammates, Lewis Neal and Kendell Beckwith.
Where will the NFL value Riley? He's 6'1", maybe 220 pounds, according to scouts I've talked to, and has experience playing safety and middle linebacker. That sounds a lot like a Deone Bucannon or Mark Barron-type linebacker.
3. CB Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
Friend of the column Chris Brown, @smartfootball on Twitter, reached out before the Texas vs. West Virginia game and told me to check out cornerback Rasul Douglas while watching my Longhorns. It was a solid tip, as Douglas was a lockdown cornerback against a Texas offense that loves the deep ball and has super-sized receivers.
Douglas, who is 6'2" and 203 pounds, ran vertical routes with excellent placement and attacked comeback routes against a 6'6" receiver and was willing to make contact as a tackler. He also picked off a pass (his sixth on the year) and defended two more.
Douglas was a late-rounder on my summer rankings but has moved himself into solid top-100 territory this season.
2. CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
I've taken a lot of heat on Twitter for my low ranking of Tre'Davious White, and for the first time this season I'm going to use this space to explain why on a player we should all be watching as a potential NFL punt returner and cornerback.
White has NFL size and speed, and he flashes the playmaking ability of a future starter. But he also has concentration lapses that are scary. Against Arkansas last weekend, White muffed a punt and also gave up a long touchdown when he got lost in coverage and allowed Austin Allen—the quarterback—to get deep on him for a 44-yard score. White's concentration lapses are an issue at a consistent enough level that it causes me to rank him behind other cornerbacks like Quincy Wilson, Sidney Jones and Gareon Conley in this upcoming class. Currently, White is ranked No. 78 overall on my board.
1. WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
Senior wide receiver Zay Jones has 139 catches this season. In 10 games. He's on pace to break Freddie Barnes' record of 155, set at Bowling Green in 2009, and may do so this weekend against Navy if the Pirates get the ball enough when facing a ball-control offense.
As a pro prospect, Jones is a wicked route-runner with solid hands—I've charted five drops on the season with almost 200 targets. He doesn't have excellent size at 6'1" and 197 pounds, but Jones' production and route running have him on my Round 3 big board.
3 Questions with an AFC Scout
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke with a former AFC scout who asked to remain anonymous for competitive purposes.
Bleacher Report: I took a few questions from Twitter this week, wanting to mix things up a bit. One I really liked was this: "Other than domestic violence, what's the biggest off-field red flag?"
Scout: This is really a two-part answer. There is what I view as a red flag and what our management group (GM, head coach, owner) see as a red flag. For me, domestic violence is it. Maybe I'm a hard ass, but I wouldn't draft a player who had roughed up a female. Now at the top of the team, I think we're more willing to weigh risk vs. reward after the first round. At some point, you have to start talking about how good the football player is, and that makes it more likely we would pick a player with a DV in their background.
As for second worst, being a bad person is up there. We've talked before about football character vs. actual character. If your teammates aren't going to like you or respect you, that's pretty hard to overlook. I remember a kid at a Big 12 school a few years ago who was talented but his teammates hated him, the coaches hated him and the support personnel hated him. He went undrafted. As much as people focus on criminal records, being a sh--ty teammate will hurt you just as much.
B/R: A big debate on Draft Twitter has been about the reluctance of the NFL to look at smaller, unconventional quarterbacks. How do you separate someone like Tyrod Taylor, who is having success, from guys like Vernon Adams or Greg Ward Jr.?
Scout: It all goes back to traits. That's what we're looking at. There isn't a bias against black quarterbacks or short quarterbacks or running quarterbacks. None of us wants to lose our jobs by missing on the next Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott, so there's this feeling of checking every quarterback to make sure we don't overlook something.
Now, why does Tyrod work out and Adams ends up in Canada? Traits. Tyrod has a much better arm, much better size and showed production at a major school for four seasons before getting drafted and sitting for four seasons in Baltimore. Adams never had the arm, the accuracy or the ability to read a defense from the pocket.
So really, at the end of the day, you're going through this imaginary checklist and saying, "Can he do this? Can he do that?" and looking for those traits that we've seen work so often at the position.
B/R: What are your thoughts on players leaving school with two years of eligibility left?
Scout: This really depends on the player. For some, I hate it. For others—Andrew Luck was one who could have done it, Adrian Peterson was, Jameis Winston was—it's fine. But like most things, we try not to think or speak in generalities and evaluate everything on a per-player basis.
When should a player consider leaving after two years? I'd say only if you're sure, absolutely sure, you're going to be a top-10 pick. Think about it this way—say you're a redshirt sophomore quarterback and we say you have a Day 1 or Day 2 grade, but you don't think you're a lock to be a top-10 pick. Why not go back to school, work your ass off and prove yourself with a chance to be the top pick or a top-five pick the next season?
Too many kids think in the short term or don't want to put in the work to get better for free, so they come out too soon and rarely get drafted as high as they think they will.
The Big Board
We're past the halfway mark of the NFL season and have just one more month of regular-season college football. Perfect time to break down team needs and look at where each team could go in the first round.
|Week 11 NFL Mock Draft|
|1||Cleveland||DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|2||San Francisco||DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M|
|3||Chicago||QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina|
|4||Jacksonville||RB Leonard Fournette, LSU|
|5||New York Jets||CB Quincy Wilson, Florida|
|6||Carolina||S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
|7||Cincinnati||LB Reuben Foster, Alabama|
|8||San Diego||WR Mike Williams, Clemson|
|9||Buffalo||S Jamal Adams, LSU|
|10||Tennessee (from LA)||CB Jalen Tabor, Florida|
|11||Pittsburgh||EDGE Derek Barnett, Tennessee|
|12||Indianapolis||EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama|
|13||Tampa Bay||WR John Ross, Washington|
|14||New Orleans||EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn|
|15||Green Bay||RB Dalvin Cook, FSU|
|16||Arizona||QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame|
|17||Tennessee||WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan|
|18||Miami||S Malik Hooker, Ohio State|
|19||Philadelphia (from MIN)||CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State|
|20||Cleveland (from PHI)||QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|21||Baltimore||EDGE Ryan Anderson, Alabama|
|22||Detroit||DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State|
|23||Atlanta||CB Sidney Jones, Washington|
|24||Washington||RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|25||Houston||LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt|
|26||New York Giants||DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois|
|27||Denver||T Cam Robinson, Alabama|
|28||Seattle||T Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin|
|29||New England||EDGE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA|
|30||Kansas City||EDGE Charles Harris, Missouri|
|31||Oakland||RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas|
|32||Dallas||DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford|
10. If you are an athlete, a coach, a parent or even just a big fan of sports, take a few minutes to watch Tony Romo's statement concerning his job as QB1 in Dallas and the rise of Dak Prescott.
Romo has always been one of the classiest players in the league, and my dealings with him have always been positive, but to go out of his way to say Dak is the quarterback in Dallas? That doesn't happen. May we all learn something about humility and leadership from No. 9.
9. The deadline for eligible underclassmen to enter the 2017 NFL draft is January 15, 2017, but that doesn't mean players aren't already indicating what they'll do next season. Here is a list of those players confirmed to be entering.
|Declared Underclassmen 2017 Draft|
8. The Senior Bowl announced the first 12 players to accept invitations to the annual all-star game in Mobile, Alabama. Here are the first dozen:
|2017 Senior Bowl Rosters|
|QB Seth Russell, Baylor||WR Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse||G Jordan Morgan, Kutztown|
|QB Davis Webb, California||WR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina||G Taylor Moton, Western Michigan|
|FB Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech||WR Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky||S Nate Gerry, Nebraska|
|WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Wash.||TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama||P Toby Baker, Arkansas|
7. Former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Mike Nolan, made the Tweet of the Week.
Nolan is right. Too often we simply say a quarterback is good or bad without considering the context around the player. How does he fit the scheme being ran? Has the front office put a plan in place to develop the quarterback? What about skill-position support?
Marcus Mariota is a great example of a player being developed with a plan. The Titans invested in improving the offensive line and run game—the two best friends of a young quarterback—and are allowing him to grow on the job while putting an offense in place that plays to his strengths.
As Cleveland, San Francisco and other teams begin thinking about how to identify and then develop a franchise quarterback, the examples in Tennessee and Dallas with Dak Prescott are great ones to follow.
6. Speaking of the Titans, one thing I love when watching them each week is how the front office has been dedicated to going big on offense in a day and age when so many defenses are going small.
During one stretch against the Green Bay Packers, the Titans had 318-pound guard Brian Schwenke clearing out 227-pound linebacker Joe Thomas. And they can do that across the board with an offensive line averaging almost 309 pounds while not giving up the agility to get to blocks at the second level.
The Titans looked at the NFL going smaller at linebacker and putting five or six defensive backs on the field routinely and decided to fight that with size and a hard-nosed run game.
Will we see more teams going big in the future? Perhaps. It makes sense, especially for teams with young or average quarterbacks to rely on the run game. And look to the Dallas Cowboys as maybe the best example of what teams are trying to achieve—the Titans have first-rounders at both tackle spots now, and the Oakland Raiders spent big money in free agency to build a wall in front of the quarterback.
5. With the Packers at 4-5 and many speculating about the future of head coach Mike McCarthy, it's worth asking—who all would line up to take that gig?
The Packers are a legacy team—along with the New York Giants at the top of my list—and one of the few jobs almost anyone would want. Could Nick Saban be lured from the University of Alabama to coach the Packers and get the last few years of Aaron Rodgers' career? What about Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and the most sought-after coach on the NFL market?
If there happens to be an opening here, there really is no limit to the "what-ifs" when speculating on who could take the job.
Saban is the name I would imagine most fans want, but Rodgers running the McDaniels offense would be a thing of beauty.
4. Question-and-answer time. This week, I took four questions from Twitter to end the column with.
Brad Kaaya has been in the spotlight at Miami for three seasons now, and in each year he's shown continued improvement. Playing in head coach Mark Richt's pro-style system, Kaaya is learning how to do things like take a snap under center, execute play-action with his back to the defense and throw routes based on timing. He's still a work in progress, though.
Kaaya has some mechanical issues that likely stem from a poor offensive line in front of him. He too often throws off his back foot while fading away from the line instead of planting and stepping through the throw. Without a Cam Newton-esque arm, he's not able to do this and hit his mark consistently.
The bad offensive line in front of Kaaya has him seeing ghosts at times. He gets rocked behind a leaky line—see the Florida State game—far too often, and that has him escaping the pocket or rushing through reads when he shouldn't.
Kaaya has a lot of positives—he's smart, tough, displays excellent leadership on and off the field and has the accuracy and decision-making skills you want from a starting quarterback. His arm strength isn't great, but there is enough zip on passes to work at the NFL level. He has quick feet and smart movement in the pocket that brings him to a quick delivery when he climbs the pocket. He also has shown over the years an ability to read defenses and work through progressions from the pocket. His anticipation and timing are pro-level already.
Kaaya is firmly in the running to be a first-rounder if he decides to come out this season. A weak quarterback class and his tools that are ready to be developed make him a very good option for teams needing a passer.
This was incredibly tough to answer.
When starting a franchise with Derek Carr or Dak Prescott, do I get the offensive line and weapons around them? If so, that makes the decision (Carr) an easy one. If we're talking about taking a player outside his current system and asking him to flourish in a neutral offense with average tools—like the question here—that's different.
Carr has emerged as a special talent. His arm strength, athleticism, toughness and leadership are all exactly what you want in a franchise quarterback. Sure, he still makes mistakes here and there, but that's expected from a third-year starter. Because of his current ability and his upside, he would be my pick if we're talking about taking one passer and starting a team around him.
There are so many variables when answering something like this—as seen above, you can factor in current teams and schemes or not—but one of the biggest areas to think about when building a team from scratch is salary cap. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Carson Wentz are all counting a lot more against the salary cap than Carr or Prescott.
When you take skills and salary-cap freedom into the equation, Carr is the player I'd want.
Carl Lawson is an excellent fit in Pittsburgh and would be a natural replacement for Jarvis Jones, who is a free agent this year after the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Lawson is quick off the edge and has the low center of gravity you want in an edge-rusher. He can get low and bend to get under the hands of an offensive tackle and is showing better hand usage this season. His balance is top-notch for his size and speed too.
Lawson isn't great against the run, but in a 3-4 defense, he has a lot of natural tools as a stand-up pass-rusher. That's perfect for Pittsburgh.
As to a second-round cornerback, there are many. Desmond King of Iowa would be a plug-and-play cornerback and is the opposite of last year's first-rounder Artie Burns—King has the on-tape production and technique of an NFL cornerback instead of just size and length.
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes is an interesting prospect and one I don't have a complete opinion on yet. Here's what I've seen so far.
Mahomes is a gunslinger. He likes to leave the pocket and fire off passes on the move—something he's quite good at with the strongest arm I've seen in college football in a long time. He's an easy mover and a good athlete with a compact motion on the move and good spot accuracy.
Playing in the Air Raid system under Kliff Kingsbury, Mahomes isn't asked to call plays in the huddle, get under center or make many reads from the pocket. His receivers are also reacting to the coverage they see, so Mahomes' job is to read the coverage and anticipate the route adjustment his receivers will make. This is basically the same scheme Jared Goff ran last year at Cal.
Mahomes has a lot of mechanical issues that will need ironed out, starting with his footwork. He's never taken a drop step from under center and has erratic footwork in the pocket. As mentioned above, he loves to escape the pocket and throw on the move, and much of that can be related to improper footwork (see Blake Bortles as an example of this—and a player who is much more accurate when moving versus standing in the pocket). Because Mahomes has such a strong arm, he hasn't had to rely on footwork and weight transfer to spin the ball. In the NFL he will have to learn his steps and timing, not only to save his arm but to prevent "tells" on passes that will lead to interceptions.
Depending on how you view Mahomes' tools, he could be the next Russell Wilson or the next Bryce Petty. My early look at him leaves question marks about his injury history (he's banged up again this season) and his footwork, but the biggest question is in how well he sees the field and how well he makes decisions on his own. That's something that can't be picked up as easily on film due to the Tech offensive system.
I've ranked Mahomes tentatively as a Round 2 prospect based on tools, but as I get more information, that could change dramatically.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.