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2015 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook, Pre-Wild Card Weekend

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2015

USA Today

Rest easy, football fans, it's officially draft season. 

The regular season has ended and college football bowl season is ramping up, which means it's time to get hot and heavy into draft coverage. My personal assignments mean less NFL coverage—something that takes up a big part of my regular-season work—and a 100 percent focus on scouting and NFL draft work. 

As rankings, job openings and the 2015 draft class starts to take shape, the draft season really comes into focus. And that results in a jam-packed Scouting Notebook this week.

The Scout's Report

— Baylor football received good news this week when defensive end Shawn Oakman decided to head back to school for his senior season. It's a surprising move, but Oakman does need to work on his technique and on becoming more consistent. I wrote previously that Oakman had been overrated, so this is a smart move on his part.

— Not only does Baylor get Oakman back, but offensive tackle Spencer Drango is also going back to school for another year. Drango has Round 1 potential, but I'm told by an area scout that he received a "stay in school" grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

— Auburn wide receiver Duke Williams will be back in college next season, as he's decided to wait on the NFL draft, per head coach Gus Malzahn. Williams had been suspended for the team's bowl game, so there's a chance he changes his mind, but as of now it looks like he's returning.

— Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley tells me he's still making his decision on whether to enter the 2015 NFL draft. He plans to have an announcement before Jan. 9.

— Speaking of Stanley, one scout I spoke to says he turned in a Round 2 grade to the NFL Draft Advisory Board on Stanley. He noted a light punch that hurts his game, but says his footwork and mobility are very good.

— A source close to former TCU defensive end Devonte Fields tells me he's likely heading to a junior college instead of testing the NFL draft. He was dismissed from TCU after being accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

— South Carolina wide receiver Shaq Roland has potential, but his draft stock is in question after the junior left school and quit the team as it prepared for its bowl game. He'll need an invite to the combine to really rehab his stock.

  

Five Up, Five Down

Each week, "Five Up, Five Down" will monitor the movements of players on my draft board.

5. WR DeVante Parker, Louisville

DeVante Parker made this same list two weeks ago, and I had no intention of keeping him here. And then the Belk Bowl happened and Parker flat-out went off against Georgia in the team's loss.

Parker, who looks fully healthy now, is a complete wide receiver with size (6'3", 209 lbs), long arms and very good ability to position himself for jump balls. But what we saw against Georgia was very good run-after-catch skills on smoke routes and screen passes. Parker heads into January as my No. 2-ranked wide receiver, behind only Amari Cooper.

4. OT La'el Collins, LSU

Bowl season is great for the marquee matchups you get from uncommon opponents. LSU vs. Notre Dame was one of those games, and in it left tackle La'el Collins continued to make a statement for being the best senior tackle in the 2015 draft class.

Collins is super powerful, but he moves well for a 340-pound man. And once he locks onto a defender, consider him erased from the play. 

3. CB Alex Carter, Stanford

Alex Carter, the son of former NFL defensive back Tom Carter, will enter the 2015 NFL draft. And from the film study I've done thus far, he looks like a first-round talent.

Not only does Carter have NFL bloodlines, but he also has NFL instincts in coverage and very good anticipation skills. He may not be an elite sprinter or have top-end speed, but Carter is a smooth cover man with all the tools to be a starter in the pros.

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 27: Maxx Williams #88 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates after scoring a one yard touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Mich
Leon Halip/Getty Images

2. TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota

Redshirt sophomore Maxx Williams opted to enter the 2015 draft, and as of now he's the only tight end carrying a potential Round 1 grade. 

Williams is a beast, and like Alex Carter, he has NFL bloodlines (his dad, Brian, played for the Giants). He's big (6'4", 250 lbs) but moves very well in space and has the agility to work in transitions. He's athletic enough to make dynamic catches and move after the catch, but he's strong enough to really show up as a blocker off the edge.

1. ILB Denzel Perryman, Miami (Florida)

My good friend Daniel Jeremiah had a great tweet this week talking about Denzel Perryman: "Wrote the word Drago in my notes on Perryman. 'Everything he hits, he destroys.'" I can't really put it any better than that.

Perryman might be undersized (6'0", 243 lbs), but man, can he lay the wood on ball-carriers. He does a great job making contact, and while he can get better at filling gaps in the run game to purely take on blockers, he's a monster in space and in attacking the ball. There's a spot for him in the NFL, and he has a solid Round 2 grade right now.

  

1. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was benched as the starter for the team's bowl game and then split time with Malik Zaire at the spot. And if you watched the game, it was Zaire leading the Fighting Irish to a last-second win over LSU. That's bad news for Golson, who is draft eligible but has seen his stock crash hard over the last two months.

Golson has options—draft, transfer or stay at Notre Dame and try to win his job back. After already missing one season due to suspension, it's tough to say what Golson will do next.

2. OT Donovan Smith, Penn State

Penn State tackle Donovan Smith surprised me this week when he declared for the 2015 NFL draft. I've spent time evaluating Penn State this year, but I didn't make note of Smith as a 2015 or 2016 player in my three games of study. I'll be going back to individually spotlight his play after the Senior Bowl, but from the outside looking in, this was a bad decision.

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Kevin Hogan #8 of the Stanford Cardinal passes the ball against the Maryland Terrapins during the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium on December 30, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

3. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Kevin Hogan finished out the 2014 season at Stanford with a win over Maryland, but this season saw his potential as a draftable quarterback disappear.

Hogan is an average college quarterback, and his mechanics and velocity are far below NFL caliber. Being a starting quarterback at Stanford has led too many to believe Hogan can become an NFL quarterback, or that he's a top-tier prospect. That's not true. Hogan, who is a senior academically, does have another season of eligibility left, so there's a chance he's back at Stanford next season.

4. WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford

Another Stanford player moving down this week is wide receiver Ty Montgomery. A shoulder injury kept him out of the team's bowl game, so I sent a text to a West Coast-area scout about his impressions on the senior wide receiver.

"He's all athlete, but not a very good receiver. His big plays make him overrated. He needs a great Senior Bowl week."

Montgomery ranks in the late third round for me, and as the scout said, the Senior Bowl is a huge week for his draft stock.

5. QB/WR Devin Gardner, Michigan

Michigan quarterbacks haven't fared well in the NFL as of late, and now another former quarterback is moving positions in preparation for the NFL. The East-West Shrine Game announced Devin Gardner as part of the roster, but he's listed at wide receiver.

That's a logical move for Gardner, but the 2015 draft class is loaded at wide receiver. And unlike Denard Robinson, who ended his Michigan career at running back, Gardner is a complete projection at wide receiver. He'll need a big week in Florida to see himself drafted.

Scouting Report: RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State

Throughout the 2014 college football season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

  

Running Back Jay Ajayi, Boise State (6'0", 216 lbs)

Strengths

  • Powerful, muscular running back with the size to break tackles and run inside.
  • Has good start-and-stop speed, jump cuts and burst to pull away from first level of defense.
  • Can run well outside the box, or power inside the tackles.
  • Reads a block well and knows how to cut away from defenders.
  • A good production receiver who excels with the ball in his hands.
  • Led NCAA in touches in 2014 and remained durable. 
  • Offers return skills and can play on third down.
  • Looks like a future NFL starter.

Weaknesses

  • Boise State rode him hard, so upside could be limited.
  • Doesn't have top-end speed to run away from NFL defensive backs consistently.
  • May be physically maxed out.
  • Didn't face many NFL-caliber defenders at Boise State.
  • Must question scheme and how he'll translate to NFL blocking.
  • May be a zone scheme-only player.
  • Is a classic north-south runner with limited wiggle.
  • Fumble concerns are definitely worth mentioning.

Pro Player Comparison: Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

Scouting Dictionary

"Wiggle"

During the Boise State vs. Arizona game, I tweeted about running back Jay Ajayi lacking "wiggle." That led to a good conversation with a scout via text about how to best describe a running back's moves in space. Wiggle is my go-to descriptor. 

When a running back is able to use his hips and feet to keep a would-be tackler off his frame, that's wiggle. You can call it shake, a juke or loose hips, but that little move to elude a tackler? That's wiggle to me.

The Big Board

It's been a while since I've updated my top 25 players, and with so many juniors making decisions daily, it's time to look at the new order: 

Updated Top 25 Big Board
RankPlayerPos.School
1Marcus MariotaQBOregon
2Amari CooperWRAlabama
3Jameis WinstonQBFSU
4Randy GregoryDENebraska
5Leonard WilliamsDTUSC
6Shane RayDEMissouri
7Landon CollinsSSAlabama
8Brandon ScherffOTIowa
9Shaq ThompsonOLBWashington
10DeVante ParkerWRLouisville
11Alvin DupreeDEKentucky
12Vic BeasleyOLBClemson
13Kevin WhiteWRWest Virginia
14La'el CollinsOTLSU
15Todd GurleyRBGeorgia
16Marcus PetersCBWashington
17Gerod HollimanFSLouisville
18Ronnie StanleyOTNotre Dame
19Cedric OgbuehiOTTexas A&M
20Benardrick McKinneyILBMiss. State
21Devin FunchessWRMichigan
22Dante FowlerDEFlorida
23Trae WaynesCBMichigan State
24Malcom BrownDTTexas
25Danny SheltonDTWashington
Matt Miller

Parting Shots

10. The 2015 Senior Bowl is shaping up to be a good one. The Senior Bowl committee announced more accepted invitations this week. Here is the complete list of accepted invitations thus far:

Updated 2015 Senior Bowl Players
DC Senquez Golson, Ole MissILB Stephone Anthony, ClemsonRB Jeremy Langford, Michigan St.
DC Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, OregonILB Ramik Wilson, GeorgiaRB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
DC Quandre Diggs, TexasLS Andrew East, VanderbiltRB David Cobb, Minnesota
DC Doran Grant, Ohio StateLS Joe Cardona, NavyRB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
DC Ladarius Gunter, MiamiC Hroniss Grasu, OregonS Clayton Geathers, UCF
DC Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio)C Andy Gallik, Boston CollegeS Adrian Amos, Penn State
DC D'Joun Smith, FAUC Reese Dismukes, AuburnS Anthony Harris, Virginia
DC Steven Nelson, Oregon St.G Laken Tomlinson, DukeS Derron Smith, Fresno State
DC Eric Rowe, UtahG Robert Myers, Tenn. StateS Damarious Randall, Arizona St.
DC Kevin Johnson, Wake ForestG Josue Matias, FSUS Kurtis Drummond, Michigan St.
DC Imoan Claiborne, NW St. LAG Tre' Jackson, FSUS Jaquiski Tartt, Samford
DC Kevin White, TCUOLB Zach Hodges, HarvardS Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DE Preston Smith, Miss. StateOLB Lorenzo Mauldin, LouisvilleTE Nick Boyle, Delaware
DE Bud Dupree, KentuckyOLB Martrell Spaight, ArkansasTE Ben Koyack, Notre Dame
DE Hau'oli Kikaha, WashingtonOLB Lynden Trail, Norfolk StateTE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
DE Geneo Grissom, OklahomaOLB Jordan Hicks, TexasTE Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
DE Markus Golden, MissouriOLB Mike Null, Penn StateTE Nick O'Leary, FSU
DE Owa Odighizuwa, UCLAT Daryl Williams, OklahomaWR Tony Lippett, Michigan St.
DE Nate Orchard, UtahT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&MWR Jamison Crowder, Duke
DE Trey Flowers, ArkansasT T.J. Clemmings, PittWR Rashad Greene, FSU
DE Corey Crawford, ClemsonT Jake Fisher, OregonWR Devante Davis, UNLV
DT Joey Mbu, HoustonT Ali Marpet, HobartWR Justin Hardy, ECU
DT Carl Davis, IowaT Rob Havenstein, WisconsinWR Donatella Luckett, Harding
DT Danny Shelton, WashingtonT Ty Sambrailo, Colorado St.WR Vince Mayle, Washington St.
DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, IowaT La'el Collins, LSUWR Phillip Dorsett, Miami
DT Michael Bennett, Ohio StateT Jamil Douglas, Arizona St.WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
DT Kaleb Eulls, Miss. StateT Cameron Erving, FSUWR Kevin White, West Virginia
DT Gabe Wright, AuburnPK Tom Obarski, ConcordiaWR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
DT Grady Jarrett, ClemsonPK Justin Manton, La.-MonroeWR Sammie Coates, Auburn
FB Jalston Fowler, AlabamaPT Kyle Loomis, Portland StateWR Dres Anderson, Utah
FB Tyler Varga, YaleQB Blake Sims, AlabamaWR Tyler Lockett, Kansas St.
FB Connor Neighbors, LSUQB Garrett Grayson, Colorado St.WR Dezmin Lewis, Central Arkansas
ILB Hayes Pullard, USCQB Shane Carden, ECUWR Josh Harper, Fresno State
ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLAQB Bryce Petty, Baylor
ILB Denzel Perryman, MiamiRB David Johnson, Northern Iowa
Matt Miller

9. As the season winds down, it's time for underclassmen to make their draft decisions before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here's a list of declared underclassmen as of Dec. 31:

2015 Underclassmen Declarations
PlayerPosSchool
Jalen CollinsCBLSU
Lorenzo DossCBTulane
Marcus PetersCBWashington
Deion BarnesDEPenn State
Dante FowlerDEFlorida
Randy GregoryDENebraska
Noah SpenceDEOhio State
Jordan PhillipsDTOklahoma
Leonard WilliamsDTUSC
Durell EskridgeFSSyracuse
Gerod HollimanFSLouisville
Tyler MooreGFlorida
Kwon AlexanderOLBLSU
Eli HaroldOLBVirginia
Brett HundleyQBUCLA
Jay AjayiRBBoise State
Tevin ColemanRBIndiana
Mike DavisRBSouth Carolina
Melvin GordonRBWisconsin
Todd GurleyRBGeorgia
Duke JohnsonRBMiami (Florida)
Matt JonesRBFlorida
Josh RobinsonRBMiss. State
Tyler KroftTERutgers
Maxx WilliamsTEMinnesota
Ereck FlowersTMiami (Florida)
Jeremiah PoutasiTUtah
Donovan SmithTPenn State
Sammie CoatesWRAuburn
Devin FunchessWRMichigan
Shaq RolandWRSouth Carolina
Jaelen StrongWRArizona State
Lemar DurantWRSimon Fraser
Matt Miller

8. In the draft media, very few people are standing in line to point out when you hit on a player, but they'll come out of the woods to remind you that you missed on a guy. With that in mind, and because I like to admit when I'm wrong about a player, I'll be doing a "Hit and Miss" each week until the draft.

Up first, a miss.

"(Blank) is a big-armed quarterback who dominated the small-school level after transferring schools. He looks the part and meets all the ideal thresholds for the position. Has an over-the-top release point and can hit every tier of the field. Impressed at the Senior Bowl. Is more of a project due to small-school exposure, but looks like a future starter with good coaching work to improve his decision-making and field vision. Solid late Round 2 grade." — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. 

7. And now for a player I hit on. A "hit" can be defined a few ways—a player ranked/drafted higher than the NFL viewed him is how I categorize a hit, though.

"An athletic freak at the tight end position, (blank) excels in the open field. He uses his basketball background well to post up defenders and isn't afraid to get off the turf to attack jump balls over the middle or in the end zone. He's raw as a route-runner, but has all the athletic traits to develop into a better all-around tight end. Blocking isn't his thing, but he can thrive split out away from the formation and in motion. While he's definitely a work in progress, an early Round 2 grade is warranted. — New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham

6. I may be alone here, but "Black Monday" always leaves me a little reeling and trying to remember exactly which jobs are open. Here's an updated list.

Atlanta Falcons—head coach

Buffalo Bills—head coach

Chicago Bears—general manager, head coach

New York Jets—general manager, head coach

Oakland Raiders—head coach

San Francisco 49ers—head coach

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 28: Team Owner Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons paces the field during warmups for the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome on December 28, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

5. Which of the open jobs is most appealing to prospective head coaches? I have to think it's the Atlanta Falcons, and for many reasons.

The Falcons have a winnable division in the NFC South. They have a patient, smart, wealthy owner who is willing to spend to improve the team. They have a new stadium being built downtown. They have a great fanbase. They have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant and Jake Matthews. And they have the No. 8 pick overall in the first round of 2015's draft.

The 49ers may be a sexier option, but the Falcons job is the best one open.

4. A name that's certain to draw attention for most—if not all—of the open head coaching jobs is Adam Gase. He's the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator and has held that job since Mike McCoy became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers before the 2013 season. But I'm not as sold on Gase as many seem to be.

When McCoy went from Denver to San Diego, he predated Peyton Manning in Denver and had proven himself without one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Gase, though, doesn't have much of a resume before Manning. He's only 36 years old and has been a coordinator in the NFL for just two seasons.

That's not to say Gase—who is undoubtedly a bright, rising star in coaching—won't be a fine head coach next season, but teams expecting him to bring the Denver offense with him must realize they don't have Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders or Julius Thomas on their roster.

3. The 2015 Senior Bowl will be coached by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. Historically, the two teams chosen to coach the Senior Bowl are the returning staffs from the NFC and AFC teams with the worst records. This year, though, the NFL broke tradition and gave the Jaguars and Titans the nod over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a team with a returning staff and the worst record in the league.

It's interesting that Tampa Bay didn't get the coaching spot, but it's also possible head coach Lovie Smith declined the offer. That would be odd though, considering the teams coaching the game have a built-in advantage of spending a week interacting with the top seniors.

Now, that opportunity goes to Jacksonville (for the second straight season) and Ken Whisenhunt's Titans.

2. Josh Gordon may be wearing out his welcome in Cleveland. The talented wide receiver started the year suspended and finished the season the same way. His 2014 season consisted of just five games and 24 catches, with the team suspending him for breaking a team rule in Week 17.

Gordon is unquestionably talented, but the Browns may realize he's more valuable as trade bait than as a troubled wide receiver. And I think they'll make an effort to trade him this offseason. What's his value?

Gordon is one failed drug test away from an indefinite suspension from the NFL, so that affects his value, but I would place his return on a conditional third-round pick that could be worth less if he doesn't meet certain playing time conditions.

If you're the Carolina Panthers, wouldn't you give up a conditional third-rounder for Gordon? I would.

1. Joey Bosa isn't draft eligible until 2016, but I can't get away from folks wanting to know if he's the next J.J. Watt.

Spoiler: He's not. But he might be the next Mario Williams.

Football fans can have short memories at times, and it's easy to forget that Watt was a very good, but not dominant, player at Wisconsin. No one foresaw him becoming the force he is now; otherwise, he would have been drafted much earlier than No. 11 overall. 

Bosa is big, athletic, strong and as disruptive as any sophomore I've seen (on par with Ndamukong Suh and Jadeveon Clowney), but his play style and skills remind me more of Mario Williams with his burst and ability in space. 

Watt has entered Andrew Luck or Tom Brady territory for me—which means he's a forbidden area for player comparisons.

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