Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Special Talents and Names to Know for 2015

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterSeptember 4, 2015

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moves to tackle Darik Dillard #32 of the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Rice 48-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Welcome back. It’s been a while.

The 2015 college football season is here, and the NFL season is waiting around the corner—like an old friend at the bar with your favorite drink in hand. Football is back, which means it’s time for long sleeves, warm chili, Oktoberfest beers and NFL draft talk. 

Every Friday from now until the NFL draft on April 28, 2016, this will be your one-stop shop for all of the important news, notes, rumors and analysis surrounding the draft. Here you’ll find rankings, mock drafts, player evaluation notes and tips on which games to watch so you can be up to date on the best prospects in the land.

If you’re new here, hopefully you come back every Friday. If you’re coming back for year two of the Scouting Notebook, it’s good to see you again.  

The Scout's Report

— The pipeline of wide receivers from Clemson to the NFL is impressive, and in 2016 we can likely add Mike Williams to that list. One scout I spoke with this week likes Williams more than Martavis Bryant (on and off the field) and said he's a lock to be a first-rounder whether he declares after the 2015 or 2016 season.

— Two-way players are becoming quite the trend in college football, especially in the Pac-12. One player to keep an eye on this year doing double-duty is USC's Adoree Jackson. He'll start at cornerback and see a lot of reps at wide receiver. Jackson is just a true sophomore, so he's NFL eligible after the 2016 season.

— Where will Robert Griffin III play next? I talked to one high-level source with the New York Jets, and it won't be with them. 

— Rutgers is loaded with prospects on both sides of the ball this year, but redshirt sophomore Kemoko Turay is turning heads. One area scout saw him this summer and told me he's "the real deal. He'll remind you of a clean Aldon Smith."

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

— How special could Florida State's Jalen Ramsey be? I asked one college scouting director and he told me "(Jalen) Ramsey is going to make those metrics nerds lose it. He's a freak athletically. Kid is rare."

— The top-rated senior in the 2016 draft class—and not just on my board, but on the board of every NFL team I spoke to this summer—is Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. At 6'6" and 290 pounds, he ran a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash this spring.

— Former Ohio State starting defensive end Noah Spence will play at Eastern Kentucky this year, and one area scout I spoke to in preparing for the season says they have him ranked as a top-32 senior. Spence, who is incredibly talented on the field, was suspended by Ohio State and eventually declared ineligible for the 2014 season for failed drug tests. He then transferred to EKU, but in late May he was arrested for public intoxication. His talent is undeniable, but his off-field issues will require a long look into his wiring.

Five Names to Know

5. DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon

The big Oregon defensive lineman is highly regarded among NFL scouts. Currently, I have Buckner with a better grade than Arik Armstead had—and he was the No. 17 pick in the 2015 draft.

Andy Manis/Associated Press

4. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

So much focus was on Melvin Gordon last year, but Corey Clement produced similar stats in his spot carries. Facing off against Alabama on Saturday night will give Clement a quick test to gauge his draft stock by.

3. Christian Westerman, G, Arizona State

Saturday's game against Texas A&M will put the Arizona State offensive line to a huge test, and guard Christian Westerman is their best player up front. He's been talked about as a top-75 player in my conversations with scouts this summer.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

2. Sheldon Day, DL, Notre Dame

Jaylon Smith and Ronnie Stanley get the most mention at Notre Dame, but Sheldon Day is an elite senior prospect in his own right. Watch the young Texas offensive line Saturday night to see if it can handle this gap-shooting 3-technique with impressive movement skills and a non-stop motor.

1. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

The 2016 quarterback class is wide-open, and top-ranked senior Connor Cook can get things off to a hot start Friday night against Western Michigan. He's big, strong-armed and moves exceptionally well for a pro-style quarterback. For a sneak peek at Cook, see below.

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 1:  Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans passes against the Baylor Bears during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Scouting Report: Connor Cook, Michigan State

Throughout the 2016 draft season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.

Quarterback Connor Cook (6'3", 218 lbs, 4.8s 40)

Strengths: A productive, athletic passer with an NFL arm, Connor Cook can make every NFL throw with good velocity and a natural feel for touch and timing. The majority of plays at Michigan State feature Cook in a shotgun formation, and he's proved himself as a capable runner on designed draws or on scrambles when the protection breaks down. Cook sees and handles blitzes well and looks to be well-prepared on the field for what he'll face each week. He doesn't get rattled with defenders in his face and is rarely led into poor decisions by extra defenders or late pressures (i.e. blitzes).

Weaknesses: Cook struggled when pressured from the four-man rush, which goes against his ability to process and handle blitzes. His accuracy dipped significantly when the original rush got to him. Throwing the ball to the right place consistently seemed to be a struggle in 2014. There were many times he put the ball on the wrong hip or the wrong shoulder in the open field. There will be questions about Cook's arm mechanics, as he holds the ball at chest level and likes to dip it below his elbow when pulling the ball back. Cook is protected by a very good offensive line (left tackle Jack Conklin is a top-10 prospect) and hasn't seen much backside pressure in his career.

Pro Comparison: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Cook is a better athlete than Matt Ryan, and probably doesn't match up with his arm strength, but the body type and playing style are very similar.

 

The Big Board

It's never too early for a mock draft, but with the season not yet officially started as I'm writing this, I thought a look back at an old draft would get us in the mood for draft season. And with the old scouting rule about waiting three years to judge a class here for the 2012 draft, what better time to re-evaluate this class?

Now, the ground rules: This is looking at the 2012 draft class as if these players were somehow available right now with the rest of the roster unchanged. For example, the Indianapolis Colts would have any player drafted before 2012 or since then, but with the No. 1 pick could select any player eligible back in 2012.  

Re-Drafting the 2012 NFL Draft
PickTeamOriginal PickNew Pick
1INDQB Andrew LuckQB Andrew Luck
2WASQB Robert Griffin IIIQB Russell Wilson
3CLERB Trent RichardsonQB Ryan Tannehill
4MINT Matt KalilLB Luke Kuechly
5JAXWR Justin BlackmonLB Bobby Wagner
6DALCB Morris ClaiborneLB Lavonte David
7TBS Mark BarronDE Chandler Jones
8MIAQB Ryan TannehillQB Nick Foles
9CARLB Luke KuechlyWR T.Y. Hilton
10BUFCB Stephon GilmoreCB Stephon Gilmore
11KCDT Dontari PoeDE Fletcher Cox
12PHIDE Fletcher CoxFS Harrison Smith
13ARZWR Michael FloydLB Mychal Kendricks
14STLDT Michael BrockersWR Alshon Jeffery
15SEALB Bruce IrvinG David DeCastro
16NYJDE Quinton CoplesT Riley Reiff
17CINCB Dre KirkpatrickG Kevin Zeitler
18SDLB Melvin IngramDE Olivier Vernon
19CHIDE Shea McClellinLB Dont'a Hightower
20TENWR Kendall WrightDL Tyrone Crawford
21NEDE Chandler JonesDL Mike Daniels
22CLEQB Brandon WeedenWR Michael Floyd
23DETT Riley ReiffT Cordy Glenn
24PITG David DeCastroLB Bruce Irvin
25NELB Dont'a HightowerCB Janoris Jenkins
26HOUDE Whitney MercilusNT Dontari Poe
27CING Kevin ZeitlerCB Casey Hayward
28GBLB Nick PerryDL Michael Brockers
29MINS Harrison SmithWR Kendall Wright
30SFWR A.J. JenkinsLB Vontaze Burfict
31TBRB Doug MartinRB Alfred Morris
32NYGRB David WilsonRB Lamar Miller
Matt Miller

Parting Shots 

10. Deflategate is over—for now. Thank the football gods. A nine-month mess for the NFL is finally over (other than the league appeal...sigh) right in time for the 2015 season to kick off. But the good news: Tom Brady will be on the field one week from now and we can forget about deflated footballs and shoddy investigations for 17 weeks.

9. Preseason rankings are not an easy thing to do, mostly because you put them out there for the entire world to see and you're really guessing at how a player will perform over the next nine months. Such is the case of Cardale Jones—a player I believe has the talent to be a very good NFL prospect, but he's not even guaranteed a starting job in 2015. So when you see Jones ranked highly by myself or others, just remember that preseason rankings are a projection and not a prediction of what will happen.

8. The SEC used to be the best conference in college football, and they still might be, but on my preseason draft rankings, six of the top 10 players are from the Big Ten or Notre Dame. The SEC has three players—Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Vernon Hargreaves—in the top 10.

7. Speaking of preseason rankings, on my 844-player watch list, the schools with the most players listed are: 

  • Ohio State: 17
  • Georgia: 15
  • Alabama: 14
  • USC: 14
  • TCU: 14

6. Cardale Jones ranks at No. 4 on my preseason list, and no player I've ever evaluated has as much room to move up or down the rankings as Jones does. And he may move down based on not playing more than any failures on the field. Jones' arm strength and athleticism make him a very intriguing prospect—and in the preseason it's OK to rank a player high based on expectations and promise and not so much on the strength of his resume. But for Jones to be a high pick in late April, he needs to be on the field and playing at the level he was at during his three-game run to end the 2014 season.

5. No one in the media has a feeling for Indianapolis like Bob Kravitz, so when the longtime beat writer says there is friction in the Colts' offices between general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, I believe him. What I can't believe is that owner Jim Irsay would seriously consider siding with Grigson over Pagano—a coach who has been to the playoffs in each of his three seasons in town.

Grigson gets credit for bringing the Colts into a new generation without Peyton Manning, but he did so by making the easiest No. 1 pick in the draft since Manning left the University of Tennessee. Drafting Andrew Luck wasn't some genius move, it was the only move Grigson could logically make.

But let's take the emotion out of this. Here are the moves Grigson has made since becoming general manager in 2012 (all contract details courtesy of Spotrac):

Ryan Grigson as GM: 2012
PlayerCompensationStatus
QB Andrew LuckRd 1, Pick 1Starter
TE Coby FleenerRd 2, Pick 34Starter
TE Dwayne AllenRd 3, Pick 64Starter
WR TY HiltonRd 3, Pick 92Starter
DT Josh ChapmanRd 5, Pick 136Starter
RB Vick BallardRd 5, Pick 170Backup
WR LaVon BrazillRd 6, Pick 206Out of NFL
G Justin AndersonRd 6, Pick 208Out of NFL
LB Tim FuggerRd 7, Pick 214Out of NFL
QB Chandler HarnishRd 7, Pick 253Out of NFL
DE Cory Redding3 year/$10.5MM free agentPlayed out contract
SS Tom Zbikowski3 year/$5.6MM free agentCut after one year
WR Donnie Avery1 year/$880k free agentPlayed out contract
NT Brandon McKinney2 year/$2MM free agentCut after one year
G Mike McGlynn2 year/$2.5MM free agentPlayed out contract
C Samson Satele3 year/$10.8MM free agentCut after two years
Spotrac.com

The first offseason in Indianapolis was a good one. Luck would become the franchise savior, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have been big contributors and T.Y. Hilton became a steal from Round 3. And if Josh Chapman holds onto the starting nose tackle job, the draft class looks even better. Of the free-agent deals handed out, only Cory Redding made much of an impact in Indianapolis, but even he failed to become the anchor the team wanted for the 3-4 defense.

Ryan Grigson as GM: 2013
PlayerCompensationStatus
DE Bjoern WernerRd 1, Pick 24Spot starter
CB Vontae Davistraded for Rd 2 pickStarter
G Hugh ThorntonRd 3, pick 86Backup
C Khaled HolmesRd 4, Pick 121Starter
DT Montori HughesRd 5, Pick 139Backup
S John BoyettRd 6, Pick 192Out of NFL
RB Kerwynn WilliamsRd 7, Pick 230Backup, ARZ
TE Justice CunninghamRd 7, Pick 254Backup, STL
G Donald Thomas4 year/$14MM free agentCut after two years
SS LaRon Landry4 year/$24MM free agentCut after two years
RT Gosder Cherilus5 year/$34.5MM free agentCut after two years
DE Ricky Jean-Francois4 year/$22MM free agentCut after two years
LB Erik Walden4 year/$16MM free agentSpot starter
NT Aubrayo Franklin1 year/$880k free agentPlayed out contract
QB Matt Hasselbeck2 year/$8MM free agentBackup
CB Greg Toler3 year/$15MM free agentStarter
CB Darius Butler2 year/$4MM free agentBackup
DE Lawrence Sidbury1 year/$750k free agentBackup, TB
Spotrac.com

The 2013 offseason was Grigson's first on his own—remember, new general managers inherit a scouting staff and carry them through their first draft before largely firing and hiring a new scouting team. Outside of the trade for Vontae Davis, which was a huge get for the Colts, and the selection of Khaled Holmes, this is a forgettable draft. Free agency, on the other hand, was god-awful. Big money was given to LaRon Landry, Gosder Cherilus, Erik Walden, Ricky Jean-Francois and Donald Thomas. Only Walden remains on the team—and he's incredibly average. 

Ryan Grigson as GM: 2014
PlayerCompensationStatus
RB Trent RichardsonTraded for Rd 1 pickOut of NFL
T Jack MewhortRd 2, Pick 59Starter
WR Donte MoncriefRd 3, Pick 90#3 WR
DE Jonathan NewsomeRd 5, Pick 166Backup
LB Andrew JacksonRd 6, Pick 203Out of NFL
T Ulrick JohnRd 7, Pick 232Backup
WR Hakeem Nicks1 year/$3.9MM free agentBackup, TEN
LB D'Qwell Jackson4 year/$22MM free agentStarter
C Phil Costa2 year/$2.75MM free agentRetired before '14 season
RB Ahmad Bradshaw1 year/$855k free agentFree agent
DL Arthur Jones5 year/$33MM free agentStarter, injured
S Mike Adams1 year/$1MM free agentStarter
Spotrac.com

The 2014 offseason will be remembered as the year Grigson traded a first-round pick for Trent Richardson. In fairness, I applauded the trade at the time, but in talking to sources in Cleveland at this time and since then, everyone inside NFL offices viewed this as the Browns pulling one over on a young general manager. That proved to be true. 

Time will tell what Grigson's 2015 moves end up looking like, but anyone in Indianapolis who blames Pagano for the Colts' inability to get over the hump in the AFC needs to take a long look at these tables.

4. The final piece of the Julio Jones trade was let go in Cleveland this week. The Falcons made a huge draft-day move that year, going all the way up to No. 6 overall to get the Alabama receiver. In return the Browns received picks that led to four players who are no longer on the team—Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weeden. 

3. Oh, and that 2011 draft-day trade gave Cleveland a fourth-round pick (No. 118) in the 2012 draft that they then used to trade up to get Trent Richardson. 

2. One more note on this trade: The Browns traded up to draft Phil Taylor at No. 21 in the 2011 draft, swapping picks with the Kansas City Chiefs. Part of that trade was sending the Chiefs a third-round pick (No. 70). That pick became All-Pro Justin Houston.

1. With Robert Griffin III benched in Washington, it's time to take a look back on the trade that shook up the 2012 draft. Washington traded the sixth and 39th picks in 2012, plus its first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft—and the right to draft whichever quarterback (Andrew Luck or RGIII) the Indianapolis Colts passed on.

Three years later, here's how it shook out:

Washington

QB Robert Griffin III—backup quarterback


St. Louis

DT Michael Brockersstarter

CB Janoris Jenkinsstarter

RB Isaiah Peadout of the league (injuries, substance-abuse suspension)

OL Rokevious Watkinscut in rookie training camp

LB Alec Ogletreestarter

WR Stedman Baileystarter

RB Zac Stacytraded to New York Jets

T Greg RobinsonNo. 2 pick in 2015 draft, starter 

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