Certain landmarks stand out when you look at the NFL or college football season. The first four weeks of the pro season serve as an introduction to the year. Generally speaking, by the end of the first quarter of the season, we know who teams are and what they're lacking. After the second quarter, though—which is where we stand right now heading into Week 8—you really get a fuller picture of what's going on in the NFL and in college football with just a month left in that season.
So here we are. Almost November. And that means draft season is really getting into gear for college players, NFL scouts and now NFL fans. And that's good news if you like reading this article every Friday morning, because it means I have so much more to talk to you about.
The Week 8 update comes with a big Su'a Cravens scouting report (fresh off seeing him live versus Notre Dame), a ton of rumors and notes, plus my midseason look at each NFL team's three biggest needs as we look ahead to the offseason.
The Scout's Report
— NFL scouts are raving about North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. Said one area scout this week, "He's a boy scout. He'll be a top-three quarterback."
— I asked around this week to find out who scouts felt the media had overrated or underrated throughout the season. The most consensus reply was that Alabama running back Derrick Henry was overrated, while UCLA's Paul Perkins came in as a close second.
— One running back who could be currently underrated due to injury is James Conner at Pitt. As one area scout told me this week, they're preparing for him like he'll enter the 2016 draft, even though Conner is out with a torn MCL right now.
— Who is underrated at wide receiver? Josh Doctson, if you'll believe that. The TCU star had 18 catches in one game, which you might think would propel him to overrated status, but as three scouts told me this week, he's the best receiver in the class.
— The most overrated wide receiver according to the scouts I polled: Notre Dame's Will Fuller. Oddly enough, I bumped Fuller up to the top 15 on my board after seeing him live. Said one scout, when pressed for an explanation, "He's a slot receiver. You want to draft that in the top 15?"
— Baylor's Corey Coleman is generating a ton of hype thanks to his on-field dominance. But NFL scouts I spoke to aren't sold on this player in my top 20. "(Coleman) can't beat press coverage or run a deep route. He's maybe the fifth-best (wide receiver) this year."
— Two names to keep an eye on if you want offensive linemen: Stanford's Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett. Both are flying up my board and have come highly recommended by area scouts.
— And a final quote from an area scout to leave on: "(Shaq) Lawson has one good play against Notre Dame and you guys all move him into the first round."
Five Names to Know
5. No. 53 LB Deon King, Norfolk State
King is a bit undersized at linebacker—I'm told he's at 6'1", 235 pounds now—but has excellent instincts and production at middle linebacker, where he leads all of FBS and FCS in tackles per game. King also squats 520 pounds and has the lower-body strength to make a statement as an interior run defender.
4. No. 55 EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn
Lawson has been off the field since the second half of Week 1 with a hip injury, but he may return this weekend against Ole Miss. That will be a great test for both Lawson and top-10 player Laremy Tunsil on the other side of the ball at left tackle.
3. No. 79 C Kyle Friend, Temple
One of the best centers in the nation, Friend will get a great test going against the Notre Dame defensive line and linebacker Jaylon Smith in the Saturday night matchup.
2. No. 11 CB Juston Burris, North Carolina State
Shutting down the high-octane Clemson passing offense won't be easy. North Carolina State will need a huge game from Burris, a senior cornerback with great size (6'0", 211 lbs) but average field speed.
1. No. 58 EDGE Kemoko Turay, Rutgers
Turay is getting the Bruce Irvin treatment from Rutgers coaches. He's a dynamic player and athlete, but he's being used now as a purely situational pass-rusher. This makes me think the redshirt sophomore may be leaning toward the NFL, and that puts him on my watch list against a very well-coached Wisconsin offensive line.
Scouting Report: Su'a Cravens, USC
Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.
No. 21 Linebacker Su'a Cravens, USC (6'1", 225 lbs)
Strengths: First things first: Note that Cravens is listed as a linebacker. That's where I see him playing in the NFL, even though he started his USC career at safety. Cravens is a natural athlete with the quickness in his feet and hips to make an impact on his first day in the NFL. He's shown improved strength to play on the line of scrimmage and has excelled at holding the backside edge in the run game and pulling the trigger as a pass-rusher from his linebacker spot. Cravens is a great matchup in coverage against slot receivers and tight ends and becomes a chess piece for the defense thanks to his ability to move around and make plays from all over the formation. In this way, he'll remind you of Tyrann Mathieu's use in Arizona. You never know whether he's coming for the quarterback or dropping into coverage. Cravens does have a smaller frame for an outside linebacker, but in a 4-3 scheme he'll be protected by the defensive line. His frame would also support another 10 pounds without issue.
Weaknesses: Cravens' limited reps at linebacker could become an issue with some teams (they were for Shaq Thompson last year). There is also the question of his true fit in the NFL and his positional versatility in a 4-3 versus 3-4 scheme. There are times when he struggles to bring down ball-carriers in space. Cravens is at his best on backside pursuit, and can get pushed and controlled in the run game if the ball comes his way. The "tweener" status isn't as much of a negative as it used to be, but Cravens could be bit by that stigma.
Pro Comparison: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
David, like Cravens at USC, started his college career playing safety at Fort Scott Community College before morphing into the star linebacker we saw at Nebraska and in Tampa Bay. Athletically and in terms of upside, David and Cravens are mirror images of each other. And like David before him, Cravens is a great fit as a 4-3 outside linebacker, but could also play the nickel linebacker spot (a la Deone Bucannon) in a 3-4.
The Big Board
Midseason team needs are based on a lot of factors. Current play, upcoming free agents and the salary-cap structure of each team will ultimately be considered. Looking at things in Week 8, that's taken into account as much as possible, but think of these as a very early idea of where each team will need to improve this offseason.
|Updated Team Needs|
|Team||Top 3 Needs|
|BAL||CB, WR, OLB|
|DET||OT, DT, QB2|
|TEN||CB, NT, ILB|
|JAX||DE, DT, RT|
|CLE||QB, WR, DE|
|HOU||QB, NT, RB|
|KC||OT, QB, ILB|
|SD||OT, NT, S|
|SF||QB, WR, CB|
|CHI||MLB, CB, OT|
|TB||OT, DE, C|
|DAL||RB, DT, QB2|
|NO||CB, NT, OLB|
|IND||OT, OLB, SS|
|SEA||OT, CB, DT|
|BUF||RT, OLB, QB|
|PHI||QB, OLB, CB|
|WAS||CB, ILB, QB|
|MIA||RB, FS, DE|
|STL||CB, WR, TE|
|OAK||CB, FS, MLB|
|PIT||CB, SS, TE|
|NYG||RB, ILB, DE|
|NYJ||QB, OT, OLB|
|MIN||OT, SS, WR|
|ARZ||OLB, ILB, NT|
|ATL||DE, FS, TE|
|CIN||FS, SS, ILB|
|GB||NT, ILB, RB2|
|DEN||TE, C, ILB|
|NE||CB, ILB, WR|
|CAR||LT, CB, WR|
8. I'm asked literally every day what my thoughts are on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. I've consistently responded to followers and radio show hosts that I've not seen him play yet, and that I don't comment on players I haven't studied. In my opinion, to do so would be irresponsible.
So, why haven't I studied Paxton Lynch? Every scout I've talked to who has gone through Memphis this year tells me he's not likely to enter the 2016 draft class. With well over 700 players to study each year, it's best for me to wait until a player like Lynch—who is rumored to be staying in college—declares for the draft in early January before studying a minimum of three game tapes.
7. One note on Lynch that I have observed though: Just from reading comments on Twitter, it seems like there are many who criticize that Cal quarterback Jared Goff does his work against a low level of competition in the Pac-12, but no one I've seen has complained that Lynch's schedule at Memphis isn't exactly SEC quality.
6. A commenter on Twitter this week couldn't believer that Dak Prescott and Trevone Boykin aren't considered NFL-level quarterbacks on my Big Board, mostly due to their placement on the Heisman watch list. That got me thinking...how many Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks have done well in the NFL? Here are the last 15:
|Heisman Trophy winners at QB|
|2014||Marcus Mariota||2015, Pick 2|
|2013||Jameis Winston||2015, Pick 1|
|2012||Johnny Manziel||2014, Pick 22|
|2011||Robert Griffin III||2012, Pick 2|
|2010||Cam Newton||2011, Pick 1|
|2008||Sam Bradford||2010, Pick 1|
|2007||Tim Tebow||2010, Pick 25|
|2006||Troy Smith||2007, Pick 174|
|2004||Matt Leinart||2006, Pick 10|
|2002||Carson Palmer||2003, Pick 1|
|2001||Eric Crouch||2002, Pick 95|
|2000||Chris Weinke||2001, Pick 106|
|1996||Danny Wuerffel||1997, Pick 99|
|1993||Charlie Ward||Entered NBA draft|
5. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett defending his arm strength—including the quote "Man, I got a weenie arm?"—is a must-read this week, courtesy of Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Barrett goes in-depth about the Ohio State offense, Cardale Jones and his own talents. It's a really good read.
4. What players say in October about their future should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's worth sharing that fantastic Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis took to Twitter to address whether or not he'll be leaving school early for the 2016 NFL draft:
I came to Michigan to get my education not to leave in three years.— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) October 29, 2015
3. How great is this tweet from Florida State coach Bert Biffani? The picture shows the FSU offense against Auburn in the 2014 national championship game with all 11 players and their draft position and/or NFL team listed:
2. Here's a stat that doesn't surprise me at all: According to The Football Database, the Buffalo Bills lead all NFL teams with 72 penalties in seven games. That Rex Ryan's team would be the most penalized in the NFL is some kind of perfect football harmony.
1. A nonfootball note to end things this week. If you find yourself in Kansas City for Game 6 or 7 of the World Series (if it goes that far), there are two places you must go. Check out the Boulevard Brewing Co. near downtown KC, and go stand in line at Joe's KC for the best barbecue you'll ever have in your life. And wear something royal blue!
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.