The Scout's Report
— Sean Payton announced in a press conference Wednesday that he's staying with the New Orleans Saints as head coach. I'm told by sources with the San Francisco 49ers that the team never felt comfortable with sending a second-round pick to the Saints in exchange for Payton.
— If I had to zero in on a coaching candidate for the 49ers now, it would be Hue Jackson. The team seems set on going after a coach with an offensive background, and Jackson is the best quarterback mentor on the market now that Payton isn't available.
— Ohio State redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalin Marshall was a surprise entry into the 2016 NFL draft class, and area scouts I spoke to this week put in him a range between the second and fourth rounds of the draft—depending on workouts, given his smaller sample size on film.
— "He's a home run hitter." That's what one college scouting director said about Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon. He's been climbing my draft board as of late and has a good chance to be a Day 2 selection.
— Ohio State lost nine underclassmen to the NFL draft, including wide receiver Michael Thomas. Said one scout this week, "He's the most underused receiver in America." Thomas drew a comparison to Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd from this longtime scout.
— Clemson redshirt sophomore Mackensie Alexander is expected to enter the 2016 draft class, according to team sources. When I asked around about him this week, one area scout mentioned Alexander hasn't recorded an interception in two seasons. I countered with this amazing stat: Alexander has allowed just two touchdowns at Clemson and none in the last 23 games he's played.
— Speaking of Clemson, I'm told by team sources that a significant number of underclassmen will likely follow defensive end Shaq Lawson and declare for the upcoming draft. Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Kevin Dodd, Jordan Leggett and Cordrea Tankersley are all leaning toward declaring at this time.
Five Names to Know
5. No. 7 CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
No, not the country music legend. This Daryl Worley has been a monster cover man in the Big 12, posting nine interceptions and 15 passes defensed in the last two seasons. Worley, a junior, has some baggage—he was arrested for battery and suspended by the team in September 2014—but his size (6'2", 198 lbs) and ball skills are going to turn heads.
4. No. 98 DL Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
One of the hardest players for me to evaluate so far in this class has been Hassan Ridgeway. (And yes, I struggle to evaluate players. I argue with myself frequently.) He graded out well against the run in 2015 but has never been a dominant pass-rusher. I'm trying to find the right place for Ridgeway to excel in the NFL at 6'4" and 307 pounds. As such, he's someone I'm watching a ton of this week, given his decision to leave early for the NFL.
3. No. 1 CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
As senior cornerbacks go, Kevin Peterson is without a doubt one of the best in the country. He's physical with good size (5'10", 190 lbs) and enough speed (estimated 4.6 in the 40-yard dash) to be a good No. 2 cornerback in the NFL. To start scouting him, turn on game film against Josh Doctson and Kevin White in 2014.
2. No. 45 LB Deion Jones, LSU
If you liked Telvin Smith and Kwon Alexander, you're really going to like Deion Jones. He's a little undersized (6'1", 227 lbs) but has the athleticism to play all over the field. A senior, Jones came on strong this year in a bigger role, posting five sacks, nine quarterback hurries and 10 quarterback hits, according to my charting.
1. No. 55 G Christian Westerman, Arizona State
The 2016 draft class looks to be strong on interior offensive line prospects, especially at offensive guard. One of the few top-tier guard prospects to actually play guard in college, and not tackle, is Christian Westerman. Helping his case even more is that Westerman is training with LeCharles Bentley before the Senior Bowl and combine. If Bentley's track record with O-line training is any indicator, Westerman will enter the NFL a better lineman than he was in college.
Scouting Report: Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.
No. 7 Wide Receiver Will Fuller, Notre Dame (6'0", 184 lbs)
A junior, Fuller announced earlier in the season he was returning to Notre Dame before changing his mind and declaring for the 2016 NFL draft this week. After I saw Fuller in person once (vs. USC) and watched four other games on film, here's my preliminary report on him.
Fuller is an exceptionally fast receiver with an explosive first step and initial acceleration. He can beat press coverage with his movement at the line of scrimmage and has a tough demeanor on the field. Fuller is an accomplished route-runner with good speed to carry defenders deep and the flexibility and strength to break off routes. He's able to accelerate through breaks and create separation working back to the ball.
Fuller's body control is also worth noting. He adjusts well to the ball thrown over either shoulder and has the presence of mind to adjust his speed and his body to find the ball. He's a good over-the-shoulder receiver.
At Notre Dame, Fuller lined up on the outside of the formation and in the slot. He has the size and speed to do the same in the NFL. Another underrated aspect of his game was his participation as a blocker in the run game. Fuller isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
Defenses must respect Fuller's speed by playing off him at the line of scrimmage, but as seen against Texas and USC, he's often too fast even for a cushion at the line to cover up. With his ability to sell breaking routes on the fly, Fuller projects as an instant impact deep threat in the pros.
Fuller has a knack for finding the end zone, posting 29 touchdowns over the last two seasons to go along with 138 catches and more than 2,300 yards. With an average of 20 yards per catch in 2015, Fuller established himself as one of the best playmakers in the draft class.
The major weakness when looking at Fuller are his dropped passes. He put 10 passes on the ground (five of those on deep routes) in 2015 and 11 in 2014, which demonstrates an ongoing problem of looking the ball in.
Fuller is a body catcher who doesn't look the ball in cleanly. He'll also get excited in space and try to accelerate away from the catch before he has the ball secured. An NFL team must be willing to live with a drop per game with Fuller while it tries to fix his concentration drops and the way he jumps to catch the ball with his body instead of attacking it with his hands. Fuller doesn't so much high-point the ball as he does hug it into his frame.
Pro Comparison: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
The Big Board
This past week I released a new mock draft and an updated top-300 big board, so there isn't a whole lot going on here to update you guys on. So, instead of a big-board update, here's a look at the players I'll be watching for in the Alabama vs. Clemson national title game.
|Alabama vs. Clemson Scouting Watch List|
|QB Jake Coker (#14)||RB Wayne Gallman (#9)|
|RB Derrick Henry (#2)||TE Jordan Leggett (#16)|
|RB Kenyan Drake (#17)||G Eric Mac Lain (#78)|
|TE O.J. Howard (#88)||T Joe Gore (#73)|
|C Ryan Kelly (#70)||DE Kevin Dodd (#98)|
|DE A'Shawn Robinson (#86)||DE Shaq Lawson (#90)|
|DL Jarran Reed (#90)||DL D.J. Reader (#48)|
|DL Darren Lake (#95)||LB Travis Blanks (#11)|
|DE Jonathan Allen (#93)||LB B.J. Goodson (#44)|
|LB Tim Williams (#56)||LB Ben Boulware (#10)|
|LB Dillon Lee (#25)||CB Mackensie Alexander (#2)|
|LB Reggie Ragland (#19)||SS Jayron Kearse (#1)|
|LB Reuben Foster (#10)||CB Cordrea Tankersley (#25)|
|CB Cyrus Jones (#5)|
|SS Eddie Jackson (#4)|
7. The 2016 Senior Bowl roster is starting to take shape with another announcement of accepted invitations coming out each Tuesday. Here's the roster as it stands now, but remember that players can (and will) drop out between now and late January:
|Updated Senior Bowl Rosters|
|QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State||DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State|
|QB Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech||DE Sheldon Day, Notre Dame|
|QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford||DE Jason Fanaika, Utah|
|QB Cody Kessler, USC||DE Carl Nassib, Penn State|
|QB Dak Prescott, Miss. State||DE Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech|
|QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State||DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor|
|RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech||DE Sheldon Rankins, Louisville|
|RB Kenyan Drake, Alabama||DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky|
|RB Tyler Ervin, San Jose State||DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma|
|RB Aaron Green, TCU||DE Jihad Ward, Illinois|
|RB Chris Swain, Navy||DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech|
|RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas||DT Matt Ioannidis, Temple|
|FB Soma Vainuku, USC||DT Adolphus Washington, Ohio State|
|FB Dan Vitale, Northwestern||OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State|
|WR Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State||OLB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia|
|WR Leonte Carroo, Rutgers||OLB Deion Jones, LSU|
|WR Josh Doctson, TCU||OLB Joshua Perry, Ohio State|
|WR Jay Lee, Baylor||OLB Joe Schobert, Wisconsin|
|WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU||OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma|
|WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State||ILB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri|
|WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia||ILB Josh Forrest, Kentucky|
|WR Chris Moore, Cincinnati||ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia|
|WR Jordan Payton, UCLA||ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford|
|WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma||ILB Tyler Matakevich, Temple|
|TE Jerell Adams, South Carolina||ILB Antonio Morrison, Florida|
|TE Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky||ILB Jared Norris, Utah|
|TE Henry Krieger Coble, Iowa||CB James Bradberry, Samford|
|TE Jake McGee, Florida||CB Maurice Canady, Virginia|
|TE Nick Vannett, Ohio State||CB Sean Davis, Maryland|
|TE Bryce Williams, East Carolina||CB Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa|
|T Vadal Alexander, LSU||CB DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary|
|T Willie Beavers, Western Michigan||CB William Jackson III, Houston|
|T Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech||CB Jonathan Jones, Auburn|
|T Joe Dahl, Washington State||CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana|
|T Taylor Decker, Ohio State||CB Eric Murray, Minnesota|
|T Spencer Drango, Baylor||CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State|
|T Kyle Murphy, Stanford||CB Tavon Young, Temple|
|T Jason Spriggs, Indiana||S Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee|
|T John Theus, Georgia||S Jeremy Cash, Duke|
|T Cole Toner, Harvard||S Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah|
|G Josh Garnett, Stanford||S Jordan Lucas, Penn State|
|G Connor McGovern, Missouri||S Jalen Mills, LSU|
|G Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas||S Tyvis Powell, Ohio State|
|G Christian Westerman, Arizona State||S Darian Thompson, Boise State|
|G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State||K Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA|
|C Jack Allen, Michigan State||K Ross Martin, Duke|
|C Evan Boehm, Missouri||P Riley Dixon, Syracuse|
|C Nick Martin, Notre Dame||P Alex Kinal, Wake Forest|
6. Underclassman declarations are starting to be announced as players make plans before the January 18 deadline to enter the 2016 NFL draft. Here's a look at the notable announcements thus far:
|2016 NFL Draft Underclassman List|
|QB Jared Goff, California||DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State|
|QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State||DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson|
|QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis||DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State|
|QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State||DT Kenny Clark, UCLA|
|RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska|
|RB Jordan Howard, Indiana||DT Quinton Jefferson, Maryland|
|RB Paul Perkins, UCLA||DT Austin Johnson, Penn State|
|RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame||DT Chris Jones, Miss. State|
|RB Kelvin Taylor, Florida||DT Darius Latham, Indiana|
|RB Dwayne Washington, Washington||DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss|
|RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas||DT Hassan Ridgeway, Texas|
|FB Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State||EDGE Kamalei Correa, Boise State|
|WR Bralon Addison, Oregon||EDGE Alex McCalister, Florida|
|WR Demarcus Ayers, Houston||EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland|
|WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt||EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky|
|WR Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan||EDGE Ron Thompson, Syracuse|
|WR Corey Coleman, Baylor||LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma|
|WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina||LB Travis Blanks, Clemson|
|WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame||LB Ben Brown, Mississippi State|
|WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona||LB Su'a Cravens, USC|
|WR Kenny Lawler, California||LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia|
|WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State||LB Myles Jack, UCLA|
|WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State||LB Darron Lee, Ohio State|
|WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss||LB Steve Longa, Rutgers|
|WR De'Runnya Wilson, Miss. State||LB Steve Weatherly, Vanderbilt|
|TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas||LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona|
|TE Austin Hooper, Stanford||CB Eli Apple, Ohio State|
|T Caleb Benenoch, UCLA||CB Artie Burns, Miami (Fla.)|
|T Shon Coleman, Auburn||CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech|
|T Jack Conklin, Michigan State||CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida|
|T Jerald Hawkins, LSU||CB Xavien Howard, Baylor|
|T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M||CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU|
|T Denver Kirkland, Arkansas||CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame|
|T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame||CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma|
|T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss||CB Corey Tindal, Marshall|
|G Alex Redmond, UCLA||CB Cleveland Wallace, San Jose State|
|K Roberto Aguayo, FSU||CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia|
|S Vonn Bell, Ohio State|
|S Keanu Neal, Florida|
5. Black Monday came earlier than ever this season, with many of the head coach firings happening Sunday night of Week 17. After a wild week of movement, here are the current openings at head coach and general manager:
|NFL Job Openings|
|New York Giants||Philadelphia|
4. The success of Zack Martin, Joel Bitonio, Brandon Scherff and Kyle Long has made the prospect of moving from tackle in college to guard in the NFL more appealing to both player and team. And it's worth noting that my top two guards in this year's class—Cody Whitehair (Kansas State) and Denver Kirkland (Arkansas)—are college left tackles. Add in Vadal Alexander (LSU), who played right tackle this year, and three of the top five guard prospects are lining up on the edge in college.
Why is this a trend? Because it creates a guard prospect who has experience in space as a pass protector. Guys like Whitehair and Kirkland are tough as nails and strong but lack the quickness in their feet to play left tackle in the NFL. Put their skill set at guard and you have a Pro Bowl-caliber prospect.
3. Who wants to play a game of "Guess the Prospect"?
This wide receiver is 5'10", 178 pounds and runs a solid 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. He posted 98 catches, dropped just two passes, created 21 missed tackles and posted 12.5 yards per catch and 7.5 yards after the catch on average. Oh, and he's one of the best kick and punt returners in the game.
So...who is it? Tyler Lockett? John Brown? Antonio Brown?
Houston's Demarcus Ayers.
The junior wideout left his mark on the college football landscape before leaving for the 2016 NFL draft, and while he's not a perfect prospect, he has a lot of the same characteristics as the aforementioned studs. They all fell in the draft due to size and role concerns, but in a league focusing more and more on speed and versatility, Ayers is intriguing.
2. With recent hires of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta by the Cleveland Browns—a lawyer with an analytics background and a baseball executive with an analytics background, respectively—there has been a lot of talk about "Moneyball" in the NFL. Seemingly, a lot of the talk comes from people who never actually read the book and only watched the movie.
"Moneyball" isn't about on-base percentage or assigning an advanced statistic to every player to determine his worth. The heart of the idea was finding undervalued players who excelled at something. Scott Hatteberg is the best example on the baseball side of things, but in the NFL this has been happening since Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams took over the New England Patriots. It's about finding what a player does well and using him in that role.
Don't let terms like "Moneyball" scare you. No one is going to put a math test on your TV screen during the NFL draft. The idea of increasing analytics in the NFL won't have scouts out of a job.
1. Let's close this out with some massive self-promotion. Also, this is a handy list of links in case you missed anything in a busy week.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.