For some, the beginning of college and NFL seasons means football is back. For others, it means the beginning of draft season.
Every Friday from now until the 2017 NFL draft kicks off in Philadelphia, you'll get an inside look at what's happening around the league as it pertains to the draft. Which players are moving up, and which are moving down? How are NFL scouts viewing the upcoming draft class? You'll find out in the Scouting Notebook.
Following a great first weekend of college football (Hook 'Em Horns!!!), here's what I'm hearing and seeing regarding the upcoming class.
The Scout's Report
— The college football season kicked off with talk of Clemson's Deshaun Watson as the No. 1 quarterback in the nation. Then Notre Dame played. One scout I talked to this week said DeShone Kizer has "the best arm in college football," while another said the redshirt sophomore "was the most impressive quarterback on the field in Week 1."
— There is a lot of time for Kizer to move up or down the board, but the early look on him is impressive. My notes on Kizer highlighted his poise in the pocket, arm strength, downfield vision and his ability to create with his legs when the play breaks down. Kizer is a capable runner, but he doesn't panic and look to run too early in his progressions. Over the next four months, he may fall flat on his face and bottom out as a prospect, but the tools are all there for him to be a No. 1 quarterback.
— The best receiver in college football? That's Clemson's Mike Williams, according to NFL scouts I spoke with this week. One AFC West scout said Williams has the "best hands and best route adjustment" among draft-eligible receivers. The Clemson pipeline to the NFL at wide receiver doesn't hurt his cause either.
— "We heard all summer how good [Conor McDermott] was and then Myles Garrett ate his lunch." That's from an AFC pro personnel director who commented on the UCLA left tackle McDermott and what Texas A&M's junior defensive end did to him in the Week 1 opener. According to Jordan Plocher of Pro Football Focus, Garrett graded out higher against UCLA than he did at any time last year.
— An Ole Miss fan asked my opinion on quarterback Chad Kelly before the game against Florida State on Monday night. My comparison for Kelly has been Jay Cutler for a while now, and we saw that on the field with his hot-and-cold throwing (four TDs, three INTs). And as one NFL scout texted me Thursday morning, Kelly's off-field concerns from his days at Clemson—which led to his dismissal there—will be a huge red flag for any player but more so for a quarterback.
— The Cleveland Browns didn't see top-20 NFL quarterback talent from Carson Wentz, according to ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi. After so many in the media and the NFL world fell in love with the North Dakota State prospect, it's interesting that Hue Jackson and the Browns weren't sold on him.
— Which cornerback do we need to keep an eye on? One area scout said, "Don't sleep on [Marlon] Humphrey. He could be CB1 in a few weeks." The Alabama cornerback opened eyes against USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (who has some Round 1 buzz). Humphrey has the size (6'1", 198 lbs) and technique to impress as a man-coverage cornerback.
— Leonard Fournette is an expected Heisman candidate, but without a viable passing attack the LSU offense will see loaded fronts on defense. Not to worry, said one NFL general manager: "Fournette will be the top back in this class, regardless of stats."
5 Names to Know
5. Defensive Lineman DeMarcus Walker, FSU
After finishing the 2015 season with 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, DeMarcus Walker got right back on track with 4.5 sacks against Ole Miss in Week 1. That got him ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors and a big move up the board.
Walker (6'4", 280 lbs) has NFL size and power for a traditional defensive end—he's in that Greg Hardy mold athletically—and has shown the production to be a force from the jump in the pros.
4. Edge Defender Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
As I talked to area scouts to develop my list of players to watch this summer, Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot kept getting mentioned as a Round 1-tier player.
Smoot flashed last year when scouts turned up to watch Jihad Ward, and his 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2015 showed he can produce off the edge. At 6'3" and 265 pounds, Smoot also has the size and power NFL teams look for in a 4-3 defensive end.
3. Edge Defender Ryan Anderson, Alabama
The Alabama defense is loaded with NFL talent, and when watching the team perform against USC, it was obvious that Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Marlon Humphrey have Round 1 potential. However, the lesser-known star who took over the game and wowed NFL scouts was outside linebacker Ryan Anderson.
Anderson had 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season, so scouts knew who he was, but he turned it up a notch with one sack and two more hurries (my charting) in the game.
2. Defensive Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Our friends at Pro Football Focus grade every college and NFL player each weekend. When I checked the grades for this past week, I was shocked to see Eddie Vanderdoes had returned to his dominant ways. Viewing the tape confirmed it—Vanderdoes is back.
At this time last year, he was considered a better draft prospect than eventual first-rounder Kenny Clark, but a torn ACL shut down his season. With five quarterback hurries, per PFF, Vanderdoes established himself as a first-round candidate against Texas A&M in Week 1.
1. Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
The 2017 cornerback class looks excellent as the season starts, and Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley is one of many who are vying for first-round status.
At times last year, Tankersley looked like the best of the Clemson secondary. That unit sent Mackensie Alexander, T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse to the NFL, by the way. With his size (6'1", 200 lbs), Tankersley has tools Alexander (5'10", 190 lbs) did not. He's also a fiery competitor when the ball is in the air, something he showed while grabbing five interceptions and breaking up nine passes last year.
3 Questions With: An Anonymous NFL Scout
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current NFL player or current NFL scout. This week, I spoke to an area scout for an NFL team—one who can't be named, or he'd lose his job.
Miller: All right, let's just get right to it. What's the worst red flag you've seen during your time in the NFL?
Scout: Anything domestic violence-related. We realize there are two sides to every story, so we'll do the due diligence and look into the situation, but if the truth is a man forcefully put his hands on a woman, then we feel like that's not someone we can trust and that player has issues we simply cannot correct.
Miller: When you walk onto a campus, who is the most important person for you to talk to?
Scout: I really find it beneficial talking to academic advisers. They have the opportunity to relate to a player away from football and in a much different environment. Honestly, a lot of guys don't like school, and that's not a major red flag or anything, but you want to find out how the player functions in an environment when he's asked to do things he doesn't necessarily want to do.
Does he complain and go through the motions? Is he a professional? Does he show up on time and handle his business? What's his focus like? You can really get a feel for a guy's maturity.
Miller: As the season kicks off, what are you doing this time of year?
Scout: Right now just going to practices and getting comfortable with all of the information we're being fed until the film starts to come in. It's a lot like meeting someone for the first time. But this is a thorough process; you can't assume the first impression of a guy will mirror your views of him when the draft rolls around.
At this time of the year, you don't want to be stuck on trying to evaluate a guy to exactly where he'll be picked. So much from the all-star games to the combine all play into where a guy eventually ends up on the board. You just want to be in the neighborhood from a grade perspective.
By the end of the process, we've all spent countless hours watching the tape and getting him placed correctly from a talent standpoint, so it eventually works itself out. But you have to really nail down the wiring and character of the person. We're the ones going into the school, conducting interviews with the staff and being assigned to figure out who this guy is. You have to know what you're buying before using a draft pick on a player. You can't get surprised, so the character/makeup currently has a lot of my focus.
The Big Board
The beginning of college football season starts with a top-25 big board that is actually more of a watch list than a set ranking—at least for now. The board below is a ranking of where each player's stock stands currently, but much will change each week with more viewings, more information and status updates like injury and production. I'll do my best to update the board every two to three weeks.
|Matt Miller's Top 25 Big Board|
|2||DeShone Kizer||QB||Notre Dame|
|3||Myles Garrett||EDGE||Texas A&M|
|12||Raekwon McMillan||LB||Ohio State|
|15||Brad Kaaya||QB||Miami (Fla.)|
|20||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M|
6. This column will generally look forward to the 2017 draft, but the fact that Jared Goff was the No. 1 overall pick and is inactive for the first game of the season—Carson Palmer was the last No. 1 overall pick to be inactive to start the season—is at least mildly concerning. Alex Marvez of Sporting News wrote a great article on Goff's struggles and how the Rams are doing him a disservice.
With No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz set to start for the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, there will be comparisons between the different statuses of the two players picked atop the draft. For the Rams and Goff to have success, they must get on the same page about his development.
5. I shared our insider buzz on Leonard Fournette and his lack of numbers above, and I thought this piece from the MMQB's Emily Kaplan was insightful. She goes deep on all the other things Fournette does for the LSU offense and what scouts want to see from him in terms of pass protection and pass-catching skills.
Kaplan's weekly college football piece is on my must-read list.
4. One more article share, and then I promise you'll get plenty of hot takes.
Mike Silver is one of those writers my generation grew up wanting to be. His ability to tell stories and report news was way ahead of its time, as football analysts now toe that line more than ever before. If you're going to read one thing this week (other than this column), his NFL.com piece on quarterbacking in the NFL is fantastic. This could be the opening chapter of a book, and I'd be in line to buy it on the day it came out.
What goes into quarterbacking? What are scouts and coaches looking for when they view the college game? How can the NFL adapt to the spread and wide-open offenses of the college game? Silver covers all that and more with great quotes from Seahawks general manager John Schneider, Browns head coach Hue Jackson, Colts GM Ryan Grigson and other NFL minds.
3. Eric Rowe. Sam Bradford. Kiko Alonso. DeMarco Murray. Byron Maxwell. Five players brought in by Chip Kelly when he was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and five players GM Howie Roseman has shipped out of town since Kelly was fired.
The Eagles have cleaned house of Chip Kelly guys this offseason while accumulating a franchise quarterback in Wentz and future draft picks by trading Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings for a first-rounder in 2017 and a conditional pick in 2018.
Roseman has gone back to his roots and is going for an Andy Reid approach—he even hired Reid's offensive coordinator in Doug Pederson as the head coach—as the team tries to get back to the winning ways of the Reid era.
2. Another team that is cleaning house is the Cleveland Browns—especially of its former first-round picks.
|Browns Top Draft Picks (2014-2011)|
|2014||Justin Gilbert||Rd 1, Pick 8||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|2014||Johnny Manziel||Rd 1, Pick 22||Out of League|
|2013||Barkevious Mingo||Rd 1, Pick 6||New England Patriots|
|2012||Trent Richardson||Rd 1, Pick 3||Out of League|
|2012||Brandon Weeden||Rd 1, Pick 22||Houston Texans|
|2011||Phil Taylor||Rd 1, Pick 21||Denver Broncos|
|2011||Jabaal Sheard||Rd 2, Pick 37||New England Patriots|
It has become too easy to poke fun at the Browns and their lack of success through the draft (and on the field), but this is a key look at the franchise's failures. If you can't draft, you can't win.
1. Patrick Mahomes and the Texas Tech offense put up points. That will lead many to wonder if Mahomes is a legit NFL quarterback prospect. This is where I'd refer everyone back to a favorite phrase of mine: box-score scouting.
Mahomes may end up being an NFL prospect at quarterback, but teams won't rely on his statistics in a fast-paced, wide-open offense to determine that. Scouts are looking for NFL traits, not NFL numbers, when evaluating players for the next level.
Whether Mahomes throws for 5,000 yards this season or 50 touchdowns, it will be discounted, given that he's in a spread scheme that gets the ball out in record time. This isn't to pick on Mahomes but to remind folks that it's easy to get excited by numbers. However, traits matter most in scouting.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.