If Week 2 of the college football season left you disappointed (sorry, Oklahoma State fans), the schedule this weekend is a scout's dream. Ohio State at Oklahoma. Florida State taking on Louisville and Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson. Alabama's defense against top senior quarterback Chad Kelly.
Get your chores done early and park your fanny on the couch all day, because this will be a good one.
This week's Scouting Notebook takes a look at those matchups and lists the best players to watch in each game. We're also going to highlight:
- The most overrated player in college football
- Is Lamar Jackson a quarterback or wide receiver?
- A way-too-early mock draft with the updated draft order
- Why isn't Jared Goff playing?
- ... and a look back at the Alex Smith-to-Chiefs trade
The Scout's Report
—Who is the most overrated player in college football? That would be USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, according to multiple NFL scouts I polled over the weekend. Smith-Schuster did have a monster block in USC’s Week 2 win over Utah State, but scouts are concerned about the lack of production in the NFL from Trojans wide receivers and the fact he doesn’t have top-end speed to separate from defenders.
—Louisville’s Lamar Jackson looks like a legit Heisman candidate as a true sophomore, but do NFL teams see the dual-threat quarterback as a pro quarterback? I asked three NFL scouts who handle the Louisville area what Jackson looks like to them. All three responded that they’re listing him as a quarterback but noted that he’s not draft-eligible until 2018.
Jackson’s body is more of a wide receiver build, but his explosive and exciting playmaking skills will turn heads at the quarterback position. My take: Jackson has to become more accurate and add weight to be considered an elite quarterback prospect.
—The Alabama defense is once again loaded with NFL talent, and scouts are buzzing about just how good this crew could be with five possible first-rounders. Jonathan Allen (DL), Reuben Foster (LB) and Marlon Humphrey (CB) have the potential to be the best players at their respective positions, with edge-rushers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson not far behind them.
—Why isn’t No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff playing? As one NFL scout told me, “They can’t put him behind that line.” Is that the case, or have the Rams already ruined a promising quarterback prospect with their handling of him? We talked about that in this Insider Buzz video.
—Who are the top senior quarterbacks in the 2017 class? Scouts I talked to this week all listed the same two players: Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly. One scout said, “Kelly has the better arm and athleticism, but Beathard is a winner and has no issues off the field.”
—Missouri pass-rusher Charles Harris came into the season with serious hype as a first-rounder, but one scout I spoke to who recently traveled through the school says he’s disappointed by new defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross’ scheme. The scout said, “Harris isn’t even asked to fire off anymore. He’s playing patty-cake with tackles trying to occupy gaps.”
If Harris’ numbers are down this year, it seems like scouts will assign the blame to the scheme and not the player.
—The small linebacker is becoming trendy for 4-3 defenses in the NFL, and scouts are taking notice of Tennessee’s Jalen Reeves-Maybin (6'0", 230 lbs). A visiting director of player personnel told me Reeves-Maybin is “Telvin Smith Jr.” and has the tools to be a rookie starter as a weak-side linebacker.
—"[Ohio State] has some players, but that defensive end [Sam Hubbard] is the one we’re excited about. He’s got an NFL body as a [redshirt] sophomore.” That’s what one NFL defensive line coach told me this week when discussing the top-end talent in the edge group. Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and Auburn's Carl Lawson get a lot of love, but teams are raving about Hubbard privately.
— A longtime source of mine who has been scouting for almost 20 years made his way through Northwestern recently and said linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. is the “best one you guys aren’t talking about yet.” Walker was an AP All-American last season as a redshirt sophomore.
— Vanderbilt isn’t known for its football program, but a player standing out each time I watch is linebacker Zach Cunningham. Keep his name in mind as draft season heats up. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, Cunningham has a long, lean frame but is experienced at inside linebacker and rushing off the edge.
5 Names to Know
5. RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
The stats last week: 15 touches, eight touchdowns.
If you stayed up late Saturday night to watch Arizona State take on Texas Tech, you saw Ballage dominate the Red Raiders defense with eight touchdowns while running over and around any and every defender who got in his way.
Ballage, who is 6'3" and 230 pounds, put himself on the map as a draft prospect with his performance. The biggest question will be if he can wrestle RB1 carries away from teammate Demario Richard.
4. RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
I have to give credit to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah for being the first analyst I heard praise Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon when most of us were caught up in Samaje Perine. It's Mixon, though, who is the best NFL prospect in that backfield.
The off-field stuff will be interesting—Mixon was charged with assault after punching a woman in the face and breaking several bones in her face. The victim has sued him in civil court after he received a one-year deferred sentence and 100 hours of community service.
Flash back to last week's column, where an anonymous scout told us the biggest red flag is a player who puts his hands on a woman, and you see the situation that scouts and teams will face when evaluating Mixon's talent.
3. QB Davis Webb, California
A graduate transfer from Texas Tech, Davis Webb wowed scouts this summer with his arm talent and understanding of the spread offense. Now in a weak senior quarterback class, he has a chance to position himself near the top of draft boards.
The California offense isn't pro-style in many ways, but it does ask Webb to read progressions and make decisions at the line of scrimmage. The 6'5", 230-pounder also has the size and arm strength that teams covet from passers. A good showing against Texas this weekend could give Webb some draft buzz.
2. C Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia
LSU's Ethan Pocic and Ohio State's Pat Elflein are the most well-known interior linemen in the draft class—and both are All-American-caliber players—but West Virginia has a stud of its own in Tyler Orlosky.
An athletic, agile mover in the spread offense, Orlosky can get to the second level in the run and pass game without issue. He's not quite Ryan Kelly when it comes to getting to linebackers and blowing things up, but he moves well for a big man.
1. T Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell
In my weekly talks with scouts, I like to ask them if they have any sleepers I need to see. I ask the same of agents who hit the road to recruit players. The number of agents and scouts who think they're hiding Julie'n Davenport from the draft world has reached seven. It's time to break the news that the Bucknell product is well-known in football circles.
Davenport is a two-time captain and four-year starter at Bucknell. Scouts are already complimenting his reach and movement on a 6'7", 315-pound frame.
3 Questions with: Damarious Randall
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke to Green Bay Packers defensive back Damarious Randall about shutting down Allen Robinson and practicing against Aaron Rodgers.
Miller: You faced Allen Robinson last week, and he had zero catches when you were on him. What’s the secret?
Randall: He’s a bigger wide receiver, so just from my film study, they like to throw a lot of 50-50 balls up to him, and my plan going in was to just take away those balls. I just felt like I can break back on a lot of his routes because I’m quicker than him. So I played the top shoulder on him and broke back on his routes when he broke them.
Miller: At Arizona State you were mostly a safety. How hard has the conversion been to cornerback in the NFL?
Randall: Before I went to ASU, I was considered a cornerback; I actually thought I was going to ASU to play corner. They needed me at safety because we blitzed a lot, and the safety position meant playing man-to-man in the slot. It was more slot cornerback.
I just thought the conversion was pretty cool. Last year I was a little overweight from playing safety so that took a toll on me a little bit. Since I was a little overweight, I was a little winded at times. So this year I got back down to my natural playing weight.
Miller: What’s it like to practice against Aaron Rodgers?
Randall: It’s just like, you know you’re going to get the best balls thrown at you. Breaking up his passes or catching picks on him, even in practice, he’s in game mode looking for perfection. For him to sometimes see me in zero coverage and look the other way…that just does numbers to my confidence to know he respects me enough (and I respect him a lot) not to throw at me. That says a lot.
The Big Board
Early in draft season when making a mock draft, I use Las Vegas betting odds to set the draft order. It's not an ideal system, but it takes the prediction factor out of the order and puts the emphasis on predicting the players. It works for me, and this early in the season, the draft order is often crazy when you factor in records and strength of schedule.
But why not take a look at how the draft order—and draft—might look after Week 1?
|Week 1 2017 Mock Draft|
|1||Miami||DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M|
|2||Arizona||QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame|
|3||Buffalo||DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|4||New York Jets||EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn|
|5||San Diego||T Cam Robinson, Alabama|
|6||Tennessee||CB Jalen Tabor, Florida|
|7||Carolina||RB Leonard Fournette, LSU|
|8||Tennessee (f/LA)||S Jamal Adams, LSU|
|9||Indianapolis||OLB Tim Williams, Alabama|
|10||Cleveland||QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|11||Jacksonville||LB Reuben Foster, Alabama|
|12||New Orleans||RB Dalvin Cook, FSU|
|13||Atlanta||DE DeMarcus Walker, FSU|
|14||Washington||QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Fla.)|
|15||Chicago||S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
|16||Dallas||LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State|
|17||San Francisco||WR Mike Williams, Clemson|
|18||Tampa Bay||CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama|
|19||Seattle||DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State|
|20||New England||RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|21||Kansas City||OLB Dawuane Smoot, Illinois|
|22||Oakland||RB Nick Chubb, Georgia|
|23||Philadelphia (f/MIN)||WR Jehu Chesson, Michigan|
|24||Detroit||DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee|
|25||Baltimore||S Justin Evans, Texas A&M|
|26||Denver||LB Jarrad Davis, Florida|
|27||Houston||CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan|
|28||Green Bay||CB Desmond King, Iowa|
|29||New York Giants||T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame|
|30||Pittsburgh||OLB Charles Harris, Missouri|
|31||Cincinnati||WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC|
|32||Cleveland (f/PHI)||CB Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma|
10. NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson said on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show that Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was “forced” to draft quarterback Jared Goff at No. 1 overall. This is false on many levels, according to my sources with the Rams and around the league.
The Rams traded up for Goff. There was no other player under consideration. You don’t trade up in the draft for a player you’re not sold on. And no matter who carries the general manager label in Los Angeles, Fisher is calling the shots.
I reported at the Senior Bowl that the Rams were one team I’d heard wanted to move up for Goff.
Fisher and the scouting staff loved Goff once they studied the Texas game, according to my sources with the team.
9. The news of the week, or at least the hot takes of the week, center on Goff not playing in Week 1 after being named the Rams' No. 3 quarterback. But he wasn't the only first-rounder to sit out. In fact, 10 of 31 players drafted in Round 1 didn't play because of injury or coach's decision—and one (Karl Joseph) only played special teams.
Goff, Josh Garnett (49ers), Joey Bosa (Chargers), Karl Joseph (Raiders) and Laquon Treadwell (Vikings) all missed Week 1 for reasons not related to injury. Sheldon Rankins (Saints), Keanu Neal (Falcons), Shaq Lawson (Bills), William Jackson III (Bengals) and Germain Ifedi (Seahawks) sat out with injuries.
The 2016 draft class wasn't seen as particularly strong, and with so many first-rounders not playing, it points to the group being a down crop compared to previous seasons.
8. Switching gears and going back to the college game, count me a fan of what LSU is doing to protect Leonard Fournette from too many hits this season. The Tigers sat him against Jacksonville State in Week 2 and are likely to limit his touches in games where he isn't needed.
Some may not like this strategy because it could affect Fournette's chances to put up the numbers needed to secure a Heisman Trophy, but head coach Les Miles is doing his star running back a favor by keeping him healthy for the SEC schedule and saving his body for the NFL.
7. It's always fun to overreact to Week 1 performances in the NFL, and that's what I'm about to do. Jameis Winston tore up the Atlanta Falcons defense to the tune of four touchdowns, 281 yards and a completion percentage just short of 70 percent.
Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has the talent to become a legit top-five quarterback over the next few seasons. Maybe sooner. With Peyton Manning retired and greats such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees reaching the end of their careers, the NFL needs new faces at the most popular position, and Winston is poised to join the next group of elite passers alongside peers Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.
Sure, it was only one week, but building off what Winston showed at Florida State and then in his rookie season, it's easy to be excited about his progress and potential.
6. Before the 2013 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers traded backup quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for what amounted to two second-round picks—one in 2013 and one in 2014. General manager Trent Baalke wheeled and dealed, turning those two picks into four picks. Three years later, what did the Niners get for the quarterback they now so desperately need?
Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier in 2013. Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland in 2014.
Carradine and Hyde are still with the team. The 49ers released Lemonier this summer. Borland retired after a surprisingly good rookie season that saw him emerge as a future leader for the team. On paper, this haul looks solid for a backup quarterback—and the entire nation was all-in on Colin Kaepernick after the 2012 playoff run, so the 49ers had to deal Smith while they could.
With the perfect vision that is hindsight, though, the Chiefs clearly won this trade while grabbing a consistent quarterback who has won 31 of his 47 starts in Kansas City.
5. On the topic of Kaepernick and the 49ers, add San Francisco to the list of teams that must be all-in on finding out if there is a franchise-level quarterback in the 2017 draft class.
Cleveland and San Francisco must identify future starters, while New Orleans has to start searching for Brees' eventual replacement after it released former third-rounder Garrett Grayson this summer. The rest of the NFL has seemingly invested in quarterbacks via early-round picks or free agency, leaving these three clubs at the top of the list that must find out if Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer are worthy of a top-five selection.
4. This has been an NFL-heavy section of the column, and that will vary week-to-week depending on what's going on in the league and who I talk to. This NFL note, though, was too good to sit on.
When the Teddy Bridgewater injury happened, my phone blew up. Coaches, players, scouts, friends...everyone knew Bridgewater was my No. 1 player in the 2014 draft and that I'd taken a decent amount of flak for that stance. So when he went down, people were concerned.
Except for some members of the Green Bay Packers. They called and texted to let me know this was bad news for them. You see, the Packers wanted to face Bridgewater because they felt their defense could control him with his short throws and timing-based passing.
Shaun Hill? A wild card with a better arm.
Sam Bradford? Now people are worried.
It's interesting to me that a Pro Bowl quarterback and former first-round pick would be a player a team wants to face, but as one defender from Green Bay told me, they were instructed not to hurt Bridgewater during the 2015 season because he was easier to defend than Hill.
Take that for what it's worth, but this is how NFL defenses think.
3. If you’re on the couch doing some scouting this weekend, the big game to watch is Ohio State at Oklahoma. Even after sending 12 players to the NFL draft last year—all selected in the first four rounds—Ohio State is loaded again with talents such as Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard and Malik Hooker. They’ll be tasked with stopping the nation’s best running back duo—Perine and Mixon—and an accurate quarterback in Baker Mayfield.
This is a marquee game that will draw in scouts, personnel directors and general managers from many teams.
2. Michigan State isn’t as loaded with defensive prospects as it’s been in recent years, but the Spartans defense will still give Notre Dame quarterback—and my QB1—DeShone Kizer a test when the teams meet on Saturday.
Kizer showcased his touch, arm strength and athleticism in a close loss to Texas in Week 1, and now that he’s in the national spotlight as a top-tier prospect, his game will be studied more closely. If he can drive the ball and execute against Mark Dantonio’s defense, prepare for the Kizer bandwagon to fill up.
1. The final game scouts will want to be in on this weekend is Alabama vs. Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide defense, as mentioned above, is absolutely stacked with talent this season. That will make it a great test for senior quarterback Chad Kelly. Kelly has had an up-and-down career at Ole Miss, but he has the arm strength and athleticism NFL teams crave. If he can attack the Alabama defense and move the ball well, his stock could get a nice bump.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.