It's Friday, and if you don't have a job (or you're reading this while pretending to work), or you don't have anything better to do, then read this week's Scouting Notebook. Oh boy, it's a good one.
What's on tap this week? An interview with an anonymous scout—talking about the best and worst players he's seen and which school rolls out the red carpet for NFL teams. We're also going to highlight:
- The next generational talent at defensive end
- The linebacker NFL scouts are comparing to NaVorro Bowman
- An updated Top 32 Big Board
- Are we too quick to crown Carson Wentz?
- ...and a look back at the top prospects playing this weekend
The Scout's Report
— The NFL draft season is only a few weeks old, and already a player is emerging as the clear-cut best among prospects. That's Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett. My spotlight on Garrett highlights his power, flexibility and quickness at the position. And at 275 pounds, one NFL scout told me he's a "generational talent" at defensive end.
— How good is Alabama's Reuben Foster? One area scout told me he looks like NaVorro Bowman, with another calling him the "best player on [Alabama], easily." Foster ranks No. 7 overall on my big board.
— The 2017 running back class is absolutely stacked with talent, but are we forgetting Royce Freeman? The Oregon offense hasn't produced a legitimate NFL running back yet, but Freeman may be the man to break that trend. His mix of power and speed will turn heads.
— "Pass. Pass. Pass." That's what one NFL personnel director told me when I asked him about senior quarterbacks Chad Kelly, C.J. Beathard and Greg Ward Jr. The general feeling I'm getting from talking to scouts around the NFL is that the senior quarterback class is a weak one.
— Malik McDowell from Michigan State is getting buzz as the top defensive lineman in the class. When I asked about him in preparation for the Spartans' test against Wisconsin, a former NFL GM told me this: "He's not the sexiest guy out there, but if [DeForest] Buckner can go top 10, he can too. They're very similar athletes."
— "I would hate to need a left tackle in this class. Thankfully we got ours a few years ago." — AFC South southeast scout on the 2017 tackle crop. I can vouch for his opinion, as no tackle ranks inside my top 20 players.
— Florida State running back Dalvin Cook has yet to break out and have a monster performance in 2016...at least if you ask a personnel director I talked to this week. "Your Jamaal Charles comparison was a good one, 'cause neither of them have done s--t this season."
— Louisville's Devonte Fields is a favorite player of mine given his speed off the edge, but an NFL defensive line coach I spoke to this week noted Fields' lean frame. "Bulk him up and risk losing the bend or teach him to play linebacker—he's not an edge for us." The dreaded "tweener" label may be coming for Fields, who is listed at 242 pounds.
— "Man, this tight end class is loaded. I like them more than the wide receivers," an NFC West scout said when discussing the state of the tight end and wide receiver classes this year. No wideout is in my top 15 players, and just one makes the top 32 (Mike Williams, Clemson).
5 Names to Know
5. EDGE Charles Harris, Missouri
A redshirt junior at Missouri, Charles Harris briefly appeared on my 2016 draft big boards due to his impressive talent and get-off at defensive end. A scheme change with new head coach Barry Odom had slowed Harris' production so far this season, but then he attacked the Georgia offensive line to the tune of three sacks last weekend. Harris has the speed and bend to gain Round 1 attention as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
4. CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
One of the nation's top cornerbacks, Jourdan Lewis, hasn't seen the field yet this season due to muscle strains dating back to camp. If he's on the field this weekend against Penn State, the Wolverines will get back a ball hawk (Lewis had 20 pass breakups and two picks in 2015) with toughness to make plays from the corner in the run game. Lewis doesn't have the size (5'11", 186 lbs) to be a top-ranked cover man for the NFL, but he'll be considered a valuable slot cornerback at that size.
3. FS Justin Evans, Texas A&M
A lot of time is spent talking up Jamal Adams (LSU) and Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) as the best safeties in the nation—and they are—but don't sleep on Justin Evans at A&M. In his first year with the Aggies after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Evans established himself as a leader, a hard hitter and enough of a ball hawk that SEC quarterbacks won't be testing him anytime soon. He's already a top-20 player on my board with room to rise.
2. WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
Cooper Kupp has won awards named after Jerry Rice (FCS Freshman of the Year) and Walter Payton (FCS Offensive Player of the Year), which should tell you plenty about his ability and production. Kupp has NFL size (6'2", 205 lbs) and the hands to be a threat from the slot or outside the formation. Sure, he's beating up lower-level competition, but Kupp's tools are top-50 caliber.
1. LB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
Looking back at my 2015 notes on Biegel, he had the talent to declare for the 2016 draft and see himself valued in the top three rounds. Biegel opted to return to Wisconsin and is once again looking like a wrecking ball at linebacker. He's able to rush the passer and set the edge against the run, and he has the hips to work in coverage against tight ends. Biegel isn't on the same level as inside linebackers Reuben Foster or Jarrad Davis, but given his versatility, he could be an intriguing Round 2 option.
3 Questions with: An NFL Scout
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke to a West Coast scout—one who cannot give his name or which team he works for at the risk of losing his job.
Miller: Your area is the West Coast, but I know you studied the quarterbacks and running backs on cross-check this summer. Can you stack the top three QBs and RBs as you see them right now?
Scout: At quarterback, no one is close to [DeShone] Kizer. No one. Maybe Josh Rosen down at CALA (this is a school code, which stands for California-Los Angeles; the scout is talking about UCLA), but no one else has the arm-to-athletic ratio. He's raw as hell and I hope he stays two more years, but he's the best right now. I'd put Deshaun Watson second even though he's been really bad so far this year. Kid looks like he's pressing. Like that line from The Program, he's trying to win the Heisman on every throw. Next, and there's a big drop-off here, would be Luke Falk at Washington [State]. I know you guys love [Brad] Kaaya, but Falk has the body and arm that Kaaya will never have.
The running backs are easy. It's [Leonard] Fournette, [Dalvin] Cook, then [Nick] Chubb. Christian McCaffrey is in my area, and I think he's more of a 'tweener than a true running back.
Miller: If we're going to talk about the best players, we also have to talk about the worst. What's the worst position group you've seen so far?
Scout: Man, these tackles are chickens--ts. There isn't a tackle in the Pac-12 that I'm excited about. It's all spreads and no one runs the ball between the tackles out here, which leaves the linemen underdeveloped. There's a reason you see so many good guards coming out of here and not many tackles—they just aren't ready to pass protect.
Miller: Covering the Pac-12 means a lot of road trips. Which school treats you the best?
Scout: The worst would be CASC (USC) because the coaches for a long time wouldn't even let us in the building. That's changed a little now. The best? The guys at WAUN (Washington) run an NFL-friendly program. And you can't beat spending time in Seattle. Talk about a great place for football.
The Big Board
We're almost to the quarter mark of the college football season, and with that the draft board starts to focus and settle a little. That means it's a good time to update you guys on the top 32 players for the 2017 NFL draft.
*Note: Redshirt sophomores and juniors are included if I'm led to believe they will consider entering the 2017 draft. Not all eligible underclassmen can be studied and listed at this time.
|Updated Top 32 Big Board|
|1||Myles Garrett||EDGE||Texas A&M|
|3||DeShone Kizer||QB||Notre Dame|
|11||Malik McDowell||DL||Michigan State|
|13||Raekwon McMillan||LB||Ohio State|
|16||Brad Kaaya||QB||Miami (Fla.)|
|19||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M|
|32||Mike McGlinchey||T||Notre Dame|
8. A forgotten part of team-building—and thus, draft analysis—is how well a player fits into a scheme. Oftentimes draft analysts believe the job ends when you file a scouting report and/or write a mock draft. But addressing how well players fit in their new environment—scheme, coaching, the depth chart, etc.—is a factor. And there are examples every year of players being a great fit in their new scheme, which in turn increases their value.
Kelvin Benjamin and Travis Frederick were my go-to examples of this. Viewed independently, both had flaws that kept them lower on my board than they were drafted. But when evaluated after the draft, when it was clear what their roles would be, both carried increased value. Will Fuller is the 2016 example of this, and he might be the best example yet.
The Texans grabbed Fuller in Round 1, and despite his penchant for dropping one ball per game at Notre Dame, they believed his speed and deep-threat ability would open up their offense with new quarterback Brock Osweiler having the arm strength to stretch the field. And he has. Pro Football Focus has tracked Fuller with 18 targets through two games, and 10 of those have been for 20-plus yards.
The Texans drafted Fuller and had a plan for him—and that's a part of team-building we so often forget to talk about.
7. On that same note—drafting a player and having a plan for him—let's talk about Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The two quarterbacks went with the first two picks in the 2016 draft. Goff hasn't played yet. Wentz hasn't lost yet while throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Chris Wesseling of NFL Network had a great tweet about the two situations—Los Angeles and Philadelphia—and the different coaches around the two young quarterbacks:
Goff isn't ready to play, per the Rams, and he's surrounded by little in the way of quarterback coaching (note: Wesseling's tweet incorrectly states this is Weinke's first season as QB coach; it's his second). Wentz, on the other hand, has a wealth of knowledge and experience around him.
The story of Goff vs. Wentz is far from over—hell, the first chapter isn't done—but when talking about why one player is having success and the other isn't seeing the field, this is a unique look at a reason for that.
6. Have you heard that Carson Wentz is the next John Elway? Or at least it seems that way after the former North Dakota State quarterback has led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 2-0 start. Never mind that the Eagles have beaten the lowly Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears. Never mind that Wentz is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt (sixth-worst in the NFL). And most importantly, never mind that teams haven't been able to scheme against Wentz or the new play-calling staff in Philadelphia yet.
Wentz may end up being the next Elway, Manning or Brady, but anointing him the future of the NFL after two games is foolish. It's the same hyperbole that led to people claiming Colin Kaepernick was the future of the position, or Nick Foles was a franchise quarterback, or that Robert Griffin III was better than Andrew Luck. We—and I'm pointing at my peers in this industry—must learn to be patient.
That doesn't mean Wentz won't be great, because the tools are there and Eagles fans should be excited, but we can maybe wait more than eight quarters before declaring the kid a savior. It used to be that we gave rookies three years before truly evaluating them; now, we don't even give them three games.
5. Jabrill Peppers is taking over college football with his all-over-the-field style of play at safety/cornerback/linebacker/returner. We spotlighted Peppers this week, which led to my falling in love with the versatility he brings to the table.
The NFL is becoming a matchup league more than ever before. As teams implement spread concepts, and as wide receivers get bigger, faster and more protected by the rules, a defensive coordinator's job is made easier when he can assign an eraser on defense—a player in the mold of Tyrann Mathieu or Jalen Ramsey. And that's what Peppers is—an eraser.
It's rare to find an athlete with his motor, work ethic and drive to be great. Scouts aren't raving to me about Peppers—yet—but give it time.
4. Fans outside of the SEC love to point out that the conference is somehow overrated—despite winning 10 national championships since the BCS was invented in 1998 and putting 51 players into the NFL during the 2016 draft.
But does the SEC talent last in the NFL? Many on Twitter will tell you SEC players are overdrafted and bust in the pros. With that in mind, I took it upon myself to build a team using only SEC draft picks. Here is the result:
|WR||Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr.|
|WR2||A.J. Green, Jarvis Landry|
|T||Andrew Whitworth, Jason Peters|
|G||Trai Turner, Gabe Jackson|
|DE||Michael Bennett, Jadeveon Clowney|
|DT||Geno Atkins, Michael Brockers|
|OLB||Von Miller, Thomas Davis|
|CB||Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson|
|S||Eric Berry, Eric Reid|
3. Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd has been tasked with creating many of his own opportunities in a stagnant Volunteers offense, and how well he does against an attacking Florida defense—led by linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Marcus Maye—will say a lot about if he's ready to enter the top tier of prospects at the position.
Hurd has the size and speed to wow scouts, but his production hasn't been on par with the players above him in the rankings. Good scouts will account for the lack of talent around him and that defenses are loading boxes against him, but Hurd must also show he can create laterally and make plays when freeways don't open up for him.
2. Arkansas and Texas A&M square off this weekend in a game that features two of the best edge-rushers in the nation—Deatrich Wise for the Razorbacks and No. 1 overall player Myles Garrett for the Aggies.
In a game that may otherwise get lost in a weekend of solid matchups, this is one where scouts and draft fans alike should tune in. You can also sneak a peek at Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle—one of the more underrated players in a loaded group for the 2017 draft.
1. If you don't have plans Friday night, turn on USC at Utah for some #Pac12AfterDark goodness, but also to see safety Marcus Williams and right tackle Lowell Lotulelei take on the speedy USC offense. Of course, Trojans cornerback Adoree' Jackson is a heck of a player in his own right.
Williams would be the top-ranked player in this game if he enters the 2017 draft, but as a redshirt junior, there is no current information on what he's planning for next season.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.