Matt Miller's Week 5 NFL Scouting Notebook: A New QB Rising Up Draft Boards

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 7, 2016

Brad Kaaya
Brad KaayaDaniel Shirey/Getty Images

Rivalry weekend of college football is here, and while it will be tough to top the Georgia-Tennessee game, Jourdan Lewis' interception or the electric Louisville vs. Clemson matchup from last week, this is the right kind of weekend to stay in your house all day Saturday.

With so much going on in the college world, it means there is a lot taking place in the NFL draft world as well. Which players are moving up boards? Which quarterback is moving down every week? All that and more this week.

Here's what's below:

  • Who do the 49ers players want starting at QB?
  • A new name at the top of the QB conversation
  • Updated NFL team needs
  • One top offensive tackle declares his 2017 plans
  • ...and an interview with NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz


The Scout's Report

— Members of the San Francisco 49ers are ready for Colin Kaepernick to take over the starting quarterback job. That's what multiple players told me this week, as teammates are rallying behind Kap. Blaine Gabbert's play isn't helping matters.

Deshaun Watson opened the college football season as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback on most big boards, but now multiple NFL scouts tell me they see Watson as the No. 3 passer behind Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Miami's Brad Kaaya.

— The Ohio State defense is rock-solid again in 2016, and that is likely to have an effect on the 2017 draft class. Two NFL scouts told me this week that cornerback Gareon Conley, safety Malik Hooker and linebacker Raekwon McMillan all carry Round 1 grades. What's notable is that one scout mentioned Conley and Hooker as top-10 players.

— Ohio State isn't the only school loaded with talent on defense. An NFC West scout working the Southeastern Conference told me Florida has four potential first-rounders in Quincy Wilson (CB), Jalen "Teez" Tabor (CB), Caleb Brantley (DL) and Jarrad Davis (LB).

— In a press conference this week, Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey announced he would return for his senior season and not enter the 2017 draft. McGlinchey, a fringe Round 1 prospect amid a weak left tackle class, is making his announcement early, which means anything can change, but scouts I spoke to this summer felt he wasn't a lock to leave school no matter how highly he was projected to be drafted.

— Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot has been on the top 20 of my big board since the season began, but an area scout I spoke to for an NFC East team said he graded Smoot in the "Round 2-3 range." My board won't change based on this note, but Smoot's stock among teams might not be as high as my view of him.

— "No f--king thanks." That's what an AFC director of player personnel said when I asked him about Alabama edge-rusher Tim Williams. "Let me see him do something against the run. There are five guys just like him in the SEC without off-field [issues]."


5 Names to Know

5. QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

It's impossible to watch North Carolina junior Mitch Trubisky move around in the pocket and make gunslinger-type throws and not think you're seeing a smaller Carson Wentz. Or at least that's what I thought after reviewing three 2016 games and then a mashup of his 2015 snaps.

Trubisky, at 6'3" and 220 pounds, doesn't have Wentz's size, but he makes similar plays in and out of the pocket, allowing his 4.6 speed to set up plays for his arm and legs. And like Wentz, Trubisky is playing mistake-free football (13 TDs, 0 INTs this year) while attacking down the field on a regular rate in the Tar Heels offense.

He's only started for this season while playing behind Marquis Williams the last two years, but the early read on Trubisky is first-round potential.


4. CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

Jourdan Lewis made what might be the interception of the year last week, but he was already on the NFL's radar before that. Lewis popped last year when he picked off two passes and held opposing quarterbacks to a 36.7 completion percentage when throwing his way, per College Football Focus.

Lewis is caught up in a crowded cornerback class, but his size (5'11", 186 lbs) and technique when coming out of breaks could push him ahead of the more raw prospects such as Marlon Humphrey of Alabama.


3. WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

The wide receiver class is Clemson's Mike Williams and then everyone else fighting for positioning right now. Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford has a chance to solidify his standing as the second-best receiver in this class.

A three-year starter, Ford has NFL size (6'2", 190 lbs) and went off last season for 75 catches and 11 touchdowns in an offense that struggled across the board. This season he's showing more of the same as a productive deep threat and exciting yards-after-catch player.


2. CB Chris Jones, Nebraska

The nephew of NFL great Walter Payton, Chris Jones is starting to make a name for himself among scouts.

At 6'0" and 185 pounds, the junior cornerback has NFL size and is showing the awareness and instincts for the position early in 2016. Jones already has two picks this season and on film shows up with timing and toughness when the ball comes his way. He's a physical tackler too and limits yards after the catch when the ball is caught.


1. RB Royce Freeman, Oregon

Royce Freeman isn't an unknown that I'm tipping you off about, but he is an elite player who isn't getting enough love. That has to change.

Freeman has an exciting blend of power and speed, but too many times we (myself included) dismiss players because of scheme or school history. Oregon hasn't produced great NFL backs since Jonathan Stewart and LeGarrette Blount, but Freeman is in that same mold as a big, strong runner who just happens to have electric speed and hands.

This isn't your normal Oregon running back, and the spread scheme Freeman runs behind shouldn't affect his draft stock negatively if teams focus on his athleticism and vision instead of his helmet.


3 Questions with: NFL player Geoff Schwartz

Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke to NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz on what it's like getting cut, what's next for him and how he handles Sundays not on the field.

B/R: What do you do when that call comes in that you've been cut?

GS: Well, when the Giants cut me, it was a bit of a surprise. I was at rehab for my ankle, got the call from the team and called my agent first. It's his job to make a plan of action. I then called my wife. I should have waited until I got home. She was out shopping and got very emotional. I felt awful that happened in public. When the Lions cut me, I knew that was happening. I was a healthy scratch in the third preseason game. So I called my wife first, then agent. We expected that, so it wasn't emotional. Just pack up my stuff and drive home.


B/R: What are you doing now on Sundays?

GS: I'm just like y'all. I watch football. I've always been a fan of football, so I sit with my three TVs and try to keep track. It gets hectic trying to follow all the early-game action at once. I try sharing my thoughts on Twitter as the games go on. Now that I'm not playing, I have time to watch film of the entire league, so I post videos of plays I enjoyed from the weekend on Monday or Tuesday. People seem to enjoy those.


B/R: What's next for you?

GS: I still have football left in me, so I'm working out and ready for that phone call. In the meantime, just trying to prepare for life after football. I want to get into the football broadcasting arena, so I'm doing the things needed to prepare for that.


The Big Board

Ranking players is obviously a huge part of making a mock draft, but having a strong list of team needs for each NFL team is the other part of it. That's something many fans don't have an interest in reading, but it is an important bit of research that good draft writers do before sitting down to map out a mock draft.

Through the first quarter of the NFL season, and taking into account attrition and free agency, here are the top needs for each team:

Updated NFL Team Needs
TeamNeed 1Need 2Need 3
New EnglandOTDEWR
New York JetsCBTEG
Kansas CityEDGEGS
San DiegoOTWRS
New York GiantsLBRBWR
New OrleansDECBQB
Tampa BayDESWR
Los AngelesOLWRCB
San FranciscoQBEDGEWR
Matt Miller

Parting Shots

8. Albert Breer of MMQB had an excellent piece on Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this week. The entire story is worth a read, but this one quote stands out as far as scouting, team building and coaching are concerned: "People talk about players fitting a systemthat's overrated. Good players fit everyone's system."

A trend in draft analysis is to look at which players fit which system—"Who is a good fit for Chip Kelly's offense?" is a common question—instead of looking at the best traits and realizing good players transcend scheme. Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are great receivers no matter the offense you put them in. Von Miller is going to wreck offenses no matter the pass-rush scheme.

Shanahan nails it with this quote, which is a bit surprising given he molded his entire system in Washington, D.C., around rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III when they were together—which might tell you what he thought of Griffin as a "good" player.


7. I wrote about North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky above, but you can't scout the exciting junior quarterback and not talk about the playmaker the Tar Heels have at wide receiver.

Ryan Switzer
Ryan SwitzerJeff Gammons/Getty Images

Ryan Switzer is a Swiss army knife in this offense, often playing wide receiver and running back and working on jet sweeps and all kinds of pre-snap motion. He's been unleashed with Trubisky at quarterback, and we're starting to see his potential as an outside receiver and not just as the slot guy that many people wanted to typecast him as before the year.

An easy comparison for Switzer would be Julian Edelman, given their similar size and the jack-of-all-trades style they play, but I see a lot of Randall Cobb in his utilization and yards-after-catch skills.


6. As far as dual-threat wide receivers go, there isn't a better one in college than Ohio State's Curtis Samuel. It's easy to see him in Urban Meyer's offense and have flashbacks to a young Percy Harvin at the University of Florida.

Samuel has eased the losses of Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall all on his own while building a legitimate Heisman campaign through the first month of the season. Samuel, in four games, has posted 328 yards rushing and 345 yards receiving for a combined five touchdowns.

As the Buckeyes get into Big Ten play, Samuel is a player to watch both for the NFL draft—he's eligible as a junior—and the Heisman run.

5. Dez Bryant fell to the No. 24 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, partially due to missing all but three games in the 2009 season after the NCAA cracked down on a dinner Bryant had with Deion Sanders that wasn't disclosed.

There were other concerns too. Bryant was famously asked by then-general manager of the Miami Dolphins Jeff Ireland if his mother was a prostitute. And even early in his career, some of the off-field concerns with Bryant seemed justified when the Cowboys often suspended and disciplined him.

Dez Bryant
Dez BryantChristian Petersen/Getty Images

All of this backstory is to point to a fascinating profile of David Wells—a man the Cowboys employ as a fixer. Kent Babb of the Washington Post does a great job of sharing insight into the off-field world of players, teams and the man paid to cover up their mistakes.

I write often here about wiring and character and how teams weigh those issues when scouting players. This is the other side of that coin. Wells is paid to handle the wiring and character of players when things go badly.


4. Leonard Fournette has carried the ball just 67 times so far this season—far off the pace he set last year when carrying it 300 times—and has been slowed by an ankle injury that was expected to keep him out this weekend against Florida if the game hadn't been postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. How will this affect his draft stock?

The key here is that Fournette has tried to play through injuryhence those 67 carries. This isn't a Jadeveon Clowney issue where the coaching staff was publicly questioning his willingness to play through pain in college, either.

In fact, don't be surprised if this helps Fournette in the long run. NFL teams were always going to worry about the wear and tear he suffered in the SEC. If a healthy Fournette shows up at the NFL Scouting Combine after carrying the ball 150 times this season instead of 300, you can bet there will be 350 happy scouts in attendance.


3. Deshaun Watson's fall down draft boards has been documented here almost on a weekly basis, and that's not to pile on but to educate fans about a player who came into the season with as much hype as anyone not named Fournette.

Deshaun Watson
Deshaun WatsonGrant Halverson/Getty Images

Part of the issue with Watson, as I see it, is his lack of accuracy and ball placement this year compared to last season. You can look at the box score and see it too. Watson threw three interceptions against Louisville to counter his five touchdowns in the win. He's also completing just 61 percent of his passes now compared to his career average of 68 percent from his first two seasons.

Watson is pressing on the field—trying to do too much, basically—and it's showing in his stiffness as a passer. To regain his status as a top draft prospect, it's in his best interest to forget about his ranking or the NFL draft for now and get back to playing loose, fast football.


2. Watson, Kaaya and Kizer are the topic of many conversations in San Francisco as fans are ready to move on from the Blaine Gabbert era. But do any of them fit the Chip Kelly offense?

In my breakdowns of Kelly's scheme—at Oregon, in Philadelphia and now what he's doing in San Francisco—I see the biggest need for his quarterback is a high football IQ. Of course, that's standard across the league, but in an offense that is built on tempo and quick decisions, Kelly needs someone with a near-photographic memory to be able to process the play call, personnel, defense and all his pre-snap reads in a hurry-up offense.

Chip Kelly
Chip KellyKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The longer I'm in this job, the more I think quarterback scouting is half film and half psychology. For Kelly and the 49ers, they have to nail the pick and marry the on-field tools with the right football IQ.

Oddly enough, both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz would have been perfect fits for this offense. So far in 2016, it's too early to say one quarterback is a better fit than the others, but based purely on field study, Kizer looks to have the necessary athletic tools and quick decision-making to run the offense.


1. Kenneth Dixon is poised to start taking carries in the Baltimore Ravens offense with Justin Forsett's release. Here's what I wrote about Dixon in my predraft scouting report, where he was ranked as the second-best back in the class:

Dixon is a physical, aggressive runner who looks to finish plays. He's elusive in the hole and can slide laterally to escape. Dixon picks and chooses on the fly and shows the quick feet and excellent balance to leave defenders hugging air when he cuts. His ability to find daylight on inside runs is top-notch. Dixon has the vision and feet to see a lane and quickly cut to it. With exceptional body control, he's able to step through traffic and come out cleanly.

His long speed may not be elite, but he has the burst to run away from defenders. He's able to hit the turbo button and get to a second gear when needed.

At 215 pounds, Dixon packs a punch with the ball in his hands. He's a fighter who looks for yards after contact and seems to never fall backward or lose yards. He's an urgent, instinctive, tough runner who has an aggressive playing style.

Dixon is a valuable contributor on third downs, posting 63 catches in the last two seasons.


Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.


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