Matt Miller's Week 6 NFL Scouting Notebook: Will Injury Hurt Fournette's Stock?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 14, 2016

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers reacts after the Auburn Tigers won 18-13 over an official review to end the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Top quarterback prospects Brad Kaaya and Mitch Trubisky suffered losses last week, Leonard Fournette still isn't playing, and Ole Miss' quarterback ran onto the field during a fight at a high school game. Needless to say, it's been a crazy week in the world of the NFL draft. The weekly Scouting Notebook is here to keep you updated on all that and more.

Here's what's below:

  • Will injuries hurt Fournette's stock?
  • A short list of the best general manager candidates
  • Updated NFL mock draft
  • Drawing the line on character issues
  • ...and an interview with an anonymous AFC scout

               

The Scout's Report

Leonard Fournette has missed two games and will likely miss this weekend's game against Southern Miss, per coach Ed Orgeron (via Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com). Will this affect his draft stock as he's slow to return from an ankle injury? "No. That's a Round 1 player," said one general manager I asked this week. Another area scout said, "Go ahead and put a one [Round 1 grade] on him, and call it a day. He's f--king rare."

—Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has excellent numbers and wins a ton of games, but is he an NFL quarterback? I polled two area scouts who placed grades on Mayfield this fall after visiting campus. Both reported that Mayfield warranted an undrafted-free-agent grade.

—Looking for a Round 1 safety? Ohio State's Malik Hooker is climbing boards and gaining a top-tier mark from three area scouts I spoke to this week. 

—Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin would have a top-50 grade on my board if healthy, but Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced this week that the senior linebacker is out indefinitely after suffering a shoulder injury that was initially thought to be a season-ender, which could still be the case depending on how long his recovery takes. 

Chad Kelly has a pattern of poor decision-making both on and off the field, and this past weekend when he rushed the field during a high school game when a brawl broke out, Kelly did more damage to his NFL draft stock. One director of player personnel I talked to said, "This kid just loves losing money." Kelly, who was dismissed from Clemson in 2014, has a strong arm and good athleticism but is a polarizing player and person.

—"You know I love that [Ohio State] offense, but he's never playing quarterback in the NFL." That's what an AFC senior scout said about Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett after visiting Columbus this month. "The best player on that offense is the scatback, [Curtis] Samuel. He might go Round 1."

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 8:  Quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs with the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Indiana 38-17.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

—Texas A&M safety Justin Evans is in my top 20 overall, but one area scout I spoke to this week likes teammate Armani Watts more. "Evans is good, but Watts is the real playmaker there."

—I was asked this week why Devonte Fields isn't moving up my board despite posting 12.5 sacks in 18 games at Louisville the last season-and-a-half. Here's the deal: Fields, who started his career at TCU, was kicked out of school for allegedly pointing a gun at his ex-girlfriend, threatening to shoot her and then punching her in the head. 

Too often we—and the NFL—make excuses for talented players with checkered pasts. Eventually, you have to draw a line in the sand and say "enough." Fields may go on to be the next Von Miller, but the off-field stories I hear from area scouts digging into his background and the police report on file from his assault complaint in Texas are enough to give me major concerns about Fields as a person.

And that still matters more than how well he plays football.

        

5 Names to Know

5. RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas

One of the biggest sleepers at any position in the 2017 draft class, junior running back D'Onta Foreman is a perfect blend of power and speed at 6'0" and 241 pounds. Foreman has been a battering ram for the Texas offense, carrying the ball for an average of 145.8 yards per game. 

With one more season of eligibility left, Foreman may opt to wait for the 2018 draft, but should he enter this year, it's likely he'd get a top-75 grade based on his production, size and the potential he brings to the table. Unlike so many other big backs we see, Foreman plays with excellent pad level and has the shiftiness to make defenders miss in the backfield.

           

4. RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

Jalen Hurd has been the man at running back for the Volunteers, but in his absence, Alvin Kamara went off against Texas A&M for 127 yards rushing and 161 yards receiving. Kamara, who started his college career at Alabama before transferring to Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, has NFL size (5'10", 215 lbs) and speed. He also showed in the Texas A&M game the receiving skills to be a threat in the pros.

Kamara is already 21 years old, and after playing for his third school, it's likely the junior back will at least get intel from the NFL about his stock. Based on what I've seen this year, he looks like a Day 2 selection.

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Alvin Kamara #6 of the Tennessee Volunteers against the Northwestern Wildcats during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

        

3. QB Mitch Leidner, Minnesota

There was buzz this summer about Mitch Leidner being a first-rounder at quarterback. I didn't see it then, and frankly I don't see it now. 

Leidner is a name to know because he's a quarterback in the Big Ten, and I'm asked about him weekly on Twitter. But his play is that of a late-rounder if you care about accuracy and decision-making. Yes, he has a strong arm and a big frame (6'4", 230 lbs), but Leidner fails to pass the test when it comes to delivery and placement as a passer. 

Every year, NFL teams make mistakes in overdrafting quarterbacks. If Leidner goes in the first three rounds, a team will have bet way too hard on his potential.

               

2. WR John Ross, Washington

With 11 total touchdowns on the year, John Ross is impossible to miss if you're watching Washington game film (and I have been a lot with how loaded the roster is). 

Ross, a 5'11" junior, is like a better version of Tavon Austin. He's quick in and out of cuts, but unlike Austin and many other small receivers, Ross knows how to create space and separation in his routes. Austin, at West Virginia and in the NFL, has to be schemed touches. Ross gets his fair share of balls on designed plays, but he's also good enough at route running to get open on his own.

                

1. TE/WR Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech  

SHREVEPORT, LA - DECEMBER 26:  Bucky Hodges #7 of the Virginia Tech Hokies is hit by Derrick Luetjen #99 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the second half of the Camping World Independence Bowl on December 26, 2015 in Shreveport, Louisiana.  (Photo by
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Bucky Hodges is listed at 6'7" and 245 pounds and as a tight end. The film shows a player who looks slimmer and faster than his 2015 tape, though. And Hodges is playing more than ever split out at wide receiver opposite Isaiah Ford in a dynamic Virginia Tech offense with new head coach Justin Fuente calling the shots. 

Hodges is playing a Kelvin Benjamin-like role for the Hokies. Right now, that is the best on-film comparison I've seen for the junior star. With 13 catches and two touchdowns, Hodges isn't tearing up the stat sheet, but the spread offense Fuente installed is getting the ball into the hands of many playmakers. His size, positional versatility and upside will make Hodges a top-tier prospect for teams wanting a big red-zone threat.

                     

3 Questions with: An Anonymous AFC Scout

Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke with an AFC scout. For job security and competitive purposes, he wasn't able to let me use his name.

   

B/R: I get asked a lot how people can break into the scouting business. Based on your experience, what's one piece of advice you'd give?

Scout: Well, you can't major in scouting. I went to an SEC school and volunteered with the football team in college. That got my foot in the door, and I was able to meet a few NFL scouts when they came in to do school visits. If you're not in college, trying to intern or volunteer for an NFL training camp or the scouting combine would be the best way to get noticed. But you should know you're not getting paid for that. I think my first year as a full-time intern I made $20,000 and probably worked 60 hours every week. So be ready to work and be willing to volunteer for free for a training camp or combine.

           

B/R: Can you give me three names of players you like who aren't getting much buzz on Twitter or in the national media?

Scout: I really like the Duke cornerback, Breon Borders. He gave up some catches against Notre Dame, but he was shutdown quality against Northwestern, surrendering only two catches for 19 yards on eight targets and had four passes defended . We'll probably have a three [Round 3] on him. If you haven't seen the [Damore'ea] Stringfellow kid at Ole Miss, he's a big wide receiver with some hops. He won't remind you of [Laquon] Treadwell or [Alshon] Jeffery but more Mike Evans, I think. And you know this running back class is stacked, but here's a sleeper for you—Sony Michel at Georgia. 

                

B/R: I've been saying the edge-rusher class is the best in this draft. Can you stack the top five players at the position as you see it?

Scout: Myles Garrett is No. 1. That's for sure. Derek Barnett is second, but there's a big gap there. The next three, you could take the two Alabama kids [Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson] and then Charles Harris from Missouri. That's five SEC players, I know, but the conference is really good.

             

The Big Board

The draft order for 2017 is starting to break into tiers—bad teams, average teams and good teams—which makes the process of doing a mock draft a little more focused on which players will go where in Round 1 and what team needs are. 

A mock draft in October, such as this one, doesn't always reflect where I rank players. For instance, I wouldn't draft three quarterbacks in the top five picks, but that's the way the NFL is trending at the top of draft classes. Instead, mock drafts are based on what I think/hear teams will do. 

The current draft order used below is based on Week 5 standings and adjusted for playoff seeding.

Updated 2017 Mock Draft
PickTeamPlayer
1ClevelandQB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
2San DiegoEDGE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
3MiamiQB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
4San FranciscoQB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Fla.)
5ChicagoS Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
6New York JetsRB Leonard Fournette, LSU
7CarolinaCB Quincy Wilson, Florida
8JacksonvilleT Cam Robinson, Alabama
9New OrleansDL Jonathan Allen, Alabama
10IndianapolisLB Reuben Foster, Alabama
11DetroitS Jamal Adams, LSU
12ArizonaQB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
13CincinnatiDE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
14Tampa BayWR Mike Williams, Clemson
15TennesseeCB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
16New York GiantsS Malik Hooker, Ohio State
17Kansas CityEDGE Charles Harris, Missouri
18Tennessee (f/LA)DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State
19BuffaloDL Caleb Brantley, Florida
20WashingtonRB Dalvin Cook, FSU
21BaltimoreDE DeMarcus Walker, FSU
22Cleveland (f/PHI)CB Jalen Tabor, Florida
23Green BayCB Sidney Jones, Washington
24DenverLB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
25HoustonLB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
26SeattleRB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
27New EnglandCB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
28AtlantaDE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
29DallasDE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
30OaklandLB Jarrad Davis, Florida
31PittsburghEDGE Ryan Anderson, Alabama
32Philadelphia (f/MIN)CB Desmond King, Iowa
Matt Miller

                

Parting Shots

7. Ohio State and Wisconsin face off this weekend in a game that will feature at least 10 future NFL starters. A look at the top prospects for the 2017 draft for each team:

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin Top Prospects
Ohio State Prospects (Draft Projection)Wisconsin Prospects (Draft Projection)
QB J.T. Barrett (Day 3)RB Corey Clement (Day 3)
RB Curtis Samuel (Top 50)G Michael Deiter (Day 3)
WR Corey Smith (Day 3)G Chase Roullier (Day 3)
WR Dontre Wilson (Day 3)EDGE T.J. Watt (Day 2)
T Jamarco Jones (Day 2)LB Vince Biegel (Day 2)
G Billy Price (Day 2)
G Pat Elflein (Day 2)
EDGE Sam Hubbard (Round 1)
EDGE Tyquan Lewis (Day 2)
LB Raekwon McMillan (Top 50)
CB Gareon Conley (Round 1)
CB Marshon Lattimore (Day 2)
S Malik Hooker (Round 1)
Matt Miller

    

6. The other marquee game of the weekend is Alabama vs. Tennessee. The Alabama defense is once again littered with NFL talent, but the Tennessee defense has a top-50 player at every level, too. Here are the players to watch in this game:

Alabama vs. Tennessee Top Prospects
Alabama Prospects (Draft Projection)Tennessee Prospects (Draft Projection)
TE O.J. Howard (Round 1)QB Josh Dobbs (UDFA)
T Cam Robinson (Round 1)RB Jalen Hurd (Day 3)
DL Jonathan Allen (Top 10)RB Alvin Kamara (Day 2)
LB Reuben Foster (Top 10)G Jashon Robertson (Day 3)
EDGE Tim Williams (Round 1)C Coleman Thomas (Day 3)
EDGE Ryan Anderson (Top 50)EDGE Derek Barnett (Round 1)
CB Marlon Humphrey (Round 1)LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Top 50)
S Eddie Jackson (Day 2)CB Cameron Sutton (Round 2)
Matt Miller

    

5. Each week, I look at Twitter and see what you guys would like to read about and try to fit those ideas into this column. Several times this week, I was asked to post an updated list of the top general manager candidates. Here's my short list.

Chris Ballard, Kansas City Chiefs: The director of football operations in Kansas City, Ballard interviewed for the Chicago Bears job in 2015 and the Tennessee Titans job this past offseason. He's well-respected in the scouting community and has learned team-building well from his time with Andy Reid.

Nick Caserio, New England Patriots: Caserio may never leave New England, but if he were ever to entertain the idea of having his own team, there would be suitors. Caserio has experience as a coach (he coached wide receivers for the Patriots in 2007) and has spent nine seasons as the director of player personnel in New England.

Brian Gaine, Houston Texans: Gaine currently serves as the director of player personnel in Houston and was rumored to be in line for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2015 offseason, per Garret Heinrich of CBS Houston. He's a hard-nosed road scout with an eye for talent that will land him a GM job soon.

Trent Kirchner, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks co-director of player personnel, it's a matter of when and not if for Kirchner's role as a GM. He interviewed last year with the Detroit Lions and has already been mentioned by one owner I spoke with as a short-list candidate this year.

Will McClay, Dallas Cowboys: McClay, the Cowboys senior director of scouting, turned down an interview with the Detroit Lions last season and may be content in Dallas, where I've been told by other scouts he's paid like a general manager. McClay is a strong voice for the decisions made in Dallas, but he does share the room with Stephen and Jerry Jones. The temptation to have his own team may get McClay to a different franchise.

George Paton, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings' success on the field and in the way the team has reloaded will draw the attention of NFL owners. Paton stands to gain from the roster he's helped assemble. The current assistant general manager in Minnesota, Paton will have his own team in short order.

Marc Ross, New York Giants: The vice president of player evaluation, Ross is highly spoken of around the league. What may hurt his chances is a belief the Giants have overvalued recent draft picks (Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple), but Ross' reputation as a scout is sterling.

Eliot Wolf, Green Bay Packers: The son of legendary general manager Ron Wolf, Eliot runs the football operations department now following a promotion this past offseason. Many I've spoken to around the league believe Wolf will be content to stay in Green Bay and eventually succeed Ted Thompson as GM, but his name comes up every year as a candidate.

            

4. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson has been an early-season steal after the team picked him up in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Robinson, despite being the 31st defensive back drafted this year, has outplayed them all based on the tape study I've done. 

Predraft, Robinson graded out as a Round 2 or 3 player but largely because of off-field concerns at LSU. His on-field stuff was top-tier: 

A lockdown man-coverage cornerback with big upside as a true junior entry, Rashard Robinson hasn’t been developed at LSU due to off-field issues. The team willing to gamble on him could strike gold, though, given his natural abilities and what he brings to the table with height, weight and speed.

General manager Trent Baalke has come under fire for poor draft picks and team-building, but his selection of Robinson looks like a great one.

              

3. Courtney Fallon of NFL Network reported this week that Terrelle Pryor is "absolutely untouchable" on the trade market.

It's telling that Joe Haden and Joe Thomas aren't mentioned here, but Pryor is. It's also a testament to just how good he is at wide receiver. Pryor is showing the body control, concentration, agility and hands to be a threat as an outside receiver. He's also doubly dangerous (and valuable) because he can line up in the backfield and keep defenses guessing with his tools as a quarterback and running back.

The Browns have an impressive roster of wide receivers with Pryor and Corey Coleman looking like foundation pieces on a blooming offense.

              

2. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya had a rough outing against Florida State last week in a hard-hitting rivalry game that featured a ton of chippiness and big hits. One such big hit left Kaaya looking for his molar on the turf afterward:

Kaaya, a projected Round 1 quarterback, shouldn't have his toughness questioned by NFL scouts throughout the process after he stayed in the game despite taking hard hits to his head and shoulder early in the contest. Perhaps most impressively, Kaaya told me he's already had his tooth fixed and plans to play this weekend.

       

1. In posting the above Robinson scouting report, I realized it could easily look like I'm only highlighting hits and not misses. I don't want that to be the case. 

A high-profile player currently not hitting in the NFL is wide receiver Kevin White of the Chicago Bears. Before the 2015 draft, I ranked White as the top receiver in the class (over Amari Cooper) and saw big things for him:

White is the total package: upside and production on an NFL-ready frame. White’s hands were dramatically improved in 2014 once healed from a shoulder injury that slowed him in '13. He attacks the ball in the air and has big, strong hands. Cornerbacks can’t beat him at the line with a jam because of his quick-twitch speed and strength. He’s big enough and long enough to compete on 50/50 passes and has the confidence to believe the ball is his.

What went wrong? Injuries have been an issue for White, but a lack of explosiveness seen on the field before his latest setback should make room for concern.

                       

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

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