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Inside the War Room: Week 12


John Blair
Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell was the top performer in college football last week. | Photo Credit: American Sports Netword

This week’s Inside the War Room might be the most jam-packed edition of the season. Some of the things we highlight include why LSU running back Leonard Fournette might be a little overrated, my take on Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, who I saw up close last week, what the Cleveland Browns might do with the first pick, and the top players in the small-school playoffs.

 
 
 
 

SCOUTING NOTES

 
 
  • This past weekend, I attended the Washington State vs. Colorado football game to see some of the better prospects in the Pac-12, including quarterback Luke Falk, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and wide receiver Gabe Marks. While Falk showed impressive arm strength and good accuracy when his feet were set, he tended to show poor footwork, especially in the first half more than I would like. I think it is in Falk’s best interest to return to Washington State next season, as I have a hard time seeing him being a first-round draft pick. The player that impressed me more than I thought he would is Awuzie. He is a very fundamentally sound football player who has the ability to play either cornerback or safety in the NFL. While Awuzie impressed me, I cannot say the same for Marks, who dropped his share of passes and looked like a Day 3 draft pick. Several teams were also in attendance at this game, including the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers.

 
  • One of the main reasons the Alabama Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 in the nation is their outstanding linebacker corp, which is led by the top three senior linebackers on my draft board. The top outside linebacker on my board is Tim Williams, who is one of the best pass rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft. The second-highest-rated outside linebacker on my board is Ryan Anderson, who might be a more complete player than Williams but lacks the lightning-fast quick step and overall pass rushing ability that Williams has. The highest-rated inside linebacker on my board and possibly the top overall senior linebacker in the draft is Reuben Foster, who has the ability to play sideline-to-sideline vs. the run and also holds up well in coverage for a middle linebacker.  

 
  • A safety who has intriguing potential is UConn’s Obi Melifonwu. In fact, one scout told NFL.com that Melifonwu has the most upside in this year’s draft class, which is backed up by the fact that he runs the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4’s, has over a 40-inch vertical jump and is 6'3". While some players that put up these testing numbers are just good athletes, Melifonwu shows the skills on the field to be a good prospect as well. He shows excellent agility, especially for someone his size, and has the hips to cover slot receivers in the NFL. His cover skills and athletic ability make him a very intriguing free safety prospect as does his lack of aggression in the running game.

 
  • One prospect who I think might be slightly overrated is LSU running back Leonard Fournette. One of the reasons I think he is not worth a top-five pick is due to his injury history, as he has missed several games this season due to injury. I have questions about his off-the-field behavior as well, especially after he shoved a Florida coach and then demanded to play. Both of these actions give me the impression that he is a self-entitled player who is used to being pampered. One more reason I don’t have a top-five grade on him is that he is only average in the passing game, as he is not a dominant pass blocker like Ezekiel Elliott, and has never had over 20 receptions in a season.

 
  • Austin Carr might lack the physical skills to be anything more than a late-round draft pick, but he is the type of player coaches will love due to his character and production. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald raves about how humble and well-rounded he is and how he sets an example for his teammates on a regular basis, which will be a positive in NFL scouts' eyes. He has had outstanding production this season as well as he leads the Big Ten in receptions per game, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this season and has had over 120 receiving yards five times this season. Even if Carr does not make it in the NFL, he has definitely done better than most people expected him to when he came to Northwestern as a walk-on and missed time as a freshman due to an injury caused by a butter knife.

 
  • Michigan State middle linebacker Riley Bullough has come on strong in the late part of the season. In the first six games of the season, he only had 26 tackles, as he missed three games due to an injury, and only put up average stats in two of the other games. However, he has come on strong lately, as he has recorded 42 tackles over the last month including 14 vs. Michigan, 11 vs. Illinois and 11 vs. Ohio State. While Bullough might carry a Day 3 draft grade by most scouts, I do like several things about his game. One of these things is his ability to play both the pass and run. He shows the athletic ability to drop into coverage and should have no trouble playing in zone coverage at the NFL level. He is strong vs. the run as well, as he does a good job of diagnosing plays especially for someone who began his college career as a fullback. Bullough shows the intensity that I like to see out of a linebacker as well as he is one of the most intense players on the Michigan State football team, and is also one of the Spartans' team captains this year.

 
  • The hits keep coming for Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, who came into the season projected to be the second overall draft pick by CBSSports.com to a player who could go undrafted. The latest blow for Kelly is a torn ACL, which will cost him the rest of the season. He has been in off-the-field trouble as well this year when he got involved in a high school football game brawl which unfortunately is not the first time he has been in trouble off the field. Then when you factor in that he has a poor throwing motion and forces his share of passes, it should come as no surprise if he goes undrafted and does not even make an NFL team next season.

 
  • Another quarterback who will miss the rest of the regular season is Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight, who suffered a shoulder injury two weeks ago. While Knight has a chance to be ready for the team’s bowl game, he will need a big All-Star game performance to be anything more than a free agent signing. The reason I have such a low grade on Knight is because he is more of an athlete than a quarterback, as he lacks great accuracy, pocket presence and size.   

 
  • Speaking of quarterbacks who have seen their stock fall this season, a player who was widely considered the top prospect heading into the season to now a possible second-round draft pick is Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Watson has struggled in a variety of areas, with the first one being accuracy. He has struggled as a downfield passer and at times looks to be aiming his passes. His footwork is a concern for me as well, as he struggles stepping into his throws on a consistent basis. Then, when you factor in his questionable decision-making skills, especially in the red zone, it is easy to see why so many people predict him to go in the second round of the draft.   

 
  • Charlotte defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi recently accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl. He is one of the top "Group of Five" players in college football, as he has put up impressive stats this season and has the physical traits to make the move to the NFL. This season, he leads Charlotte in tackles for loss with 13 and in sacks with 2.5 and is third on the team in tackles. In terms of his physical ability, his quick first step and agility is the first thing that sticks out to me.  Another thing that sticks out to me about Ogunjobi is his high IQ, as he double-majors in computer science and biology at Charlotte and has made both the Dean’s List Athletic Director's during his time with the 49ers. While I do like his quickness and overall agility, I would like to see him get a little stronger, as he can be beat at the point of attack at times. I currently have Ogunjobi rated as the eight-best senior defensive tackle in the class and expect him to go high on Day 3 of the draft.

 
  • Jordan Morgan is the first Division II player to accept an invite to the Senior Bowl. He is an intriguing offensive guard prospect in this year’s draft who shows outstanding strength, as he routinely destroys defenders at the Division II level. While Morgan did play offensive tackle at Kutztown, I doubt he has the feet to play that position in the NFL, but I do think he has solid athletic ability for an offensive guard at the next level. It is also worth noting that Morgan was the first player PSAC history to be named Offensive Player of the Year.

 
  • Recently, Oklahoma defensive tackle Charles Walker quit the Oklahoma football team to focus on the NFL Draft. This is a highly questionable decision and I can’t see it sitting well with NFL decision-makers. To me, and I guarantee you to NFL personnel, this will be a decision that is looked on as a selfish choice that puts Walker above the team. Even if he was worried about a concussion and was not cleared to play, he should have remained part of the team and showed support for his teammates who are still busting their butts to make this a successful season for the Sooners. I would have a hard time drafting Walker in this year’s draft and instead would rather spend my draft picks on players that are willing to put the team first.

 
 
 

TOP PROSPECT PERFORMERS FOR WEEK 12

 
 

1. Zach Terrell, QB, Western Michigan

While wide receiver Corey Davis gets most of the attention when it comes to Western Michigan’s offense, another player who has been putting up impressive numbers is quarterback Zach Terrell, who has thrown for 2,890 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 1 interception. In his latest game against Buffalo, he threw for 445 yards and 4 touchdowns with his 445 passing yards, leading the FBS in passing yards last week. While Terrell may lack classic size, his intelligence and accuracy should allow him to get looks late in the draft.

 
2. David Washington, QB, Old Dominion

Another quarterback who put up strong numbers last week is David Washington of Old Dominion. Against Florida Atlantic, he threw for 416 yards and 5 touchdowns. While it is highly unlikely Washington gets drafted, he could be an interesting free agent pickup.

 
3. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

It should be interesting to see if redshirt sophomore Courtland Sutton enters the draft after the season. He may choose to enter the draft, as he has the production to draw scouts' interest, as he has 70 receptions for 1,186 yards and 9 touchdowns already this season. Two of his strongest games have come in the last two weeks, as he was able to record 166 receiving yards against East Carolina on November 12 and 252 yards against South Florida last week. To go along with his production, teams will love his size, as he is listed at 6'4" and 215lbs.  

 
4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Even though Christian McCaffrey has fewer yards than he did in 2015, it might surprise people that he has a higher yards-per-carry average and rushing touchdowns than he did last year. These stats were helped by his best performance of the year last week when he averaged 9.2 yards per carry on 31 carries and scored 3 touchdowns against California. It should be interesting to see where McCaffrey is drafted this year, as a I look at him as a poor man’s Reggie Bush and would have a hard time taking him before the third round of the draft.

 
5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Against Syracuse last week, Dalvin Cook broke Warrick Dunn’s school record for career rushing yards when he rushed for 225 yards and 4 touchdowns on the day. I am becoming a bigger fan each week of Cook as well as he shows he has the quickness and vision to be a threat carrying the ball at the NFL. However, the thing I like about him the most is his ability to be a threat in both the passing game and running game. He does an excellent job of catching the ball out of the backfield and is an open-field threat after the catch. Due to his versatility and overall playmaking ability, I would strongly consider taking Cook in the middle of the first round.

 
6. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

The Tennessee quarterback was someone I was very high on going into the season, as I had him rated as the second-best senior quarterback. Unfortunately, Joshua Dobbs was never able to develop as a passer and will be a late-round draft pick if he is lucky. However, he did have a strong game against the Missouri Tigers as he threw for 223 yards and rushed for 190 yards.   

 
7. Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Zay Jones became the school leader in career receptions last Saturday when he recorded his 388th catch against Navy. Overall, on the day Jones brought in 12 passes for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns, which allowed him to rank second in the FBS last week in receiving yards behind only Sutton, who comes in at No. 3 on this list. While Jones has been ultra productive this season, he will need to put up strong testing numbers to be anything more than a late-round draft pick.

 
8. Billy Brown, WR, Shepard

Billy Brown might be one of the bigger tweeners in this year’s draft, as he is 6'4" and 241lbs, yet plays wide receiver at Shepard. Even though Brown plays receiver, I doubt he has the speed and athletic ability to play the position in the NFL, and I also doubt he has the size and strength to hold up as a tight end at the next level, which might force him to play a situational position in the NFL, like H-back. While I am unsure of where Brown will play at the next level, he does have the stats that should allow him to get a look, as he posted 77 receptions for 1,202 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, including 12 receptions for 193 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.

 
9. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

Jeremy McNichols is one of the most productive running backs in college football, as he currently ranks third in the nation in rushing yards with 1,575 yards. In his last six games, he has rushed for over 140 yards in each game, including 206 yards last week against UNLV. He also was able to score four times against the Rebels, which gave him 22 rushing touchdowns on the season. I will be able to get an up close look at McNichols when I attend the Boise State vs. Air Force game this week.

 
10. Ryan Johnson, DE, Montana

Even though Ryan Johnson most likely won’t get drafted, he has put up solid stats including last weekend when he recorded 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against Montana State. Overall, on the season he has 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

 
Honorable Mention
  • Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State
  • Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
  • Kendell Anderson, RB, William & Mary
  • D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
  • DeAngelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina
 

 

NFL NOTES

  • It is starting to look like the Browns will have the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They could do several things with this pick including picking a quarterback, taking a star defensive player or trading down. Their first option might be the least appealing as no quarterback in this draft class has established himself as a true franchise quarterback. Instead, it looks like we will have several quarterbacks who carry a mid-first to second-round draft grade including Mitch Trubisky, Watson, DeShone Kizer, Brad Kaaya and Mason Rudolph. The top-rated player going into the draft will likely be defensive end Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, but the team may decide that he is not worth the No. 1 pick and continue to accumulate picks in the draft and trade down so they can fill more of their needs this year.

 
  • A player who will have a tough decision to make this offseason is Miami quarterback Kaaya, who will have to decide if he should turn pro or return to Miami for one more season. According to the Palm Beach Post, there are several reasons why he could return for his senior season including that he does not come from a “background of great financial need”, and also due to the fact he thinks Miami should be a contender in the ACC next year. However, if he thinks he is sure shot to be a first-round draft pick, he will likely enter the draft. I personally see him as a prospect who carries a mid-to-late first-round draft grade and think he would be best off returning to school as a senior where he can have another year of coaching under Mark Richt, who is one of the better quarterback coaches in college football. It was also interesting to note from the Palm Beach Post story that the six NFL teams that have shown the most interest in Kaaya are the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins.

 
 
  • The NFL is proving again this year how important the running game is for the development of a young quarterback. The top rookie quarterback this year is Dak Prescott and part of the reason he has had such success is due to a strong running game which ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Some other young quarterbacks that also benefit from a strong running game are Marcus Mariota (third in the NFL) and Derek Carr (ninth in the NFL). This shows that developing a well-rounded offense should be the primary focus for any team with a young quarterback as it takes pressure off of these quarterbacks to be the focal point of their offense. It will be interesting to see if Jacksonville follows this method and takes a running back like Fournette high in the draft to take some of the pressure off of Blake Bortles, who is having a difficult time this year partially due to the fact the Jaguars rank 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

 

 

TOP PLAYERS IN SMALL-SCHOOL PLAYOFFS

While the FBS only has a four-team playoff, every other level of college football has a much more inclusive playoff system, and with the FCS starting their playoffs next week, we are in the full swing of the playoffs. Below, you will find the top players in the small school playoffs which includes the FCS, Division II, Division III and the NAIA.

 

  1. Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State

  2. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

  3. David Jones, S, Richmond

  4. Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga

  5. Lorenzo Jerome, S, Saint Francis (PA)

  6. Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T

  7. Billy Brown, WR, Shepherd

  8. Krishawn Hogan, WR, Marian

  9. Nolan Saraceni, RB, Montana Tech

  10. Karel Hamilton, WR, Samford

  11. Casey DeAndrade, S, New Hampshire

  12. Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova

  13. Matt Davis, K, UNC-Pembroke

  14. Samson Ebukam, OLB, Eastern Washington

  15. Corey Levin, OG, Chattanooga

  16. Luke Papilion, QB/TE, Sioux Falls

  17. Colin Buck, CB, Wisconsin-Whitewater

  18. Casey Dunn, C, Jacksonville State

  19. Desmond Smith, WR, Central Arkansas

  20. Will Ratelle, FB, North Dakota

 
 
 

Check out previous editions of Inside the War Room:

 

For more NFL Draft updates from John and Pro Football Spot, follow them on Twitter @nfldraftitwr and @spotdraft.


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