In the first Inside the War Room article since the summer, we unveil a brand new look led by our scouting notes where we give our takes both positive and negative on the top prospects in college football. We then highlight 10 players that had outstanding performances in last week’s games and, unlike many articles, we also highlight small-school players that stood out to go along with the big names in college football. We wrap up by looking at last week’s NFL action and how it will likely affect the 2017 NFL Draft.
A player who has benefited greatly from the graduate transfer rule is Syracuse wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo who only had 20 catches for Maryland last season. In only seven games this year he has almost tripled his production, having recorded 56 receptions, with his best game of the year coming against UConn, when he caught 12 passes for 270 yards. Part of the reason he has been so productive this year is his ability to be a deep threat, as he has produced numerous big plays for the 'Cuse on go routes and shows the quickness and agility to be a deep threat in the NFL as well. One other thing scouts will love about Etta-Tawo is that he catches the ball with his hands instead of letting it get into his body, although surprisingly he does drop his share of passes.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly found himself in trouble yet again this month when he was involved in a fight at a high school football game. This is definitely not a good look for Kelly who has had numerous off-the-field issues during his high school and college career, including being dismissed from the Clemson football team. Then when you look at his playing skills and awkward throwing motion, it would be hard to see an NFL team investing more than a fifth-round pick in Kelly.
One of the most disappointing teams in college football this year has to be Iowa, who entered the season ranked 17th in the AP poll yet is only 5-2 on the season with tough losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern. One of the main reasons the Hawkeyes have struggled so much this season is due to very average offensive line play, and one of the most disappointing linemen this year has to be Cole Croston who entered the season rated as the ninth-best senior offensive tackle by Inside the War Room. Croston has had trouble protecting quarterback C.J. Beathard’s blind side, which is one of the main reasons Iowa moved him from left tackle to right tackle. He then missed the Purdue game with an ankle injury. If Croston continues like he has so far this season look for him to go undrafted in this year’s draft.
While Iowa might not be having the most impressive season, two players have stood out on the defensive side of the ball. The first one being Jim Thorpe award winner Desmond King, who has been able to shut down one side of the field for the Hawkeyes. He has proven to be a solid return man for the Hawkeyes as well, which should also boost his draft stock. The other player who has shined for the Hawks this year is junior linebacker Josey Jewell, who had his strongest game of the year three weeks ago when he recorded 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss against Northwestern. While it would be a surprise if Jewell declared early for the draft, King, who is widely considered one of the best senior cornerbacks in college football, should hear his name called in the later portions of the second round or at the latest in the third round.
A player who is fighting to be the second-ranked defensive end in this year’s class behind Texas A&M standout Myles Garrett is Tennessee junior defensive end Derek Barnett. So far this season, he has recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and 1 interception. He has also shown up against high-level competition this year, as he recorded 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and an interception against Alabama last week. When evaluating Barnett, the first thing that stands out is his ability to be a complete defensive end at the next level. He does a great job of getting a punch on the offensive lineman, which makes him a hard defender to move in the run game. He shows the ability to get after the passer as well, as he does a terrific job of turning the corner on his blocker. One more area Tennessee uses him is in coverage so he could possibly play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Another Big Ten player not getting much attention but has the ability to garner NFL interest is Illinois defensive tackle Chunky Clements. What stands out with Clements is his nonstop motor, which has been on display all season. One more thing that impresses me with Clements is his overall athletic ability. He shows a nice first step off the ball and has the ability to compete as a one-gap defensive tackle at the next level. With that being said, he lacks great power, which will likely cause him to go undrafted in the draft.
A small-school player drawing his share of interest is Eastern Washington wide receiver, Cooper Kupp. So far, 30 of 32 NFL teams have been to Cheney, WA to scout one of the best FCS players in the nation. Going into his sixth game of the season, Kupp has hauled in 46 passes for 712 yards despite missing one game this season with a shoulder injury. While it will be important for Kupp to post strong Combine numbers this offseason, he has an outside shot of being a day two selection.
One player who is flying under the radar is Fordham junior running back Chase Edmund. So far on the season, he has rushed for 1,090 yards and 12 touchdowns, with his strongest performance of the season coming two weeks ago against Lafayette. Against the Leopards, he rushed for 359 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 17 carries. His impressive average of 21.1 yards per carry set an FCS record. While Edmund is only a junior, if he decided to declare for the draft, he is a player who should hear his name called sometime during the draft.
While there is no small-school quarterback or possibly any college quarterback at the level of Carson Wentz this year, a small-school quarterback who should earn late-round interest is Josh Straughan of Southern Illinois. While Straughan may lack ideal NFL size, as Southern Illinois lists him at only 6'2" and 205lbs, he does offer several NFL-caliber traits, including a strong arm and nice accuracy. He has also put up NFL-caliber production, as he has thrown for over 300 yards in three games already this season and is completing 66% of his passes.
Top Performers for Week 7
Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
The top performance from a draft-eligible prospect in Week 7 comes from Louisiana Tech junior wide receiver Carlos Henderson, who caught 12 passes for 326 yards and 5 touchdowns. He has also established himself as one of the most productive receivers in college football over the last two weeks, as he has posted 20 receptions for 558 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Ryan Higgins, QB, Louisiana Tech
The second-best performance of the week also is a member of the Bulldog’s team in quarterback Ryan Higgins. Against UMass, Higgins threw for an impressive 484 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was able to throw for these stats while also completing 79% of his passes. While Higgins is a quarterback who is very much under-the-radar, if he continues on his current pace, he will definitely get looks as a free agent if not in the late parts of the draft.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
Westbrook is a player who has burst onto the scene this year, as he has already increased his touchdown production from last season and is only 3 catches away from topping his reception total from last year. In his latest game against Kansas State, he totaled 9 receptions for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns, which gives him 19 receptions for 416 yards and 6 touchdowns in the last two games.
Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State
While only a junior and it being extremely unlikely he will enter the draft, you have to be impressed with the numbers Briscoe put up last weekend when he threw for 404 yards and 6 touchdowns. If Briscoe continues to have a solid season, he should be a small-school quarterback to keep an eye on in 2018.
Austin Carr, WR, Northwestern
Carr is another prospect who is putting up big numbers yet is not getting much draft attention. He is currently regarded as a late-round pick at best but has done nothing but produce this year for the Wildcats. In his team’s big win over Michigan State last weekend, he accounted for 46% of the team’s passing yards, as he recorded 130 yards on 11 receptions. He was also able to find the end zone twice.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Pumphrey is currently leading the FBS in rushing and his latest performance against Fresno State was one of his best of the season. Against the Bulldogs, he rushed for 220 yards, which tied for his second-best rushing total of the year. If he continues on the pace, he is currently at he should have a very impressive 2,222 yards on the season to go along with 22 touchdowns.
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Cunningham is another player who is putting up big numbers this year as he currently leads the Power Five in tackles with 81. His latest performance against Georgia allowed him to be named the Walt Camp FBS defensive player of the week, as he recorded 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 pass breakup in the team’s upset win over the Bulldogs. If Cunningham comes out, he should get serious interest on day two of the draft.
Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo
The most impressive performance this week from a senior tight end comes from Michael Roberts of Toledo. In the team’s 42-35 win over Bowling Green, he caught 6 passes for 94 yards and 3 touchdowns. Roberts has the type of size NFL teams love as well, coming in at 6'5" and 270lbs. If he can post a solid 40-yard dash time prior to the draft, he could be an intriguing late-round draft pick.
Kevin Anderson, QB, Fordham
Earlier in this article, I mentioned how Fordham running back Edmund is one of the top junior running backs in the FCS, and his teammate, quarterback Kevin Anderson, is no slouch either. In the team’s recent victory over Yale, Anderson passed for 270 yards and 5 touchdowns. Overall, on the season he has thrown for 1,423 yards and 16 touchdowns while only throwing 3 picks.
Jalen Sykes, RB, Bethel College
To round out this week’s list of top-10 performances, we hit the NAIA ranks with Bethel College running back Jalen Sykes, who rushed for 330 yards and 5 touchdowns against Sterling last weekend. Sykes also currently leads the NAIA in rushing yards per game and is the seventh in all-purpose yards. If Sykes can put up solid testing numbers at his pro day, look for him to get interest as a free agent.
2017 NFL Team Notes
One team that will likely address its need at the quarterback position this coming draft is the Chicago Bears, as neither Brian Hoyer or Jay Cutler look like the long-term answer in Chicago. While the Bears will have a lot of needs going into the draft and no player currently stands out as a true franchise quarterback in the draft, the team may look to address the need in the second or third round. One player who could possibly be a good fit for the Bears is Oklahoma State junior quarterback Mason Rudolph.
One of the biggest weaknesses for the Denver Broncos over the past couple of weeks has been its offensive line. Over the past three weeks, the team has allowed 12 sacks, including 6 against the Atlanta Falcons. The team has also struggled to establish a running game this season, as they rank only 20th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 21st in yards per carry. Look for the Broncos to address this need in the draft and possibly in free agency as well this offseason.
One team that could benefit from a strong tight end class this year is the Cincinnati Bengals who were dealt a major blow when Tyler Eifert broke his ankle at the Pro Bowl. The top receiving tight end on the team is C.J. Uzomah who currently ranks fifth on the team in receptions with only 17 catches. With the tight end being one of quarterback Andy Dalton’s favorite targets in the past the team could look to add a tight end on the second day of the draft and two players that would make sense for the team is Jake Butt and Evan Engram.
It has to be catching NFL scouts eyes the quality of players coming out of the Missouri Valley Conference lately. The league has produced two of the top young offensive players to come into the NFL recently with David Johnson coming out of 2015 draft and Wentz coming out of the 2016 draft. So far in only two years in the NFL, Johnson has rushed for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns, and in only six games this year has already rushed for 568 yards and 8 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Wentz is competing with Dak Prescott to become the top rookie quarterback in the NFL this year. This has to be good news for other MVC players in this year’s draft, as both Johnson and Wentz have proven players from that conference can make a smooth transition to the NFL.
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