Inside the War Room: Week 8
In this week’s Inside the War Room, John Blair highlights some players that will likely fall to the third day of the draft but could still make an impact at the next level. He then lists the top 10 performances of draft prospects in last week’s college football action. He wraps up his weekly article by unveiling the "Rookie Report" which discusses how rookies are doing this year and spotlights one undrafted free agent who is opening up eyes this year.
One of my favorite outside linebackers in this draft who will be a Day 3 pick has to be Haason Reddick of Temple. When evaluating Reddick several things stand out including a high motor, toughness and playmaking ability. Reddick is one of the most tenacious players in the 2017 draft as he never gives up on plays, which is one of the main reasons he is leading the FCS in tackles for loss with 15.5 on the season. His tenacity and athletic ability have also allowed him to record 6.5 sacks in only eight games this season. One more thing that impresses me with Reddick is that he has been named one of the toughest players on the Temple football team. One reason Reddick will fall in the draft is due to a lack of size as he is only 6'1".
It will be interesting to see what position NFL teams project Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett at if he does indeed go pro after the season like Eric Galko of The Sporting News is projecting him to do. While he has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football during his time at Ohio State he lacks the skills NFL teams want to see out of a pro quarterback prospect. For example, he lacks the accuracy from the pocket to succeed at the next level and also lacks the feel in the pocket to make a smooth transition from a spread offense to a more traditional pro-style offense. With that being said he may make the move to wide receiver like former Ohio State quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor have although he lacks the quickness both of these players possess. Since he is a prospect who is a project no matter what position he plays I would have a hard time seeing him get drafted before the late portions of Day 3 of the draft.
A player that has played his way into a likely first-round draft pick is Alabama linebacker Tim Williams. Even though Williams is a one-dimensional player who offers little against the run I would be surprised if some team did not draft Williams in the first round due to his pass rushing ability. He shows exceptional quickness off the line of scrimmage and is one of the top prospects in the draft when it comes to getting around the corner. He shows a variety of pass rush moves as well which has helped him record 6.5 sacks this season. While he shows an impressive ability to get after the passer I would like to see him play more in coverage to see if he could possibly play outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
In the defensive end edition of Inside the War Room that was published in July, we highlighted UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley as our preseason defensive end sleeper of the year and it looks like scouts are finally taking notice of his play. In a recent Monday Morning Quarterback article, a scout called McKinley a freak athlete that could be the next DeMarcus Ware. While the Ware comparison might be a little high he impressed me this summer with his speed and agility and is definitely a pass rushing threat who should be able to hold up as a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 situational pass rusher.
A small school cornerback you have to root for is Obi Etuka of Western New England who has overcome a rough background to become one of the top small school cornerbacks in Division III. He has already broken the school record for interceptions despite not being thrown at often this year and is a player who could get an invite to an NFL camp if he is able to post strong testing numbers. One measurable that works in his favor already is his size as he comes in at 6'0" and 190lbs.
Speaking of small school players who are setting records another draft prospect establishing himself as one of the best small school players in college football is Northwest Missouri State Collin Bevins who has set the school record for tackles for loss. Bevins was also able to set the school record for sacks in a season last year when he recorded 15.5 sacks on the season. He has already drawn his share of NFL interest as well as the News Press Now reports that the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers have already shown a strong interest in Bevins. It makes sense that two 3-4 teams have shown an interest in Bevins as he has both the size and athletic ability to play defensive end in this defense.
The Jim Thorpe Award watch list was announced this week and one player who caught my eye was Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods. While most college football fans don’t know who Woods is you can bet NFL teams are more than aware of him. He has attracted plenty of interest from scouts this year due to his coverage ability and impressive ball skills. He has already picked off 13 interceptions during his career with the Bulldogs including four this year. He shows great fluidity in coverage as well and can hold up versus most slot receivers or tight ends he has gone up against at the college level. Unfortunately, his lack of height (5'11") could cause him to slip in the 2016 draft.
Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley won’t hear his name called on the first day of the draft but he is the type of prospect that could be a great value pick on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft. Several of his traits make me think he has the potential to be a solid player at the next level including his overall quickness, athletic ability and aggressive play. While Coley might not run the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine he shows nice quickness and does a good job of getting out of his breaks when running routes. He has also shown the ability to be a dangerous open field runner on a consistent basis. Coley shows nice athletic ability and body control as well which allows him to make the tough catch like he did against Virginia Tech at the end of the first half last Thursday. The last area that impresses me with Coley is that he will go get the ball in traffic and is not afraid to fight defensive backs for the football.
The reports coming out about Iowa State’s Jhaustin Thomas work ethic have left a sour taste in a lot of team’s mouths. According to some teams he tends to be on the lazy side and might not have the drive to succeed at the next level. While that may be the case he does have the size and athletic ability to get invited to an NFL camp as he comes in at 6'6" and 275lbs. His athletic ability is also impressive as he was a highly regarded basketball recruit coming out of high school who originally committed to play basketball at South Carolina before going to Trinity Valley Community College to play basketball and football.
While Jalen Reeves-Maybin has impressive game film he is a player who could fall in the draft due to a lack of size and his injury history. Tennessee lists Reeves-Maybin at only 6'0" which would make him one of the smaller linebackers in the draft. He has also battled his share of injuries including the shoulder injury which is keeping him out for the rest of the season and which also will be his second shoulder surgery of the year. What has impressed me with Reeves-Maybin is his ability to be an all-around player as he can hold up in coverage, be a force vs. the run, and get after the passer. This is a major plus for him as several of the top outside linebackers in this class are used primarily as pass rushers and lack the experience Reeves-Maybin has in coverage. I also am impressed with his football intelligence as he shows the ability to diagnose plays at a high level. While his size and injury history will likely cause him to fall to the third day of the draft he is a player who could earn a starting job once he is in the NFL.
A small school kicker putting up NFL caliber numbers is Matt Davis of UNC-Pembroke. So far this season he has converted on 86% of his field goals with four kicks of 50 yards or more. He has also been effective on kickoffs as 46% of his kickoffs have been touchbacks.
TOP PERFORMANCES FOR WEEK 8
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
In his first game back since September 24, Fournette set a school record for rushing yards as he finished the day with 16 rushes for 284 yards which averaged out to 17.8 yards per carry. He also was able to find the end zone three times on runs of 78, 76 and 59 yards. If Fournette can stay healthy the rest of the season and shows he has the change of direction skills needed in the NFL look for him to earn a high first round draft grade.
2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield is one of four offensive players to make the top performers list from the shootout that took place in Lubbock, Texas last week. Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 75% of his passes against the Red Raiders. This is also the sixth game of the season where Mayfield has completed over 70% of his passes. In all likelihood, Mayfield will return to Oklahoma for his senior season as he carries a Day 3 draft grade at best.
3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
The other quarterback to shine in the Oklahoma - Texas Tech game is Mahomes of Texas Tech. Mahomes set an FCS record in this game for both pass attempts with 88 and passing yards with 734. Mahomes also scored six touchdowns in the game as he threw for five touchdowns and rushed for one. While Mayfield may have had the better game as he came out on the winning end Mahomes will probably be the higher drafted player.
4. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
In Mixon’s first chance to shine this year as Samaje Perine was out an injury, Mixon came through with flying colors. Mixon became the first Sooner to have over 200 rushing yards and 100 yards receiving yards in a game in school history. He also was able to record five touchdowns against the Red Raiders with three coming through the air and two on the ground. While Mixon has the talent to play in the NFL his background off the field could scare off some teams.
McKinley is a player I highlighted earlier in this article as a player whose stock is flying up the draft board. In his last game against Utah, he came away with five tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
6. Fish Smithson, S, Kansas
One of the few bright spots for Kansas last week against Oklahoma State was the play of safety Smithson who recorded 16 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. This was Smithson’s best game of the season by far as he only had 32 tackles in his previous six games. If Smithson wants to be drafted in the 2017 draft he will have to keep producing like he did last Saturday and put up strong testing numbers.
Webb is starting to establish himself as the top senior quarterback in the 2017 draft despite only playing one year for the California Golden Bears. He proved yet again last week why he is so highly regarded as he threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon. While he likely won’t be a high first round draft pick he could be drafted in the later portion of the first round due to his strong arm and excellent size.
One of the best stories of the 2016 season might be Utah running back Williams who gave up football in September only to come back in October. In his two games since returning to the team, Williams has rushed for 511 yards and has set the Utah school record for rushing yards in a game which he did last week against UCLA. Overall, in the game against the Bruins he rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns which is the most from an FCS back since Perine ran for 427 yards against Kansas in 2014.
The only small school player to crack the top 10 this week is Samford wide receiver Hamilton who recorded 16 receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns against West Carolina. While Hamilton does not carry a draftable grade his production and size could draw the attention of NFL teams with one likely to bring him in as an undrafted free agent.
This is the second week in a row that Westbrook has made the top 10 as he came in at No. 3 last week after his strong performance against Kansas State. In his latest impressive performance against Texas Tech, he lead the FCS in receiving yards with 202 yards and also caught two touchdowns.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Tedric Thompson, CB, Colorado
Trey Heid, QB, Augustana
Woody Baron, DT, Virginia Tech
I'Tavius Mathers, RB, Western Michigan
Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
Alek Torgersen, QB, Penn
Nate Iese, TE, UCLA
Trent Cowan, TE, Idaho
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
One prospect people thought I had rated too high in the 2016 NFL Draft was Florida safety Keanu Neal who I had rated as the No. 1 safety in the class and the 12th best player in the draft. However, Neal is living up to this high-ranking as he is showing he has the intensity to be a physical presence in the Falcons secondary and has even drawn comparisons to five-time Pro Bowler Earl Thomas. If Neal continues to play at his current rate he should be a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Speaking of defensive backs making an impact as a rookie another player doing this is Chicago Bear cornerback Cre’von Leblanc. Leblanc was undrafted coming out of Florida Atlantic and was originally signed by the Patriots before they released him. He then signed with the Bears where he has established himself as one of the top undrafted free agents in the 2016 class. In his latest game against the Packers, he had his best game of the season as he broke up two touchdown passes and showed tight physical coverage all night long.
Another Chicago Bear rookie who showed up big last week is first round draft pick Leonard Floyd who recorded two sacks, one forced fumble and recovered a fumble against the Packers. Floyd needed a big week last week as he had been a major disappointment before this game as he only had one tackle and two hurries in his previous four games. If Floyd wants to live up to expectations the Bears had for him when they drafted him with ninth pick in the draft he will need to continually play like he did vs. the Packers
So far the biggest steal of the draft has to be Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott who has filled in for an injured Tony Romo and take the Cowboys to a 5-1 record. Prescott has shown great poise and command of the team despite being a rookie fourth-round draft pick. In fact, he has played so well many people are calling for him to be the starting quarterback even when Romo returns from injury.
Yannick Ngakoue might be in the running for the defensive steal of the draft. In only six games this season he has recorded 13 tackles, four sacks and an interception which has allowed him to be only one of two rookies in NFL history to have four sacks and an interception in the first five games of his career with the other one being six-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. It should be interesting to see how close Ngakoue gets to breaking the rookie record of 14.5 sacks in a season.
A player who is exceeding my expectations is San Francisco 49ers fourth round draft pick Rashard Robinson who I had rated as the 23rd best cornerback in the draft. Robinson fell in the draft due to off the field concerns that caused him to be kicked off the LSU football team in 2014, which is the last time he played college football. So far this season Robinson has been one of the better players on the 49ers defense and has done an excellent job of shutting down any receiver he has gone up against.
Check out previous editions of Inside the War Room: