Happy Holidays everyone. More importantly, welcome to Bowl Season in college football. This is typically the time of year when many (including networks) dive head first into NFL Draft prospect coverage. So if you’ve been keeping up with this series, you’re already a step ahead of everyone. Good for you. Let’s get into it…
The ‘NFL Draft Prospect’ Bowl:
There are plenty of bowl games worth watching over the next week, filled with prospects who will get to showcase their skill set one last time at the collegiate level. With that being said, nothing tops Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl (1pm) on New Year’s Day.
Each school has a premier left tackle on their offensive lines, with the extremely athletic Ronnie Stanley representing the Fighting Irish and the massive (around 6’8) Taylor Decker suiting up for the Buckeyes.
The playmaker to focus on obviously starts with OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is in a league of his own in his position group in this class. After that, Buckeye wide out Michael Thomas is a legitimate round 1 wide receiver prospect with his red zone ability (6’3 target) and advanced route running.
Speaking of playmakers, no one is exactly sure what the future holds for Notre Dame’s Will Fuller and CJ Prosise.
Fuller has said he wants to go back for his senior year and get his degree, but will his value ever be higher after hauling in 28 touchdowns over the last two years? He would potentially be the best deep threat in this class, a skill that the NFL highly values and demands each year (just look at Phillip Dorsett and Devin Smith in 2015).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Ohio State defensive line is a force with Joey Bosa at end and Adolphus Washington joining the very crowded (and talented) d-tackle class. Bosa looks like a top 5 lock, constantly displaying athleticism and power off the edge. Behind both is talented linebacker and Senior captain Joshua Perry, who will look to sneak into that first round conversation throughout work outs.
The talk of the Notre Dame front seven is off-ball linebacker Jaylon Smith, but Senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day’s name will become very popular throughout the week of the Senior Bowl. His ability to rush the passer from the interior (31 quarterback hurries in ’15) will be a highly valued skill amongst NFL scouts.
Here are the honorable mentions of other draftable players (with my projections) from each team:
Keivarae Russell – Cornerback (top 64)
Nick Martin – Center (top 64)
Romeo Okwara – Defensive end (Top 120)
Elijah Shumate – Safety (round 5)
Chris Brown – Wide Receiver (round 6)
Vonn Bell – Safety (top 64)
Tyvis Powell – Safety (top 75)
Nick Vannett – Tight End (top 100)
Braxton Miller – Wide Receiver (round 4)
Cardale Jones – Quarterback (round 4)
Top Five Quarterback Prospects:
1) Jared Goff, California – Round 1 Grade
The common knocks on Goff are his overall arm strength, frame (215 pounds at 6’4), and turnovers his Junior season (5 INT performance vs Utah). With that being said, the positives that translate to the next level clearly outweigh the flaws.
His anticipation on throws in the intermediate game are extremely impressive and he works the pocket as well as any college quarterback I’ve watched in 2015. Cal runs a spread offense but it’s no ‘college gimmick’ as Goff worked through multiple reads and is more intelligent than given credit for.
I see him as a future top 10-15 quarterback in the league which is well worthy of a first round selection, possibly even top 15.
2) Carson Wentz, North Dakota State – Top 50 Grade
Physically, Wentz has just about everything you look for in a quarterback: He’s big (6’5, 225), mobile, and has the natural arm talent to make any throw. He needs to grow as a pocket passer under pressure, especially at the next level where the on-field action is much faster than the FCS level.
Wentz should not see the field in meaningful NFL games in 2016, but he has the highest ceiling of any quarterback and could end up being the best this class has to offer at the position.
3) Paxton Lynch, Memphis – Round 2 Grade
The 6’7 Lynch will most likely be the first quarterback taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, but I’m not sold that his potential exceeds Goff’s or Wentz’s. The Memphis signal caller is an efficient thrower who rarely turns the ball over and consistently displays impressive athleticism.
One mistake many will make is that Lynch has a ‘very strong’ arm due to his 6’7 frame, but that’s not the case. He’s not a ‘gun slinger’ constantly looking to push the ball downfield with pure arm talent and his release is quite long at times.
Lynch can develop into a capable starter that limits his turnovers (think of the offensive philosophy Norv Turner has run with Teddy Bridgewater in 2015) but seeing that as his ceiling is the reason he falls into the round 2 tier.
4) Christian Hackenberg, Penn State – Round 2-3 Grade
I will be the first to admit that Christian Hackenberg was my favorite quarterback prospect before the 2015 season started.
Hackenberg was a highly touted recruit with a strong arm and had a very promising true freshman season under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. Unfortunately, his development curve has actually trended downward throughout his sophomore and junior seasons.
James Franklin did not do him any favors, preferring a screen heavy offense while having a true downfield thrower running his offense. The offensive line was also detrimental as well allowing 78 (!) pressures this season.
With that being said, the evaluation of solely Hackenberg still has it’s negatives that come specifically from him.
His intermediate accuracy (10-19 yards) was inconsistent (23/55, 409 yds, 5 TDs/0 INTs) and short passing game (0-9 yards) very sloppy (97/158, 2 TDs/2 INTs) in in 2015.
He was terrible under pressure (35.1 completion %, 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 45.8 QB rating) and struggled to convert on third down.
With that being said, Hackenberg flashed success throwing the ball down the field when the offense allowed him to. He finished the season 19/56 for 696 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions on passes 20+ yards.
Is Hackenberg the next Chad Henne or is he a more level headed Jay Cutler? That will take time to answer, but right now he is a day two prospect that needs a year or two on the sidelines to hopefully put it all together.
5) Jacoby Brissett, NC State – Round 4 Grade
Brissett possesses a quality raw skill set with great velocity on his throws, size, and is light on his feet to buy time in the pocket.
Digging into some recent Brissett film – definitely has no problem stepping in and slinging it over the middle: pic.twitter.com/tXQzEej3iu
— Connor Rogers (@CRogers_NFL) October 15, 2015
On the flip side of things, the Florida transfer has spotty accuracy and struggled mightily vs. non-blitz pressure in 2015. Brissett’s flashes of brilliance show a quarterback that is worth taking a shot on as a developmental project very early on day 3 of the draft.
Prospect Of The Week: Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina
Class: Senior (RS)
Scouting Report: Four year starter at right guard, IQ/experience shows up on film. Monster run blocker that constantly knocks defensive linemen off the ball. Successful UNC ground game works behind him. Step slow getting down field, but buries linebackers when he gets out in front. Great ‘punch’ in pass protection. Not the most agile athlete, but power house that can help develop power run game.
Grade: Top 50 player
Follow Connor Rogers: @CRogers_NFL