With the college football regular season winding down, it’s as good a time as any to assess the 2017 draft: Who’s moving up draft boards, who are the most polarizing prospects, who could be the next Dak Prescott and more
Biggest Draft Board Risers
1. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. “Trubisk-who?” scouts, this time last year. The biggest knock on Trubisky: He’s a one-year starter. But in a middling year for top quarterback talent, many have become intrigued by Trubisky’s accuracy, vision and poise under pressure. He has one year of eligibly remaining at UNC. But if he declares, he’s a strong first-round consideration.
2. Takkarist McKinley, LB, UCLA. I got a flurry of texts after one of The MMQB’s Anonymous Scouts pondered if McKinley could be “the next DeMarcus Ware.” Many around the NFL were having a hard time figuring McKinley out. Since his College Column tout, the linebacker has been on a tear: He’s averaging a sack-per-game and showcasing his skills as a pass-rushing linebacker in a 3-4 system.
3. John Ross, WR, Washington. Ross is listed at 5-foot-11 and he’s on the leaner side. But scouts can’t stop gushing over his speed—even after two knee surgeries, one of which sidelined him for all of last season. Ross is mesmerizing when he gets touches, and so far this season, he’s had a lot: 64 receptions for 991 yards and 15 touchdowns.
4. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt. He’s racking up stats, most impressively: 16.5 tackles for loss. Here’s our Anonymous Scout on Cunningham last month: “Long arms. Explosive with sideline-to-sideline speed. Natural when he drops into coverage. Converts speed into power as a tackler, but could use some improvement in finishing tackles.” The Vandy linebacker has long been on NFL teams radars, but could sneak into the Top 50.
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Best Small-School Prospects
1. Julie’n Davenport, OL, Bucknell. Get ready to hear the comparisons between Davenport and Ali Marpet, the Hobart College product turned second-round guard for the Buccaneers in 2014. I’m told there’s a lot to like about Davenport, who shows impressive athleticism for his size (6' 6", 315 pounds). In a thin year for offensive tackles, this big guy from a small liberal arts school could go as high as the second round.
2. Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama. It’s the year of the tight end—a renaissance for a position group that has been underwhelming over the last few draft cycles. You’ll hear Everett’s name right up there with Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Michigan’s Jake Butt, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges and Mississippi’s Evan Engram. The UAB transfer is acrobatically athletic.
3. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. “If you really want to find the next Carson Wentz, you should be looking at Cooper Kupp,” says someone I know in the NFL scouting community. (Different positions, but the point is understood.) Kupp is a crisp route-runner with reliable hands and the ability to box out defenders. He could be special at the next level. Other wideouts received consideration for this slot, including East Carolina’s Zay Jones and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis.
4. Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga. A College Column Anonymous Scout gushed about Davis earlier this season: “High on this guy,” he wrote, noting that Davis caught his eye last season after a strong showing against Florida State tackle Roderick Johnson.
• IN SEARCH OF ‘THE NEXT CARSON WENTZ’: Combing the FCS ranks for the next top QB prospect, the search came across Brady Gustafson, a 6'7" passer from Montana who beat Wentz in his first career start.
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Biggest Draft Question Marks
1. Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma. Walker is at best a Day-2 pick, but he generated headlines earlier this month when he left Oklahoma to prepare for the draft (he had been sidelined with a concussion). This didn’t sit well with Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops who said: “Quitting on your teammates is hard to take, as a coach.” It might not resonate well with scouts, either, who already had concerns about Walker’s work ethic.
2. Chad Kelly, QB, Mississippi. The nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, Chad was already the draft’s most polarizing quarterback prospect. He’s talented but erratic on the field, with a checkered past off of it. Kelly has to convince NFL teams he can be trusted, which becomes more challenging as he recovers from a torn ACL. That means Kelly will be sidelined for prove-it events, such as the Senior Bowl.
3. Quarterbacks in general. Are any worthy of a first-round pick? The more I hear about this draft class, the more I am reminded of 2013. That’s the year when the Bills reached for EJ Manuel and the Jets hitched their hopes to Geno Smith. Deshaun Watson could be the franchise-changer many have pegged him as since last season, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky (should any or all of them declare) could very well pan out. But nobody is a sure thing, and that’s scary for a lot of quarterback-needy teams.
4. Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern. By the end of last season, some were touting the Northwestern Wildcat as a first-round talent. But when some scouts watched him early this season, they left campus wondering if Walker was even a Day 3 pick. Walker was hampered by injury to begin 2016, and through the season and has regained some momentum. But I’m always intrigued by someone who generates such polarizing reports.
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Most Likely to be the Next Dak Prescott
1. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh. A few NFL teams are intrigued by the graduate transfer from Tennessee. Though his size (6' 2", 225 pounds) is average and his decision-making can be shaky, Peterman has the intangible scout covet the most: toughness. He stands tall in the pocket, but also flashes mobility outside it.
2. Seth Russell, Baylor. He’ll need some coaching, but Russell has a big arm. The word you’ll often see tagged to this quarterback: athleticism. After a broken left ankle cut his season short, he needs a big showing at the combine (if he’s healthy in time) or in pre-draft workouts, but many believe he’s capable.
3. Davis Webb, California. Interesting that we’re tagging Jared Goff’s successor as the “Next Dak Prescott.” Though Webb doesn’t have Goff’s pedigree, some scouts believe he has a better arm. The graduate transfer from Texas Tech already proved he’s more than just a system guy. With a strong draft season, beginning with the Senior Bowl, Webb can prove he can start in the NFL, too.
4. Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech. Valuations on Mahomes vary from Top 50 pick to undrafted free agent. While his size (6' 3", 230 pounds) and arm strength are enticing, scouts wonder if he’s just a product of Tech’s system. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy doesn’t think so. Here’s Gundy, earlier this month: “I think [Mahomes] is a potential first-round pick. He reminds me a lot of Dak Prescott, when we played Dak and Mississippi State when he was younger. The style of play, body, strength, speed, ability to throw in different positions, it reminds me a lot of him.”
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Teams With The Most Draftable Talent*
Rated by potential Top 50 picks
1. Alabama: DE Jonathan Allen, CB Marlon Humphrey, OT Cam Robinson, LB Reuben Foster, LB Tim Williams, TE O.J. Howard
2. Michigan: LB Jabrill Peppers, TE Jake Butt, DE Taco Charlton, WR Amara Darboh, DT Chris Wormley, CB Jordan Lewis
3. Washington: WR John Ross, CB Sidney Jones, DT Vita Vea, S Budda Baker, DT Elijah Qualls
4. LSU: RB Leonard Fournette, S Jamal Adams, C Ethan Pocic, CB Tre’Daviorous White
• EVERYTHING LEONARD FOURNETTE DOES… EXCEPT RUN: You already know that Fournette is outstanding as a runner. But what else do scouts want to see from the star tailback? I asked, and then I spent a Saturday watching Fournette do everything else but run.
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PICK MY GUY
A current NFL player explains why his former collegiate teammate is destined for success as a pro. Here’s Ravens offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley hyping former Notre Dame linemate Mike McGlinchey.
“I played alongside him for two years. I remember my first impression of Mike: This kid needs to calm down. He’s a guy that’s pretty loud and out-there with his personality. But he brings it all to the field and channels it in a good way. He’s a high-energy player who gets his teammates hyped up. He’s someone you want on your side of the ball. His best attributes are his size, he’s a big kid and that helps a lot, but he’s also athletic. I know he played basketball, which probably helps with his athleticism. He understands football and studies the game. I definitely know he has what it takes to play offensive line in this league.”
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THE ANONYMOUS SCOUT
A few NFL evaluators introduce you to the players they’re keeping an eye on… Note: In honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to curate a group of players with food-related names. Corny, yes. But I was so excited that my editor couldn’t say no.
Jarrod “Chunky” Clements, DT, Illinois: Loves going to the swim move. Loves to shoot gaps. More of an interior pass rusher than a run stopper.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: Has always been strong against the run game. Really coming along as a pass rusher this year, learning how to bend the edge and developing pass rush moves. Turning into a complete player.
Pita Taumoepenu, DE, Utah: Became a starter after a teammate was injured. Used mostly as a pass rush specialist. Probably projects to outside linebacker at pro level.
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FACTOID OF THE WEEK
Joe Thomas Sr., a 55-year-old walk-on running back at South Carolina State, became the oldest player in the history of Division I college football. (He is the father of Joe Thomas Jr., a linebacker on the Packers). That’s the factoid of the week, but the story behind it is even more remarkable. I recommend everyone take the time to read this piece by colleague David Gardner. “I believe that if the coaches looked past my age and just let me play football,” Thomas told Gardner, “I’d steal someone’s position.”
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WHAT I’M WATCHING
Saturday unless noted, all times Eastern…
No. 6 Washington at No. 23 Washington State (Friday, 3:30): The Huskies, once College Football Playoff locks, now likely need two wins to secure a spot in the final four. It’s doable, especially if they knock off Mike Leach’s squad in Pullman. Washington State, behind Leach and quarterback Luke Falk, had its eight-game winning streak snapped against Colorado last week. Falk, a redshirt junior, has been excellent, but there’s a buzz among scouts that he could be returning to school next year. Falk (who already has 3,935 passing yards and leads the nation with a 71.4 completion percentage) missed last year’s matchup due to injury. Meanwhile, we’ve gushed about Washington’s NFL talent in this column, specifically on defense. They generate an intimidating pass rush, often without blitzing, and the Huskies’ secondary (a trio I talk about often: Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King) could be the most talented in the nation. How important is this game to both sides? Neither coach made their players available to the media this week, with the crutch excuse of “limiting distractions.”
No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State (noon): Thinking of my podcast partner and colleague, Albert Breer, the Ohio State super fan, who will be making his first trip to the Horseshoe in more than a decade. I know how badly he wants his Buckeyes to win in what is the most important matchup between these rivals since 2006, when Ohio State and Michigan were ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively. Jim Harbaugh’s crew needs to rev up the offense; the Wolverines scored a season-low 13 points in their loss to Iowa and their quarterback options are Wilson Speight (coming off a shoulder injury) or backup John O’Korn (coming off a shaky performance against a not-so-great opponent in his only start). The Buckeyes have home field advantage, and with a win, seem poised for the College Football Playoff, having already secured wins over No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 16 Nebraska. And yet, I know as much as I’d like Breer to be happy, he’ll likely be rooting against my Nittany Lions in the afternoon game against Michigan State. A Penn State loss, following an Ohio State win, would earn the Buckeyes a trip to the Big Ten title game.
No. 21 Utah at No. 9 Colorado, 3:30 p.m.: I’m sorry for sleeping on you for so long, Colorado. You are a legitimate College Football Playoff contender, and really, just a legitimate team. Kudos to coach Mike MacIntyre for an incredible turnaround. Remember, the Buffaloes haven’t qualified for a bowl game in a decade, last finished with a winning record in 2005, and won just one Pac-12 game last year. Quarterback Sefo Liufau is on the NFL’s periphery, especially after his 345-yard throwing and three-rushing touchdown performance last week against Washington State. And Colorado’s defense is no joke. But neither is Utah. In order to complete it’s worst-to-first makeover, Colorado must overcome a stout Utes defense. The defensive line is anchored by Lowell Lotulelei (brother of Panthers’ lineman, Star) and Hunter Dimick, the program’s new career sacks leader with 29.
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Former NFL GM and current Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage highlights senior match-ups he’ll be keeping an eye on this week.
Auburn OT Robert Leff vs. Alabama OLB Ryan Anderson: Our hometown area (Mobile and Baldwin Counties) has consistently produced NFL talent on an almost annual basis, and the 2017 draft will be no exception. In the Iron Bowl, Daphne’s Anderson (6' 2", 253 pounds) will face off with Fairhope product Robert Leff (6' 6", 299 pounds). Anderson has enjoyed a very productive senior campaign with 42 total tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, while Leff, as a first-year starter, has helped solidify the Tigers’ offensive line and will make his 52nd game appearance on Saturday.
Best of the Rest:
Washington CB Kevin King vs. Washington State WR Gabe Marks
Villanova DE Tanoh Kpassagnon and FS Lorenzo Jerome vs. St. Francis (Pa.)
Purdue DT Jake Replogle vs. Indiana OG Dan Feeney
Michigan DT Ryan Glasgow vs. Ohio State OC Pat Elflein
Colorado State LB Kevin Davis vs. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey
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