In this week’s edition of the Scouting Notebook, we’ll first discuss the NFL Draft scouting process from here on out, from the Bowl Game scouting to the All-Star Events, the NFL Combine, and more. It’s important to note both what NFL teams and what we at Optimum Scouting will be doing throughout this process.
Also, I’ll take a look at the four juniors that have declared thus far in the 2013 NFL Draft, we’ll have some general scouting notes from Alex Brown and Jimmy O’Brien of Optimum Scouting from this weekend’s action in the SEC and C-USA championship games and more, and the Top 10 NFL Draft eligible sack leaders in college football this year.
In-Season Scouting is Over…But Post-Season is Just As, if Not More, Important
The College Season is over, albeit for the Army-Navy game (one of the best of the year, in my opinion) on December 8th. That means that, with the regular season complete in college football, there will be no more “in-season” scouting for the NFL scouts that have traveled the country all year long.
However, this may be even MORE time-consuming and draft focused for all scouting departments in the NFL. Here are the next steps in the NFL Draft evaluation process, and why they are all VERY important.
Bowl Game Evaluation – Each bowl team has multiple weeks to prepare for an opponent, and that opponent should be of very similar talent level. Scouts are asked to pick and choose which bowl games are necessary for them to attend to, and get to see them once more. Keep in mind that scouts generally NEED to see quarterbacks in action, so games with top QB prospects like will be the most attended. Also, this allows for evaluators to get a good match-up to evaluate prospects and see if these prospects can not have any mental or play-reading errors, as they’ve had ample time to prepare for this one game and this one match-up. Optimum Scouting should be at 4-5 bowl games this year.
All-Star Game Evaluation – After the bowl season, scouts will combine their department-wide notes and discuss the players that are set to attend the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, Texas vs. Nation game, and any other bowl games on the department’s docket. Most scouts go into these games with a certain position group to scout, so it’s important that they speak with other evaluators in the department as well as review film of their own to know what to expect going into this game for their position group. Optimum Scouting will be at (and have the best notes on the internet for) the Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, Texas vs. Nation Game, and the BSN Collegiate Showcase.
NFL Combine Evaluation – With the All-Star games completed, the Combine process is what really kicks off the average NFL fan’s interest in the NFL Draft. For one, the NFL Combine allows for evaluators to solidify and cross check what they’ve seen on film with what they EXPECT these players to run/test at. Any surprising (good or bad) numbers are noted and mean to re-watch film to confirm grade. Also, keep in mind that this is the first time juniors are allowed to participate in football activities since the season, so this proves as a “refresher” and of major importance for these juniors in the draft process. Finally, the Combine’s biggest goal is to get a better feel for these players mentally and emotionally through the interview process. This is where all the surprising and shocking details about these players backgrounds is revealed to the NFL scouts, and only a few of these notes are linked to the media.
Final Round Grades and Evaluations – While I’ll skip “Pro Days” for the most part, as they can only allow for Combine testing to non-Combine invites/participates or “show” scouts that players who struggled at the Combine have/have not gotten in better shape. However, throughout these Pro Day workouts, scouts are doing final film review and moreso preparing their arguments and evaluations for their GMs to prove why the team should/should not take a certain player. You hear a lot how scouts may/may not “bang the table” for a prospect in the Draft Room. This is where those final stands on evaluation lie.
Amerson, Richardson, Mathieu and Da’Rick Rogers Scouting Notes
Thus far, four juniors have declared for the 2013 NFL Draft. While we have articles on all four of these guys (see the link attached to their name) about why the declared and scouting notes, I wanted to include the added notes I’ve done for our position rankings on these newly added 2013 prospects.
The first major declaring prospect was Sheldon Richardson of Missouri. The defensive tackle prospect has elite shoulder/body control, explosiveness off the snap, lateral balance, and interior rushing moves. I’ve seen him play the 1, 3, and 5-technique (and wouldn’t be bad at the natural strong side DE spot) as well as even some linebacker and dropping to the curl/flat area. He could do a little better in chopping hands that get inside on him at times (Barrett Jones of Alabama had some success on these), but there’s no question he’s set to be a near elite interior linemen at the next level, if his character questions check out. He’ll be our top rated defensive tackle prospect and a fringe Top 10 talent.
Former LSU defensive back and playmaker Tyrann Mathieu made the (not so surprising) announcement that he’d be declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft. Keep in mind he was kicked off the LSU football team for a positive drug test (likely had a LOT more going on there), and decided to sit out for a year before being probably ineligible to ever return to LSU. It remains unclear if he’s improved at all or if he’s even in shape, but it is clear that he would have had a tough time being a first round prospect (not including character evaluation) as a defensive back if things went according to plan. He lacks great hip fluidity, relies entirely on pre-snap and reaction ability, and lacks ideal size to likely last at free safety long-term. His best bet is to be a nickel cornerback or a 3rd safety in passing downs to utilize his playmaking ability. Still, his character red flags (reported and not reported in the media) should knock him down 2-3 rounds at least. I’d be surprised if any team took him before the 5th round, and I think the 6th or 7th round is most likely. Keep in mind that the NFL Combine will be about 80% of his determining factor in draft stock.
RELATED: 2013 NFL Draft Underclassmen Tracker
NC State’s David Amerson came into the season as some evaluators top cornerback prospect. While I didn’t whole-heartedly agree, it was clear he had the elite size, ball skills, and length to be a feature cornerback at the next level with ideal development. However, his lack of great hip fluidity, his struggles versus downfield routes, and his need to be more physical in the 10-15 range when receivers try to break inside mean he may need a defined zone coverage scheme at the NFL level. Still has fantastic upside, he’s going to get a 2nd round grade from us, with the ability to showcase any improved hip fluidity at the NFL Combine.
Finally, Da’Rick Rodgers, formerly of Tennessee and playing this year at Tennessee Tech, is a physical specimen as a receiver. He drew instant Terrelle Owens comparisons in my head as a perfectly build power-receiver with the ability to extend away from his body, fight through traffic and pick up yards after the catch. He lacks deep speed and didn’t get a chance to develop his separation ability at TTU (but it wasn’t a huge negative to begin with), but neither are major deterrents to him being a potential fringe #1/solid #2 receiver in the NFL. He did leave Tennessee on very bad terms, and he’ll have major character questions to answer at the NFL Combine. He’s currently a 2nd round prospect for Optimum Scouting.
General, Nation-Wide Scouting Notes
-Matched up against the Big 12’s sack leader and frosh superstar Devonte Fields from TCU, Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson upped his game to another level with impressive lateral burst, light feet and ideal body control to mirror in space. Though unrefined in his technique, both from a pass set standpoint and run blocking perspective, Johnson impressed by making the most of his plus length and consistently cutting off his opponent with good quickness off the snap. To improve his pass set on extended pass drops, I’d like to see Johnson get more depth with his initial punch step backwards off the snap, as he begins his pass set by picking up and setting his outside foot back in place, rather than gaining ground on the rusher. In the running game, Johnson needs to keep his hands inside and not overextend beyond his framework. Capable of being a starter at either left or right tackle spots at the next level, Johnson should be a day two pick and high upside developmental guy.
-Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma’s leading tackler on the season, showed why he should be considered one of the top safeties in the country with his elite level versatility and ability to play at either the free or strong safety. Doing an excellent job of breaking down in space, centering up the ball carrier and driving through the tackle with his feet, Jefferson is extremely reliable in the open field or in tight quarters. Jefferson’s instincts and experience in deep coverage are readily apparent in the way he remains balanced, coordinated and in position to make a play when reading the route developments. Utilized much closer to the line of scrimmage in Brent Venables system as a robber zone defender and slot cover guy, Jefferson in 2012 has been tasked with even more coverage responsibility within Mike Stoops’ defensive scheme; putting together two seasons of tape at both safety positions and excelling either close to the line of scrimmage or in deeper coverage, expect Jefferson to be highly sought after should he declare for the draft.
-Holding Oklahoma’s leading wide receiver Kenny Stills to just two receptions, TCU’s cornerback Jason Verrett continued his stellar play by taking ideal driving angles to the throw and limiting separation in the intermediate game. Deep speed still remains a concern with Verrett in my eyes, but that isn’t what teams will be drafting him to do; a physical, aggressive and ball hawking short-to-intermediate cover guy capable of roughing up receivers with hand use downfield, Verrett has developed into one of the top corner prospects in the Big 12.
-Coming into his own as a player according to Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, Chris Harper’s body of work as a senior has been very good, with his physical dominance at the catch point. Adept at using his hands to separate at the catch point, box out and attack the ball away from his frame, Harper’s physicality and body use allow him to make catches regardless of the coverage behind him. If he can test well and perform at the senior bowl, expect Harper to climb draft boards.
-Kansas State’s senior linebacker Arthur Brown impressed with his closing burst to the football and plus instincts, per usual, beating Texas running backs to the hole with pure speed and explosive tackling. He’s proven capable of defeating blocks in a variety of ways, but Brown’s best fit still remains at the weak side linebacker position.
-Teammate Justin Tuggle also proved his worth as a legitimate NFL prospect, having plus size and speed, in addition to being the son of a 5-time pro bowl linebacker, Jesse Tuggle. At 6’3, 240 pounds and likely to time in the 4.5 range, Tuggle’s shot at a draft selection will center heavily on whether or not he tests at a high level. In just his first year on the defensive side of the football after being recruited by K-State to play quarterback, Tuggle has flashed an ability to get after the passer as a rush linebacker or read the action from a traditional 4-3 backer position. He needs a lot of work and reps to be prepared for the NFL game, but teams will be excited about this player’s physical tools.
-For Texas, 3rd down specialist and rising senior prospect Jeremy Hills may be out for the season, as a knee injury kept him out of this week’s game versus Kansas State. In his first year of involvement within the Texas offensive gameplan, Hills hasn’t disappointed and will likely earn priority free agent grades from NFL teams.
-Flying all over the field and giving tremendous effort, our top rated senior safety Kenny Vaccaro never gave up in this game versus the now-BCS bound Kansas State Wildcats. I’d like to see him keep his feet on tackle opportunities, rather than leaving his feet and launching at the point of attack, but regardless of technique, the skill set to be an impact starter at the next level is there. Vaccaro’s ability to be a lockdown slot defender, deep safety or spinning safety, will make him very attractive to teams in need of a starter at the position.
-Junior right tackle DJ Fluker did not disappoint in this game for Alabama, dominating Georgia defensive linemen, regardless of who was lined across from him. Winning with inside hand placement, great leverage and non-stop leg drive, Fluker’s improved balance and technique allowed him to fully convey his girth and power upon the opponent. Consistently moving his man off the line of scrimmage and fighting through the whistle with his blocks, Fluker put forth an outstanding performance.
-It was evident how impressively athletic CJ Mosely was all game long. Even despite that late 4th quarter athletic showing, Mosely was (as he has been all year) efficient in reacting to the play, shedding blocks in the middle of the field, and decisively getting to his drops to utilize his athletic ability in coverage. A rare linebacker talent, Mosely may only be behind Manti Te’o as a linebacker prospect
-John Jenkins of Georgia is a mountain of a man, but he did well to drive initially off the ball with strong hands, even giving the great Chance Warmack some issues initially. Jenkins doesn’t have elite lateral movement, but in terms of collapsing the pocket, pinching gaps in the middle, and allowing for other rushers to have easier rush lanes, Jenkins did well for much of this game in his nose tackle role.
-Continuing to display great range at free safety, Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo played the centerfield position in both cover 2 zone and man coverage as the deep safety. Reacting and closing to the football naturally in coverage, Rambo’s plus ball skills and athleticism certainly rank near the top of the senior draft class. Off field concerns that led to an early season suspension will have NFL teams doing their homework, but on the field Rambo has played like a potential 3rd rounder.
-Rush linebacker extraordinaire Jarvis Jones didn’t ease my worries regarding his ability to run the arc and bend the edge, though used often in a containment role. Well built in the upper half with very powerful and explosive hands at the point of attack, Jones lacks enough sand in his pants to anchor down against bigger tackle prospects. It seems as though Jones will be able to add the necessary weight, but we’ve yet to see how it will affect his movement skills and ability to rush the passer. Further to his ability as a pass rusher, obviously the speed and relentless motor he shows on a per snap basis is pretty remarkable; still, I worry about the lack of natural bend and fluidity to his game, in addition to consistent technique to knock the blockers hands down in the middle of his rush. Unable to turn the corner against Bama’s athletic Cyrus Kouandjo, Jones lost his footing on one speed rush attempt where he was ultimately cutoff from working back inside to the quarterback. He’s an active football player with quick twitch, power and explosiveness, but I don’t consider Jarvis Jones an elite edge rusher.
-Georgia’s senior receiver Tavarres King put on a route running clinic in this game, displaying the ability to separate deep and finish catches through contact. Late in the game, King put ran a beautiful corner-post pattern that spun Bama safety Robert Lester completely around. Everything about the route was textbook, as King accelerated out of a good stance by pressing a convincing vertical stem, gave one cut to the corner and immediately cut back inside to the post without any loss of speed or balance. The ability to plant and drive out of route breaks with one foot, instead of gathering with multiple steps, enables King to disguise the pattern and gain a ton of separation in a variety of routes. Moreover, securing the catch through violent hits delivered by the Alabama secondary might have been even more impressive than the routes King ran to free himself of coverage. Great performance from a prospect we’ve ranked highly since the beginning of the season –excellent 3rd round value.
-Tulsa took Conference USA title largely on the strength of a strong running game, with Junior Trey Watts leading the charge, racking up 134 yards on the ground, en route to being named the games’ MVP. Watts, a solidly put together former walk-on, is a versatile, multi-purpose back, who demonstrated the ability to run between the tackles, while also flashing the speed to bounce plays to the outside, though he lacks a true home run gear. A good receiver out of the backfield, he also contributed in the passing game, being split out wide several times, where he looked comfortable running a variety of routes. And, on special teams, Watts turned in the game’s most explosive play, when he scooped up a bouncing punt, that had already been touched by the UCF coverage team (many of whom them stopped playing) and raced 54 yards for a fourth quarter game tying touchdown.
-Alex Singleton was Watt’s complement in the backfield, and gave Tulsa a true one-two punch on the ground, registering 102 hard-fought yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 carries. At 6010, 260, Singleton possesses a massive lower body, which generates tremendous power and leg drive. Purely a straightline runner, Singleton is a battering ram of a short yardage back, who ran with excellent forward lean and sustained power, recording his school record 40th rushing touchdown. He did show some lateral agility, as well, bouncing a third quarter run to the outside for a solid ten yard gain, but if he gets a look at the next level, it will be as a punishing goal-line / short yardage back, called on to get the tough yards, like the one yard he gained on Tulsa’s game winning touchdown in overtime.
-On defense, Tulsa was led by their big, hard-hitting safety, Dexter McCoil, who put up a team-leading 11 tackles for the afternoon. McCoil, a physical, downhill player, demonstrated plus closing speed in attacking the line of scrimmage versus the run, eating up ground quickly. He flashed solid open-field tackling skills, plus range, and the willingness to lay out a receiver across the middle, though, on several plays, he took poor angles to the ball. McCoil, who has the frame to fill out without sacrificing his speed, has strong ball skills, with 17 career interceptions, and the physical skillset to be a ball-hawking centerfielder, and should see his draft stock rise during post-season evaluations.
-As the seventh leading tackler in the nation, D’Aundre Brown, is an undersized, but extremely active linebacker, who made plays all over the field, posting 9 total tackles, including one for loss, which gives him 17 TFLs for the season, an impressive total for a 217 pound second level defender. Brown picked his way through traffic well inside, and showed the ability to break down in the open field, particularly on a key third down stop late in the first half. The converted safety did a solid job covering backs and tight ends all day, and even shined in coverage in overtime, where he blanketed a wide receiver, forcing a third down incompletion, setting up Tulsa’s game winning drive.
-Turning in a strong defensive performance for UCF was safety Kemal Ismael, who led all players with 14 tackles, including a forced fumble on fourth and one, with Tulsa inside the red zone. Although Tulsa took few vertical shots downfield, leaving Ismael largely untested in the pass game, he was aggressive in run support, both from the third level, and when used as an eighth defender in the box. Though not overly physical, he displayed sound tackling skills, and was very active versus the run, even laying a big hit on 260 pound Tulsa RB Alex Singleton, dropping the powerful ballcarrier short of the first down on a key fourth and one play. He also flashed quick recognition and plus short area burst, making a tackle for loss on a run blitz late in the fourth quarter.
-On the offensive side of the ball, UCF’s strong ground game is founded on a physical offensive line, featuring prospects offensive guard Theo Goins, who missed the game with injury, and right tackle Phil Smith, a 2012 transfer from Georgia Tech. Smith, who comes from Tech’s run-heavy option based attack, struggled early this season adjusting to UCF’s zone blocking system. It was only recently, when Central Florida switched to a power, man-blocking scheme, that Smith began to look more comfortable and play to his potential. A solid drive blocker, with the balance and quick feet to mirror opponents in the passing game, Smith did a sold job maintaining a wide base and staying engaged versus opposing rushers. As an inexperienced pass protector, he battled all game, and showed potential for development; however, he was slow cutting off speed rushers on the edge, and struggled versus counter moves, giving up a big sack on an inside counter in the fourth quarter. He also allowed inside penetration by a rusher on an extra point that was blocked by Tulsa. At this point, Smith looks like a late round prospect, who could develop into a solid right tackle in a man-blocking scheme, if given the time and coaching to improve his pass protection skills, which are under-developed due to both Georgia Tech’s and UCF’s heavy emphasis on running the football.
Top 10…Sack Leaders in College Football (2013 Draft Eligible Only)
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA (JR) – 13.5 sacks
2. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (JR) – 13 sacks
3. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (JR) – 12.5 sacks
4. Chris Jones, Bowling Green – 12.5 sacks
5. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky – 12.5 sacks
6. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (JR) – 12.5 sacks
7. Travis Johnson, San Jose State – 12 sacks
8. Morgan Breslin, Notre Dame (JR) – 12 sacks
9. Trevardo Williams, UConn – 11. 5 sacks
10. Kyle Van Noy, BYU (JR) – 11.5 sacks