One of the deepest draft classes in recent memory has now had two weeks to prove why scouts and draft pundits were so high on the 2014 crop. As usual, there have been impressive performances by top picks like Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins as well as some disappointments, including Eagles’ first-round pick Marcus Smith, who was inactive for Week 2 after being drafted 26th overall. Many late-round picks and undrafted free agents have also made early noise, including Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns and Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, who will likely find their way into future reports. Chris Tripodi returns to break down four rookies who caught his eye in Week 2 of the NFL season.
Terrance West (RB-Cle)
Ben Tate’s knee injury in the Browns’ opener will keep him out at least through Cleveland’s Week 4 bye, giving the team’s third-round pick out of Towson an early opportunity as the starting running back. While the undrafted Crowell has gotten his share of work and shown the talent that made him a favorite of many draftniks despite a laundry list of off-the-field concerns, West is the player Cleveland traded up to take at the end of Day 2 knowing that Tate missing time this season was likely. He was also one of the few backs in this year’s class with true feature-back size at 5-9, 225.
Not only does West have good size, but he also has quick feet that were on display Sunday against New Orleans. West ran for 68 yards on 19 carries in the game and showed the skill set that intrigued the Browns, who hired Kyle Shanahan and his zone-blocking scheme to be their offensive coordinator in the offseason. West is a very patient runner who trusts his feet and skills enough to wait until he spots an opening before darting through it. His combination of patience, vision and burst makes him an ideal fit in Cleveland’s zone scheme. West is also nimble and uses his quick feet and an effective stutter-step to avoid tacklers in the backfield. On his third-quarter touchdown run, West used a plant step in the backfield to cut into the hole, quickly get to the second level and run through an arm tackle for the nine-yard score.
West lacks elite top-end speed and, despite weighing in at 225 pounds, is not a tackle-breaking bruiser on the inside. He falls forward and doesn’t get stopped dead in his tracks, but runs with a more balanced style that combines his footwork with the size to hold up on a heavy workload. West is an adequate receiver who shows good awareness on pass routes, as he did well to find an open area to give scrambling quarterback Brian Hoyer a target early in the first quarter Sunday.
While West didn’t officially fumble, the ball did come loose several times just after he was down by contact or had stepped out of bounds. He was occasionally careless with the ball at Towson and while this hasn’t affected him yet, future fumbles would open the door for Crowell, arguably the more-talented back, to see additional work. Although West may not hold onto the starting job when Tate returns as soon as Week 5, he’s likely earned himself 8-12 touches behind the free-agent acquisition, who doesn’t exactly have a strong track record of staying healthy.
Sammy Watkins (WR-Buf)
After the Bills traded their 2015 first-round pick to move up from the ninth overall pick to fourth in order to draft Watkins, it was obvious the team was going into win-now mode for the 2014 season. Many, including myself, questioned the thought process behind the trade and didn’t see the Bills as a playoff team thanks to quarterback E.J. Manuel’s developmental struggles. On the other hand, Watkins was the best wide receiver in a stacked class and a perfect fit for Manuel’s check-down tendencies as a player who can dominate by racking up yards after the catch.
A quiet Week 1 saw Watkins catch just three passes for 31 yards on four targets, but Manuel threw 11 of his 26 passes in Watkins’ direction in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. Despite playing at less than 100 percent due to a lingering rib injury, Watkins made eight receptions for 117 yards and his first career touchdown, showing elite quickness off the line and into his routes. He would have had another touchdown if not for a great play by Brent Grimes, who knocked a long first-quarter pass out of Watkins’ grasp on a fly route down the sideline.
Watkins still needs to work on sharpening his route-running on short and intermediate passes, although he did focus on making sharper breaks in tight coverage compared to off coverage. Watkins needs to gather himself at the stem of his route in order to make controlled breaks, as playing at his high speeds leads to rounded-off routes if a receiver doesn’t take chop steps to slow his momentum. His game-breaking skills with the ball in his hands were on display as were his sticky mitts, as Watkins consistently extended to snatch passes away from his body and outran pursuit angles taken by Dolphins defenders.
Playing at less than full health, Watkins was the dominant force that scouts expected him to be. The former Clemson star could’ve actually had three touchdowns against the Dolphins if it weren’t for Grimes’ first-quarter play and a goal-line overthrow by Manuel early in the second quarter. If the Bills can build off their 2-0 start and turn the 2014 season into a playoff campaign, something Watkins will undoubtedly be a huge part of, they won’t miss that first-round pick as badly as some expected. And if Watkins cleans up his route-running, he has the natural talent to be one of the best receivers in football.
Preston Brown (LB-Buf)
A three-year starter at Louisville, Brown was a surprise third-round pick by the Bills in the 2014 NFL Draft. Most experts, including us at Draft Insider, had Brown pegged as a fourth or fifth-round pick and a good choice early on Day 3. Despite his rock-solid play in college, middle linebackers without elite physical traits aren’t usually hotly-contested draft commodities in today’s speed-obsessed NFL. Brown was initially expected to play behind two-down middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who signed a one-year contract in the offseason, but Nigel Bradham’s Week 1 suspension and Keith Rivers’ groin injury have given Brown a big opportunity. After two good games, the Bills will have a hard time sending him back to the bench.
After making seven tackles, including five solo stops, in Week 1, Brown stepped up in Week 2 to lead Buffalo with 13 tackles, including seven of the solo variety. Brown did a great job taking on blockers with his head up to locate the football before shedding and wrapping up ballcarriers. A sure tackler, Brown rarely missed when he had a chance to make a play and did a nice job bringing down backs on first contact. He fought hard through traffic, used his hands to keep blockers away from his body and took good angles to the ball. Brown’s recognition ability was on display, which helped him get to the sideline effectively in pursuit despite lacking great speed.
Brown also showed well in coverage, flashing the skills to stay with running backs in the flat to force the ball elsewhere and reacting quickly to short dump passes, stopping plays for minimal gains. He did a nice job pressing the line of scrimmage when keying on running backs before they got into their routes, forcing them to alter their paths while trailing closely behind. Brown did allow a third-down conversion to Charles Clay, but stayed with Clay well and was close to getting a hand on the pass.
Rivers is expected to remain out for Week 3 before potentially returning for the Bills’ final game in September, so Brown should get another chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. If the surprising Bills can beat the Chargers at home and move to 3-0 with Brown performing well, it won’t be easy for head coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to take the rookie out of the lineup. At the very least, he’s likely earned himself significant rotational stops, especially if Rivers isn’t ready to assume a full-time role upon his return.
Kyle Fuller (CB-Chi)
A draft riser throughout the off-season process, Fuller went from a sleeper first-round pick to lock for Day 1. The Bears had one of the NFL’s worst defenses last season and while their numbers against the pass were far better than against the run, their thin, aging secondary was a definite position of need. Fuller had November surgery to repair a core muscle injury, which is a major reason his stock was depressed at the start of the offseason. Once he proved himself 100 percent from the injury, his stock corrected itself and returned to his true talent level.
Fuller was all over the field against the 49ers on Sunday night with seven tackles, including five solo stops, two interceptions and two pass breakups after a quiet Week 1. He started out shaky, as an early defensive holding penalty gave the 49ers an automatic first down on third-and-long, a drive that ended in a field goal. Fuller would bounce back, however, and make his impact felt against the run early. An aggressive run defender, Fuller made a few nice tackles on Frank Gore and Vernon Davis to stop the ballcarriers in their tracks. While he whiffed with his right hand when diving to break up a pass to Michael Crabtree in the red zone, Fuller did well to keep his left hand behind to wrap Crabtree’s waist and prevent extra yardage, showing great instincts and technique in short sideline coverage despite missing the breakup.
The rookie from Virginia Tech made an excellent play chasing down Gore from the backside later in the game on another red-zone run, but his real impact came in the fourth quarter with the two most important plays of Chicago’s win. With the 49ers starting at their own 22, Fuller timed his defense perfectly on a short curl pass to Crabtree, establishing great position to get his right arm in to break up the pass. Somehow, he was also able to pin the ball against Crabtree with that arm and control it for a game-changing interception that he returned inside the San Francisco 10-yard line. After Chicago took a 21-20 lead one play later, Fuller added a second interception on the following drive. Showing great awareness and instincts, Fuller recognized Colin Kaepernick scrambling towards the sideline, peeled off of Crabtree and undercut Derek Carrier’s route to the boundary, extending for an impressive interception and another long return into San Francisco territory, which led to the second Bears’ touchdown of the quarter.
Fuller’s performance against Crabtree late was especially important in the wake of veteran corner Charles Tillman third-quarter injury. The 33-year-old left with a season-ending, and possibly career-ending, triceps injury that has already landed him on injured reserve, meaning Fuller’s development will take on an even more important role for a Chicago team looking to make a playoff run. Fuller was a shutdown corner that opponents avoided at Virginia Tech, and he’s translating those skills quickly to the NFL level. Tillman’s loss is huge for the Bears but if Fuller can continue his solid play and fill the veteran’s shoes, it will be a huge boost for a defense in need of some good news.
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During a weekend in which fans were treated to a number of enjoyable games that came down to the wire or required overtime to determine the outcome, college football will see a shuffling in its top ten. As is the case every week individual performances have resulted in a shuffle on draft boards. Here are week three Risers & Sliders.
A little more than two years ago, when I wrote for another outlet, I’m proud to say I was one of the first to make mention of a track athlete turned football player who initially needed assistance putting on his equipment. Truth be told I never envisioned Ezekiel Ansah developing into a top ten draft selection at that point.
Could history be repeating itself? It seems so, though to a lesser extent.
Out west at Oregon State the buzz in the scouting community centers on a track athlete making his mark on the football field. Obum Gwacham, a high jumper with a personal best of just under 7-feet 2-inches is slowly blossoming into a terror on the defensive line. The former receiver moved to defensive end last spring and initially impressed scouts during April practice with his athleticism and pass rushing ability. He’s kept the momentum going in the early part of the season, most recently registering a pair of sacks during the Beavers victory over Hawaii.
Scouts love the upside Gawcham brings and if he continues to develop on the field they believe the former track star could end up as a second or third round pick in next year’s draft.
I’ve given little known offensive lineman Chaz Green positive reviews since his sophomore season and the Gators left tackle performed at an impressive level Saturday night against Kentucky. He’s incredibly athletic displaying terrific footwork and movement skills as well as the ability to adjust to blitzers. The ease which Green gets out to the second level and flows around the field is impressive. He must get stronger as well as play at a consistently high level but Green definitely comes with great upside.
Were they able to play a lick of defense the Toledo Rockets could be undefeated but the team has two losses thus far, giving up 49-points to Missouri then 58-points to Cincinnati last week. Despite the results the efforts of receiver Alonzo Russell have been impressive. Russell has averaged almost six receptions and 100-receiving yards in each of Toledo’s three games this season. He’s a long, sure-handed receiver with deceptive speed. Russell also does the little things well such as blocking downfield or setting legal picks for teammates. Speak to Toledo coaches and they’ll admit the talented junior is a “leave early player”.
Andrew Gallik/C/Boston College: Saturday afternoon on twitter I noted Gallik as a player to watch and felt the match-up against USC would be critical. And though he did not face off against Leonard Williams all that often, Gallik looked impressive handling the Trojans other next level prospect on the defensive line, Antwaun Woods. The senior center played smart, tough football helping Boston College pull off the upset victory. His blocking, both on the line of scrimmage as well as on the second level, was impressive and largely responsible for the 452-yards the Eagles gained on the ground. I believe Gallik is a better version of former Boston College center Tom Nalen, a seventh round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1994 who went on to enjoy multiple All-Pro performances during his 15 year NFL career. Gallik has moved near the top of the center list and will be a top 100 choice if he continues his impressive play this season.
Tayo Fabuluje/T/TCU: Fabuluje was the other offensive lineman I tweeted about on Saturday and the senior left tackle was dominant during the victory over Minnesota. He’s an impressive looking specimen and easily controls defenders at the point of attack. What stood out about his play was how Fabuluje adjusts or contorts then stops speed rushers as well as the way he knocks opponents from the action with violent hand punch. Fabuluje is a bit heavy footed and has some personality quirks teams must look into but when hitting on all cylinders he offers starting potential at the net level.
Dante Fowler Jr./DE-OLB/Florida: The Gators defeated Kentucky in a three overtime thriller and Fowler was the star of the Florida defense. His stats line read 6 tackles, 4 quarterback hurries, 2 tackles for loss as well as 1 sack and 1 forced fumble. On tape Fowler was omnipresent making plays behind the line of scrimmage, out to the sidelines in pursuit and displayed great explosion and suddenness. His hustle and ability to force the action was impressive as the junior was unstoppable. Will Fowler enter the draft? Sources tell me his parents are fully engaged in the process and it will be a wait and see proposition.
Eli Harold/DE-OLB/Virginia: Harold and the pressure he applied against Louisville helped Virginia snap their ACC winless streak which lasted almost two years. The junior pass rush specialist posted two sacks and a pair of tackles for loss. Late in the fourth quarter Harold registered his second sack of the game that put Louisville in a third and 20 situation which eventually forced the Cardinals to punt the ball, sealing victory for UVA. Harold is a natural pass rusher whose game has been moving north the past two seasons. On film he shows the necessary athleticism to get consideration at both defensive end and outside linebacker.
Hau’Oli Kikaha/DE/Washington: Entering the season scouts handed Kikaha solid grades and the senior has lived up to expectations in the early going. During the blowout victory over Illinois, he led Washington in all tackling categories with 6 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. And while the Fighting Illini are shy on talent their left tackle Simon Cvijanovic has been given late round grades in some scouting circles. Kikaha has a history of knee injuries and many are concerned with his athleticism yet no one questions his ability to disrupt the action and consistently make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Mark Glowinski/G/West Virginia: Prior to the season many pundits, including myself, lauded the Maryland defense and many of its underrated prospects. West Virginia made us look foolish on Saturday as they rolled up 694-yards against the Terps and Glowinski’s blocking played a large part in the teams success. The wide-bodied guard was dominant at the point of attack and he looked terrific in pass protection. Glowinski is an underrated athlete with a large degree of upside and has been pegged for tackle at the next level by a number of scouts.
Cam Worthy/WR/East Carolina: Last week we heralded the exploits of James Hardy, East Carolina’s top next level receiver. During the victory over Virginia Tech it was Worthy, a prospect we graded as a free agent prospect, who made scouts take notice with 6 receptions for 224 yards (37.3-yard average). Worthy comes with terrific size (6-feet/2-inches, 210-pounds) and has shown great development in his game this season.
Sleeper of the Week: Terry Williams/NT/East Carolina: People may wonder if I’m on the ECU payroll but I assure you I’m not. Williams is a player I’ve rated since watching him in 2012 as he’s a big, powerful interior tackle with the ability to hold the point and occupy blockers. He gets a bit sloppy at times and has not shown much in the way of off field conditioning but if the light goes on Williams will be playing on Sunday’s.
Small School Prospect of the Week: Jermaine Barton/T/Illinois State: The Miami Hurricane transfer continues to impress with his improved play and next level body. Barton, who lines up at right tackle for Illinois State, is an athletic 6-feet, 6-inch, 315-pound blocker who easily moves around the field. He uses his length and strength to control opponents, blocking down on defenders to smother them from the action. Barton needs to improve the details of his game as his blocking balance is awful and he’s often lazy with his hands but the senior possesses the physical tools to make a roster as a developmental prospect.
Jamon Brown/OL/Louisville: The past two seasons I’ve ranked Brown as a potential third round pick with one caveat; while NFL scouts view him as a tackle I feel his body type and style are better inside at guard. That was never more prominent then on Saturday as Virginia’s speed rushers exploited Brown and his inability to slide out or adjust to protect the blindside. In my opinion Brown looks poorly conditioned and unable to handle left tackle duties, intangibles which will negatively affect his draft stock.
Nick Harwell/WR/Kansas: There was a point in time when Harwell was spoken about as a potential middle round choice. That was three years ago when he played at Miami-Ohio but since then Harwell’s game has regressed. He’s totaled 6 receptions for 55 yards in two games this season and one of the contests was against a IAA opponent. Despite receiving late round grades from a number of scouts Harwell has average size/speed numbers and shows no dominant trait to his game.
Sam Eguavoen/LB/Texas Tech: On paper Eguavoen has the size/speed numbers and skill set to line-up at weakside linebacker at the next level. To his credit he plays to those numbers on occasion but his instincts or lack thereof are disconcerting. He posted 9 tackles in the loss to Arkansas but many of those were after the fact. Watching Eguavoen guess wrong or move left as the ball carrier runs right is a red flag on film.
Literally hours after posting a heads-up tweet on Kyler Fackrell last Sunday the Utah State linebacker suffered a season ending knee injury. As previously posted Fackrell was planning on entering the draft as I was told the junior is married and his wife is expecting. While things change the belief at this point in time is Fackrell will likely return to USU for another season.
Leonard Williams performance on Saturday is one scouts will point to during the pre-draft process. Despite being hampered with a sprained ankle which prevented him from playing fulltime against Stanford, Williams posted a team leading 11 tackles while also adding a sack and one tackle for loss. His hustle and intensity were impressive and this could go a long way in securing Williams as a top six pick next April. Why then is he not listed as a Riser? Stanford’s offensive line is not battle tested as four-fifths graduated to the NFL after last season. Boston College next week then UCLA and Notre Dame during November are better challenges for Williams.
Alabama rolled over Florida Atlantic in a rain shortened contest and while T.J. Yeldon was the star of the ground game his teammate Kenyan Drake really impressed me. He carried the ball just six times for 31-yards but Drake’s play on special teams, specifically coverage units when Alabama was up by four scores yet he was still hustling down the field to make plays, stood out. It’s the type of play which gets a prospect drafted in the late round then helps him secure a spot on a roster.
Despite not getting his team into the end zone I was really impressed with the play of quarterback Kyle Pohl during Akron’s loss to Penn State. His stats were nothing impressive; 24 of 46 passing for 208 yards with no interceptions. Yet throughout the game Pohl made several NFL type passes and decisions. The fact his receivers dropped a number of catchable throws did not help his cause, never mind Akron’s athlete’s are subpar compared to the team fielded by Penn State. Pohl caught my eye on film over the summer and he’s someone to monitor moving forward.
Utah’s Dres Anderson is on a roll. The senior wide out, whom I compared to Paul Richardson entering the season, caught 3 passes for 84 yards and 2 scores against Fresno State, whose leaky defense does include Derron Smith, one of the top safety’s from the senior class.
Ohio State suffered an unexpected home loss to Virginia Tech, though no one can ever be surprised losing to a Frank Beamer team. During the loss one Buckeye prospect who stood out to me was offensive tackle Taylor Decker. The former right tackle moved to the left side this season, taking over for Jack Mewhort, the second round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. In many ways Decker’s play surpasses his former teammate as he’s quicker, more athletic and has an easier time sliding off the edge. If he continues to progress I struggle to see how Decker does not end up a top 45 selection if he enters the draft.
This weeks Risers/Sliders has a lot of players from the offensive side of the ball moving up draft boards. Specifically skill players, which I usually don’t like to do as its often stats based and can be a cop-out. Regardless, each of these Risers distinguished themselves with good performances against top competition.
T.J. Clemmings/OL/Pittsburgh: Prior to the game Friday night I posted Clemmings as a player to watch and he did not disappoint. His blocking helped pave the way for a Pittsburgh offense which put up 414-yards of offense during the victory over Boston College. What stood out most was the way the Panthers constantly ran behind Clemmings, picking up big chunks of yardage. Graded as a middle round choice, Clemmings is a mobile right tackle with the footwork and athleticism necessary to move to the blind-side but has the build of a guard best in a zone/motion blocking scheme.
Jake Fisher/T/Oregon: It was an epic contest between the Ducks and Michigan State and just as Oregon raised their profile in the race for the national title, so to did Fisher raise his ranking with decision makers in the scouting community. Fisher was by no means spectacular rather very steady and controlled Spartans pass rusher Shilique Calhoun, unanimously graded as a first round prospect. Calhoun finished with three solo tackles and was not much of a factor at any point during the game. Fisher is not a flashy lineman rather a fundamentally sound blocker with a great feel for the position and he looked terrific protecting the edge.
Markus Golden/DE-OLB/Missouri: It seems every year Missouri puts a real good defensive front seven player into the draft and this year the program offers Golden. An explosive pass rusher, Golden possesses both short area quickness as well as long speed. He was all over the field against Toledo who fields a veteran and productive offensive line, collecting 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Primarily coming out of a three point stance, Golden is similar in style and substance to Marcus Smith, the first round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles last April, and a move to outside linebacker is a distinct possibility.
Justin Hardy/WR/East Carolina: It says a lot when Hardy was the games most productive receiver despite his team losing to the high powered South Carolina offense. He finished the contest with 11 receptions for 133 yards even as the Gamecocks secondary tried to take him from the game. Hardy is a polished receiver that stands out in ever facet of the game. He’s not big or a vertical threat rather a top 100 pick that could line up as a number two/three receiver in a variety of offensive systems in the NFL.
J.J. Nelson/WR/Alabama-Birmingham: Scouts handed Nelson a late round grade entering the season and the speedy wide out proved his worth against Mississippi State, who field a pair of next level cornerbacks. The speedster caught 5 passes for 144 yards with 1 score. He also averaged 11 yards on three punt returns. In two games this season Nelson has totaled 7 receptions for 202 yards, an average of 29.9 yards per catch. Nelson is small with a rail thin build but a vertical threat which causes opponents to play back on their heels.
Jay Ajayi/RB/Boise State: The junior, who’s expected to enter the draft after this season, turned in a wow performance against conference foe Colorado State. Ajayi finished with 219-yards on 33-carries (6.6-yard average) and 2 scores against a defense considered tops in the Mountain West Conference. He also added 4 receptions for 61-yards and another touchdown. Scouts speak highly of Ajayi and love his pounding style as well as the agility he displays eluding defenders. If he works out well prior to the draft its unlikely Ajayi makes it out of the second round.
Jahwan Edwards/RB/Ball State: The Cardinals lost a close contest to Iowa despite a terrific performance from Edwards. The big ball carrier registered 81 yards on 21 carries against a tough Hawkeye defense with a pair of next level tackles on the inside of their defensive line. Edwards is a downhill runner with deceptive speed for a 225lb ball carrier, and possesses enough short area quickness to dodge defenders on the inside.
Small School Prospect: Aaron Sam/DB/McNeese State: Look for the name of Aaron Sam on scouting lists and you won’t find it. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find any senior from McNeese State who scouts are following. Sam’s performance during the Cowboys near victory over Nebraska will change that opinion. The senior led the defense with 7 tackles, intercepted 1 pass which was brought back 98 yards for a score and broke up another throw. And while Sam won’t be making a big move up draft boards his performance is enough to force scouts to take a second look at his next level potential.
Kurtis Drummond/S/Michigan State: Drummond has been a favorite of mine the past two seasons and was stamped as a third round prospect entering the 2014 campaign. During the loss to Oregon he looked more like a late round guy. Drummond blew several coverage assignments which resulted in big plays for the Ducks and at times looked lost in coverage. This is the sort of film that will be a conversation piece for scouts as they question Drummond’s high ranking.
Tim Scott/S/North Carolina: After showing next level skill at cornerback the prior two seasons, Scott has really struggled since moving to safety on a full time basis this year. He looked sluggish, slow to respond and indecisive as the Tar Heels scratched out a victory over San Diego State. In one series during the third quarter Scott was late in coverage which resulted in a 59-yard pass completion for SDSU then was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. And while he had some positive moments during the contest Scott is a late round prospect who best quickly pick up the pace of his game.
Gabe Holmes/TE/Purdue: Holmes was graded as a draftable player prior to the 2013 season but a wrist injury kept him on the sidelines all year. This year scouts stamped Holmes as a priority free agent but he’s been slow out of the gate and has been outplayed by his teammate, Justin Sinz, who was graded as a priority free agent.