BillingsSaturday was highlighted by a number of upsets which will have a major effect on the national rankings. It was also a weekend where a pair of underclassmen defensive tackles stood out. Along with updated news on the underclassmen here are the Risers and Sliders for week twelve.


Andrew Billings/DT/Baylor: During an interview early Saturday morning on WEIR 1430, I was asked to name one junior prospect who would make an unexpected charge up draft boards. My answer? Andrew Billings. Hence it was more than gratifying watching his performance as Baylor knocked off Oklahoma State some 15 hours later. Billings finished the game with 2.5 tackles for loss as well as 2 sacks and was a dominant force throughout the contest. On one sack Billings bull-rushed a double team block, collapsing the pocket to bring down the quarterback. The big-bodied junior is an athletic, three down defender with the ability to line up at several spots in a multitude of schemes. He has all the makings of a mid-first round choice.

Kenny Clark/DT/UCLA:
Clark has been a dominant force throughout most of the season and put his prowess on display during the Bruins victory over Utah. The stats were nothing outstanding, 4 tackles with 1 tackle for loss, but Clark’s ability to attract double team blocks and command the attention of Utah’s offensive line created opportunities for teammates. Like Andrew Billings the UCLA junior is a three down defender with potential in a variety of schemes. As reported several weeks ago Clark is expected to enter the draft and could slide into the late part of round one.

Tyler Matakevich/LB/Temple: The Owls are in the midst of a wonderful campaign spearheaded by their stingy defense, a unit led by Matakevich. The productive four year starter posted a team leading 11 tackles during the all important victory over Memphis, whose offense was held to no touchdowns and under 240-total yards. Matakevich is smart, tough and rarely makes mental errors but has size limitations (under 6-feet/235lbs). In many ways he reminds me of former Detroit Lion Stephen Boyd, a size limited fifth round pick who went on to become a three time Pro Bowl selection.

Darien Harris/LB/Michigan State: Harris is another who does not measure well for the tape but plays big time football. He posted six tackles during the upset victory over Ohio State, including some very important stops. It raised his season total to 71 tackles, ranking him second on the Spartans defense. Built more like a traditional weak-side linebacker, Harris will be good value on the draft’s last day as either a run stopping inside linebacker or a one-gap pursuit defender.

Bucky Hodges/TE/Virginia Tech: The tight end position will be dictated by underclassmen in next year’s draft and Hodges, who’s expected to enter the event, will be near the top. An imposing figure on the field, Hodges plays more like a possession receiver, displaying the ability to get downfield and snatch the ball from the air. He attracts the attention of opponents, as he did on Saturday against North Carolina, yet continually comes away with important receptions during the games critical moments. Still rough around the edges, Hodges carries a great amount of upside and grades as a top 100 pick.

Kolby Listenbee/WR/TCU: The Horned Frogs lost a close contest to Oklahoma as neither quarterback Trevone Boykin or star receiver Josh Doctson dressed. This made Listenbee’s performance all the more impressive. He caught just four passes but averaged more than 24-yards on each catch, finding the end zone once. The OU game was nothing out of the ordinary for Listenbee who has averaged 21.2-yards on 28 receptions this season (5 TD’s) after 18.4-yards on 41 catches a year ago. Possessing legitimate 4.4s speed, he’s the perfect compliment on the college level for Doctson and a true vertical threat for the next level.

Max Redfield/S/Notre Dame: The junior safety has improved his game immeasurably this season and is earning accolades from NFL scouts. He’s combined for 23 tackles the past three games, giving him 54 for the season, to go along with 3 pass defenses. Redfield offers good size and next level range. If he continues to progress on the field he could move into the second day of the draft in the not to distant future.

*Sleeper Prospect* Corey Davis/WR/Western Michigan: The younger brother of Titus Davis is the next member of his family making a mark in the MAC. The speedy receiver posted 76 receptions, 1114 receiving yards and 9 TDs this season, becoming one of the better deep threats in the conference. And though slightly off his numbers from a year ago (78/1408/15), scouts still consider Davis a legitimate middle round choice and potential fourth receiver in Sunday’s line-up.


Gunner Kiel/QB/Cincinnati: Entering the season many believed Kiel was a future first round pick, an opinion I never believed. He’s now struggling to remain a first team quarterback. Kiel was benched for ineffective play during the Bearcats disastrous loss to South Florida and before being pulled he was 8 of 15 passing with two interceptions. And while he’s a definite arm talent, Kiel’s reads and decision making leave a lot to be desired.

Kyle Carter/TE/Penn State: As a sophomore in 2013 Carter looked like a big time talent after catching 18 passes in just four starts. The following season he took a backseat to Jesse James and finished with 16 catches. Carter’s started just two games this season and has 12 catches to his credit. He offers solid computer numbers (6’ 3”/245lbs/4.75s) but seems very detached from the action.


Sources tell me UCLA guard Alex Redmond has “one foot out the door” and will enter the draft. Redmond has been described to me as a physical freak with upside but someone who needs to pull it together. I continue to hear Bruins tackle Caleb Benenoch is waiting on his grade from the advisory committee before committing to the draft.

For a number of weeks I’ve been hearing Mississippi State receiver Da’Runnya Wilson will enter the draft. I was recently told Wilson himself is telling people he’ll leave for the NFL once the season ends.

The feeling in Tennessee is cornerback Cam Sutton will enter the draft.

Changes in the Maryland program are likely to result in defections by underclassmen. I’m told Yannick Ngakoue is very likely to enter the draft. Ngakoue is a solid pass rushing defensive end who projects to outside linebacker on Sunday. There’s also a belief defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson could opt for the draft. Jefferson looked like an up and coming prospect in 2013 before missing all but three games in 2014 with a knee injury. Jefferson has looked good at defensive tackle (he lined up at defensive end as a sophomore) this season, posting 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

HenryBorder wars, conference rivalry’s and playoff spots as well as bowl berths are on the line this weeks as the regular season winds down in college football. Here are three games to watch including news on the upcoming decisions faced by many of the nation’s top underclassmen.   





LSU vs Ole Miss

A longtime border war which could go a long way in determining the number two spot in the SEC West is on the line.

Keep close eye when Ole Miss junior Robert Nkemdiche lines-up across from Jerald Hawkins of LSU.

Most area scouts believe Jerald Hawkins has not had a good season yet despite this I’m told the Tigers left tackle is very likely to enter the draft. In his defense Hawkins has been struggling with a bum ankle but is expected to start this game. He offers size, strength and solid footwork off the edge.

Nkemdiche is also expected to enter the draft and has looked dominant at times this season. He splits double team blocks on the inside while also showing the agility and speed necessary to rush off the edge. Nkemdiche projects as a top 25 pick.

Michigan State vs Ohio State

Michigan State was surprised by Nebraska a few weeks ago but could jump back into the playoff picture if they beat undefeated Ohio State at the Horseshoe.

Look around the internet and you’ll often see Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook graded as a first round pick. Talk to NFL scouts and the opinion is quite different as some don’t even rank Cook as the top senior signal caller in the nation, never mind a first round pick.

Cook is a great arm talent, no doubt, as he’s able to make all the throws to just about any point on the field. His accuracy and pass placement are another thing altogether. All too often Cook needlessly has targets reaching back or leaving their feet to make receptions which results in lost opportunities after the catch.

If that happens on Saturday Cook will be cooked. The back seven of the Buckeye defense reads like a first team NFL depth chart and offers a number of first round picks.

Conerback Eli Apple and linebacker Darron Lee, both of whom are expected to enter the draft, grade as first round picks. Junior safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, as well as senior linebacker Joshua Perry, will be selected during day two of the draft or the opening frames of the final day.

This represents the most talent laden defense Cook has faced this year and will go a long way in determining his final draft stock.

Mississippi State vs Arkansas

Two underclassmen, both of whom are likely to enter the draft, face-off in this one.

Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry is a downfield pass catching threat with reliable hands. He has the speed to split the seam and the size to create mismatches. As first reported several weeks ago, numerous sources tell me Henry will exit for the NFL after the season.

Mississippi State linebacker Ben Brown, a favorite of mine, has consistently shown himself to be a terrific box defender but can he cover and make plays in reverse? The tape makes one believe he can but Hunter offers a tough challenge on Saturday.

Sources tell me Brown is also very likely to enter the draft and his ability to play in space against the Arkansas offense that likes to mix it up, could be telling.

LangfordThis week’s Rookie Report has an interesting mix of rookies for evaluation purposes. Three of the four players profiled below were viewed as either too raw to make much of an early impact or question marks when it came to effort level, but went in the first two rounds anyway. The only one who had neither of those labels entering the NFL wasn’t taken until Day 3 and has enjoyed a two-week audition for 2016 while replacing his team’s injured starter, who also happens to be a free agent in the offseason. Chris Tripodi reveals the identities of these players and breaks down what he saw in Week 10. 

Jeremy Langford (RB-Chi)

Langford made his second straight start in place of the injured Matt Forte on Sunday against a tough Rams defense. After totaling 142 yards and a touchdown on 21 touches the week before in San Diego, Langford turned 20 carries and seven receptions into 182 total yards and two scores to help lead the Bears to a 37-13 win in St. Louis. There’s a chance Forte returns to the lineup in Week 12 but if he doesn’t, Langford has proven he can carry the load successfully against any defense, and the Bears are less likely to rush their starter back as a result.

It was tough sledding for Langford during most of the first half, as his longest run went for just five yards while the Rams’ defense got consistent penetration into the Bears’ backfield. He showed nice patience behind his offensive line to grind out tough yardage and keep the offense on schedule by not getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, but Chicago’s insistence on running from the shotgun was a hindrance to their ground game early on. Langford’s big play came with the Bears up 17-10 past the midway point of the second quarter, as Langford took a screen pass from Jay Cutler 83 yards for a touchdown.

St. Louis blitzed on the play and Jay Cutler beat it with the quick dump to Langford, who used his burst, 4.4 speed and vision to make a big play. The rookie runner wasted no time getting upfield into open space, as most of the remaining Rams defenders were caught on blocks. After gaining 20 yards, safety Rodney McLeod shed Bears receiver Marquess Wilson’s block and looked to be in position to make a play on Langford around midfield. The Michigan State product showed off his instincts as a rusher to set up Wilson to seal a second block to the outside, redirecting to the sideline to force McLeod to move back towards Wilson, who was able to hold up the safety just long enough to give Langford a path to the end zone which he used to outrun McLeod’s pursuit for the score.

Langford wasn’t a huge factor in the passing game in the second half despite the high catch total, as he worked mostly as a safety valve for Cutler on plays that couldn’t go downfield or when pressure came early. The rookie’s first big run came late in the third quarter with Cutler under center, as Langford took a handoff to the right and was able to turn the corner, showing nice burst to get to the second level quickly for 23 yards. Later on the drive, Langford finally found success out of the shotgun, taking a pitch left and cutting back inside as the Rams protected the flanks well. The rookie’s vision and anticipation were apparent on this play and he used a quick two-cut move to get upfield without losing speed.

With the Bears up 30-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Langford provided all of the offense during the game-sealing TD drive. Set up with a short field at the Rams’ 24-yard line, Langford busted a 14-yard run from a single-back set, using a quick hop step to the right to set him up to run right through a skinny crease in the offensive line before stiff-arming the safety to create extra yardage before getting taken down by the ankles. Three plays later, Langford again recognized the Rams’ overpursuit to the flanks, taking a handoff meant to go off tackle and easily cutting back to the middle of the field untouched for his second score.

The Bears’ offense hasn’t missed a beat with Langford filling in for Forte, as the rookie brings a similar three-down skill set to the table. The 29-year-old veteran is set to hit free agency this offseason, and Langford’s recent performance should make it easy for Chicago to let Forte walk and instill Langford as their new starting running back. If his performances over the last two weeks are any indication, Langford should be more than up to the task.

Maxx Williams (TB-Bal)

Coming off their bye week missing Steve Smith Sr. thanks to a season-ending injury, the Ravens needed somebody to step up in the passing game to give Joe Flacco another receiving weapon. Second-round rookie tight Maxx Williams came through Sunday, tying his career-high with four receptions for 40 yards and his first NFL touchdown. The former Minnesota star formed a nice one-two receiving punch with starter Crockett Gillmore, who posted a similar stat line in the loss.

It was a slow start for Williams against the Jags, as Nick Boyle saw more action as the No. 2 tight end early and Williams wasn’t even targeted until late in the second quarter with the Ravens running a two-minute drill. The rookie tight end entered in a three-tight end set on 3rd-and-2 with Baltimore driving deep in Jacksonville territory. After Flacco’s play-action fake pulled the linebackers up towards the line of scrimmage, Williams found himself open down the seam.

Williams used a very subtle move off the release to help bait the linebackers into playing the run as well. The 21-year-old showed awareness beyond his years, releasing slowly off the line to the inside with the rest of Baltimore’s offensive line to sell the run. After his two inside steps helped take the linebackers out of the play, Williams busted through to the second level and turned to make a nice hands catch at the five-yard line before easily beat the closing safety’s tackle attempt at the goalline.

As the game went on, the Ravens recognized their need for additional playmakers and used Williams more often in one- and two-TE sets. None of his receptions went for big yardage, but Williams showed soft hands and the ability to power through defenders for extra yardage after the catch, forcing defensive backs to catch him on their heels and dragging tacklers with his 6-4, 249-pound frame.

Williams now has four receptions in two of his the last three games he’s played in, and looks to be becoming a bigger part of the Ravens’ passing attack. While he’s still a bit raw, the job Williams did selling the play fake on third-and-short was a big reason why he found himself open for his first career score. If the Baltimore coaching staff continues to see more situational awareness like that from the rookie, it will be tough to keep his skill set off the field with Flacco relying on the likes of Gillmore and Kamar Aiken as his top targets.

Mario Edwards Jr. (DE-Oak)

Looking for help on the defensive side of the ball in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Raiders drafted Mario Edwards Jr. out of Florida State early in the second round. A 6-3, 280-pound defensive end, he has good size for a 4-3 defensive end and showed off excellent athleticism with the Seminoles. After Justin Tuck got hurt in Week 5, Edwards took over the starting role on the right side opposite Khalil Mack and has acquitted himself well in four starts, culminating with 11 tackles (eight solo) and a sack against the Vikings on Sunday.

Edwards was productive defending both the run and the pass against the Vikings. He worked his hands well against tight ends and tackles early, using his strength to push Kyle Rudolph into the backfield a few times before filling running lanes. Edwards also used that strength to throw blockers off him before flashing in the hole, giving Adrian Peterson nowhere to run on a few occasions. Even when the rookie was contained by a block, he still found a way to make an impact, getting his head outside his opponent’s shoulder pads to fill gaps inside before using his hands to slide back outside when Peterson tried to bounce around tackle.

His impact in the run game aside, Edwards also showed off his athleticism as a pass rusher. On an early 3rd-and-9, the former Seminole fought off two separate blockers before chasing down a scrambling Teddy Bridgewater for a sack. Later in the first half, Edwards got free on a stunt and used his speed to create quick interior pressure, forcing Bridgewater to scramble and eventually throw the ball away.

Not only did Edwards use his athleticism to pressure Bridgewater, he also chased down multiple plays to the flanks from his inside alignment. In the first half, Edwards hustled back into a screen play after an attempted cut block at the line of scrimmage and ended up with an assisted tackle on a short two-yard gain. On a 3rd-and-14 in the second half, Edwards couldn’t get to Bridgewater before chasing down Matt Asiata to force him out of bounds after an 11-yard gain, keeping him from getting to the sticks and forcing a punt.

Edwards flashed often during his days at Florida State, but was rarely consistent and didn’t make many plays considering the NFL talent surrounding him. He showed off his entire skill set Sunday against the Vikings despite Peterson running for over 200 yards on the day and if Edwards continues to develop and becomes a more consistent player, the sky is the limit for him and the exciting young nucleus the Raiders are putting together in Oakland.

Malcom Brown (DT-NE)

The Patriots continue to invest in interior defensive linemen who fall in the draft with their late first-round picks, and Malcom Brown is no different. New England selected the former Texas star with the 32nd overall pick a year after taking another defensive tackle, Florida’s Dominique Easley, with the 29th overall pick in 2014. While Easley is a smaller, gap-shooting three-technique, Brown is a 320-pound hole clogger who earned All-American honors last season. The rookie has played behind Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga for much of the season, but made the most of a start Sunday against the Giants with seven tackles (four solo) and a sack.

Draft Insider wasn’t the only outlet questioning Brown’s effort at Texas, but that was a non-issue throughout Sunday’s win. On a play late in the first half, Brown was blocked out of the hole on a run, but fought to get back in the play and pick up an assist on a four-yard gain. Later in the game, Brown rushed the passer but couldn’t get any push into the backfield before the pass was released. Many big tackles would give up on the play at that point, but not Brown. The 6-2, 320-pounder turned and saw Rueben Randle trying to create extra yardage running parallel to the line of scrimmage, and used his athleticism to get downfield and bring down Randle after a seven-yard gain.

On the next play from scrimmage, Brown slipped off the snap and fell to the ground, but kept moving towards the play and tripped up Rashad Jennings to get an assist. When Brown is giving maximum effort, his athleticism can really shine through. Despite his big frame, he fires off the snap with good pad level and does a great job sliding off blocks and keeping opponents from controlling him by staying compact and not giving them a big target to block.

While Brown isn’t a great pass rusher on the inside, he does have nice burst once he fires off the line and works his hands well throughout plays. On a late 3rd-and-5 with the Patriots up by a point and the Giants driving deep in New England territory, Brown fought through multiple blocks and chased down a scrambling Eli Manning, who gave himself up to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving for a field-goal attempt. If Manning had time to scan the field and find a receiver to extend the drive, New England may not have been able to keep New York out of the end zone and come back for the win.

Whenever a player like Brown falls to a team like the Patriots, it’s tough to ignore. The only thing that was keeping Brown from being a top-15 pick were questions that had nothing to do with talent, and landing with New England looks like it has motivated Brown to be as good as he can be, as is the case with many players. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC East and after his performance Sunday, it would be surprising if his snaps didn’t continue to rise for the rest of the year.

Follow Chris Tripodi on Twitter @christripodi to talk football and the NFL Draft.

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