Late comebacks and exciting finishes assured there were no significant changes at the top of the national rankings. On the scouting front three players from the SEC sit atop the risers column this week, which also features a pair of exciting defensive backs from the junior class.
Tim Williams/DE-OLB/Alabama: Scouts stamped Williams as a possible top 45 pick entering the season but the senior has played more like a top 32 choice. The stats from this weekend’s demolition of Tennessee don’t tell the whole story. Williams posted 2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack yet from the start of the game he terrorized Volunteer quarterback Robert Dobbs and annihilated everyone who tried to slow him down. Most impressive was the way Williams got pressure up the field from a three point stance as well as standing over tackle. He beat opponents with speed, power and great technique. He must improve his play against the run and I’m hoping Williams shows up at the Senior Bowl then is used in coverage drills. Regardless, there’s no denying he’s significantly improved his draft stock this season.
Jeremiah Ledbetter/DL/Arkansas: I’ve been waiting to put Ledbetter on my risers list for a number of weeks and feel his performance against Mississippi warrants mention. Most scouts did not grade Ledbetter entering the season due to poor size/speed numbers despite the fact he’s done nothing but make plays since transferring to Arkansas. His numbers against the Rebels included 5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack. To date he leads the team with 3.5 sacks and tops all Razorback defensive linemen with 28 tackles. Ledbetter has size and scheme limitations but his approach and productively make me feel he’s worthy of a late round choice for a team needing a reserve three-technique tackle.
Jeremy Sprinkle/TE/Arkansas: Sprinkle was a prospect I highlighted in August when spoke about the need for increased offensive production. And while that has yet to materialize (1 reception against Mississippi this weekend and a total of 19 catches in 7 games) scouts are impressed with his overall game. His blocking and disciplined route running against Mississippi helped spark the Arkansas offense all evening. And when the ball is thrown in his direction he makes the catch. Sprinkle is a tight end whose contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet and a prospect who will be under-drafted but a player that could eventually develop into a Sunday starter.
Gareon Conley/CB/Ohio State: Two Buckeyes are flying up draft boards, safety Malik Hooker who I mentioned two weeks ago and now Gareon Conley. The junior corner has really stepped up his game and he turned in a great performance against Wisconsin. Putting aside his interception and pass break-up during the game, what was most impressive was the way Conley made plays with his back to the ball and his ability to track the pass then make the play. Conley has decent size which compliments his athleticism, instincts and ball skills. Its all adds up to the next top cornerback prospect from the OSU program.
Dede Westbrook/WR/Oklahoma: Graded as a late round pick before the season, Westbrook is on a tear and has improved his stock by nearly two rounds. The senior is not only proving to be a reliable receiver (43 receptions in 6 games this year) but a big play wide out as well (21-yard average on 26 catches during past three games). Westbrook has also shown a nose for the end zone catching 8 TD receptions the past three games. Forty times are critical in the lead up to the 2017 draft but Westbrook could end up as a middle round choice for a team needing a slot receiver.
Donnie Miles/S/North Carolina: Several seniors on the Tar Heel roster received high grades from scouts entering the season but I contend it is a junior, Donnie Miles, who is the team’s top NFL prospect. To date he’s performed well and looked terrific during the victory over Miami. Leading the defense with 8 tackles, Miles was constantly around the action making positive plays and selling out to stop ball handlers. He needs to pick up his production against the pass but Miles has the size, smarts and range to land in the second day of the draft.
Sleeper Prospect- Kalib Woods/WR/Florida Atlantic: The junior receiver is in the midst of a breakout season and forcing scouts to take notice of his talents. Seven games into the campaign he’s well past the numbers posted all of last year, recording 36 receptions, 496 receiving yards (13.8 yard average) with 1 score. During the loss to Marshall his numbers included 5 catches for 100 yards. Woods is a smooth wide out with sneaky speed and nice size. He needs to find the end zone more often but has set himself up as a mid-third day pick and comes with nice upside.
Small School Prospect- Keionta Davis/DE/ Tenn-Chattanooga: Scouts grade Davis as a fringe 7th round pick but on my board the small school defender ranks as one of the better edge rushers from the senior class. Firing off the snap with an explosive first step, Davis has great speed up the field and bends off the edge with balance and body control. He gives effort in all areas of the game and to date has 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. During the loss to the Citadel this weekend Davis posted 10 tackles. He needs to improve his strength as he struggles holding the point against the run but Davis nicely projects as a designated pass rusher on Sunday.
Peter Kalambayi/OLB/Stanford: A year ago scouts added Kalambayi, then a redshirt sophomore, to their underclassmen watch list yet the defender has shown little progress since. During the win against Notre Dame he posted two tackles and often had trouble finding the ball. In six games this season he has 2.5 sacks to go along with 18 tackles.
Se’Von Pittman/DL/Akron: Back in August I mentioned several scouts had given Pittman a second day grade, which I thought was generous. In seven games this season he’s posted 12 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and has not registered a sack. And though stats don’t completely tell the story an undersized defensive lineman from the MAC must have more impact than displayed by Pittman to warrant a second day grade.
Week six was highlighted by a number of blowout games as well as bad weather in the southeast which effected a number of contests. From the war room the juniors ruled the weekend with a pair of skill prospects standing out as well as two underclassmen on the defensive line. Here are the Risers and Sliders for week six.
JuJu Smith-Schuster/WR/USC: During the first month of the season many had Smith-Schuster falling down draft boards after a few bad outings, something I never bought into. Since then the Trojans made major changes to their offense and the junior wide has turned in three brilliant performances. Against Colorado, a team with three next level prospects in the secondary including potential second day corner Chidobe Awuzie, he hauled in 5 catches for 113 yards, an average of 22.6-yards per reception. I’d like to see Smith-Schuster become more of a red-zone threat considering his size but the naysayers have been proven wrong as the junior looks to be in first round form.
Dalvin Cook/RB/Florida State: I took a wait and see approach on Cook entering the season and thus far he’s looked phenomenal. He finished the contest against interstate rival Miami with 150 yards on 27 carries. His lone touchdown came courtesy of a 59-yard scoring reception. Just a week ago he posted 140 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns against North Carolina. Cook’s ability to pick up big yardage from the line of scrimmage and break long runs is incredibly impressive for a 210lb ball carrier. And though he doesn’t have a lot of receptions on the stats sheet his pass catching skills are NFL worthy. I’m not sold Cook will be the first back selected in the draft, and word is he will leave for the NFL after the season, but he will compete for the top spot at the position.
Greg Gaines/DT/Washington: For the second week in a row the risers column includes the name of a Washington Husky defender and why not? The Husky defense shut down the usually potent Oregon offense en-root to a 70-21 thrashing of the Ducks. It seems Gaines is a player who’s improving weekly and someone not mentioned as a top next level prospect. The red-shirt sophomore finished with 2 tackles for loss and 2 sacks against Oregon, increasing his season total to 7.5 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks through six games. Gaines has next level size, explosion and intensity. And while he needs to improve his play against the run, he’s a better pass rusher than former Husky Danny Shelton, the 12th overall pick of the 2015 draft.
Brandon Chubb/DE/North Carolina State: While the NC State-Notre Dame game was fun to watch it was a tough contest to scout. Regardless, it further confirmed to scouts that Brandon Chubb is the real deal. The junior got the better of highly rated Irish tackle Mike McGlinchey most of the day, finishing with 5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Most impressive was the complete game Chubb showed, not only making plays behind the line of scrimmage but also holding his own in run defense. Despite being slightly out of position in the Wolfpacks 3-4 alignment Chubb has menaced opponents all season. I graded him as a late round pick entering the year but consensus presently has the junior as a potential second day pick.
Corey Davis/WR/Western Michigan: The WMU-NIU contest Saturday highlighted a pair of terrific NFL receiver prospects and Davis came out on top. Graded by some scouts as the number two senior receiver prospect behind Michigan’s Jehu Chesson, Davis finished with 6 receptions, 122 yards and 2 scores. It’s the fifth time this season he registered at least 6 receptions in a game and he’s averaging 15.6-yards on 30 catches in 2016. Davis does everything well and the faster he runs during the combine and/or pro-day, the earlier he’ll be drafted. I would expect him to receive an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Andrew Motuapuaka/LB/Virginia Tech: Played in sloppy conditions like many games on the east coast, the Hokies stomped a surging North Carolina squad and shut down the potent Tar Heel offense. Motuapuaka led the way with a team leading 12 tackles, helping to hold North Carolina to 73 yards rushing. For the season the junior linebacker sits atop the Virginia Tech defense with 49 tackles, 15 more than his nearest teammate. Motuapuaka is a slightly undersized but explosive and stands out in pursuit. He’s a late round choice that would be a terrific fit at inside linebacker and on coverage units.
Sleeper Prospect- Calvin Munson/LB/San Diego State: Scouts stamped Munson as a UDFA but off the 2015 film I gave him a 6th round grade and thus far he’s not disappointed me. Five games into the season Munson leads the Aztecs in tackles (just under 10 per game) and quarterback hurries. He’s an attack linebacker that shows great run stopping prowess besides selling out on the blitz. Munson would be a terrific late round pick as a reserve linebacker/special teams player and he’s the type of prospect that will go have a ten year career in the NFL.
Small School Prospect- Derek Rivers/DE-OLB/Youngstown State: Entering the season scouts graded three YSU prospects as solid day three picks but Rivers is beginning to distance himself from the pack. Fives games into the season Rivers has posted 7 sacks, 8 tackles for loss and 10 QBH’s. Included in the totals were 3 sacks and 3 TFL’s during the Penguins victory over Illinois State, who start two next level prospects on the offensive line. Rivers measures 6-feet/4-inches, 250lbs and plays to a 4.7s forty time. He’s a natural pass rusher with potential as a third down defender on Sunday and can line-up out of a three point stance or standing over tackle.
Tyler O’Connor/QB/Michigan State: There was a thought coming into the season O’Connor, who filled in for Connor Cook on occasion last season, would turn himself into a draftable prospect but that has yet to happen and probably won’t occur. O’Connor was benched Saturday as the Spartans were on their way to a third consecutive loss. For the season O’Connor has tossed 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, a poor ratio.
Week five of the college season saw more than its fair share of amazing finishes and last second buzzer beaters. And many of these finales will impact the national rankings. It was also a good week for several highly rated underclassmen prospects and a few lesser known next level players from the senior class. Here are the Risers and Sliders from week five.
Derek Barnett/DE/Tennessee: On the 15th anniversary of Larry Munson’s famous Hobnail Boot call (google it) the Volunteers turned the tables on Georgia. This game will be remembered for the Hail Mary reception as time ran out on the clock but it was another stellar performance from defensive end Derek Barnett. Coming off the Florida game when he posted 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks, Barnett finished Saturday’s contest with 2 more sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble which resulted in a Volunteers touchdown. Despite the fact the Bulldogs focused on Barnett and kept a tight end on the line of scrimmage to assist in stopping the menacing pass rusher, the junior was a disruptive force all game. Tennessee people I speak with believe Barnett will enter the draft once the season is complete.
Azeem Victor/LB/Washington: There were several Husky defenders who stood out during the victory over Stanford, a win in which the Washington defense held Christian McCaffrey to 79-yards total offense. But for the purposes of rising up draft boards I’m going with Victor. The linebacker displayed his patented athleticism making plays sideline-to-sideline and leading all defenders with 11 tackles. Victor explodes to the play, displaying speed in every direction and stands out in pursuit. I graded the junior as a third round prospect in August but now believe he could make a move into the top 45 if he enters the draft.
Malik Hooker/S/Ohio State: Hooker was a reserve last season behind Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell but has made the most of his opportunity since moving into the starting line-up this year and presently rates as one of the hottest safety prospects in the nation. In four games this season Hooker has intercepted 3 passes and broke up 2 more. Scouts have applauded Hooker’s instincts and ability to be in the right place at the right time. Hooker offers next level size and if he continues to play at this level then enters the draft he could end up in the first round.
Gerald Everett/TE/South Alabama: Everett was graded as a top five tight end from the senior class by scouts, not far behind the likes of Jake Butt or O J Howard, and he continues to justify that opinion. During the Jaguars dominant victory over San Diego State he caught 5 passes for 103-yards with 1 touchdown. The Aztec defense, known for its complex system, lines-up as many as four next level players. This is the second time this season Everett stepped up against top competition. During the opening victory over Mississippi State he recorded 8 receptions for 95 yards. Everett is a tremendous athlete and plays the tight end position like an oversized receiver. I expect him to receive an invitation to the Senior Bowl and Everett could very well hear his name called during the second day of the draft.
Jimmie Gilbert/OLB/Colorado: The Colorado program is having a renaissance of sorts after being the doormat of the PAC 12 for the longest time and Gilbert is leading the way on defense. Entering the season stamped as a street free agent, Gilbert has been a destructive force from the first game of the year. His latest effort included a team leading 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks as well as 2 forced fumbles during the Buffs victory over Oregon State. The senior comes with impressive computer numbers measuring 6-feet/5-inches and 230lbs while timing 4.75s in the forty. He’s finally transitioning his athletic skill into football production and now has a real chance to slide into the latter rounds for a team wanting a designated pass rusher.
Ifeadi Odenigbo/DL/Northwestern: Another prospect coming of age, Odenigbo has been a dominant force this season since stepping into the starting unit. He was unstoppable during the Wildcats upset victory over Iowa, totaling 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble. The season totals now stand at 5 sacks in five games for Odenigbo to go along with 4 QBH’s. Most impressive against Iowa was the variety he showed beating Hawkeyes blockers with spin moves, inside moves and edge speed. Odenigbo is not a great athlete but a good football player that’s showing he can get to the quarterback and disrupt the action.
Sleeper Prospect: Adam Butler/DL/Vanderbilt: Scouts stamped Butler as a menial UDFA entering the season, something I was also guilty of, yet the senior defensive lineman continues to disrupt opponents game plans during crucial moments. Against Florida he posted 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss, helping to keep the Gators passing game in check. Butler lacks next level athleticism but is skilled in all areas of the game which could help him latch on as a 7th or 8th lineman in the NFL.
Small School Prospect: Tanoh Kpassagnon/DE/Villanova: Looking for a highly rated small school prospect no one is talking about? Then look no further than Kpassagnon. Stamped as a potential second day pick by scouts, the senior is meeting expectations this season and has posted 11 tackles for loss and 5 sacks during the first month of the season. Kpassagnon is sized well (6-feet/6.5-inches and 280lbs), athletic and has tremendous potential. He can be a one man wrecking crew making plays behind the line of scrimmage or just as easily a defensive lineman who occupies blockers which allows teammates to make plays on the ball. Expect Kpassagnon to show up at either Shrine or Senior week then receive and invitation to the combine.
Jamar Summers/CB/UConn: The junior corner was considered a lock second day pick off his tremendous 2015 campaign but his game has taken a step back this year. He’s been burnt badly in consecutive weeks against Syracuse then Houston and has played more like a late round prospect. I’m told Summers has spoken with agents about exploring his next level options but unless he quickly turns it around his best course of action is returning to UConn.
Cole Croston/T/Iowa: Croston was graded as a fringe last round pick entering the season but those hopes have been given a big setback. The senior tackle was mercilessly beaten by previously mentioned Ifeadi Odenigbo throughout the game. Odenigbo ran around, over and past Croston for at least three sacks.