It was an exciting weekend of college football which will result in a major impact on the national rankings. And while most everyone was focused on the big names from Saturday’s games we found several lesser known prospects who improved their draft stock. Here are the Risers and Sliders for week five.
Emmanuel Ogbah/DE/Oklahoma State: Ogbah was highlighted during our week five preview and the junior delivered. He was omnipresent throughout the victory over Kansas State finishing with 6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack and a pair of quarterback hurries. Ogbah was forcing quarterbacks to move around the pocket and defeated blocks of opposing guards to stop ball handlers behind the line of scrimmage. He needs to improve his strength at the point of attack but Ogbah is developing into a fearsome front seven player.
Tra Carson/RB/Texas A&M: I previously bemoaned the fact Carson was not considered draftable by area scouts prior to the season after I stamped him as a potential sixth round choice. It looks as though I may be underrating him. The Arkansas game notwithstanding, Carson has been dominant all season long and registered another terrific outing, this time against a tough Mississippi State defense. He finished with 110-yards on 26 carries for an average of 4.1 yards per attempt. What I find most exciting about Carson is the shiftiness and agility he shows for a 230lb ball carrier. He’s much more than a downhill runner and though needing to polish his pass catching skills, he’ll receive middle round consideration for a team in search of a versatile, big bodied ball carrier.
Desmond Morgan/LB/Michigan: Morgan was another prospect dismissed as non-draftable entering the season then graded significantly lower than teammates Joe Bolden and James Ross yet he’s held his own in the early part of the campaign. He was dominant against the weak Maryland offense on Saturday, leading the Wolverines with 9 tackles as well as intercepting 1 pass and breaking up 2 more. Morgan’s built more like a classic weakside linebacker but has the wherewithal and physical skills to play three downs as a back-up in a variety of schemes at the next level.
Jake Coker/QB/Alabama: Its time scouts, who graded Coker as a street free agent entering the season, readjust their opinions on the signal caller. Coker helped pace the Tide’s victory over Georgia with an efficient, mistake free performance. He was 11 of 16 for 190 yards with one touchdown pass and was not sacked by a Bulldog defense that makes a lot of plays up the field. When considering the overall weakness of the quarterback position from the senior class, coupled with the desire to add an SEC flavor to the Senior Bowl, there’s a real chance he receives an invitation to Mobile next January.
Dean Lowry/DE/Northwestern: The Wildcats are 5-0 and field one of the better defenses in the Big Ten with Lowry being one of the main ingredients of their success. During the shutout victory over Minnesota the senior finished with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and was constantly getting pressure off the edge. Lowry entered the season as a potential late round pick and he may slide into the last frame for a team wanting a rotational defensive end.
Rashard Higgins/WR/Colorado State: The Rams have had a tough go of it this season after a triumphant 2014 campaign but Higgins has been on fire. He posted 10 receptions for 114 yards and 1 score during CSU’s loss to Utah State, the third game in a row he’s topped the century mark in receiving yards. Higgins has already made a number of underclassmen watch lists around the league and he’s a smooth, fluid receiver that makes a large number of plays down the field.
*Sleeper* Michael Thomas/WR/Southern Mississippi: Its not surprising Thomas was considered a street free agent by scouts when the season began. He’s under 200lbs, runs in the mid 4.5’s and stands barely 6-foot/1-inch. Yet Thomas is in the midst of a career campaign and after torching the Nebraska secondary for 5-receptions and 121 yards, he followed it up with 7 catches, 155 yards and 3 touchdowns against North Texas. Good workouts prior to the draft could put him into the late part of the seventh round if he keeps performing at this level.
*Small School Prospects* Brian Brown & Reggie Diggs/WR/Richmond: The Spiders have a terrific one-two combination at the receiver position and both players are NFL prospects. Diggs, a senior, is a nice sized pass catcher that goes 6-feet/4-inches and just a shade under 210lbs. He’s a game controller who physically beats down opponents in the middle of the field to come away with the reception. Brown, just a junior, is smaller but faster and more prone to big plays down the field. Diggs deserves late round consideration while Brown could develop into an early third day pick if he continues to improve his game.
Dadi Nicholas/DE-OLB/Virginia Tech: Entering the season scouts graded Nicholas as a potential first round pick but five games into the campaign he’s played more like a late rounder. Nicholas has yet to register a single sack or tackle for loss and has just 12 tackles and 3 quarterback hurries this year.
Joel Stave/QB/Wisconsin: There are a number of scouts who feel Stave’s best possibility at the next level is at the safety position rather than the quarterback spot. It was easy to see why against Iowa. Stave deserves credit for good completion percentage (over 60%) but his touchdown-to-interception ratio raises red-flags as do many of his throws. During the loss to Iowa he tossed a pair of costly picks then late in the game as the Badgers were driving in a last ditch effort to win, Stave missed open receivers. While some whittle it down to mechanical issues Stave has never truly elevated his game at the quarterback spot.
Zack Sanchez/CB/Oklahoma: Reviewing the 2014 film this summer Sanchez was one of my favorite corners. He shut down opponents with polished ball skills yet the one blemish during the Sooners 20-point victory over West Virginia was the play of Sanchez who was beaten deep and seemed to play back on his heels. It was not the type of performance one expects from a top 40 prospect.
Junior cornerback Desmond King of Iowa, a week three riser, picked off two passes and broke up two more to go along with nine tackles during the Hawkeyes victory over Wisconsin. In conversations the past week there’s a feeling from many King has first round potential if he enters the draft. At present time most believe King will likely stay in school. From a character point of view I’ve heard nothing but positives about him.
Week four riser Shaq Washington had a major impact in Cincinnati’s victory over the Miami Hurricanes. Besides catching 8 passes for 106 yards he also had a 69-yard punt return early in the game which eventually turned into seven points for the Bearcats. Washington is considered a 4.5-second prospect by scouts but plays much faster and his pre-draft workouts will be something to keep an eye on.
Florida International is struggling through a losing campaign but scouts have shown a lot of interest in junior tight end Jonnu Smith. The athletic pass catcher has posted 19 receptions in five games and has shown marked improvement in his game.
The first Saturday in October on the college football schedule is turning into one of the biggest weekends thus far as a number of games will impact the national rankings. Scouts will be paying close attention to a pair of battles on the edge as well as two more through the air.
Indiana vs Ohio State
3:30PM EST ABC
Everyone knows of Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, who sits atop most draft boards as the number one overall prospect heading towards 2016. Bosa’s statistics are down this season as he’s recorded just 2.5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks in the three games he’s played but the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Bosa, who is expected to enter next April’s draft, has applied a lot of pressure up the field and created opportunities for teammates.
And while most are familiar with Bosa the same cannot be said about Jason Spriggs.
The fourth year senior has started at left tackle for the Hoosiers since his freshman season and has done a terrific job keeping his quarterback upright. He has excellent length and is a great technician protecting the edge. What he lacks is athleticism and run blocking strength. I’ve graded Spriggs as a potential third round pick since his sophomore season while scouts have him as an early second day choice.
The opportunity is available for Bosa or Spriggs to make a statement tomorrow. Bosa needs to get rolling on his production while Spriggs wants to prove he can compete with the nation’s best.
Kansas State vs Oklahoma State
4PM EST Fox Sports 1
This is another terrific battle on the edge featuring a highly rated senior left tackle against a well regarded pass rusher from the junior class.
Area scouts grade Cody Whitehair as one of the top three tackle prospects from the senior class and many believe he’s a top 45 prospect. He’s a three year starter for Kansas State that’s played both left and right tackle as well as guard with the first team. Presently I rank Whitehair as the top guard prospect moving towards the 2016 draft but feel he’s more a bottom of round two prospect.
Whitehair will have a battle on his hands Saturday when he faces off against one of the most underrated pass rushers in the nation.
Prior to the season I ranked Emmanuel Ogbah as a potential third rounder but raved about his upside. Thus far he’s not disappointed during the season’s initial four games posting 5.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss besides intercepting 1 pass. Ogbah is an explosive athlete who quickly gets up the field and also easily moves in reverse to make plays in space.
The contest is an important battle for both players; Whitehair has the opportunity to prove he can handle an athletic speed rusher off the edge. Ogbah must show he can compete against a true mauler.
Ole Miss vs Florida
7PM EST ESPN
This may not be much of a battle on the scoreboard as ‘Ole Miss is justifiably more than a touchdown favorite over the Gators, but I expect a big battle in the air.
A week ago I wrote about the Florida secondary, which has been hit by injury, as they prepared to battle Tennessee. Cornerback Brian Poole has played better than expected this season while safety Keanu Neal and corner Vernon Hargreaves have been slowed with assorted injuries.
Injuries or not the Gators secondary will face their stiffest challenge of the year against ‘Ole Miss on Saturday.
Start with receiver LaQuon Treadwell, a big, dominant pass catcher who I ranked as top three prospect from the SEC before the season began. Treadwell is a game controlling pass catcher that will out finesse or out muscle defenders for the reception. He natural, fluid but also physical and will be a top ten selection if not medically red-flagged.
Teammate Cody Core is the vertical receiver for the Rebels and the one who stretches the field. He’s able to beat defenders in a foot race and makes big plays from the line of scrimmage. A week three riser, scouts have told me since the Alabama game Core could land in the second day of the draft.
That’s not all as the Gators can’t sleep on tight end Evan Engram, who plays like a big possession receiver. Engram has just five receptions this season, albeit for an average of 13.6-yards per catch, and will challenge Keanu Neal in the short and long field.
West Virginia vs Oklahoma
12PM EST Fox Sports 1
Here’sanother battle brewing in the secondary which should provide offensive fireworks.
The Sooners are well know for their air attack and have been true to form this season with passing yards which more than doubles their ground totals. The star of the show is senior Sterling Shepard, a slightly undersized but dependable wide out that plays with a fearless attitude and a lot of athleticism. Shepard, stamped as a last day pick, is averaging 6 receptions per game and is the Sooners top punt returner. He’s slippery, effective running after the catch and always finds ways to separate from opponents.
On the other hand West Virginia has a history of placing talented cornerbacks in the league but it’s a pair of safeties who are the focus this year.
Seniors Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon were both deemed draftable by scouts entering the season and the former is in the midst of a career campaign.
After three games Joseph has posted a team leading 4 interceptions and lists second on the Mountaineers defense with 15 tackles. Known more for his run defense, Joseph has really improved his play against the pass this season. On the other hand Dillon is more natural against the pass and shows better range than his teammate.
The Mountaineer tandem will be challenged to stop both the run and pass against an Oklahoma offense which posted 45-points and a combined 510-yards when the teams met last season.
Just a week after Jameis Winston had the best game of his young career, two of his former Florida State teammates played key roles in a big win for their current team. The highest-drafted receiver in the 2015 class showed why he was so highly regarded, while a first-year linebacker got a shot to play significant snaps in a win. Chris Tripodi breaks down Week 3’s impact rookies, all of whom helped their teams to victory.
Karlos Williams (RB-Buf)
Hyped by some as a potential first-round pick heading into his senior year thanks to elite size (6-0, 230) and speed (4.45), Karlos Williams fell to the middle of the fifth round before the Buffalo Bills snatched him up. A former safety at Florida State, Williams moved to running back before his junior season but found himself leapfrogged on the depth chart by Dalvin Cook towards the end of his final year. Williams is making teams pay for passing on him so far in his rookie season, as his 12-carry, 110-yard performance Sunday has him up to 186 rushing yards in three games on just 24 carries, and he’s scored a touchdown in each contest.
Williams didn’t touch the ball until Buffalo’s fourth possession Sunday, but made a quick impact with an 18-yard run. On a toss left, Williams patiently followed his blockers before showing a nice burst through the opening on the outside to get the first down. On the next play, he showed his ability to find the cutback lane nicely on a five-yard run. Williams stayed tight to his linemen waiting for their blocks, drawing the linebacker towards him before quickly cutting into the vacated hole for five yards. The rookie then busted a 12-yard run up the middle by running through multiple arm tackles around the line of scrimmage.
With LeSean McCoy nursing an injury, Williams had a few more uneventful carries until his 41-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter extended the Bills’ lead to 27. Williams took a draw from the shotgun and cut inside pulling guard Richie Incognito’s block into a hole up the middle. Reading the position of the deep safety, Williams took the play outside and blew by everybody at the second level, cutting inside his receiver’s block on the outside and leaving the corner flat-footed on his way to the end zone.
Williams’ patience and downhill running ability fit Greg Roman’s offensive scheme extremely well, arguably better than McCoy’s skill set, which suffers from his tendency to dance and move east/west rather than north/south. Williams wastes no time getting downhill after setting up his blocks and showed the power to move the pile multiple times in Sunday’s breakout game. While Williams is not a creative runner who can make space that isn’t there and just puts his head down and runs into linebackers at times, he’s been extremely effective as a change-of-pace runner despite not changing his upright running style.
McCoy’s nagging injuries may threaten his Week 4 status, in which case Williams would be given an opportunity to start against a Giants’ run defense that bottled up the Redskins’ rushing attack last Thursday and will have had 10 days to prepare for the Bills. Here at Draft Insider, we had Williams graded as a sixth-round prospect who would fit best as an early-down change-of-pace back, which is where he’s thrived this season. It will be interesting to see what he can do as a starter if he gets the opportunity, as Roman and Rex Ryan will likely give him every chance to succeed considering his early-season success.
Amari Cooper (WR-Oak)
After an impressive seven-catch, 109-yard performance in Week 2 that saw him catch his first career touchdown, Amari Cooper upped the ante in Week 3, catching eight passes for 134 yards as the Raiders beat the Browns. One of the most polished receivers to come out of college in recent years, the former Alabama star and this year’s No. 4 overall pick has lived up to the hype and put the league on notice with 20 receptions for 290 yards in his first three NFL games.
Cooper got off to a hot start Sunday, catching three balls for 54 yards on the first drive of the game. His first grab was a quick fade where Cooper used his hands to beat Joe Haden’s press coverage at the line and did a nice job adjusting to the ball on his back shoulder to make the first-down catch. Cooper again got away from Haden three plays later, using his speed to create separation on a banana route, leading to an 18-yard reception. On third-and-eight a few plays later, Cooper caught a curl at the sticks and broke Haden’s tackle attempt to gain an extra 15 yards on the play. The Raiders settled for a field goal, but Cooper was the main reason they were able to move the ball down the field.
The rookie receiver was quiet on Oakland’s next few drives, including a drop on a short crossing route, but Cooper atoned with a 40-yard reception to set up a second-quarter touchdown. Cooper had the corner on his heels with a nice stop-and-start move before cutting to the middle of the field, and followed the reception with a stiff arm of the safety to create yards after the catch. Cooper wasn’t even targeted over the next quarter-and-a-half, however, as the Browns seemed to make a concerted effort to keep him in check.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, keeping a talent like Cooper down is hard to sustain. Taking advantage of off coverage, Derek Carr hit Cooper on a quick turnaround route and let his receiver do the rest. Cooper broke two tackles on the play to turn a short pass into 17 yards, pushing the overpursuing corner to the ground before another stiff arm got him free. With the good comes the bad when it comes to rookies in the NFL, however, and even Cooper isn’t immune, as his fumble three plays later gave Cleveland the ball in Oakland territory. Cooper made a nice catch on a slant thrown behind him, but never fully secured the ball and had it squirt out of his hands after getting hit by two defenders, giving possession back to the Browns.
Since a quiet 47-yard debut, Cooper has been highly impressive after whipping Haden and looks to be quickly building chemistry with second-year quarterback David Carr. Cooper’s 290 receiving yards rank eighth in the NFL, and the rookie has to be licking his chops ahead of a Week 4 matchup with a shaky Bears’ defense. With there may be an occasional hiccup along the way, Cooper’s playmaking ability is obvious and his presence has allowed Carr to take a big step forward in his second year. The Bills haven’t yet reaped the benefits of taking Sammy Watkins in the top-five last season, but the early returns show Cooper as being well worth the high draft pick Oakland spent on him.
Eric Kendricks (LB-Min)
Many draft analysts, including us here at Draft Insider, had Eric Kendricks rated as the top inside linebacker in this year’s draft class. Kendricks was drafted behind Stephone Anthony and Bernardrick McKinney, however, and the Minnesota Vikings finally grabbed him with the No. 45 overall pick. Despite Gerald Hodges being Kendricks’ only obstacle to an every-down role, however, he’s yet to move into the starting lineup through three weeks. Kendricks did make nine tackles this week playing on passing downs, which had him on the field on over half of Minnesota’s plays.
One of Kendricks’ best traits at UCLA was his ability in coverage. With the speed to stay with running backs and tight ends up the seam and good discipline in his assignments, that area of the game was supposed to translate immediately for Kendricks. While he didn’t let any pass plays get behind him Sunday, the rookie has looked slightly tentative and conservative in coverage as he gets his feet wet in the NFL.
Kendricks has shown the ability to get good depth on his drops, but has lacked aggression from that point of the play on. He allowed two catches to Chargers backup tight end John Phillips on Sunday, and wasn’t aggressive enough against a player who is unable to stretch the seam. One reception came on a short curl where he gave Phillips too much cushion, but quickly wrapped him up for the tackle. The other came when Kendricks showed blitz before dropping into coverage, and his slight hesitation before sprinting out to cover Phillips’ route to the sideline kept him in trail position for the entire play, which turned into a 15-yard gain.
The rookie was caught trailing again on a short crossing route to Keenan Allen, but the play went for just two yards as Kendricks was able to work around a natural pick after the catch to make the tackle. He showed the instincts that had many high on him throughout the draft process on a play late in the second quarter, immediately reading Philip Rivers’ eyes and quickly reacting to a slant throw to Allen, putting a hard hit on the receiver to stop him in his tracks after seven yards.
Kendricks also was slightly tentative in the run game as well, reacting just a beat slow and losing ground with false steps on a few runs that went for five or more yards. He did show good speed to get outside the tackle box to make plays on the speedy Melvin Gordon, and his fundamentals taking on blockers were also solid. While he does have a tendency to get stuck on blocks once engaged, Kendricks did an excellent job on a third-quarter run to keep Gordon contained in the middle of the field. The former Bruin engaged the lineman’s outside shoulder with nice extension and slid his feet to keep his head outside, showing himself in the running lane and forcing Gordon to cut back inside where Kendricks had help.
After three games, Kendricks has yet to force his way into a full-time role but is making strides towards seeing the field more. The game should slow down for him soon and when it does, he’s far too talented for Hodges to hold off for long. The Vikings will probably use their nickel defense often in a Week 4 showdown with the Broncos in Denver, giving Kendricks even more reps to increase his comfort level on the field and convince the coaching staff he’s ready for a bigger role.
Ronald Darby (CB-Buf)
Overshadowed by P.J. Williams the past few seasons at Florida State, Ronald Darby found himself drafted 28 spots higher than Williams at No. 50 overall. Darby has been excellent in coverage through three weeks as a starter opposite Stephon Gilmore, intercepting two passes to tie for the NFL lead while breaking up eight more, good enough for sole possession of first in the league. The 5-11, 193-pounder also has 15 tackles (13 solo) on the young season.
Darby was raw coming out of Florida State, but has developed quickly which is allowing his athleticism to shine through. He’s already shown the ability to stay on the hip of opposing receivers without interfering, and his 4.37 speed helps him recover quickly if he allows separation. Darby consistently stayed with Miami’s receivers down the field in Sunday’s win, flipping his hips nicely to transition from his backpedal and getting his head around immediately once his receiver committed, attacking the ball quickly and aggressively to break up passes.
The rookie’s interception was a gift from Ryan Tannehill, who wasn’t on the same page with Jordan Cameron against zone coverage. Darby quickly got into his drop and read Tannehill’s eyes, closing to the ball quickly for the pick while Cameron continued downfield. The former Seminole almost had a second interception later in the game, as he stayed with Rishard Matthews through contact and ran Matthews’ wheel route for him, putting himself in perfect position for the pick before Matthews got his hand in to prevent the interception.
Darby showed the ability to turn and run with any receiver and displayed fluid hips not only out of his backpedal, but also to stay with receivers out of their breaks. Combined with his top-notch closing speed, Darby’s coverage skills already pop off the screen and give the Bills a great complement to the highly regarded Gilmore. Darby did get beat by DeVante Parker early in the game for a 19-yard grab, however, as the rookie corner got turned around as Parker sold a deep route at the stem of his route. Instead, the Dolphins rookie receiver broke towards the middle of the field for the grab, but Darby recovered to make the tackle and limit yards after the catch.
Darby would get revenge on Parker on the game’s final play with the score out of hand, sticking with his 6-3 opponent on a fade route and knocking the ball away after Parker made an adjustment on a short throw. The rookie cornerback has shown the ability to stick with receivers in tight coverage through three games and his ball skills have been extremely impressive. If Darby continues his rapid development, he will help give the Bills an excellent tandem on the outside for years to come.
Follow Chris Tripodi on Twitter @christripodi to talk football and the NFL Draft.