Conference title games have arrived and the bowl season is just around the corner. As teams end their seasons the chatter on underclassmen entering the draft will be deafening. While many of these decisions are not yet in cement, and there may be some denials, this is the most up to date information from around the nation. Update December 12th
During the December 5th update I posted Andrus Peat is likely to stay at Stanford as the junior enjoys school. The word circulating is Peat was given, or will soon be handed, a first round grade from scouts. This comes as no surprise but it will be interesting to see if this confirmation impacts his final decision.
In October I reported both Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins of Georgia were likely headed towards the draft. Much has changed the past six weeks. I’ve been informed Jenkins family is saying the junior will more than likely return to Athens for another season and its seems so to will Floyd, who did not play well down the stretch.
I’m told receivers Jordan Payton of UCLA and Breshad Perriman of Central Florida will enter the draft.
Payton was the favorite target of Brett Hundley this season registering 63 receptions for 896 yards and 7 scores. Perriman had an up and down season posting 41 receptions for 906 yards (22.1yd average) and 9 scores. Perriman has flashed big time ability the past two seasons as well as an equal amount of inconsistency in his game.
Receiver Cayleb Jones of Arizona, who began his college career at Texas, seems undecided about his next move. It was thought for the longest time Jones, who led the Wildcats with 65 receptions for 902 yards, would enter the draft but he’s recently pulled back and remains uncommitted.
Last week I reported LSU cornerback Jalen Collins is expected to enter the draft and I can tell you Collins has been meeting with agents, further legitimizing the report. LSU coaches are telling scouts Collins was one of the few defensive backs who was able to lockdown Odell Beckham Jr in practice last season. It also seems they are not too concerned about losing him to the NFL. The feeling in the program is Collins may have trouble holding down a starting spot in 2015 as LSU coaches are stoked over the developing star talent at the cornerback position.
Contrary to my report a week ago it seems there’s a good chance LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter enters the draft. I presently grade Hunter as a 2nd/3rd round pick.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, who I grade as a late round pick, is another Tiger giving serious consideration to entering the draft.
Earlier on twitter I posted the news that Andrus Peat is likely to stay at Stanford for another season. And while this comes as a surprise to many, the readers of this column were alerted on October 14th as well as November 14th that Peat had not put much thought into leaving for the NFL.
Sources close to the situation informed me there are several reasons Peat is expected to be playing for Stanford in 2015. First, he not only enjoys college life but likes school. Complimenting this is the fact his family has made education a priority. Finally Peat, a true junior, will be 20 years old when NFL camps open next summer and those around him feel the extra year in college to improve his strength and further mature physically would be best.
Could he change his mind? Never say never. People will try to get into his head and show Peat the dollar signs which await him but as I hear it the player himself wants to return to Stanford.
Word is circulating another junior tackle could be headed to the draft as Michigan State’s Jack Conklin is weighing his options.
As I hear it Conklin would also prefer to stay in college and its outside influences (aka agents) who are pushing him towards opting for the draft. Most scouts feel Conklin, who lines up at left tackle for the Spartans but is better suited for the right side at the next level, could move from third round prospect in 2015 to the first round in 2016 if he sticks around MSU for another season.
Its always interesting to see what’s going on at LSU considering the mass exodus of underclassmen the past two years. The latest word from people close to the program has defensive end Danielle Hunter returning to school while cornerback Jalen Collins is leaning towards entering the draft.
Finally I’m hearing linebacker Antonio Morrison, a week 14 riser, may join the list of Florida Gator underclassmen opting for the draft.
It looks like fans of the Fighting Irish may be able to breathe a sigh of relief as I’m told quarterback Everett Golson and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley are both expected to return for another season. Stanley is well liked in the scouting community and could be a very early pick if he continues to improve his game.
During my first entry on October 24th there was a notation on tackle Andrus Peat of Stanford not broaching the topic of entering the draft despite the fact everyone believes he’ll opt for the NFL. I’m told that still holds true as Peat has still not given much consideration to his next level decision. I was informed people close to Peat are lining up agents if the junior decides the NFL is the next step in his football career.
On the other hand I’m told there’s a very real possibility Ohio State’s Taylor Decker enters the draft. The junior is really under the radar and ranks as a top 60 player on my board. He looked good on the right side in 2013 and has played even better at the all important weak side position in 2014. It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes recent success and the expectations of a bright forecast in 2015 will weigh into Decker’s decision.
Another underclassman at the offensive tackle position giving serious thought to entering is Zach Banner of USC. It’s a real possibility the Trojans lose 3-to-5 underclassmen to the draft.
What of Miami tackle Ereck Flowers? Flowers has told people he’s not thinking about the draft. Take it one step further and I’m told Hurricane coach Al Golden is pushing hard to get his underclassmen to return in 2015. Several sources tell me the non-seniors have been told not to speak with agents or there will be consequences.
From the defensive side of the ball word is defensive end/outside linebacker Bronson Kafusi, who had a quick start to the season before being slowed by injury, is expected to return to BYU.
Since last week’s report several sources inform me the odds are high USC receiver Nelson Agholor enters the draft. In fact several believe Agholor and teammate Leonard Williams will sign as a package deal to the same agent.
The Trojans may lose a third underclassman as center/guard Max Tuerk is giving serious consideration to entering the draft.
The decision of Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is something that will be closely monitored. Recent word has Prescott a long ways from making a decision. Evidently he’ll wait and see what type of grade he receives from scouts once the regular season has concluded then move through the information gathering process.
Staying in the state of Mississippi I’m told defensive end/outside linebacker C.J. Johnson of Ole Miss is making overtures on entering the draft. Ditto for Southern Mississippi defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who’s been playing terrific football as of late and was a week ten riser.
Finally I’m told yet another defensive line prospect, Malcom Brown of the Texas Longhorns, is also leaning towards opting for the draft.
Lets start by brushing up on last weeks information.
I’m told the chances of Gators defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard entering the draft are greater than what I initially reported. If there’s a coaching change at Florida, which is almost a foregone conclusion, Bullard could be off to the NFL. The overwhelming belief amongst scouts is while Bullard is a good player and solid prospect, he really needs another season on the college field.
The same can be said for Xavier Cooper of Washington State. Since the story a week ago I’ve been hearing west coast scouts unanimously feel it would be a mistake if Cooper opted for the draft and he’s better off returning for another season on the college field.
I may be a bit late to the party on the following players but underclassmen are expected to provide the cornerback position a much needed infusion of talent.
I’m told Trae Waynes of Michigan State is expected to enter the draft and family members are now vetting agents.
The pair from Florida State, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, who were exploited by DeVante Parker last night, are also expected to enter. I like both players though numerous sources tell me Williams has character issues which will raise red flags with teams.
Sources out west tell me Oregon’s Arik Armstead will enter the draft barring a major injury. Armstead has missed a few contests this season with an ankle issue, which is not expected to impact his decision for next year. Though there’s been no word from the player himself, conventional wisdom is teammate DeForest Buckner may follow Armstead and opt for the draft.
Another pair of top pass rushers are very much undecided at this point in the process.
Though nowhere near reaching a final decision the word is Shilique Calhoun is leaning towards returning to Michigan State next season, a good thing considering his somewhat disappointing campaign.
And while Eli Haroldof Virginia is on pace for a career year I’m told there’s not been much serious consideration about the draft by the junior. At this point it seems Harold will investigate his options after the season.
I’ve received conflicting reports on USC receiver Nelson Agholor, who’s in the midst of a terrific campaign, which I’m sure to catch hell for considering the low grade I gave him in June. Sources tell me Agholor is leaning towards entering the draft but also inform me his close friend, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler, will try and entice him to return for another season.
The recent news stating Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is likely to enter the draft should come as no surprise to anyone as this was expected to be his last season with the Noles. What is surprising are reports which have MLB agents pursuing Winston in the hopes of signing him as a client. As told to us, Winston is a legitimate baseball prospect as a relief pitcher. Speaking with league insiders there are several theories as to why baseball agents are in pursuit of Winston. They include 1) Winston using his baseball opportunities to leverage where he will play in the NFL (ala Bo Jackson) 2) an instance such as Jeff Samardzija where Winston chooses baseball over the NFL. To be clear that’s all speculation as of now and assumes baseball agents are able to sign Winston.
Running back is the position expected to be most effected in the draft by an infusion of underclassmen talent as a number of top 60 prospects will be entering. The two no-brainers are Todd Gurley of Georgia and Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, who came close to leaving for the 2014 draft, entering the 2015 event.
Sources have indicated Jay Ajayi of Boise State and Mike Davis of South Carolina are also entering. I’m told Davis and his people have been vetting agents. I’m also told Davis is not lacking for confidence and feels he’ll be as highly rated as Todd Gurley come draft day.
There’s been scant news directly from the source but people close to the Indiana Hoosier program are planning for the departure of Tevin Coleman at seasons end. The story is similar at Miami with Duke Johnson, something even more likely after his injury last evening.
When it comes to pass catchers the only solid information at this time surrounds Michigan tight end Devin Funchess and Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong. I’m told Funchess will enter and he’s close to deciding which agent he’ll sign with while the word in Tempe is Strong will declare at season’s end.
Everyone is assuming Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, an expected top 12 pick, will enter the draft. I’ve been told all along Peat is concentrating on the season at hand and will move his focus towards the draft after the campaign. So at this point there’s no definitive word.
Starting on defense I’m told its near 99% Randy Gregory of Nebraska enters the draft and area scouts talk of him as top five material.
Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. is admittedly leaning towards entering the draft and I’m told there’s a chance his teammate Jonathan Bullard could join him.
To no one’s surprise sources out west tell me its a foregone conclusion Leonard Williams enters the draft.
The other PAC 12 defensive lineman I’m hearing will enter is Xavier Cooper of Washington State, though his draft grade draws mixed reviews. While some stamp Cooper as a top 45 pick, area scouts presently grade the junior as a middle (3rd/4th) round prospect at best.
At linebacker it looks like a pair of Georgia Bulldogs are headed out the door.
A month ago I was told Leonard Floyd (DE/OLB) would consider entering the draft after a good season but recent word is the true-sophomore will declare himself eligible at the end of the season. So too will teammate Jordan Jenkins, whom I’m told is closing in on an agent and is a linebacker I’m very high on.
Another SEC linebacker, Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State, is also likely to enter. McKinney considered the 2014 draft from arm’s length and as of two weeks ago the word from the program was “he’s gone” in 2015.
Out west I’m informed two Washington Husky juniors, linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Marcus Peters will enter the draft.
Stanford cornerback Alex Carter is also expected to enter the draft. Carter, whose father Tom was a first round pick of the Washington Redskins in 1993, is in the midst of a terrific season.
Finally, several sources have indicated to me Alabama safety Landon Collins, another defensive back that’s turned heads with terrific play this season, will also declare for the draft.
As the college bowl season is upon us its time to update our mock draft from last month. Based on NFL.com’s most recent draft order, here’s a look at how the draft’s initial ten picks could play out next April. To stay consistent with our information and the report from a week ago that he’s likely to return to Stanford, Andrus Peat was purposely left out of the mix.
|1||Tampa Bay||Marcus Mariota||QB/Oregon|
|Analysis: The need at quarterback is growing and Mariota is not only the best signal caller in the draft but one of the best prospects available.|
|2||Tennessee Titans||Jameis Winston||QB/Florida State|
|Analysis: It pains me to put Winston in this slot as I don’t think he deserves to be a top six selection. We always witness teams reach for signal callers and the Titans may be backed into a corner with Mettenberger on the mend.|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars||Cedric Ogbuehi||OT/Texas A&M|
|Analysis: Many feel the Jags need a pass rusher but they’ve given up a league high 54 sacks and Bortles is getting hammered every week. Luke Joeckel can play either tackle spot which makes this pick easier to digest.|
|4||New York Jets||Amari Cooper||WR/Alabama|
|Analysis: The Jets play the Titans this weekend with draft positioning on the line. Cooper is the consistent play maker the offense has lacked for some time and he’ll be the best receiver the Jets have drafted since Al Toon. Quarterback and offensive tackle are also considerations here.
|5||Oakland Raiders||Randy Gregory||DE/Nebraska|
|Analysis: Gregory combines the athleticism the Raiders organization loves along with the ability to rush the passer, which they need.
|6||Washington Redskins||Leonard Williams||DL/USC|
|Analysis: Williams is conventionally thought of as a 4-3 tackle yet I feel he has the size, athleticism and movement skills to stack up as a defensive end in a 3-man line for a one-gap or two-gap system.|
|7||New York Giants||Brandon Scherff||OT/Iowa|
|Analysis: The Giants could use a pass rusher but they best protect Manning to prolong his future. Despite the nasty tweets sent my way a month ago, the team will look for an upgrade at both offensive tackle positions and consider moving Pugh into guard.|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Vic Beasley||DE/Clemson|
|Analysis: Despite the changes expected in the organization Carolina still needs a pass rusher. I’m disappointed in the play of Kony Ealy as I thought he was under drafted last year. Beasley offers the disruptive force needed up front.|
|9||Chicago Bears||Leonard Floyd||DE/Georgia|
|Analysis: I may be alone believing Floyd is worthy of a top ten choice and in the end I’ll be a genius or a fool. When I watch the sophomore I see a disruptive pass rusher who can play in space and comes with tremendous upside.|
|10||New Orleans Saints||La’el Collins||OT/LSU|
|Analysis: Personally I’m of the opinion Collins will play guard at the next level and is of the late first round variety. That said a number of area scouts who’ve come through the SEC love Collins and feel he’ll have no problem holding down the left tackle spot in the NFL.|
By the end of the NFL season, most of the league’s impact rookies have already made themselves known to the public. Some came out of the gates hot, like Kelvin Benjamin and C.J. Mosley, while others didn’t make an impact until the second of third month of the season, like Odell Beckham Jr. and Isaiah Crowell. With that in mind, Chris Tripodi takes a look at how some prominent defensive backs performed last week, as well as a few late-round picks that have seen a recent increase in opportunity thanks to injury.
Bradley Roby (CB-Den)
Like most rookie cornerbacks, Bradley Roby has experienced an up-and-down year in his first NFL season. The 31st overall pick out of Ohio State has played behind Aqib Talib and Chris Harris this season, mixing in a few solid performances with some stinkers as well. Roby did battle with fellow first-round rookie Sammy Watkins on Sunday, and while the former Clemson star got the better of Roby for most of the afternoon, the first-year corner didn’t allow much to the Bills’ other receivers and made a great play to force an early turnover.
On the game’s first possession, Roby lined up in press coverage against Watkins. Beaten badly by a sudden slant route to the inside, Roby had to make up ground to catch up to Watkins after he made the catch. The corner noticed Watkins holding the ball in his left arm while he cut back towards him, and Roby smartly clubbed his arm down on the ball to force a fumble that was recovered by Denver in Buffalo territory. The drive resulted in no points for the Broncos, but it was a big play that helped set the tone for the Bills’ rough day on offense.
Other than that mistake, Watkins dominated Roby for most of the game, catching all six of the balls thrown to him for 113 yards in Roby’s coverage. Roby struggled in both press situations and off coverage, struggling to find the ball on an 18-yard back-shoulder grab in the second half. Roby wasn’t called for illegal contact, but did have his hands all over Watkins 15 yards down the field once the receiver stopped to make the grab. That was the second big play Roby allowed to Watkins in the game, as he was beat deep for a 35-yard grab in the third quarter as well. Roby backpedaled and committed too soon to Watkins’ route, allowing the receiver to get behind him. With his back to the ball in an effort to catch up, Roby wasn’t in position to react to another back-shoulder throw.
Despite some struggles with the explosive Watkins in the aforementioned situations, Roby did show good awareness and sure tackling ability with Cover 2 responsibilities. A couple of short dump-off passes to Fred Jackson were stopped right around the line of scrimmage, as Roby closed quickly on Jackson and got into good position to make the tackle. He did make one mistake on a late crossing route by Watkins, however, not recognizing the receiver coming from the other side of the field and doubling the tight end inside instead. This allowed Watkins to turn the corner to get the first down and more after the catch.
Overall, Week 14 was indicative of Roby’s season so far. He made some good plays and showed an ability to come up hard against short passes, but also had some issues with footwork in the secondary as well as playing the football. Roby has looked more like the 2013 version of himself at Ohio State that dropped his draft stock into the late-first round rather than the emerging star he was viewed as after the 2012 season. The former Buckeye still has time to figure out the NFL, but his first year hasn’t exactly erased the doubts some had about him after his rough junior season.
Justin Gilbert (CB-Cle)
After a few early-season struggles, the first cornerback drafted in May was demoted to fourth on the depth chart recently, behind undrafted rookie K’Waun Williams. After seeing just 39 snaps in his past three games and losing his nickel role to Williams, Gilbert took over the spot Sunday when Williams left with a hamstring injury. The first-rounder out of Oklahoma State acquitted himself well against the high-powered Colts passing attack, recording his first career interception in the third quarter and returning it for a touchdown.
The interception was an impressive play from Gilbert, who was initially covering Hakeem Nicks on the outside. Feeling pressure in the pocket, Andrew Luck stared down Reggie Wayne running an out route from the slot. Reading Luck’s eyes, Gilbert squatted around the first-down marker awaiting the throw. With the pressure finally getting to Luck as he released the pass, Gilbert undercut the route for an easy interception, then forced a missed tackle and busted through the rest of the Colts for a 21-yard touchdown return. Gilbert was willing to take a risk on the route knowing he had safety help over the top, showing a good understanding of his responsibilities within the Browns’ coverage schemes to make a big play.
It wasn’t all positive for Gilbert, as he allowed a key 27-yard reception to Donte Moncrief on third-and-18 during the game’s final drive, keeping the drive alive that eventually resulted in the game-winning touchdown. Lined up over Moncrief in press coverage, Gilbert did little to impede the receiver and found himself trailing Moncrief for most of the play. Moncrief broke to the inside and made a nice grab for the first down, while Gilbert didn’t stand much of a chance after losing the initial battle at the line of scrimmage.
On just two plays, Gilbert summarized his strengths and weaknesses as a player. His seven-interception senior season proves his ability to make game-changing plays, but most of those turnovers came when Gilbert was playing off the line of scrimmage, giving him a chance to keep the receiver in front of him and read the quarterback. His closing speed combined with elite ball skills for a corner will allow him to make plenty of big plays in these situations at the NFL level. When asked to handle receivers in press coverage, however, Gilbert’s deficiencies show up. He isn’t quick or smooth moving in reverse, which was obvious when he lost Moncrief over the middle. If the Browns put him in situations where he can be successful, he has serious playmaking potential. Throwing Gilbert in press situations, however, is a good way for Cleveland to get a minimal return on their high first-round investment.
Bene Benwikere (CB-Car)
With the Panthers cutting Antoine Cason after their Week 13 game, Benwikere stepped into a starting role in Week 14 opposite Josh Norman. Playing every defensive snap for the first time this season, Benwikere turned in a great performance that has to make the Panthers feel validated in cutting Cason and promoting the rookie. A fifth-round choice out of San Jose State, Benwikere did a great job of keeping plays in front of him as well as making plays on the ball, including the first interception of his NFL career.
With his team already out to a 10-0 lead early in the game, Benwikere picked off Drew Brees on a deep pass intended for Joe Morgan. Lined up off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage, Benwikere flipped his hips quickly when Morgan got within five yards of him, doing what was necessary to keep stride with the speedster. While Morgan had a step on Benwikere, the ball was slightly underthrown and the rookie did a great job of tracking the ball in the air and cutting in front of Morgan for the interception. With his safety help not getting enough depth, Benwikere’s trailing coverage was the difference between an interception and a touchdown and a possible 14-point swing with Carolina scoring on the ensuing drive.
Benwikere continued to show excellent coverage instincts and fundamentals throughout the game, understanding when to leave his man in both man and zone coverages. On a third-and-two in the second quarter, Benwikere recognized Kenny Stills breaking open on a short route and left his man to stop Stills right at the first-down marker. While the play still resulted in a first down for the Saints, Benwikere was very close to stopping Stills short and forcing a tough decision on the offense thanks to his instincts.
Lined up in Cover 2 late in the first half, Benwikere executed his assignment perfectly and almost came up with his second interception. After pressing the receiver at the line and letting him run down the sideline after taking a few steps with him, Benwikere closed on a short pass to Pierre Thomas and was a split-second from another pick. He still did a nice job breaking on the ball to force the incompletion, and this was a textbook play from the rookie corner that could be found in instructional videos.
Benwikere also showed good instincts as a tackler in the short passing game, taking an outside route against a block on a short pass to Thomas to force him back into the defense. Thomas had nowhere to run and Benwikere got back up off the ground and got back into the play to assist on the tackle.
Overall, this was a very impressive performance for Benwikere in his first career start. His size (5-11, 195) and speed (4.6) dropped him into the third day of the draft despite an impressive college resume. That lack of speed did show up on the early interception if the ball had been thrown in stride, but Morgan is tough deep cover for most NFL cornerbacks and Benwikere did an excellent job playing the ball, one of the strengths he showed in college. If he can continue to play with great instincts and fundamentals, Benwikere may have a shot to be an NFL starter despite his below-average measurables. The rest of the season should be a good barometer to evaluate his 2015 potential.
Marqueston Huff (CB-Ten)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson’s early injury against the Giants on Sunday opened the door for additional playing time for Huff, a rookie capable of playing both cornerback and safety. A fourth-round pick out of Wyoming, Huff stepped in to make an impact in his best game of the season despite the Titans’ getting blown out by the Giants. In fact, Huff was the only reason Tennessee wasn’t shut out in Week 14, returning his first NFL interception for a third-quarter touchdown.
The Titans used Huff well Sunday, giving him opportunities as both a nickel cornerback and at the safety spot. His interception came with the Titans down 30-0 lined up as a safety. Huff initially showed blitz up the middle, but backed off the line before the snap and dropped into coverage. Once tight end Larry Donnell finished his chip and went into the flat, Huff was all over the play and positioned himself between Donnell and Eli Manning. Manning inexplicably threw to Donnell on the play, leading to an easy interception and 30-yard return for Huff.
While that was the play that put Huff on the highlight reels, he was otherwise solid and didn’t allow any big plays on a day when the Tennessee defense gave up plenty. The only pass completed in Huff’s coverage was a short five-yard pass to Donnell in the red zone. With the rest of the defense lined up in tight man coverage and Huff playing 10 yards off the ball, Manning made the quick read to find Donnell in the flat. Huff came up to make the stop after a five-yard gain, but it’s tough to fully judge this play without knowing the coverage. Lining up so far off the line on the snap implies he was responsible for the back end in a Cover 1, in which case he reacted quickly to come up and stuff Donnell. If it was Cover 0, which seems less likely, then the cushion Huff gave was unacceptable.
The first-year defensive back was called for a face masking penalty on a punt, but other than that he stayed within himself to keep the Titans defense on schedule. With Wreh-Wilson hitting injured reserve, Huff should play out the rest of the season in a hybrid role as the team’s nickel back while also getting reps at safety. His versatility makes him a nice depth player to have in the secondary, but nothing in his profile suggests starting potential at either position. His size (5-11, 196) plays best at corner, but his hard-hitting and sometimes overaggressive style fits better at the safety spot. Despite not having a true position, Huff has the potential to make a role for himself at the NFL level, and the final three weeks will go a long way towards solidifying the Titans’ confidence in him heading into 2015.
Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, contributing Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews along with interviewing NFL prospects. He has worked as a regional scout for Optimum Scouting since 2013, writes Jets-related content for Pro Football Spot and previously worked on a college football project at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi to talk football and the NFL Draft, and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com/