It was an exciting weekend of college football, in some cases for the wrong reasons. The week seven edition of Risers and Sliders features a pair of interior blockers as well as two players from the west moving up draft boards. Also news on a small school receiver expected to enter the draft.
Devontae Booker/RB/Utah: Booker was graded as the top running back prospect from the senior class entering the year and he’s not disappointed. Two weeks ago he ran through the Cal defense for 222 yards on 34 carries with two scores. Booker followed up with a 118-yard effort on 21 carries against Arizona State. More than just a ball carrier, in six games this season he’s totaled 23 receptions. Booker is a three down player that can pound it on the inside, turn the corner or effectively catch the ball out of the backfield. Its fair to say Booker is moving towards the draft as one of the top three running back prospects and projects somewhere in the middle portion of round two.
Kyler Fackrell/OLB/Utah State: Its taken a bit of time but Fackrell is back to the dominant form he showed prior the knee injury which sidelined him after two quarters of play in 2014. Against the explosive Boise State offense Fackrell posted 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 quarterback hurries. He also forced 1 fumble and recovered 2 others. The senior shows terrific force on the blitz and is equally effective stuffing the run. Some would say his coverage skills are suspect but Fackrell does show ability in space. Pre-draft testing and medical exams on his surgically repaired knee loom large but the dominant linebacker is a good fit in round two.
Ryan Kelly/C/Alabama: Entering the season most scouts graded Kelly as the second best center prospect from the senior class and he’s proved them right. Considered a middle round selection, he’s an efficient, intelligent blocker on the pivot that consistently opens holes or seals the running lane for star ball carrier Derrick Henry. He’s not a blocker that will blow people away with great athletic workouts rather a smart, tough prospect with starting potential in the proper system.
Pat Elflein/G/Ohio State: Elfein is another who does the dirty work for the stars of the show. Whether its Ezekiel Elliott rushing for 100-plus yards or one of the Buckeye signal callers picking up big yardage with their legs, Elfein is always opening big holes for whoever handles the ball. His performance against Penn State, and more specifically handling defensive tackle Anthony Zettel (a potential mid-round pick), was impressive. The junior presently grades as one of the top pure guard prospects in the nation.
Paxton Lynch/QB/Memphis: Entering the season I graded Lynch as a free agent giving him high marks for arm talent but feeling he needed to improve his decision making. Thus far this season the junior has eased my concerns. After a soft schedule to begin the year Lynch has been on a tear and looked very much like a next level signal caller against Mississippi. He was the catalyst for the Tigers victor, completing almost 74% of the 53 passes he tossed for 384 yards and 3 scores. Lynch threw one interception, his first of the season. The Rebels have almost a half dozen draft picks on defense and for the most part Lynch picked them apart. In six games this season he has completed more than 70% of his throws and has 13 touchdown passes to his credit. Lynch offers next level physical skills and is developing into a total passer. With Memphis presently undefeated and fighting for the AAC title the watch is on to see if Lynch decides to enter the draft.
*Sleeper* Giorgio Newberry/DL/Florida State: Its rare for a sleeper to come from the FSU program but then again Newberry wasn’t even covered by scouts entering the season. First catching my eye as a blocking tight end in 2013, Newberry is making the most of his playing time as a rotational defensive lineman this season. Two weeks ago against Miami he broke up 2 passes and recorded 2 quarterback hurries, showing a lot of force off the edge. During the victory over Louisville he posted a single tackle. Newberry has NFL size (6-feet/5-inches and 295lbs), reportedly runs the forty under 5-seconds but is still rough around the edges. His upside and versatility should get him consideration in the late rounds.
*Small School Prospect* Cooper Kupp/WR/Eastern Washington: Eastern Washington has put a number of fairly productive players into the NFL and word is Kupp will be there sooner rather than later. The junior is on a tear this season, putting together several impressive performances including 14 catches, 161 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns against Idaho State last weekend. His game in the season opener against Oregon was en eye opener as Kupp totaled 15 receptions, 246 receiving yards and 3 scores. Six games into the 2015 campaign the numbers are off the charts; 64 receptions, 941 yards and 12 touchdowns. Several sources tell me Kupp will opt for the draft once the season concludes. Where will he be selected? Kupp measures in the range of 6-feet/1-inch and 200lbs. If he can run in the low 4.4’s at the combine he could sneak into the draft’s top 100 picks otherwise I feel he’ll land in the top half of day three.
Silverberry Mouhon/DE/Cincinnati: Mouhon impressed me as speed rusher during his sophomore season when he finished the year with 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Its been all downhill since. After 4 sacks last year Mouhon has produced just 1 during the first half of his senior campaign and shows little in the way of play making skill. Initially graded as a late rounder, Mouhon will likely fall out of the seven rounds entirely.
Mike Bercovici/QB/Arizona State: The senior signal caller was stamped as a potential middle round pick by a number of scouts but has played more like a late rounder. Bercovici has beaten up on lesser competition but struggles against ranked teams. During the loss to Utah he completed under 50% of his passes (58.6% for the season) and threw his fifth interception of the year. His measurables (under 6-foot/1-inch) is another cause for concern.
Immediately after my report from a week ago stating quarterback Cody Kessler of USC was receiving last day grades, additional sources informed me those grades were of the late (6th/7th) round variety. A number of insiders tell me Max Wittek, the former Trojan quarterback that’s struggled at Hawaii this season, is a better pro-prospect than Kessler based on his physical skills. And while I believe that is debatable sources at USC believe back-up Max Browne will eventually develop into a better pro-prospect. Rest assured this is not a vendetta against Kessler, a very good college quarterback, rather purely a projection for the next level.
One quarterback that’s getting second looks after being ignored coming into the season is Jeff Driskell of Louisiana Tech. The Florida transfer has looked much more comfortable and decisive this season throwing from the pocket. He’s had several solid performances against good competition, including last week’s loss to Mississippi State. A trip to the Senior Bowl could be in the cards for Driskell and he could land in the late rounds of the draft.
On a personnel note, I’ve never been overly impressed with Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, stating as much last July. While he puts up impressive numbers at times, the stats are deceiving. Cook teases by throwing strikes downfield which are on the mark but all to often has open receivers or wide outs working hard to make the reception because the ball is behind or high of the intended target.
Several weeks ago I stamped Bronson Kafusi as a slider but opined in August part of the problem was the way he’s used, stating Kafusi is much more effective out of a three point stance rather than standing up over tackle. Against Cincinnati, when he almost exclusively came out of a three-point stance, Kafusi was a beast posting 3 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. And don’t forget the Bearcats start highly regarded Parker Ehinger at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if Kafusi receives an invitation to any post-season contests and how he works out prior to the draft. His game is inconsistent but there will always be a place for a defensive end who can rush the passer and measures over 6-feet/6-inches.