Rivalry weekend acted as the quarterfinals for the national title as several teams sealed their fate after wins and losses. It was also a weekend in which a number of linebackers stepped to the forefront and impressed scouts. For the final time this season here are the Risers and Sliders after week 13 along with a host of underclassmen news.
Darron Lee/OLB/Ohio State: Several defenders stood out during the Buckeyes annihilation of Michigan, including senior Josh Perry, but from the get go Darron Lee set the tempo of the game. During one series in the opening quarter he made a dynamite play in coverage and later stopped the Michigan ball carrier in open field then hurried Wolverine quarterback Jake Rudock into a bad throw on third down. He finished the contest with 7 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries. Lee, graded by scouts as a first round prospect, is a three down defender with potential in a variety of schemes. I’ve been hearing for the past two months he will enter the draft.
Deion Jones/LB/LSU: Jones entered the season stamped as a free agent prospect after spending most of his LSU career behind Kwon Alexander. Since stepping into the starting line-up last September he’s proven himself as a next level player. Jones led the Tigers with 11 tackles in the season finale win over Texas A&M, and also broke up 2 passes. For the year Jones leads LSU in tackles (92) and tackles for loss (11.5). He has size limitations (6-foot/ 0.5-inches and 225lbs) and is not a fit for every team but could be a terrific run and chase defender in a one-gap system on Sunday’s
Keishawn Bierria/LB/Washington: Bierria, the second Huskie linebacker to make the risers list this year, has markedly improved his game and production this season. Much like Shaq Thompson, the former Husky selected in round one last April, Bierria is undersized yet fierce and explosive. He finished second on the team with 70 tackles and posted 8 tackles with 1 tackle for loss during the blowout win over Washington State. He’s a scheme-specific linebacker like Deion Jones yet a defender that will stand out in a system which gives him a free run to the action.
Terrance Smith/LB/Florida State: Smith, who was forced to the sidelines during the month of October with an ankle injury, entered the year stamped as a last day prospect in large part due to inconsistent play. Since his return he’s elevated his game and led the Seminoles with 9 tackles during the teams victory over interstate rival Florida, which raised his total to 53 tackles in eight games this season. Smith offers next level computer numbers (6-feet/2-inches, 235lbs, 4.7s forty) and the ability to be a three down defender if he continues to play at a high level.
Devonte Fields/DE-OLB/Louisville: Fields was slow out of the gate this season after playing for Trinity Valley CC last year, but has been on a tear in recent weeks. He’s posted 8 sacks this season, half which have came during the past three games. During this stretch Fields also posted 9 of his 19 tackles for loss. He’s a natural pass rusher with great speed and balance off the edge as well as upside potential for the next level. Off the field issues, including the alleged assault of an ex-girlfriend which resulted his departure from TCU, loom large and will have an effect on Fields’ draft stock.
Nate Sudfeld/QB/Indiana: Talk with scouts and you’ll find there are many who feel Sudfeld is underrated. The three year starter completed over 60% of his throws since his sophomore campaign and totaled 3184-passing yards with 24 scores to just 5 interceptions this year. On top of that Sudfeld looks the part at a legitimate 6-foot/6-inches and 235lbs. Injuries have hindered him and pre-draft medicals are critical but Sudfeld’s stock has been steadily climbing during the second half of 2015.
Joshua Garnett/G/Stanford: For several weeks multiple sources have been telling me Garnett is been swiftly rising up draft boards. Entering the year as a street free agent, the two year starter has taken his game to another level. He possesses excellent size as well as playing strength and is a solid fit in the mid-to-late rounds for a conventional offense.
*Sleeper Prospect* Roger Lewis/WR/Ball State: One of the best receiver prospects no one pays attention to resides in Bowling Green. The past two years Lewis has combined for 149 receptions, 2494 receiving yards (16.7 yard average) and 21 TD’s. He has the speed to stretch defenses vertically and the receiving skills to make the underneath receptions with regularity. The true sophomore is draft eligible as he spent a year in prep school after high school graduation and offers enormous potential but also a checkered past which he must answer for.
*Small School Prospect* Christopher King/WR/Duquesne: At present time it could be argued that King is the top small school receiver in April’s draft. The senior was spectacular during Duquesne’s playoff loss to William and Mary on Saturday, finishing with 12 catches, 221 receiving yards and 1 score. His performance was all the more impressive considering the Tribe possess two draftable seniors (linebacker Luke Rhodes and defensive back Deandre Houston-Carson) in their back seven. In eleven regular season games King totaled 69 receptions, 915 yards and 7 scores. He offers the measurables and pass catching skills to be a last day pick then line-up as a fourth receiver at the next level.
Travis Wilson/QB/Utah: For a signal caller that looks the part, more often than not Wilson doesn’t play to it. Measuring 6-feet/7-inches and 220lbs with a decent arm, Wilson throws with inconsistent mechanics and makes questionable decisions. He comes with upside but needs work from the ground up.
I’m told there will be a few surprise underclassmen entries at the tight end position including Austin Hooper of Stanford and Evan Engram from Mississippi, players who saw a drop in production this season. The feeling is that except for Ohio State’s Nick Vannett the senior class is void of talent at the tight end spot and several juniors could be over-drafted. Many point to Tyler Kroft who was selected in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 despite a big drop in production between his sophomore and junior seasons.
The decision of Scooby Wright will be interesting to watch. I’m told the junior linebacker was all set to enter the draft entering the season but was limited to two games in 2015 with a foot injury.
The injury news I’m hearing on another PAC 12 linebacker is unsettling. Travis Feeney of Washington was a week nine riser with good reason. The athletic prospect is a three down defender that’s been productive on the college level at a variety of linebacker spots. He possesses second day football and athletic abilities but from what I’ve been told his injury history, which centers around multiple shoulder issues, will red-flag Feeney, potentially into the late rounds.