Week four of the college season was highlighted by the Wisconsin Badgers pulling off another major upset as well as the end of the coaching tenure of Les Myles at LSU. Scouts witnessed standout performances by a pair of offensive linemen and the rise of a sleeper receiver from Syracuse. Along with notes on Randy Gregory, here are the Risers and Sliders for week four.
Mason Cole/C/Michigan: Entering the season I stamped Cole as a third round offensive tackle but his game has taken off since he moved to center this year. During the humiliation of Penn State on Saturday the Wolverines posted 515-offensive yards, including 326-yards on the ground and Cole was incredibly impressive from start to finish. He blocks with great fundamentals, leverage and power. Cole was effective at the line of scrimmage as well as on the second level. I came away thinking that while Cole was a good left tackle prospect, he could be a great center on Sunday.
Damien Mama/G/USC: After much anticipation the Trojans season has quickly turned into a nightmare. The fourth quarter loss to Utah on Friday won’t build morale yet Mama’s play was inspiring. The junior guard showed great power in his game, opening up running lanes and helping USC amass 221-rushing yards. He was very impressive when used as a pulling guard and showed no issues quickly getting across the line of scrimmage then removing linebackers from the action. Should he enter the draft and all the boxes are checked I could see Mama landing in the third round.
Evan Engram/TE/Mississippi: It was pretty much a hot mess for the Georgia Bulldogs who got romped by Mississippi from the word go and Engram was the offensive star of the game. The senior finished with 6 receptions for 95 yards (15.8-yard average) with 1 score. And while Georgia’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, Engram continues to prove he’s a big play tight end as he’s averaging more than 15-yards on 20 receptions this season. A second day selection next April is a definite possibility if Engram continues to play at this level then works out well prior to the draft.
Kenneth Ekanem/DE/Virginia Tech: Ekanem is possibly the most underappreciated pass rusher in the nation yet has totaled 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in four games this season besides 5 quarterback hurries. During the Hokies victory over East Carolina on Saturday he produced 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 QBH. Ekanem lacks desired size/speed numbers for the next level but is a menace off the edge and projects well as a designated pass rusher/special teams player.
Jamal Williams/RB/BYU: Williams was highly rated prior to the knee injury which sidelined him in 2015 then was stamped as a street free agent by scouts upon his return this year. Its an opinion he’s forcing evaluators to rethink. In four games Williams has totaled 417 yards rushing, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. His latest effort included 169-yards and 2 scores on 24 carries during the loss to West Virginia. Williams has the size (6-foot/215-pounds) and quickness to make a Sunday roster as the third back if his knee checks out.
Damarius Travis/S/Minnesota: Travis was stamped as a late round prospect entering the season and he could be a steal during the draft’s final day next April. Possessing next level size (6-feet/215-pounds) and physicality, Travis posted 8 tackles and picked off 1 pass during the Gophers victory over Colorado State. He projects as a conventional strong safety and should lend a hand on special teams.
Sleeper Prospect- Amba Etta-Tawo/WR/Syracuse: Entering the season not a single Syracuse senior was considered draftable by scouts but that opinion is quickly changing. Etta-Tawo, the senior transfer from Maryland, is off to a career start and has taken well to the high octane offense of first year coach Dino Babers. Etta-Tawo posted 12 receptions for 270-yards with 2 scores on Saturday against a UConn defense which boasts a pair of top flight prospects in the secondary, cornerback Jamar Summers and safety Obi Melifonwu. In four games this season his line reads 40 receptions, 706 yards (17.65-yd average) and 5 touchdowns. Not to be forgotten is the fact coach Babers recently developed such receivers as Roger Lewis (2016 UDFA presently on the New York Giants active roster) and Gehrig Dieter (presently averaging 26-yards per reception since transferring to Alabama). Over the next three weeks the Orange face Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, three programs with highly rated cornerbacks which will offer Etta-Tawo more opportunities to state his case to NFL decision makers.
Small School Prospect- Max Rich/T/Harvard: Harvard placed a pair of offensive linemen from the 2016 class on NFL rosters; Cole Toner selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round resides on the team’s two deep while Anthony Fabiano can be found on the Cleveland Browns practice squad. That number could increase to three next year if Max Rich continues to impress. Lining up at left tackle for the Crimson, Rich has NFL size (6-feet, 6.5-inches and 315-pounds), strength and brings a well rounded game. He’s strong enough to drive opponents off the line run blocking and makes great use of angles and body positioning to protect his quarterback. My one concern is the lack of leverage he employs but Rich could slide into the last round with impressive pre-draft workouts.
Tarean Folston/RB/Notre Dame: Scouts stamped Folston as a top three senior running back prospect entering the season and graded him as a potential top 45 choice despite the fact he missed most of 2015 with a torn ACL. His return has been a struggle and Folston has been relegated to rotational duty rather than being the feature ball handler at Notre Dame. The past two games Folston carried the ball just 9 times for 31 yards.
Notes: Prior to the 2015 combine I took a lot of heat for predicting Randy Gregory would be the surprise slider in April then even more heat after I stamped him as a late second/early third round choice. Gregory ended up as the 60th selection of that draft and is presently in the midst of a suspension which will keep him from the field until at least December 18th. I asked several insiders around the league what they thought of Gregory’s future and the opinions varied.
Pessimistically several came right out and told me “he’s finished,” and they don’t expect Gregory to play any meaningful or productive football in the future.
Some close to the situation tell me the next 2-plus months will be the determining factor. As one person put it, if Gregory is able to stay clean throughout his suspension it will be a personal and professional triumph. Otherwise his NFL career will likely never materialize.
Week three on the college schedule was another Saturday which resulted in a major disruption at the top of the national rankings. It was also a weekend in which a pair of small conference offensive linemen and a trio of defensive backs impressed NFL scouts. Here are the Risers and Sliders for week three.
Brandon Facyson/CB/Virginia Tech: I grade Facyson as a top five cornerback as well as a potential first round pick and he look every bit the shutdown corner on Saturday when the Hokies smoked Boston College. The junior finished with 4 tackles and broke up 3 passes, displaying great ball and cover skills. His ability in man-to-man coverage was outstanding as Facyson stopped opponents down the flanks while also making several terrific plays on crossing patterns. During Facyson’s freshman season in 2013 when the Hokie defensive backfield included Kyle and Kendall Fuller, first and third round picks respectively, many scouts felt Facyson was the top pro-prospect from the group. I would expect the junior to enter the draft once the season is complete.
Jamal Adams/S/LSU: Adams set the tone early for LSU during the Tigers victory over Mississippi State and he ended the game with a team leading 9 tackles. His run stopping skills helped hold the Bulldogs to under 60 yards rushing on the day. Forceful and best making plays up the field, I still feel his cover skills are suspect but Adams would thrive as a strong safety or in a zone system.
Obi Melifonwu/S/UConn: Saturday was a defensive battle between UConn and Virginia though some would argue it was a match-up between two awful offenses. Regardless it was another solid performance for senior safety Obi Melifonwu who led the Huskies with 11 tackles, giving him 25 in three games. The senior safety goes 220-pounds and plays with solid instincts and awareness. Some scouts question his physicality but in many ways Melifonwu reminds me of a poor man’s Su’a Cravens; a solid last day pick that could line up at strong safety or potentially as a one gap linebacker.
Dion Dawkins/T/Temple: The Owls played catch-up against Penn State from the get-go but Dawkins looked solid none the less. Except for one poor penalty which resulted in a score being nullified, Dawkins displayed a lot of athleticism, footwork and next level skill. He looked terrific in pass protection, easily sliding off the edge to shut down pass rushers. While Dawkins needs to improve his run blocking strength he looked like the second day pick most scouts stamped him to be.
Taylor Moton/OL/Western Michigan: WMU is 3-0 this season including a pair of convincing wins over Big Ten teams in which their offense controlled the game. During the victory over Illinois on Saturday the Broncos pounded a talented Illini defense for 287-yards on the ground and Moton, the teams top offensive lineman, handled opponents all game. The big bodied lineman blocks with terrific knee bend, power and intensity. He’s a dominant run blocker but lacks footwork and lateral range which is the reason many, including myself, rate him at guard versus the right tackle position he plays in college. I would expect Moton to receive an invitation to the Shrine Game and possibly the Senior Bowl then go on and be a steal in the later (5th) rounds of the draft.
James Washington/WR/Oklahoma State: The Pittsburgh defense Oklahoma State faced on Saturday leaves a lot to be desired but I can’t be dismissive of the 9 catch, 296-yard, 2-TD performance by Washington. The junior was dominant and could not be stopped from the get-go. He made several difficult catches with defenders draped on him, displayed better than advertised speed and generally looked like an overall receiver stud. Many I’ve spoken with expect Washington to enter the draft if he continues this pace.
Sleeper Prospect- Bobby Baker/S/Georgia State: Scouts graded Baker as a marginal street free agent in large part due to a lack of speed yet the tape tells a different story. Though not the fastest defensive back Baker has excellent size (6-feet/2-inches and 200-pounds) and shows a complete game on film. In three games this season he’s accumulated 23 tackles (including 11 during the loss to Wisconsin on Saturday) as well as a team leading 3 pass break-ups. Baker is a disciplined safety who plays within the system and does a terrific job covering the slot receiver when called upon. Though it may be a long way off keep an eye on Baker’s pro-day results then remember his name next summer for the team that brings him into camp.
Small School- King Frazier/RB/North Dakota State: The defeat of the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City at the hands of NDSU was the biggest shocker of the weekend. The Bison offense posted 231-yards rushing against a Hawkeye defense which fields as many as four top 100 prospects. Frazier led the way with 99-yards on 16 carries (6.2-yd average) with 1 score and the senior answered the call any time he touched the ball. Dismissed by scouts entering the season, Frazier is a nice size ball carrier (5-feet/10-inches, 210-pounds) who grinds it out on the inside and has enough foot quickness to make defenders miss in the open field. Though not much of a pass catcher, Frazier has enough power, size and skill to make a Sunday roster as a fourth running back.
Charles Walker/DL/Oklahoma: There’s an opinion in some circles that Walker projects as a top 60 choice but its an opinion I never bought into. He’s somewhat explosive but Walker is also a defensive lineman with a very inconsistent game. During the loss to Ohio State when he faced off against a pair of NFL prospects on the Buckeyes line, Walker finished the contest with just 1 tackle which gives him a total of 5 in three games this season. Walker does not stand out in any single aspect to justify a top 90 selection.
DJ Dowdy/TE/Cincinnati: I scratched my head when informed Dowdy received a mid-round grade from scouts. After watching the film I eventually stamped him as a marginal last round pick largely due to his computer numbers. Three games into the season Dowdy has failed to meet expectations and has totaled just one reception in 2016.
Several games during week two of the college season featuring highly rated teams resulted in closer than expected finishes. On the prospect front linebackers and pass catchers impressed NFL decisions makers as did one of the top guard prospects in the nation. Here are the Risers and Sliders for week two.
Dorian Johnson/G/Pittsburgh: The interstate rivalry between Pittsburgh and Penn State was one of the more enjoyable games from the weekend. The Panthers established offense dominance over Penn State’s defense from the get-go and Dorian Johnson led the way on the offensive line. Pittsburgh finished with 341-yards rushing, 226-yards coming in the first half. Johnson dominated Penn State defenders on the line of scrimmage and looked surprisingly effective as a pulling guard or blocking straight ahead on the second level. Initially graded as a potential second round pick, Johnson continues to impress next level decision makers and could break into the draft’s top 32 selectins.
Marquel Lee/OLB/Wake Forest: The athletic Lee entered the season graded by some scouts as a potential third rounder and the senior is off to a fast start. During the victory over conference foe Duke, Lee posted 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Besides forcing the action up the field Lee makes a lot of plays in space or pursuit and has the ability to develop into a three down defender.
Mike Tyson/OLB-S/Cincinnati: Tyson was surprisingly stamped as a third round prospect by a number of scouts but I was concerned about his ball skills since he primarily plays in the box despite tipping the scale under 210-pounds. This was the main reason I graded him as a late round prospect. Against Purdue the senior showed he has no issues making plays in coverage as Tyson came away with three interceptions and made a number of positive plays moving in reverse. I still feel Tyson projects as a late round pick but his play this weekend definitely helps his draft stock.
Brooks Ellis/LB/Arkansas: Ellis was graded as a street free agent entering the season but that opinion is slowly changing. Leading Arkansas with 102 tackles last season, he turned in a dominant performance during the Razorbacks hard fought victory over TCU. Ellis posted 13 tackles including 3 tackles for loss and made a key interception early in the second quarter which he returned for a score. Most impressive was the way Ellis played assignment football against a TCU offense that is lethal in the passing game, running game as well as running the option. If Ellis times faster than expected (4.7s) prior to the draft he could slip into the late rounds.
Sleeper Prospect- Nathan Cole/WR/Cincinnati: I graded Cole as a middle of the road free agent entering the season but the senior looks as though he’s turning the corner. After struggling for playing time last season due to the enormous depth at receiver on the Bearcats roster, Cole has recorded 12 receptions in two games this season, one less then he did during the entire 2015 campaign. He posted 6 receptions for 81 yards with 2 scores during the victory over Purdue, making several important 3rd down catches to keep the chains moving besides coming away with a contested pass for a score at start of fourth quarter to help seal the win. Possessing a stout build at just under 6-feet/210 pounds, Cole could sneak into the draft’s late rounds then make a roster as a fifth receiver.
Small School Prospect- Billy Brown/WR/Shepherd: Presently one of the better programs in all of Division II, Shepherd has a star in the making in Billy Brown. Possessing outrageous size/speed numbers the senior measures 6-foot, 3.5-inches and 242lbs while reportedly running the forty around 4.6s. He led the Rams last season posting 89 receptions for 1492 yards with 10 scores. Against Charleston this weekend Brown totaled 7 receptions for 94 yards and 2 scores. Entering the season with a third round grade, I would expect Brown to receive an invite to the Shrine Game if not the Senior Bowl next January, where he may be tried at tight end.
Gunner Kiel/QB/Cincinnati: Kiel entered the season stamped as a potential middle rounder by scouts but as I mentioned, there were several red flags which would result in a draft day slide. Putting that aside the strong-armed passer did not win the Bearcats starting job and is watching from the sidelines as the team has started the season undefeated. This does not bode well for Kiel to receive playing time in the near future and will adversely effect his draft grade.
Jackson Replogle/DL/Purdue: Replogle was stamped as a potential second round choice after his junior season in which he recorded 60 tackles including 14 tackles for loss. In two games this season he’s posted just 1 tackle for loss and was not much of a factor getting pressure up field against a Cincinnati Bearcat offense with two new starters at offensive tackle.