There are 50 games this weekend that NFL scouts will watch—maybe more—but no game carries the weight of Alabama against Texas A&M. A historic Alabama defense, the clear-cut No. 1 player in the country in Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and the ability of top left tackle prospect Cam Robinson to handle him will have every eye turned toward Bryant-Denny Stadium. What else is going on this week in the NFL draft world?
Here’s what’s below:
- Why I like the 2017 quarterbacks
- Meet the No. 1 prospect
- Updated Big Board
- Names to know, injury updates
- …and an interview with agent Tory Dandy.
The Scout’s Report
—DeShone Kizer was benched by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly last week, but it’s too early to panic. Remember last season when Jared Goff threw five interceptions against Utah? He was still the No. 1 overall pick. Kizer’s talent is still what the NFL wants. If anything, Kelly should be criticized for messing with his quarterback after two poor throws.
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—As each week goes by, it becomes more clear that Myles Garrett is head-and-shoulders above the rest of this draft class. Said one scout I talked to this week for a feature on Garrett, "You have to realize he’s up to 275 pounds now. To be able to dip, bend and accelerate the way he does at that weight? It’s rare. He’s a generational talent."
—North Carolina wide receiver Mack Hollins is out for the year and will see his college career ended by a broken collarbone. Hollins has NFL potential, and two scouts I spoke to for this column had him with a Day 3 grade.
—An update on Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin: The senior linebacker had shoulder surgery last week and is out for the season. Sources in the Tennessee football department told me they don’t expect Reeves-Maybin to apply for a redshirt and instead think he’ll head to the NFL draft. My grade on Reeves-Maybin entering the season was late first round. The scary part of this for a linebacker is another shoulder surgery, something that could negatively impact his stock come April.
—The MMQB’s Emily Kaplan had a great note from an anonymous scout this week on UCLA pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley, a player the scout said "could be the next DeMarcus Ware." When I asked scouts this summer about McKinley, three told me he had a free-agent grade based on last year’s tape. His stock is trending up.
—Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reported this week that San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is not expected to lose his job despite the team’s 1-5 start. I’ve heard the same. Owner Jed York firmly believes in his GM and head coach Chip Kelly, according to a rival team’s executive I spoke to.
—"You guys like the Clemson tight end [Jordan Leggett] a lot more than we do. I gave him a [Round] 3." That’s what one scout told me after I sent him my tight end rankings for an outside opinion. The biggest complaint this scout had? That Leggett is a product of the Clemson system and cannot get open on his own.
—A name moving up my board is Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. To get background info on Awuzie, I asked an area scout for height, weight and speed notes he might have. Instead I got four paragraphs on Awuzie’s strengths (quickness, transfer ability, instincts). Said the scout: "The kid is so clean in his backpedal and transitions. He’s a f–kin’ treat to watch."
5 Names to Know
5. WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
One of the biggest playmakers in college football this season is Dede Westbrook. The Oklahoma wide receiver has 43 receptions for eight touchdowns already and is making highlight-reel catches and runs each week. Westbrook, who is listed at 6’0", 175 pounds, is the kind of prospect teams seem to pick up in the third round, and then he catches 10 touchdowns as a rookie.
4. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
Courtland Sutton is only a redshirt sophomore, but he’s turning in NFL-caliber performances weekly while showing great upside as a physical receiver prospect. At 6’4", 215 pounds, he has pro size already and flashes the "above-the-rim" style teams want in a red-zone receiver. Sutton knows how to go up and get the football, and on a bad SMU team, he’s dominating each week.
3. TE George Kittle, Iowa
If you want an athletic, flashy, pass-catching tight end, you probably won’t be focusing on George Kittle a ton. But if you want an ass-kicker in the run game—a tight end who will clear out rushing lanes and seal off the edge—then Kittle is your guy.
Kittle, who is 6’4", 250 pounds, has the athleticism to be a very good three-down tight end, but the Iowa offense is focused around a dominant run game this season, and his receiving opportunities aren’t equal to those of tight ends at Ole Miss or Clemson. With a great pipeline of talent coming out of Iowa City each year, Kittle’s technique, toughness and upside will make him a favorite of scouts.
2. RB Matthew Dayes, NC State
The 2017 running back class is so loaded that solid prospects like Matthew Dayes get overlooked in the process. That has to change.
Dayes, 5’9", 203 pounds, is an explosive one-cut runner with the vision and body control to slice through creases in the offensive line and pull away for chunk plays. He’s also capable of catching the ball out of the backfield and brings an added element to the game as a screen-package back.
Dayes may ultimately be a Day 3 prospect in this class, but he has the traits to be an impact back early on.
1. RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Another back being passed over in this class is North Carolina’s Elijah Hood. He looks like an NFL starter at 6’0", 220 pounds and with estimated high-4.4 speed. Hood can explode for big gains, he can pound the rock between the tackles and control the clock, and he can bounce the ball outside and turn the corner on college defenders.
Hood is a complete back, and in a normal class he’d be getting top-five positional talk. Instead, he’s a fringe top-10 back with a Day 3 grade but the tools to be a starter in the pros.
3 Questions with: Agent Tory Dandy
Each week I’ll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke with agent Tory Dandy, who represents Alshon Jeffery, Shaq Lawson, Sammy Watkins and others.
Bleacher Report: What are the characteristics you look for in a player to recruit?
Tory Dandy: Good player on the field and person off the field. A player that wants to be educated and empowered about the business of the NFL. I like recruiting players who are not looking for the hype but want the substance. I am all about making sure my clients have financial freedom when their careers are finished.
B/R: How have NCAA rules changes made your job harder or easier to approach athletes?
TD: I always want to respect the NCAA rules. I think the rules have their pros and cons. It is never easy regardless of the rules in this business when it comes to approaching players. They are constantly getting contacted by many agents and financial advisers. I just remain genuine in who I am as a person and passionate about my career.
B/R: You have a star player (Alshon Jeffery) playing under the franchise tag. How do you deal with the uncertainty of this season for him?
TD: Alshon is financially secured long term. That is always key with all your clients, but especially a client playing on a one-year deal. Alshon and myself had these talks for a couple years now about the pros and cons about playing on the franchise tag if it came. Alshon being already financially secure allows him to play the game he loves without the doubts. He is in a great position moving forward. That always helps with negotiations.
The Big Board
Up and down the board they go as the season moves on. The year started with Deshaun Watson and Leonard Fournette anchoring the top of the order, but eight weeks later, Watson has moved down and the rankings are dominated by defenders across the board.
Updated Top 32 Big Board
1 Myles Garrett EDGE Texas A&M 2 Leonard Fournette RB LSU 3 Reuben Foster LB Alabama 4 Jonathan Allen DL Alabama 5 DeShone Kizer QB Notre Dame 6 Jabrill Peppers S Michigan 7 Jamal Adams S LSU 8 Mike Williams WR Clemson 9 Quincy Wilson CB Florida 10 Dalvin Cook RB FSU 11 Gareon Conley CB Ohio State 12 Malik McDowell DL Michigan State 13 Derek Barnett EDGE Tennessee 14 Brad Kaaya QB Miami (Fla.) 15 Deshaun Watson QB Clemson 16 Christian McCaffrey RB Stanford 17 Malik Hooker S Ohio State 18 Caleb Brantley DL Florida 19 Jalen Tabor CB Florida 20 DeMarcus Walker EDGE FSU 21 Charles Harris EDGE Missouri 22 Mitch Trubisky QB North Carolina 23 Raekwon McMillan LB Ohio State 24 Zach Cunningham LB Vanderbilt 25 Jourdan Lewis CB Michigan 26 Dawuane Smoot EDGE Illinois 27 Sidney Jones CB Washington 28 Isaiah Ford WR Virginia Tech 29 Justin Evans S Texas A&M 30 Solomon Thomas EDGE Stanford 31 Carl Lawson EDGE Auburn 32 Cam Robinson T Alabama
Draft coverage is an interesting thing. Each analyst is on their own in evaluating players—a job most NFL teams assign to 10 or more scouts. Because of this, I might fire off three tweets about a player when watching that game but never circle back with a complete analysis immediately after the fact.
Because of the need for more thorough analysis, this part of the column will serve as my complete thought on the top four quarterbacks in the country right now: Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer and Brad Kaaya.
Up this week, why I’m high on each quarterback.
8. Why I’m high on Deshaun Watson:
Watson is a playmaker with his arm and legs, but his mental toughness is huge. Flashing back to the 2015 season, as a sophomore, Watson showed a gritty ability to forget his mistakes and move on to lead Clemson to big wins. He’s tough, focused and doesn’t let bad throws get in his head.
Watson’s maturity on the field and in the offense is impressive, and in my talks with him I’ve always been met with an open, honest, intelligent answer to questions I have. Watson’s intangibles, as much as his athleticism or accuracy, will win over scouts.
7. Why I’m high on Mitch Trubisky:
Trubisky hasn’t even started a full season yet at North Carolina, but it’s easy to love his gunslinger style of play. The first time I watched Trubisky’s film, it was against Florida State, and he’s running around, extending the play and finding sight lines to make throws down the field. That’s rare from a first-year starter.
Trubisky has the arm strength, size and accuracy you want in a pro quarterback. Sure, he needs to refine some mechanical issues, but so did Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Trubisky has the zip on the ball and the instincts as a passer to learn on the job much like the two rookies previously mentioned.
6. Why I’m high on DeShone Kizer:
Kizer is raw and prone to mistakes from the pocket, but he best embodies what the NFL wants in a quarterback with his size, arm strength, accuracy and ability to move outside the pocket. His potential is the highest of the draft-eligible passers.
Kizer isn’t surrounded by the talent we’re accustomed to seeing at Notre Dame, and yet he still makes plays by standing tall in the pocket and delivering strikes through tight windows. He’s also quick enough, and powerful enough, to run around or through a defender in space.
5. Why I’m high on Brad Kaaya:
Kaaya makes no excuses. Hard hit to the head early against FSU? No problem. Tooth knocked out? I’m OK. Body beat to hell but UNC is on the schedule? I’ll play. He’s tough as nails on the field and never backs down from contact or a tough pocket.
Kaaya, more than any other passer in this draft, reminds me of Teddy Bridgewater with his attitude, intelligence, poise and toughness. He’s neither the athlete Watson is nor possesses the hulking body Kizer has, but Kaaya gets it done with placement and anticipation while having an incredibly high football IQ.
4. If you’re like some of my Twitter followers and none of these quarterbacks do it for you, you may want to wait until 2018 to fall in love with a passer. Taking an early look at next year’s class for a "21 in ’21" series I’m writing, it’s hard not to be excited about the following players:
Top QBs for 2018
Player School Current Class Josh Rosen UCLA Sophomore Mitch Trubisky North Carolina Junior Jake Browning Washington Sophomore Lamar Jackson Louisville Sophomore Mason Rudolph Oklahoma State Junior Luke Falk Washington State Junior
3. Jay Ajayi has taken over the starting running back job for the Miami Dolphins in impressive fashion after rushing for over 200 yards in Week 6. What was the word on Ajayi coming out of Boise State?
On the edge you see his soccer background with quick, choppy, light feet and very good balance and body control. He’s a physical runner who finishes plays and falls forward for extra yards, but he also looks for contact and isn’t shy. Ajayi has the instincts to get small and slip through small holes, but he also has the power to blast through tight openings and pick up yards. He’s a truly versatile runner with inside and outside run traits. As a receiver he’ll produce, and he shows soft hands out of the backfield.
The biggest knock on him was the concern that his knees wouldn’t hold up long term in the NFL. That concern, though, hasn’t yet surfaced on the field. If what Ajayi did last week is where his potential lies, he’ll quickly outplay the No. 7 running back ranking I had on him in the 2015 class.
2. Rarely do those of us outside the NFL get a peek inside the draft rooms or scout meetings of teams. That’s what makes The MMQB’s Peter King’s article from inside an Indianapolis Colts scouting meeting both rare and valuable.
King was a fly on the wall for the preseason meeting of draft and pro scouts, and the takeaway is enlightening in many ways. A scout almost fired for having too many miles on a company car or oversleeping? Ryan Grigson’s message to the team of scouts as general manager opened my eyes, too.
I’m a junkie for anything scouting related that is written, and I imagine you are too if you read this column weekly. Take five minutes to check out the King piece. You’ll like it.
1. At 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, NFL general managers should be watching one thing—Texas A&M vs. Alabama.
Of all the big matchups we’ve seen so far this season, none packs the punch of this game. And it’s not just about Myles Garrett going toe-to-toe with Cam Robinson, but also about Daeshon Hall’s ability to rush off the other edge of the A&M defense and how well Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson can cover up the talented Aggie receivers.
If you’re watching, here are the players I’ll be tracking:
Alabama vs. Texas A&M Top Prospects
Alabama Players Texas A&M Players TE O.J. Howard QB Trevor Knight T Cam Robinson WR Speedy Noil DL Jonathan Allen WR Josh Reynolds DL Da’Shawn Hand T Avery Gennesy LB Reuben Foster EDGE Myles Garrett EDGE Tim Williams EDGE Daeshon Hall EDGE Ryan Anderson S Justin Evans CB Marlon Humphrey S Armani Watts FS Eddie Jackson
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.