Rolland-Jones is one of the most productive edge players in the country. He has a total of 30.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Red Wolves and it’s easy to see why. The thing that stands out most for me about Rolland-Jones is the way he uses his hands. He has one of the most powerful punches I’ve seen this year on tape; on a consistent basis, he hits OTs – who outweigh him by 60lbs or more – with such force that they look like those cartoon characters who have stars and whistle sounds circling their heads. The UCF game (3Q 5:03) is a good example: he sends the RT tottering backwards in so comic a fashion that any Premier League football fan will be immediately reminded of Paolo di Canio sending referee Paul Alcock flying in 1998 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9CLiDqYfLc) . He has quick feet, decent bend around the edge and can convert speed to power – in short, he is a really good pass-rush prospect. My concerns about Rolland-Jones are twofold: 1) he has spent very little time in coverage and, at 6-2, 245lbs, he is going to have to be an OLB in the NFL and 2) I think his closing speed is good but not great. I do, though, really like Rolland-Jones as a prospect. He is relentless, powerful, disruptive and incredibly productive. He reminds me of a smaller version of the Cardinals’ Markus Golden and I would like to see a team take a chance on him on Day 2.
Having won 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-SEC recognition in 2016, Smith returns to the Plains for his senior year as one of the most heralded linemen in college football. On tape, it’s easy to see why he is so highly regarded. He is a strong, aggressive, technically proficient blocker who very, very seldom loses. In pass protection, his head is always on a swivel and he has a knack of identifying secondary blitzing threats quickly and successfully. In the running game, he is extremely impressive when he comes firing off the ball; he is quick, powerful and athletic and short but heartfelt prayers should be said for linebackers who have to face him, bearing down upon the second level. My only real concern with Smith is when he pulls to his left; in 2015, it was almost comical how far backwards he went before pulling. The 2015 LSU game (3Q 2:26) is a good example; the ball was snapped on the LSU 19 and Smith was virtually back on the 23 as he pulled. It was not quite so pronounced in 2016 but I’d still like to see more economy of movement when he pulls left. When he pulls right, the problem has never been so apparent. Good coaching, however, will help to fix this and there is certainly a lot to like about Smith’s size, power, athleticism and demeanour. I have a high Day 2 grade on him at this point; it will be interesting to see how he handles the shift from RG to RT as a senior.
Joseph is a 6-4, 300lb defensive lineman who most often played, in a rotation, as conventional nose tackle in 2016. He was asked, much of time, to read the center and absorb double teams which didn’t really play to his strengths; too often, he failed to get his hands inside the center and keep his feet moving. As a result, there were too many times when he struggled to anchor or to generate much power. There were, however, moments where you saw what he could do in a more attacking scheme; in the Michigan game, for instance, (1Q, 10:32), I really liked the way he used a quick shake of the hips to fool the center into thinking he was attacking the A gap between C and LG, before exploding to his right to force De’Veon Smith to fumble. Apparently, Rutgers will be using a more attacking defensive front this year, which may well suit Joseph more. He hustles to the football and has a good motor – even when Rutgers were being pounded, there was little discernible drop off in Joseph’s effort. Question marks about his hand placement and ability to maintain leverage mean that I don’t quite have a draftable grade on Joseph at this point in time, but he is a player who may benefit, in 2017, from a scheme change that enables him to demonstrate more of his potential.
Senat is a short, squat, intense DT who lines up mostly as a 3-tech at USF. His power is obvious when he plays low to the ground; he can anchor really well against the run and uses his upper body strength to shed blocks and make plays. The caveat here, though, is “when he plays low to the ground”. Too often, I saw Senat neutralise his natural ability by rising up too far out of his stance and allowing the guard an easy route into his chest. He also needs to work on his explosiveness out of his stance – he is not the quickest off the ball. There are times when he can get skinny – if that’s not an absurd paradox for a 310lb DT – though a gap and disrupt a play and I like his ability to move smoothly down the line without moving backwards. As a pass rusher, however, he offers very little; he relies on a pretty limited bull rush and, as his stats of 1 sack in three years suggest, it seldom presents a guard or center with too much trouble. Senat will give you effort and tenacity against the run and is a very sound tackler for a defensive lineman. At the same time, however, he is not particularly impressive in terms of size and explosiveness and it is hard to see him being much more than a back-up in the NFL. I would see him as a Day 3 option.
There is definitely a place for Trey Marshall in the NFL, but teams will have to be careful to play to his strengths and mask his deficiencies. He has, to an extent, been a victim of his own versatility at FSU, lining up almost everywhere in the secondary. That has, however, enabled scouts to see him in all sorts of situations. To my mind, his skill-set is that of a box safety, or strong safety, in the NFL. He doesn’t have the cover skills to match up against NFL WRs; in coverage, he is scrappy, grabby, slow to turn his hips and has marginal ball skills. You don’t really want him exposed too much against WRs in space. He is, however, fast and physical enough to cover TEs and RBs effectively. In run support, Marshall is really very good; he flies to the ball like a missile and hits very aggressively; in this part of the game, he reminds me of Keanu Neal, of the Atlanta Falcons. I like a safety who looks like he bears a personal grudge towards the ball carrier and Marshall certainly falls into this category. I will be interested to see if he can bed down in one position in the 2017 season and improve his skills in the cover game. If so, he could rise quickly up draft boards. Nevertheless, I’ve already seen enough from Marshall to justify giving him a Day 2 grade.
Armani Watts is a befuddling prospect. If you watch the Arkansas game from 2016, he looks like a surefire 1st round pick. If you watch the Tennessee game, you would see him as a Day 3/UDFA type. Clearly, he needs to become more consistent (Cue the Stating the Obvious sirens). What are Watt’s strengths? Well, he is fast, rangy, decisive in coverage and closes with speed and explosiveness upon the ball. Athletically, he’s what you’re looking for in a free safety. I really like the way he goes after the ball; in both the games mentioned above, Watts makes a really good – and deliberate – strip of the football; once from Alvin Kamara (1Q: 7:51 v Tennessee) and once from Rawleigh Williams (2Q 8:12 v Arkansas). In both cases, the offence looked to be moving in to score, so those were game-changing plays. My issue with Watts lies with his tackling which is, technically, a car crash. He misses far too many one-on-one tackles for a number of different reasons: he goes either too high or too low; he doesn’t wrap up; he prioritises the big hit with only limited success; he sometimes tries to spin round and drag down tacklers, rather than making a proper tackle. Some people may see this as a coachable thing but, to me, it’s a major red flag if my last line of defence is so shaky in such a crucial part of the game. I suspect the NFL will be more prepared to overlook this than I would be so he will probably go higher than the late 4th round grade I have on him.
There are a lot of good corners eligible for the 2018 draft but Jaire Alexander is right up there with the very best. As a cover CB, there are few, if any, better. The smoothness of his back-pedal, his route recognition and the rapidity with which he closes on a receiver coming out of his break are all superb but what I admire most about Alexander is his ability to locate the ball. So many CBs flail, grab and face-guard when the ball is in the air; Alexander, when the QB lets it go, possesses the casual sang-froid of a French flaneur choosing between escargots and moules – or, in his case, between a PBU and an interception. You can see his athleticism with absolute clarity in the return game – crystal, in fact, would be opaque by comparison. His interception return in the Virginia game (Q4, 14:45), for instance, looks like some divine being is playing Madden with him, whilst off His face on speed. It might be nice if he were a bit bigger and a bit more physical in the run game but he’s certainly willing to come up and make a tackle. In any case, given the emphasis on being able to cover in the NFL today, I have no doubt that Alexander’s skill set will be drooled over by GMs, to such an extent that a “GM Napkin Company” might make a fortune when the pros delve into the Louisville CB’s tape. If he continues to play the way he did last year, I would see him as a Top 10 pick and I’d be surprised and dismayed if he went outside the top 20.