Chris Hawkins (S, USC) – 49

Hawkins is a good college football player in the Pac 12.  He has considerable versatility as a DB, having started at CB, SS and FS at Southern California.  He is instinctive, possesses good recognition and, against athletically limited offenses, he looks like a good prospect.  When, however, he is up against more talented players, the flaws in his game shine through with uncomfortably lustrous brightness.  He has marginal size at best (5-11, 188) for an NFL safety; he is not big or physical enough to play in the box and, as a free safety, I have concerns about his athleticism; he takes a lot of shallow angles towards the ball and lacks the speed or agility to compensate when those angles are flawed – see the 2016 Alabama game (Q2, 7:55) as an example.  His tackling is also very erratic.  He can be effective in small spaces but, in the open field, he tends to try to make arm tackles that are only sporadically effective.  I also struggle to see how he would match up against big, physical TEs in the NFL.  In short, although Hawkins should, justifiably, be highly thought of by Trojans fans, I don’t really see him as a bona fide NFL prospect at this point and I don’t have a draftable grade on him, going into the 2017 season.

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Mike Gesicki (TE, Penn State) – 53

Having heard a lot of hype about Gesicki as one of the top TEs in the class, I was looking forward to delving gnomishly into his tape.  I must confess, I was disappointed.  We should start with the positives; he has really good hands , an outstanding catch radius and the ability to make the contested catch on a regular basis.  He gives enough effort as a blocker to make him just about serviceable in the Big Ten; in the NFL, however, he will get destroyed.  The thing that stood out most to me about Gesicki, though, is his lack of athleticism.  There is so little explosion off the line and so little speed that it is very difficult to envisage him winning on a regular basis in the NFL.  In the 2016 Michigan game, when he was up against a host of NFL calibre defenders, he looked utterly lost and outmatched.  I could perhaps see Gesicki making a team as a third TE who could be considered a red-zone threat but even that is a reach – I like my number 3 TE to be a factor on special teams and I don’t see Gesicki having the speed or physicality to be an effective special teams player at the next level.  I can, I fear,  see him as one of the big names in the draft who ends up not hearing his name called.

Matt Linehan (QB, Idaho) – 60

It is inevitably tempting to wheel out the usual clichéd platitudes about Linehan – the son of Scott Linehan, OC of the Dallas Cowboys – being a coach’s son, a cerebral player etc.  When you watch him on tape, however, his ability to move through his progressions is one of his least impressive traits – he tends to become fixed on his initial read.  In the 2017 season opener for the Vandals, against Sacramento State, it looked to me as if Linehan was trying to address this but, as a result, he held on to the ball far too long and took some hefty hits.  There are, however, things to like about Linehan as a prospect.  He throws a very catchable ball and shows good touch and awareness.  He leads his receivers very well on the deep ball and, in general, his ball placement is good.  He will never make anyone mistake him for Mariota or Vick, but he has enough athleticism to buy himself time in the pocket.  He is, however, a streaky thrower; when he goes cold, he goes very cold indeed and often misses high in an attempt to over-compensate.  His arm strength is probably average, although his mechanics are good.  I see Linehan as a developmental prospect, who could well stick as a back-up in the NFL – his ceiling, however, is not particularly high, which is why I have nothing more than a Day 3 grade on him.

Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame) – 93

There is a bear-like quality to Nelson’s play – and that is certainly not a criticism when it comes to interior offensive linemen.  He is a huge (6-5,330), very physical guard who simply moves people in the run game.  Woody Baron of Virginia Tech was one of my favourite college football players in 2016 but Nelson treated Baron like a rag doll at times in the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech game.  The ursine comparisons extend to his pulling game – he is not the smoothest athlete but, when he comes lumbering round the corner on the pull, he is an intimidating spectacle.  I like the way he sustains his blocks and he gets real explosiveness from his hips.  As a pass blocker, he is alert, intelligent and quick to identify threats.  He can handle both quick, penetrative DTs and the massive space-eaters with equal confidence.  Some people have mentioned Nelson as a potential top 5 pick but that is too rich for my blood; I don’t see the rare athleticism needed to select a G or C that high.  I do, however, see a player who could be an immediate, productive starter in the NFL.  Nelson reminds me of a less psychotic Richie Incognito and I think he certainly deserves the first round consideration he’s been receiving; I like him in the 15-25 range of the 2018 draft.

Azeem Victor (LB, Washington) – 66

Azeem Victor has had a lot of hype coming in to the 2017 season and, on occasions, you can see why. He has natural playmaking abilities and shows the ability to stack and shed blockers on a pretty consistent basis. In the Utah game, he was all over the field and, if you watched that tape in isolation, I can see why you would see him as a Day 2 pick; he is clearly an athletic and rangy LB, whose tackling technique is basically very sound. At the same time, however, I have two fundamental concerns about Victor. The first is the speed with which he reads his keys and reacts. Time and again, on tape, I see him flat-footed and static while the play unfolds around him. He might be able to use his athleticism to compensate in the Pac-12 but he will be destroyed in the NFL if he adopts the “Let’s have a good, long peer” approach. My second concern is his physicality. There are times when he simply allows RBs to take him along for a ride; Q4, 10:13 v Cal in 2016 is a good example. With the right coaching staff, I can see Victor having a good career in the NFL but there are so many flaws in his game right now that I would be disinclined to spend anything more than a mid-Day 3 pick on him.

Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Edge, Arkansas State) – 79

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.

Braden Smith (G, Auburn) – 87

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.