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.
Townsend is, more than anything else, a skilful punter. His placement of the ball and his drop are technically very good, which gives him considerable control over where he lands the ball. 27 of his 64 punts last year ended up inside the 20 and only 7 went for touchbacks – indicative of a master of his trade. He has a very good leg. It’s not freakish, like Shane Lechler’s, but it’s certainly good enough for him to earn a living on Sundays; he averaged a fraction under 48 yards per punt as a junior and, given that his longest was 62, his consistency is evident. In fact, he had seven games in which he had a longest punt of at least 59 yards. His hang time is also impressive and, although it’s not particularly fashionable to draft punters these days, I can definitely see his name being called in 2018. For punters and kickers, the grading system deviates slightly; the grade reflects their draft worth, rather than their quality per se. Certainly, though, if I were GM of an NFL team in need of a punter, I would give Townsend a good, long look in rounds 5 or 6.
There is nothing particularly fashionable about the way Lutulelei plays DT. You will never mistake him for an Aaron Donald or a Geno Atkins – he will never be a double digit sack guy. At the same time, though, there will always be a market for people who play DT the way Utah’s #93 does. Lutulelei consistently plugs gaps and eats up space and, for a team with athletic, playmaking LBs, that’s a very attractive skill-set. He is clearly very strong; it is almost comical how many times he seems to simply absorb double teams and it’s also worth pointing out that, in 2016, he was doing so with a shoulder injury. For a 6-2, 320 DT, he has an impressive array of successful pass rush moves; I have seen him use a swim, a rip and a bull rush with great effectiveness. He is not, however, a particularly impressive athlete, which means he will not always get home, despite his skill-set. Nevertheless, watching Lutulelei on tape, you are left with the impression that this is a player who will make a big impact on an NFL defensive line. Against the run, he can just bully guards and centers and can single-handedly ruin run plays. His relatively low ceiling as a pass rusher makes me reluctant to give him a first round grade but a lot of teams would, I suspect, be delighted to see him on the board somewhere in the second.
Not many people are talking about Hungalu as we go into the 2017 season but, in my view, he’s one of the most underrated linebackers in college football. The thing that stands out most when you watch Hungalu is how quick he is to diagnose a play. Both against the pass and the run, it looks like he there is an iron filing in the ball, with Hungalu playing the role of the magnet. This means one of two things; he is either a “first-in, last-out” type in the film room, or he is quite incredibly instinctive – perhaps it’s both. There are plenty of examples; the obvious one is the touchdown return in the UCLA game but one of my favourites is his pass break up at the 1:56 mark of the 3rd quarter of the Minnesota game. He is also a very good athlete; the rapidity with which he chases down Royce Freeman at the start of the Oregon game speaks volumes for his quickness. The other thing I love about Hungalu is the ferocity with which he takes on blockers. Drew Sample, the Washington TE, was simply abused at times last year, even in a game in which the Beavers were outmatched. There are, of course, things he needs to work on. Hungalu is a really unrefined pass rusher when he comes on the blitz and, like many college linebackers, he could benefit from being bigger and stronger. I do, however, really like his skill-set, which I think translates really well to the next level; he probably fits best as a WILB in a 3-4 defence. I suspect I’m much higher on Hungalu than many others but I think he could be an excellent NFL player and I currently have a second round grade on him.
The words that come to mind when you scout Billy Price are ‘alert’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘savvy’. He has started 41 consecutive games at guard for Ohio State and the fact that he is almost certainly moving to center for his senior season will probably only enhance his stock. Price has extremely quick feet, which enable him to shift fluidly into position against both 1-tech NTs and 3-tech DTs. You can also see this athleticism when he pulls; he looks very nimble for an interior lineman when he comes round the corner. He is an intelligent player, whose veteran experience enables him to cope comfortably with stunts and twists. You very rarely see him being pushed back in the running game, although I would like to see him being a bit more aggressive when he gets to the second level. He could be a very serviceable starting guard but I’m not sure if he has the raw strength to excel there; as a center, however, his combination of athleticism and intelligence could enable him to be a top five player in that position. My instinct is that Price will end up playing center in the NFL and, if that’s the case, I can see him being a player who contends for Pro Bowl honours.
Blanton has shown considerable versatility at Missouri – he has lined up as a conventional TE, a slot receiver, an H-Back and a FB. He has an imposing frame (6-6, 265lb) and is a fluid, powerful athlete. So far in his career, he has been part of a 3 or 4 man platoon of TEs, which has limited his opportunities to shine; he did, however, show enough in the 2016 season to suggest that he could be a major sleeper in what is a markedly less impressive 2018 TE draft class than the 2017 equivalent. Blanton has very good hands and will make the contested catch; his TD catch in the South Carolina game is a good example. He uses his frame well and will bully smaller DBs. His route running, however, can be a bit sloppy and he needs to become more precise in his breaks. At the moment, he is more polished as a pass blocker than in the running game. In pass protection, he anchors well and shows a strong punch, whereas he lacks a bit of explosiveness as a run blocker; I’d like to see a bit more aggression in the running game. With Sean Culkin, last year’s starting TE for Mizzou, in camp with the LA Chargers, Blanton should get more opportunities this season and I have a funny feeling that this current 5th/6th round borderline grade might improve dramatically over the course of the 2017 season.
McFadden is a fascinating prospect to scout. He has the size (6-2, 198lb), speed, length and ball skills to be an elite NFL CB and it would not surprise me one whit to see him taken in the 1st round of the 2018 Draft. Would I take him in the 1st round? Probably not, unless I were the GM of a team like the 49ers. He would have real value in the NFC West; I can see him handling the likes of Tavon Austin, John Brown and Tyler Lockett with aplomb. If I were a GM in the NFC South, however, I wouldn’t touch him with the longest of the barge poles in my collection, for the likes of Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin etc. would have him for breakfast. McFadden just doesn’t like contact. He is a technically deficient tackler and, when he blitzes, his main aim seems to stay out of harm’s way. In off-man coverage, however, he is really very good. His closing speed is highly impressive, he stays in phase and he attacks the ball, showing excellent hands. In press-man, by contrast, his punch is pretty weak and he can be overwhelmed by bigger, more physical receivers. Against the run, he is really flawed, due to a reluctance to confront blocks and his inability to tackle with his head up and drive through the ball carrier. If he can be more physical in 2017, he could end up being a top 15 pick, for he is a formidable athlete. At the moment, however, I think he’s overrated.