My people, welcome to Draft Class Heroes, my feature column that will drop right here every Tuesday morning. We’ll cover a variety of topics, typically focused around players that have stood out to me in my scouting, both in college football and the NFL. We’ll stray off the field from time-to-time, perhaps even to non-football related topics, but for this week, our attention remains transfixed on the gridiron, with the official return of real football just a few weeks away.
Superhero of the Week: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
The inaugural superhero of the week award goes to a redshirt sophomore wide receiver whose body would put most superheroes to shame.
— DK Metcalf (@dkmetcalf14) August 6, 2016
Metcalf is the player on the far right, the one who looks like a create-a-player option in Madden. While you’re picking your jaw up off the floor, wrap your mind around the fact that he was 18 years old in this picture. Whew.
Fortunately for Metcalf, his play on the field is even better than his physique. We talk a lot about size-speed freaks every year, but rarely do those prospects play to their potential, especially at such a young age. Metcalf is absurdly technically refined in his releases vs press coverage for a player that was a redshirt freshman last season, showing not only the physicality to discard jams, but the footwork and quickness to avoid them altogether.
DK Metcalf destroyed Kevin Tolliver all game long last season. 6-3, 225 lb RS freshman doing this! pic.twitter.com/O7pkhqQCco
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 5, 2018
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Metcalf has been rumored to run in the 4.3/4.4 range. I had my doubts about something this absurd being true, but after watching him run in a few games, the dude has insane wheels for his size. He’s a legit vertical threat who can absolutely moss corners with his size and catch radius.
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 5, 2018
There are things Metcalf needs to work on, but he has top 10 overall type potential. I can’t wait to see how much his game progresses in his second season on the field.
1. Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss
Literally Metcalf’s sidekick at Ole Miss, Knox played heavily in the slot, last year, making the most of his targets in an offense loaded with stars. He lost the second half of the season due to a foot injury, but when Knox was healthy, his talent was on full display. The former walk-on can stretch the field, create separation from man coverage with adept route-running and easily go outside his frame to reel in off-target throws.
According to Chase Goodbread’s college football freaks list, Knox has been clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and 37 inches in the vertical jump, all at 6-4, 250 pounds. One NFL scout even referred to him as “this year’s David Njoku”. Knox has received very little buzz this offseason, but I think he has the potential to be a first round pick next spring.
2. Jeffery Simmons, IDL, Mississippi State
You’ve all probably heard of Ed Oliver, Raekwon Davis, Derrick Brown, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, but Simmons gets little attention despite the fact that his name should be right up there with this crew (and well ahead of some of them). Simmons has exceptional athletic ability and power, showing potential as a pass rusher that few defensive lineman can match.
Where he’s still coming along is in the mental processing and technical aspects of the game, but if those areas can take a leap this season, we could be talking about a top 15-20 prospect in Simmons. There’s a good chance that he’s the best interior defensive lineman in the SEC this season.
3. Derek Rivers, EDGE, New England Patriots
It was almost 18 months ago when I stood on the table for Rivers as a first round prospect, despite the fact that he hailed from FCS school Youngstown State. Speed, bend, power, moves, intelligence, size, work ethic – Rivers had it all, until a torn ACL ended his rookie season before it began last year.
Now Bill Belichick says “nobody works harder” than Rivers, and we’ll finally get to see his talent on display Thursday night against Washington. Here’s hoping he can get back to the prospect he was this season, finally giving the Patriots a dynamic pass rusher off the edge.
Villain of the Week: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Buffalo Bills
In case you missed it, Benjamin had a whale of a quote for Bills reporters when asked to summarize his career to this point:
— Nick Carboni (@NickCarboniWCNC) August 4, 2018
So hold up a minute…you’re telling me that it’s Cam Newton’s fault that you haven’t lived up to your potential? The guy who won MVP when you were on injured reserve? Help me understand this, Kelvin. Did Cam make you show up to OTAs overweight? Cause you to quit on plays in games?
No one will ever make the argument that Newton is the most accurate quarterback in the league, and there were certainly times in 2016 where it created issues for all the Panthers receivers, but Benjamin wouldn’t have had even two statistically solid seasons without Newton. Sure, there are better quarterbacks in the league than Cam, but to act as if the blame for Benjamin’s failures should be put on anyone’s shoulders other than his own is probably the reason why we’re here, waiting for him to deliver on his first round billing.
In the lair this week…
Later today I’ll have a piece detailing how several highly-anticipated linebacker classes in a row have given way to this one, a position group in need of a couple clear top prospects.
In addition to my SEC top 5 edges on Wednesday and my SEC top 5 linebackers on Friday, I’ll have a piece on my concerns with Greedy Williams‘ game and why I believe Mississippi State could have two defensive line prospects drafted higher than anybody at the same position for Clemson or Auburn. Both of those hit the interwebs on Thursday.
On Friday, I’ll also be reviewing the notable rookie performances from six games of the 12-game slate to open Week 1 of the NFL preseason Thursday night. To say I’m excited for the first look at a multitude of players I’ve spent the last year watching and projecting incessantly would be putting it mildly.
Football is finally back.