This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while, because I get all bristly when good players don’t get their warranted mention. Yes, I know it’s only November — not technically #DraftSzn by most calendars. But hey, you’re the one reading The Draft Network, so clearly you’re ready; let’s talk about it.
These are the players that will garner increased attention as we get deeper into the draft cycle.
It’s worth noting, there are a ton of players I haven’t seen who likely deserve more attention as well: For example, this young Reggie Corbin at Illinois looks like he’s got legs, but I haven’t seen his film at all. Rather, these are the players who fill eventual own some January headlines, pepper some February sleeper articles. Just remember where you saw the names first.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Ole Miss
Really the correct answer here is nobody, because it’s almost impossible for quarterbacks to be lacking in hype at any point in the Draft cycle. It’s the position we all care about the most.
But I will say, the one player that popped to mind when I thought of quarterbacks who could see a rise during the bowl circuit was Ta’amu, another Hawai’i product slingin’ it in the SEC. Ta’amu checks three key boxes for me, off of casual viewings: he has good mobility to escape/extend, he doesn’t make overly dangerous decisions with the football, and he has a deep ball. That deep touch is his best trait, and it’s what NFL teams will become attracted to during Senior Bowl practices.
Honorable mention: Brett Rypien, Boise State
Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M
If you’re like me, your first exposure to Trayveon Williams was this.
Forget championship belts. A&M has a pimp cane. Game was over before it started pic.twitter.com/ci4GbucEM7
— Barstool Heartland (@barstoolhrtland) September 4, 2017
Instant Round 1 prospect. Turn the card in.
That UCLA game ended up being a tale of Josh Rosen heroism, and lost in the madness was Trayveon’s 22 carry, 203 yard, 2 touchdown performance. His 2017 tape illustrated an impatient and greedy player who overestimated his own tackle-breaking ability, however — in 2018, Trayveon has improved the timing in his reads and his feel for when to lower a shoulder and when to cut into daylight.
Williams has starter ability: proven to carry a bellcow’s load, can execute power and zone alike, active catch passes out of the backfield and aligned out wide. In this weak class, he’s got a great sight on a Top-10 ranking from me.
Honorable mention: J.J. Taylor, Arizona
Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
Hall has real 4.4 speed — I’d even say sub-4.4 speed — packed into a 200 pound frame. He’s still a little thinner, but fellow speed types in this receiving class include the 165-pound Hollywood Brown and a 180-pound Mecole Hardman. So he’s punching at a solid weight.
It’s fun to watch a quarterback and see a receiver you just can’t pull your eyes from. That was my experience, scouting senior QB Drew Lock’s 2017 tape and wondering who the burner on the outside was. Hall runs his routes almost exclusively in a vertical third in the Missouri offense, so it’s tough to evaluate his ability to win with route breaks in the intermediate areas of the field. But he looks dynamic with the ball in his hands, with nice flexibility and body control.
I’m looking for some consistent hand catches in the remaining weeks of the college season; sometimes the ball eats him up.
Honorable mention: Dillon Mitchell, Oregon
Mitchell Wilcox, TE, South Florida
So many tight ends to choose from. I wanted to go for Isaac Nauta out of Georgia, who I think has great tape when he gets targeted. I gave a moment’s thought to Oregon’s Jake Breeland, who is of a similar frame and deployment as Wilcox. But reaching into the Group of 5 ranks felt right for this one, so here we are.
Wilcox is a player in the Evan Engram mold: I think he’ll weight in closer to 240 than 250, and while I admire his gusto as a blocker, his frame simply isn’t built for generating compact, leveraged power. He’s a Gumby type: 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, can touch opposite walls at the same time.
Wilcox isn’t an Engram athlete, but he has those super reliable hands through contact that you expect of the big lumbering tight ends of yesteryear. I like his zone recognition ability and willingness to play with leverage; I’d love to see sharper routes from him and improved flexibility in the hips.
I’ve been told Wilcox is uncertain, but is leaning towards declaring. Expect him to go in the Top 3 rounds when he comes out.
Honorable mention: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Nick Harris and Kaleb McGary, OL, Washington
I decided to just lump up interior offensive line and offensive tackle for a few reasons. Firstly, my selections play on the some front. Secondly, I know y’all don’t care about offensive line nearly as much as I do. Cowards.
Harris and McGary both win with power. Harris plays the pivot in 2018 — he has starting experience at guard from years past — with really nice aggressiveness and upper body strength. His boxy frame is tough to get around unless you’re supremely quick from the interior, and his punch has enough power to redirect you even when you win off the snap.
McGary is the right tackle. Oft overshadowed by Trey Adams, senior teammate who will be returning to school for a fifth season following another injury-riddled campaign, McGary is likely a better athlete at a bigger size. 6-foot-8 and playing around 335 pounds, McGary has the foot speed to mirror rushers in space — and when he gets his hands on you, he’s mighty tough to shake.
Both are Top-75 players on my board, though you hardly hear whispers about either.
Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Hate to go back-to-back for the Purple Reign, but when I look at this interior defensive line class…I mean, man! Who haven’t we talked about? There are simply so many names, and I feel as if each has gotten a day in the sun. Onwuzurike is the best option.
Onwuzurike has packed on a decent amount of weight since his 2017 play, which saw him line up at the big DE position when Vita Vea was eating up space in the middle. Last season, the Huskies still tried to get Onwuzurike rushes from the interior, but this season he’s there far more frequently, and it’s paying off for him: his length and agility give him a big time advantage over stubbier centers in pass protection.
Onwuzurike is listed at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds — I’d really like to see him above 300 pounds, given some of his issues anchoring against the run. I’d also like to see improved off-ball explosiveness, though I’m not sure if the scheme is really asking him to fire into gaps.
Honorable mention: Terry Beckner, Missouri
Jordan Brailford, EDGE, Oklahoma State
Are you an EDGE rusher? Yes? Okay, please continue down the line.
Do you win with your first step? Yes? Okay, please continue down the line.
Can you at least duck your shoulder to reduce surface area when attacking the corner? Yes? Okay, please continue down the line.
Can you at least bend a little bit? Yes?
Congratulations: the NFL is going to be very interested in you.
That’s as simple as I can put it with Brailford. He’s a bit of a snap-jumper, there’s no doubt — but he has an explosive and deep first step especially from a two-point stance to attack upfield. He gets steered beyond the peak of the pocket a fair bit because he can’t really drop his hips, but when he dips that shoulder well, he has the ankle flexion to flatten and the length to finish.
Hand usage also shows up when he rushes from the interior or looks to work back inside, though he needs to learn how to make his moves more compact and immediate given the size of his frame. He’ll go under-appreciated in a thick class, but he screams 3-4 OLB to me.
Honorable mention: Anthony Nelson, Iowa
Joe Bachie Jr., LB, Michigan State
Linebacker is a tough one, because the class is simply lacking from top to bottom. I think Mack Wilson is an absolute knockout, Devin White is a solid Round 1 player, and then everyone else has glaring issues that are tough to ignore.
I landed on Joe Bachie Jr. much at the behest of Kyle, who has been banging the table for Bachie for the past few weeks. I threw on some Michigan State tape while I was chilling one day, just to see what the talk was about: and how ’bout that! Bachie is a live one.
Bachie’s clearly heavier than his currently listed weight (230 pounds; I’d put him in the 238-240 area) and accordingly plays a physical brand of football. Athletically he’s nothing to write home about, but he has enough explosiveness to beat heavy-footed guards to second-level landmarks, and he arrives in the hole like a bull seeing red. He’s got a good tackle radius as well, with the grip strength to foil tackle-breaking running backs.
What does coverage look like with Bachie? He’s iffy in zone as it stands, though I think there’s enough there that he could profile as a three-down player in the NFL; it just may be a year or two down the road. Man coverage ain’t it.
Honorable mention: Markus Bailey, Purdue
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Okay, so I know Ledyard just wrote about Fulton in his Monday column — but! I promise you! I have been about Fulton for a while. Could have sworn I had a receipt in our Slack office somewhere, but I can’t find it. Fulton can play.
You can see Fulton improving on an almost weekly basis for the Tigers — a lot of it has to do with the timeline of Fulton’s career, which you can read in Jon’s post above. What you’re seeing on the 2018 field, finally, is a 5-star’s elite athleticism translating into productive play. Fulton is one of the twitchier corners I can remember seeing, and he profiles as a pure man-on-man player at the next level given his match quickness.
Most of Fulton’s experience comes from the press alignment the Tigers use, but I think he’d be even better in off or catch-man techniques that let him potentially read and close down on short-breaking routes. He looks like a future stud if he stays on this path.
Ugo Amadi, S, Oregon
Amadi’s lack of hype was one of the first itches that finally drove me to this post, so I’m glad to close things out with him.
Amadi isn’t a traditional safety prospect, in that he so frequently lines up over a No. 2 or 3 WR in man coverage. But he’s a stellar slot corner when he slides into that role, with great quickness, impressive body control, and a knack for the catch point despite lacking ideal size (5-foot-9). And there’s an increasing emphasis on interchangeable safeties who can do this, that, and the other job for you — Amadi can be that player.
From a high alignment, I like Amadi’s instincts, though he’s not overly rangy and will never be classified as a hitter. I think his tackling has improved in 2018, though he can still be too hot into contact and, again, is undersized. But you should feel comfortable playing him as a free safety who can rotate into coverage, which is a useful commodity for any NFL defense.
Honorable mention: Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame