You know the drill, my people! Tuesday means it’s time for another edition of Draft Class Heroes!
A diminutive wide receiver projected to go Round 1? I have some doubts. Are Greedy Williams, Kelvin Harmon and Noah Fant lock first round picks as underclassmen declarees? My analysis on the trio, as well as thoughts on the current college football playoff system, expressed in this week’s Draft Class Heroes.
Draft Class Superhero of the Week: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
I entered the game with my skepticism high, but by halftime I felt silly. Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown, all 5-foot-10, 170 pounds of him (if that), was shredding West Virginia’s porous pass defense in about every way imaginable, challenging my pushback on the thought of him being a potential first round pick.
Brown finished that game with 11 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns, making impact plays as a route runner, YAC receiver and with speed over the top. “Dynamic” is probably the best word to describe Brown’s game, as he consistently made something happen regardless of situation or coverage.
Feeling more optimistic about Brown’s game than ever before, I entered the Big 12 Championship Game fully expecting Brown to chew up Texas’ defense the way he did the first time the two teams met this year…only to be brought crashing back down to earth when Brown struggled.
Don’t get me wrong, Brown still gave Longhorns cornerback Kris Boyd fits with his speed and quickness, but his inability to come up with a tough vertical catch off his fingertips despite a little contact cost Oklahoma a big play. Later in the game it was a rainbow shot over his shoulder that Brown initially grabbed in the end zone, but allowed Boyd to poke loose at the last second.
A blatant drop for Brown came later, preceded by him challenging a defender at the first down marker only to get rocked out of bounds by a punishing hit to his small frame. By the time Brown bowed out with an injury late (foot? hamstring?), he’d let four passes bounce off his hands and made a relatively small impact with five catches for 54 yards.
This performance re-invoked the question: how much does Brown’s size limit him? If I’m guessing, I think he’ll be 5-foot-9, 175 pounds at the Combine, with small hands that certainly raise concerns about how he’ll fare as a catcher of the football outside his frame. That issue seems to only get worse in contested or high-point situations, where Brown struggles to get around and elevate to make plays on the ball.
On the other hand, his elusiveness and home run ability with the ball in his hands is exhilarating, and his route running is much improved this season. Comparisons to Tyreek Hill are probably a stretch, as Brown isn’t close to as thickly built nor quite as fast, but he’s absolutely a burner with a true trump card. How much can that outweigh his clear weaknesses?
I’m not sure I’ll ever be on board with Brown as a first round pick, but I’m excited to dive into his tape when/if the receiver declares for the draft. He represents an exciting draft selection for the right offense, but ask him to do too much and I think Brown is in danger of never living up to the expectations.
Sidekicks: Early Draft Declarees
Several new underclassmen declarations this week, including the trio listed below, who I’ve offered my early thoughts on.
1. Kelvin Harmon, WR, N.C. State
Harmon will draw comparisons to Alshon Jeffery and Michael Crabtree, and with good reason. He’s a contested catch monster with a big frame like Jeffery, and runs good routes despite not being a blazing speedster or having exceptional quickness, similar to Crabtree.
However, if Harmon’s trump card is contested catches, I’m a little worried about his process. He doesn’t highpoint the ball frequently enough, instead using his body to box out defensive backs and then leaping for bread basket catches in an odd fashion. It’s a very strange way of making combat catches, but it has mostly worked for Harmon all throughout college.
Even if teams can accept that part, Harmon’s speed and overall athleticism remain a question mark. His Combine performance, along with many of the wide receivers, will be among the ones I watch the closest.
2. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Few tight ends offer Fant’s speed, athleticism and vertical prowess as a mismatch option in the slot, but I still have questions. He was underutilized in Iowa’s offense, is barely a capable blocker and hasn’t made many tough/contested catch in traffic that I’ve seen.
I still need to go over Fant’s tape much more thoroughly, but from what I’ve seen looks like a moldable prospect with rare traits despite the lack of a polished skillset. The upside is clearly fascinating, but I wouldn’t consider him can’t miss, or the clear top tight end in a loaded class.
3. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
I entered the season with legit concerns about Williams’ game, and although he started the season off hot, the latter half of the year revealed his flaws. Williams’ technique in press coverage leaves something to be desired, he doesn’t find the ball vertically as well as you’d like, and at times his effort is oddly lacking.
Still, the size, speed and athleticism are obvious, as well as a short memory and the ability to play in multiple coverage schemes. LSU hasn’t churned out many bad ones, and Williams is likely to be a first round pick if he runs well.
Already deceased: Giants, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Colts, Jets, Browns, Bucs, Broncos, Cowboys, Lions, Jaguars, Falcons and Raiders.
Yes, we’re probably going to take an ‘L’ on the Cowboys. Their victory over the Saints on Thursday, especially considering how they won, with their flaws still so obvious, was one of the more unexpected results of the season. Even if the Cowboys lose to Philly on Sunday, the Eagles have a much harder road to finish the season than Dallas does.
Both the Broncos and Colts are threatening to emerge from the depths of the deceased, but the Ravens keep winning to hold them off for the last Wild Card spot.
We didn’t bury anyone last week, but get the shovels out for today’s slate.
The Packers are done. Losing to the Cardinals with your season on the line?? Get out of here, man. Mike McCarthy’s firing begins the mini-rebuild. This leaves nine teams battling for six playoff spots in the NFC heading into Week 14.
Send the Bengals to the pit of misery as well. Losers of four straight and on their backup quarterback with the Chargers threatening to knock them to 5-8 next week. Could this be it for Marvin Lewis? We’ve seen this movie before, but eventually the ending has to change.
Villain of the Week: CFB Playoff System
I love the college football playoffs. Moving to the current system was a huge step in the right direction for the sport, but we need to take it a bit further. Yes, a 16-team playoff would be awesome, but I’m not sure how plausible that is. And at some point, we need to draw a line that allows us to still value regular season results heavily.
Eight teams is the answer. It allows autobids for the Power 5 conference champions, and three at-large spots for those deserving. This year, that would put Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Washington as auto-bids and Georgia, Notre Dame and UCF. That’s perfect.
UCF wouldn’t have to make up an imaginary national championship if we did it this way. They could get throttled by Alabama or Clemson in the playoffs, and we could quickly welcome them back to planet earth, where you can be a very good team but still not be the national champions.
No longer would we have the argument between spots 4-6 in the playoff rankings. Now all three get in. Will people argue about the eighth spot in the rankings? Absolutely, but no chance there is the same energy for vitriol over that spot as there is currently for no. 4.
So maybe you cut one game from the regular season schedule to compensate. Big deal. That probably isn’t even necessary to be honest. This system would only really add one game for the two teams that meet in the national championship. That’s nothing. Plus, it would heavily emphasize the importance of winning your conference championship game, adding to the anticipation of that weekend of football.
No system is perfect, and every one will have things that need to be circumvented. But the time has come. Give us eight teams, NCAA.