4th-and-11 at the 50-yard line. Game is tied at 28 with 3:04 remaining in regulation. SEC Championship and a berth in the College Football Playoffs is on the line. What do you do? Sneak your 5-star freshman QB onto the punt team while Alabama stays in its base defense for a punt safe formation and run a fake. COULD NOT BE ME. But Kirby (ain’t so) Smart – yup!
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open!
Mack Wilson Staying in School?
I love Alabama LB Mack Wilson as a prospect. He offers tremendous range, processing skills and some of the best coverage ability you’ll find in an off-ball linebacker. From studying his film, he looks like a top-20 draft pick if not higher. And that’s why this caught me by major surprise.
— Lyndell “Mack” Wilson Dirty3o™️ (@iam__mw3o) December 4, 2018
In his tweet to congratulate LSU LB Devin White on winning the Butkus Aware as the nation’s top linebacker, Wilson hinted at him gunning for the award next year which would require him to NOT be in the NFL.
Should Wilson stay in school, it would be a major blow to the top of linebacker class. White, assuming he declares, would be the clear top guy with Michigan’s Devin Bush the No. 2. After that, there is quite the drop off in exciting talent. NC State’s Germaine Pratt and Duke’s Joe Giles-Harris would benefit greatly as they could challenge to be Day 2 picks. Stanford’s Bobby Okereke and Florida’s Vosean Joseph could also be beneficiaries if Wilson stays in school.
One year removed from a LB class the featured Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans, Darius Leonard and Fred Warner, the 2019 class comes nowhere close to matching last year’s talent, especially if Wilson doesn’t come out.
I was Team Tua for the Heisman but Kyle Crabbs changed my mind. In his final edition of Heisman Hopefuls, Crabbs presented the case for Haskins and I’m sold.
His production is off-the-charts in general, but also for a Big 10 quarterback. But the reasons I’m sold on Haskins as the Heisman transcends the box score. Look at what he meant to this Buckeyes team that went 13-1 and won the Big 10 Championship. Crabbs summed it up nicely in his piece:
There was the late game push against Penn State in Happy Valley, where Haskins distributed the ball and let his receivers make the plays. There was the 3rd quarter explosion against TCU in an early season ranked showdown. The gritty performance against Maryland in a game the Terps forced the Buckeyes to chase them all game before forcing overtime late. The offensive explosion against rival Michigan in a winner-take-all showdown in Week 13 (62 points and 6 passing TDs for Haskins). And then 500 yards and 5 TDs against a scrappy Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship.
Where would Ohio State be this year without Haskins? Likely a 3 or 4-loss team that doesn’t sniff the Big 10 Championship Game. His record-setting season (4580 passing yards, 47 passing TDs and 8 INT) and what he meant to one of College Football’s best teams, vaults him above any other finalist in my view.
Young Broncos’ WRs Time to Shine
The writing was on the wall when Denver invested pick No. 40 on Courtland Sutton and pick No. 113 on DaeSean Hamilton in last year’s draft that the days of Demaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as the focal point of the Broncos’ passing game were nearing an end.
With Thomas traded to Houston and Sanders suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in practice, the time is now for the young duo to shine. My top-ranked receiver in last year’s class, Sutton profiles as a prototypical x receiver that can keep the chains moving. Averaging nearly 20 yards per reception this season, Sutton has proven to be a big play threat as well. With Thomas AND Sanders now out of the lineup, Sutton figures to be Denver’s go-to guy so seeing how he productive he is with more attention from the defense will be a big challenge for him starting this Sunday.
Hamilton is a smooth route runner that knows how to create separation. He’s only caught 5 passes on the season but his opportunity for more targets is here.
Denver features the No. 23 passing offense in the NFL and the final four games of the season will be important in determining the upside of its young receiving corps. I’m anxious to find out how they do.
Prospects Skipping Bowl Games
With underclassmen declarations pouring in, the growing trend of prospects sitting out bowl games is also here. With that comes triggered people who cannot comprehend how a player can “quit on their teammates” and not participate in the Bowl Game. Don’t be that person. It’s up to the individual and those decisions should be respected, both those who play and those who don’t.
The implications are massive. Not only avoiding the risk of injury, but also getting a jump on preparations for the Combine and Pro Day. How prospects test has millions of dollars worth of implications. If you can’t see that then I’m not really sure what to tell you.
Oh by the way, and even more importantly, the NFL doesn’t care if prospects skip bowl games. You shouldn’t either.
Allen – Darnold 1.0 is Here
Sure, Todd Bowles didn’t affirm Darnold as the starter this week in Wednesday’s press conference but he is. A full participant in Wednesday’s practice, Darnold is more healthy than Josh McCown who was limited on Wednesday with a back injury. After both Allen and Darnold were sidelined for the earlier showdown, the battle of top-10 rookies in the same division is here.
Coming back from injury, Darnold will look to capture the same momentum Allen did when he returned to Buffalo’s lineup 2 weeks ago. Since returning, Allen has looked like a different player. He’s a much more confident passer, is handling pressure way better and taking full advantage of his ability to pick up yards with his legs. He engineered a victory over Jacksonville before an impressive outing against Miami last week that found him as PFF’s highest-rated quarterback in Week 13. Coming off several lackluster performances, the growth from Allen has been highly encouraging.
Darnold has been up and down so far as a rookie. His performances against Denver, Indianapolis and Detroit were promising but he’s left much to be desired in his other outings. Darnold leads the NFL with 14 interceptions thrown on just 289 attempts and ball security was a major concern of his entering the NFL. Awaiting Darnold on Sunday is the NFL’s No. 1 ranked passing defense on the road.
After the Matt Barkley-led Bills routed the Jets in New York by a score of 41-10 just 4 weeks ago, a motivated Jets’ team looking for revenge should make our first showcase of Allen-Darnold a fun one. Will Allen continue his ascension? Will Darnold start flipping the script in his own way? There’s quite the intrigue for a Week 14 game featuring two teams with losing records with virtually no shot at the postseason.
Best Football Player I Saw This Week: Travis Etienne
A week after watching Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown in person, I had the privilege of seeing Clemson RB Travis Etienne live at the ACC Championship game and WOW is he impressive. Hello, 2020 RB1!
Against Pitt, Etienne carried the ball 12 times for 156 yards with 2 TDs. A true sophomore, Etienne has RIDICULOUS acceleration and elusiveness. He sees the field well and is unbelievably dynamic in space. He offers good power and insane agility – he’s the total package.
Etienne has been a monster all season. For the year, he carried the football 176 times for 1,463 yards (8.3 avg) and 21 TDs. He’s an electric football player than I’m looking forward to evaluating next summer. Until then, we’ll likely get to see him play 2 good defenses in Notre Dame and Alabama in the College Football Playoffs. I can’t wait.