Today marks the end of the college football season for yet another year. As either the Tide or the Tigers claim the fourth consecutive championship, all eyes o the college landscape turn East…to Tampa and Mobile. At this time next week, The Draft Network will be in St. Pete for the East/West Shrine Game, in full force. So, too, will many NFL executives and scouts.
As far as we are concerned, it is always Draft season. But now? It’s officially #DRAFTSZN. Studs & Duds has been a weekly staple since we opened our doors five months ago and for the first time, I’m able to execute my vision for the column. I watch a lot of tape, a necessity when your final goal is between 325 and 350 reports written this year.
Studs & Duds will serve as my weekly update in those efforts. Here are three prospects who thrilled me and three prospects who killed me from this past week in scouting.
STUD – Iowa TE Noah Fant
One thing that is very easy in the realm of scouting, especially throughout the regular season, is to let a player get “stale”. Fant is a great example for me personally. I scouted Fant over the course of the summer for my prep work at TDN and the Big Ten. I knew he was a special athlete. And when I debuted my first big board of the fall back in September, Fant was a top 12 player.
Fast forward to last week, and Fant had floated between 12 and 20 on my big boards whenever I would provide updates. And then I watched his film over the weekend and fell in love all over again.
Fant will be moving up the next board update. Remember, we’re in the process of collecting information and taking notes on 250-350 players each as individuals. There’s a lot of information flow on a daily basis…sometimes we get lost in the noise of our own heads as scouts. It’s why the scouting process is such a fluid process. And it’s also why you shouldn’t get *too* offended by the rankings until April!
Fant has special speed, natural receiving chops, excellent body control and will be a mismatch for any LB in the NFL and damn near any Safety. He’s a great one.
DUD – Miami EDGE Joe Jackson
This is not necessarily by any specific fault of Jackson’s. I offered him a 3rd RD grade on my film study…he’s a good player. But I remember watching Miami play in 2016 and wondering who the hell #99 was, only to be crushed he was a true freshman. Jackson was undersized but explosive and bendy.
Now, in 2018? Jackson is listed just short of 260 lbs…and he’s lost some of that get off from the line. Jackson still can win with wide angle rushes because he’s got acceleration through steps 2-4 on the edge track. And he’s got a prototypical build now.
But Jackson will now have to win with his hands…more than ever. And I didn’t see as much polish there as I would have hoped. So Jackson goes down in my book as a guy who could drop some weight and play OLB, of be developed with his hands through his first few years and hopefully turn things up as a pass rusher.
STUD – Kentucky RB Benny Snell
Death. Taxes. Me vehemently disagreeing with some of my colleagues at TDN. These, my friends are the certainties in life. And if you too think Benny Snell is more of a “Mehnny Snail”, boy do I have some choice words for you.
Snell is a player I came into film study with very little expectation. I knew he had his fans, but he wasn’t a player that had generated a lot of forced conversation with those around me over the past few months. Now I’m not quite sure why.
Snell has some terrific flashes, particularly with his blend of open field balance, vision and toughness as a runner. Is he a true battering ram? No. But he’s got some good pop in those pads of his…and I’ve seen him hurdle no less than four defenders in the open field in five football games.
Snell has more dynamics to him than I’d have guessed…and that puts him into the conversation of a top-five back in this year’s class.
DUD – Colorado State WR Preston Williams
Traits, traits, traits. Williams has all the tools in the world, but he’s not quite sure what to do with them yet. And that’s okay, given his status as a transfer from Tennessee to Colorado State. Williams’ field exposure is limited compared to some of his colleagues.
That will provide him with plenty of room to grow. But that also offers him plenty of room to tumble…if he doesn’t get his head around the finer points of running routes, addressing the football and creating separation. Perhaps I fell victim to the numbers he put up this year…but I was expecting more from Williams’ film than a great natural athlete who was manufacture this degree of touches.
STUD – LSU LB Devin White
White’s inclusion on this list isn’t quite equivalent to Noah Fant’s. I knew White had talent…but I also had concerns. How disciplined was he in reading his keys? Could he clean up his lapses in tackling form? And just how effective was he going to be against the pass?
2018 answered those questions for me and White passed with flying colors. I felt as though Devin was much more confident and decisive in his keys through the games I noted in 2018, which in turn sped up his arrival to the football and put less stress on him to come into tackle challenges at full tilt.
That, in turn, led to less of the ugly overruns that I saw from 2017.
There aren’t a whole lot of potential first round linebackers in this year’s class, but Devin White is a slam dunk.
DUD – Notre Dame DL Jerry Tillery
It took me all of the Michigan game to get really excited about Tillery. He’s been a flashy player for a while but could never really put it all together. And while I have no question that 2018 was his best work to date, I found myself a little more lukewarm on him that I’d expected.
Tillery still has a lot of lapses with leverage and he gets locked out too much to warrant a high ranking for me as a byproduct of that. Yeah, get him in the B-gap and let him fire out! That’s where he’ll win most. But in giving up his chest as often as he does, I’m not sure there isn’t a whole lot more coaching that’s needed to get him to be the dominant force we’ve seen in short stretches.