I reserve the right to take this column in any direction I want, so this week we’re going all over the place. Whether it's the NFL, college football or draft prospects, we’re going to take some random turns to get you inside what’s been on my mind in the last week related to the football world.
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.
The Toughest Schedule in College Football
Only in Year Two of his 10-year deal with the University, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher has a tough road ahead to improve on his 9-win season in 2018. Playing in the SEC West - THE toughest division in college football - the schedule will always be difficult but the Aggies’ 2019 slate is easily the most challenging of any team in the Nation.
Facing road contests against Clemson, Georgia and LSU, Texas A&M hosts Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn. As usual Arkansas and Ole Miss are on the schedule along with South Carolina as the Aggies’ other game against the SEC East. It's no wonder Texas State, Lamar and UTSA were the other non-conference games on the schedule.
Fisher did assemble a top-five recruiting class this offseason but measuring the growth on the field in 2019 is unlikely to show up in the win column.
Laviska Shenault is a Monster
He is overpaid, wasn’t worth two first-round picks and shouldn’t have been taken No. 4 overall but I am forever a Sammy Watkins truther. Good news! Watkins 2.0 plays for Colorado and is one of the most exciting NFL prospects entering the 2019 season.
I dove into Colorado offensive film this week and I can already tell you Laviska Shenault is going to be one of my favorites come next April. Let’s hope everything is squared away with his toe and labrum surgery!
Pros - Dynamic with the ball in his hands and his skill set demands touches in space. Has been successful taking handoffs and serving as a wildcat QB. Sees the field extremely well, makes dynamic cuts, features tremendous elusiveness for his size, illustrates physicality and the ability to get yards after contact and is insanely creative. Decisive runner that is simply hard to tackle. Ball skills are outstanding - tracks, adjusts and puts himself in position to win. Has a strong above the rim game, capable of extending and timing his jumps to increase his catch radius. Never patient and attacks the football with an alpha mentality. Features natural, soft and secure hands. Routinely catches the football firmly outside his frame in all directions. Game against Arizona State (2018) was the best film I found to showcase his ability to beat press coverage, handle contact and run complex routes. Exciting blend of size, strength and athletic ability.
Cons - Effort and results as a blocker leave much to be desired, especially for an offense that features so much quick game and lines Shenault up as a wing. Although there were some flashes in 2018, Shenault was mostly not challenged with press coverage or tasked with running an expanded route tree. There will be a learning curve for him in terms of route running given what will be on his plate in the NFL. Had surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum and turf toe.
Could Haskins be Washington Starter Sooner Than We Think?
Yes, Jay Gruden led Washington to a 9-7 mark that was good enough to win the NFC East in 2015, but his record in his other four seasons is 26-37-1 and hasn’t finished higher than third in the division in any other season. After owner Daniel Snyder went through six head coaches from 2000-2013 after he purchased the team, I am honestly surprised that Gruden is still around.
Becoming the first head coach to receive an extension under Snyder, Gruden inked a two-year extension in 2017 that ties him to the team through 2020. Amid a current streak of three third-place finishes in the NFC East, what does Gruden need to do to continue leading Washington beyond this season? I am not sure there is a reasonable course for Washington to make the postseason this year. Philadelphia and Dallas are the class of the division and Washington doesn’t exactly stack up well in the highly competitive NFC wild card race either.
The key to Gruden’s tenure is rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Only a one-year starter at Ohio State, fast-tracking him to the lineup in Washington and convincing Snyder to continue with Gruden as the head coach so he can stick with Haskins may be Gruden’s most realistic way to not get fired.
Gruden employs a quarterback-friendly system and nobody cares if Case Keenum or Colt McCoy look competent running it. I’m not sure Gruden has time to wait until 2020 to unleash Haskins - he may be the Redskins’ starter sooner than we think.
I spent the last year raving about how much I loved North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbuy who was selected No. 18 overall by the Minnesota Vikings. There’s a center in the 2020 class that might be a better prospect and his name is Tyler Biadasz. I recently dug into his film and what a delight it was to evaluate. Here are my notes entering the season:
Pros - Ass-kicker that moves people against their will with consistency. Routinely resets the line of scrimmage in the run game and generates movement. Terrific power throughout his frame that combines with sound technique that makes him a devastating run blocker. A wall in pass protection. Does well to frame rushers and anchor. Good mobility to slide laterally and stay square. Refined with his hand usage in terms of timing, placement, fits and his strikes carry a ton of pop. Football IQ is a notable strength. Timing and execution of his assignments in concert with the play design is precise. Easily diagnosis and anticipates pressure packages, twists and stunts. Takes excellent angles as a vertical blocker and does well to connect on the move. Has made 27 consecutive starts at center for the Badgers after redshirting in 2016.
Cons - Had an offseason surgery to “clean up his hip” and it kept him sidelined for spring practices. Is outstanding with his hand usage but it’s clear that he lacks ideal length, making his timing and technique all that much more important. Has a tendency to narrow his base at times and take away from his functional strength.
Which Division Is the Most Competitive in 2019?
I posed the following question on Twitter yesterday morning and the results were about as I expected.
While every division received some votes, the AFC South had more than double the next highest division. The NFC West received the fewest amount of votes. Here’s a snapshot as to who I think the “ruins” its of each division, in order of which I think are the most “wide open”.
- AFC South: This is the correct answer in my opinion, although I have my doubts about Tennessee.
- NFC North: I had a tough time here. Part of me thinks I should consider Detroit as a stretch but I like their offense and Patricia is a wizard on defense. That said, I have questions about the back seven defensively.
- NFC South: With all the new and inexperienced pieces, I struggle to see the Bucs' defense coming together quick enough to make a run at the division.
- AFC North: I don’t think Cincy has a reasonable case.
- NFC East: The Giants aren’t primed to win this division and neither is Washington.
- NFC West: Arizona…
- AFC West: Denver and Oakland are far from contending with the Chargers and Chiefs.
- AFC East: 12 still at QB for the Patriots? End of discussion.
Jonathan Taylor Can Boogie
There are several exciting running back prospects to monitor this season for the 2020 NFL Draft, and Taylor deserves to be in the discussion among the best. The workhorse for the Badgers offense, Taylor checks a lot of boxes. For a powerful runner that is listed at 220-pounds, he has a ton of burst. Not only can he wear down defenses, he can outrun them, which is something you rarely find in a back of his size. I really enjoyed studying him this week.
Pros - Impressive blend of size, power and speed. Love how he always runs square and behind his pads. Terrific power throughout his frame which leads to consistent output after contact. Always falls forward and finishes his runs. Has more big play potential than expected for a 220-pound runner. Smooth, easy accelerator that is capable of running away from defensive backs. Impressive amount of elusiveness, twitch and shiftiness for his size. Love his blend of patience and decisiveness as a runner, allowing blocks to take form and working off them. Vision is generally sound and he does a good job of feeling cutback lanes and manipulating the second level.
Cons - With only 16 receptions across two seasons at Wisconsin’s feature back, catching the football has not been a prominent part of his game in college. Already has 606 career rushes entering 2019 and is likely to be over 900 for his career. Will occasionally get too cute and get greedy with his decisions pressing the line of scrimmage. While his traits are outstanding, Taylor has benefitted from outstanding blocking and the space created for him in college is unlikely to be the same in the NFL. Must clean up ball security issues.