The second week of summer scouting led me to several exciting prospects that I think have a chance to be major risers in 2020. With that in mind, these five items stood out most to me in reflecting on last week's work.
Dazz Newsome Is Dynamic
North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell was fourth in the nation last season with 38 touchdowns passes against just seven interceptions with 3,641 pass yards in a standout season as a true freshman. A big reason why Howell was able to immediately step into the lineup and find so much success was because of his outstanding wide receiver corps that included Dazz Newsome. A rising senior, Newsome is 1,153 yards away from being North Carolina’s all-time leading receiver, a number that is within striking distance on the heels of logging 1,018 yards with a true freshman quarterback in 2019.
What I appreciated most about Newsome’s film is how potent he is at all three levels of the field. Newsome was a terror on vertical shots last season, frequently getting behind secondaries on post routes, go balls, and slot fades. He is a crafty route-runner with good separation quickness in the intermediate area of the field and he’s fearless working across the middle. Newsome is explosive and slippery after the catch and knows how to uncover quickly for timing passes.
For as good as Howell was as a freshman, finding consistency with rhythm throws is something he can improve on as a sophomore. Despite having terrific production last year, Newsome was open more than Howell got him the football, and much of that stemmed from Howell’s ability to work off-script and his appetite to throw the ball down the field.
I’m expecting a big year for Newsome as a senior, making a strong run to be the program’s all-time leading receiver. He projects nicely as a slot receiver in the NFL and could challenge to become a third- or fourth-round pick next April.
Chazz Surratt Blossoming Into Top LB Prospect
Things have been wild for Chazz Surratt lately. As UNC’s starting quarterback, Surratt was suspended for the first four games of 2018 because he sold team-issued sneakers. In his first game back, Surratt completed 4-of-10 passes for 10 yards and three interceptions before injuring his wrist, which required season-ending surgery.
Following the injury, discussions between Surratt and then head coach Larry Fedora began regarding a switch to the defensive side of the football. Despite considering a transfer to another university to continue as a quarterback, Surratt met with newly hired head coach Mack Brown regarding his status with the program. Surratt told Brown that it was his goal to play in the NFL and both agreed his best course was to make the transition to linebacker.
They were right.
In his first season ever playing linebacker, Surratt compiled 115 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and an interception. Measuring 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Surratt’s blend of size, physicality, and athleticism is exactly what the NFL craves in its second-level defenders that are so critical to preventing matchup problems in an era of football where offenses thrive on pace and space.
There were moments studying Surratt’s film where he reminds you that he is still new to the position, but that film is overwhelmingly positive and littered with high-level flashes. He’s such a natural athlete, which immediately pops, but I became most impressed with his fluidity and reactionary skills in coverage. In addition, Surratt thrived shooting gaps and playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Surratt should be in the running for ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 as he solidifies his draft stock. He has a chance to be an early day-two pick with continued development.
Kenneth Gainwell Top 5 RB?
A high school quarterback, Kenneth Gainwell produced 1,459 rushing yards (6.3 avg) and 13 touchdowns with 51 receptions for 610 yards and three receiving touchdowns in his first season playing running back as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
Gainwell is a quick and decisive runner that packs quite a punch when challenging defenders with low pads and competing for yards after contact. There is a “pissed off” element to the way Gainwell runs the football and his frame is capable of adding more bulk to it and becoming even more physical to complement his big-play ability.
The NFL craves multifaceted backs and that is exactly what Gainwell is. He has the traits to run the football inside or outside but is also a dynamic receiving threat. Not only was he a factor in the screen game and out of the backfield, but Memphis also had Gainwell working from the slot in his 51-catch freshman campaign.
In recent years, Memphis has produced top-100 backs in Darrell Henderson and Antonio Gibson but neither is the caliber of prospect Gainwell can develop into. He may be the AAC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and be among the top-five backs off the board should he declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jabril Cox In SEC Huge For Draft Stock
Linebacker Jabril Cox grad-transferring from North Dakota State to LSU is among the most intriguing transfers in college football. A two-time FCS All-American, Cox was the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. How his game translates to the SEC is monumental for his draft stock.
From a physical traits perspective, Cox checks the boxes at 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds and he’s incredibly athletic. NDSU often played him as an overhang defender and even allowed him to play man coverage from the slot. When it comes to speed, range, and fluidity, Cox has the goods to go with his impressive frame.
At NDSU, Cox was able to out-athlete opponents and make plays as a “see and chase” pursuit-style player. For him to have the same impact at LSU, his “read and react” skills will need to develop.
In recent selections like Davion Taylor and Willie Gay, the NFL has shown its willingness to take chances on underdeveloped linebackers that have size and athleticism. 2020 will reveal whether or not Cox is the total package and the SEC is the perfect stage to prove it.
Paris Ford Is Fast And Physical
It’s hard for a back-end defender to be a tone-setter for a defense but that’s exactly the case for Pittsburgh safety Paris Ford. Leading the team with 97 tackles, Ford flies around the field and is always around the ball. He’s never content allowing his teammates to make tackles and he is always looking to stick his nose in piles and move them the other way.
Ford’s tape is littered with jaw-dropping moments where he closes from 20-30 yards away from the football with a precisely calculated angle and finishes the play with bad intentions.
Ford has some room to grow in coverage in 2020, particularly defending deep zones and showcasing more anticipatory skills with dissecting route combinations and when to close on routes in zone. Developing that comfort and consistency is critical for his draft stock and Ford has the quickness, range, fluidity, and ball skills to take that step.
For those who loved Karl Joseph or Jon Abram in recent drafts, Ford is cut from a similar cloth and could prove to be even more versatile.