We’re under 70 days until the 2020 NFL Draft. Exciting, right? It sure is, but there is still a lot of ground to cover when it comes to finalizing assessments on players so that is where the majority of my days are currently being spent.
This week’s 6-Pack is again focused on discussing some of the players I recently evaluated in a different format, focusing on some of my favorite studies.
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.
Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
When will I stop watching good cornerback prospects? It’s truly a deep class and Noah Igbinoghene is another good one that should hear his name called on Day 2.
After becoming a two-year starter at the position, those were the only two seasons he ever played as a CB. Igbinoghene came to Auburn as a top-25 receiving recruit but is on the NFL’s radar as a corner. When both of your parents are world-class athletes, you have the pedigree needed for athletic success. His mother won a bronze medal with the Nigerian 4x100-meter relay team in 1992. His father is a five-time SEC champion in the long and triple jump.
Igbinoghene’s athletic profile is strong. He has the movement skills needed to thrive in coverage and he blends that with a highly competitive demeanor. While he’s clearly still developing his processing skills which should result in better instincts and playing the game faster, Igbinoghene held his own covering SEC receivers and he plays a physical brand of football.
He may take some more seasoning before he’s playing corner on Sunday’s, but he should make immediate contributions as a kick returner. In college, he returned two for touchdowns while increasing his per average return each year with an impressive 35.2 yards per return in 2019.
Igbinoghene has a high ceiling and an exciting skill set to develop at a premium position.
Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
Go ahead apply all of your labels to Jacob Eason when it comes to a tall pocket-passer with limited mobility and a rocket launcher for an arm. His throwing power is as good as it gets and he can fit the ball into tight windows while challenging the deepest portions of the field. For a play action-heavy offense that loves to push the ball vertically down the field then Eason should be a target.
The challenging part with Eason, and projecting him to the NFL, is that his ability to process the defense and work progressions is underdeveloped. Despite executing in an offense that was predicated on high-low half-field reads, Eason is painfully slow surveying the field and processing coverage rotations. In addition, Eason really struggles under pressure and he offers limited mobility to manipulate the pocket and extend plays.
I just think there is too much that has to be right around Eason for him to succeed and his skill set trends in the opposite direction from what is truly coveted in today’s NFL.
When considering landing spots for Eason, the list is pretty small. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the obvious team that comes to mind as well as the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers. But who else? Eason has all the size and arm talent you could ever want but his skill set is limited in ways that have me cautious about what he can be at the next level.
Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin
Since 2016, the Buffalo Bills have enjoyed the services of Lorenzo Alexander, who is one of the most unique players and stories in the NFL. He was a 300-pound college defensive tackle morphed into a Pro Bowl linebacker while dominating on special teams across his 15 NFL seasons.
While in Buffalo, Alexander served as a SAM linebacker in base defense but also played a significant amount of snaps rushing the passer from the edge on long and late downs. There’s just not a lot of players that can handle that much responsibility in addition to his duties covering kicks and punts. Zach Baun has a chance to be Alexander 2.0 minus the whole defensive tackle part.
Baun was used as a true hybrid defender at Wisconsin where he played standup outside linebacker and was given chances to rush the passer, drop into coverage and defend the run from multiple alignments. If a team is looking for that type of versatility, Baun eliminates the guesswork and there is plenty of tape to evaluate from.
When a college player has that much on his plate they don’t truly master one role, but Baun’s ability in so many phases is part of what makes him so appealing.
Baun is going to make an NFL defensive coordinator very happy. Perhaps it’s Leslie Frazier in Buffalo to replace the recently retired Alexander.
Marlon Davidson, DT, Auburn
The first thing I do when studying a prospect is look up details about their background, take a look at their production and then see what their measurables are. Marlon Davidson is 6-foot-3 and 297 pounds with 32.875-inch arms. Cool, a defensive tackle ... right? Sometimes, but most of his reps came as a standup 3-4 outside linebacker. I was surprised to say the least when I fired up that Oregon game in Week 1, and subsequent games, and continued to see him play in that role.
Obviously, Davidson is miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but I am excited about what he can do as a penetration-style 3-technique in the NFL. Davidson brings a rapid first step, heavy hands, a hot motor and low pads that translate wonderfully to that role.
Davidson was a four-year starter at Auburn, that improved every year, but the spotlight was stolen by Derrick Brown. Don’t sleep on Davidson as a versatile defensive lineman that can play a variety of techniques and make an impact at the next level.
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Curtis Weaver was an interesting study and an important reminder of why you can’t box yourself in on your personal preferences as to how players win and that there are more ways to achieve the same objective.
Let me explain.
When it comes to pass rushers, it’s common to prefer explosive, twitchy and bendy pass rushers that strike fear into offensive tackles to keep pace with them because they are so dynamic. That’s not Weaver, but he’s still an effective pass rusher.
Weaver wins because he’s a technician. He does a great job of working rush angles, finding ways to diminish his surface area, deploying his hands and making sure his footwork is right so that it complements his plan to get home. He racked up 47.5 tackles for loss and 34 sacks across three seasons and that was with a modest athletic profile and frequent drops into coverage on passing downs.
I think Weaver has room to grow athletically and his frame can be further developed to build more muscle and make him even more effective. Weaver may not be the most coveted EDGE in the rising class, but his ceiling is intriguing to me and I believe there is a lot of room for him to grow.
Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
The top-four offensive tackles this year are some order of Jedrick Wills, Tristin Wirfs, Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton. The next tier of prospects is loaded with intriguing talent, but who is OT5? Lucas Niang has a case.
Niang is a big, powerful and can move. I didn’t expect him to be so mobile for his size and he’s an effective worker in space. He’s a scheme-versatile prospect and has the length and lateral movement skills to thrive in a zone blocking but can also create vertical push in a gap blocking. Niang hands have plenty of pop, and I love his alertness and how he deploys his long arms to elongate pass rushers’ path to the quarterback.
He isn’t without concerns and he has a lot of work to do with his footwork, pass sets and how he builds his base. He may not be a plug and play starter, but he has an exciting ceiling if he put it all together.