What with Rivalry Week staring us down and the conference championships soon to follow, I've likely made my final official scouting visit this year. I'm happy to say it ended on a 47-44 double overtime barnburner between Purdue and Wisconsin, and really, there wasn't a boring or blowout game all year:
- Texas v. Maryland
- Stanford v. Notre Dame
- Ohio State v. Purdue
- Northwestern v. Iowa
- Wisconsin v. Purdue
My viewing of Wisconsin prompted a take, which has become this article: who are the best players I've seen live all year? We'll also include some nuggets I've garnered over the past few visits, talking with teams and scouts, especially about the upcoming Senior Bowl/Shrine Game invites.
1. Tyler Biadasz, iOL, Wisconsin
I didn't mean, nor did I expect, to save the best for last: but that I did. I saw some stellar prospects this season, as we'll discuss -- but the best of the lot was future blue-chipper Tyler Biadasz, the redshirt sophomore center for the Badgers.
Unfortunately, I was told by a couple people that Biadasz is not expected to come out in this class. If it's all the same to you, I'll keep my hopes up until they're officially dashed come January.
Biadasz is an absolute load in a phone booth, with a well-built and heavy frame and good length for the position. He was facing a draftable player in Purdue DT Lorenzo Neal and simply didn't give up ground in pass protection: he wins with early hand usage, looks to control, and has the anchor and foot speed to maintain/re-establish position if he's forced into recovery.
Biadasz really opened my eyes in the running game, however -- I couldn't look away. Wisconsin ran for over 400 yards -- sophomore RB Jonathan Taylor over 300 -- mostly behind Biadasz in the interior. Shockingly spry for a man of his size, Biadasz's angles through the first and into the second level made life a living hell for the Boilermaker box defenders. He was never out of position; he was always landing his strike; and he wanted to finish you into the turf. Biadasz looks explosive, consistent, and controlled -- he's gonna be a Day 1 pick whenever he comes out.
2. Jerry Tillery, iDL, Notre Dame
While I acknowledge that Tillery remains an up-and-down player who has only broken out in his senior season, I watched him eat a Stanford offensive line alive. I couldn't forget that performance if I tried. Stanford iOL Nate Herbig and Jesse Burkett are still trying to, I promise you that.
When Tillery wins with his initial strike, he's almost impossibly to stop -- that combination of length, explosiveness, and effort stymies almost all recovery efforts. He's got some decent bend for a 3-technique, though he may play some 5-tech given his struggles anchoring against the run inside. At either spot, improving the consistency and timing of his hand strikes will take his pass-rush prowess from good to great.
As it stands, Tillery wins with a swipe/arm-over combo and even a quick outside swim that capitalize on his lateral agility and length. As a penetrating player who can mismatch offensive guards from the B-gap, Tillery offers mouthwatering 3rd-down potential for a team that is willing to sacrifice a bit of run defense for his presence.
3. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Much like Tillery, I caught Hock on a better day -- a day dominant enough that I wrote about it here in the immediate wake. The question I posed: is Hockenson a better prospect than teammate, Iowa TE Noah Fant, who has been presented as a Round 1 lock in the early Draft process.
I'm not sure where I am on that take yet. I think both are gonna test out the building, both have some stellar tape, both have their relative strengths and weaknesses. That said, I do know that Iowa has played Hock way more than Fant recently, and that warrants some raised eyebrows for sure.
Hockenson is clearly built like a horse, and seeing Fant next to him reinforced Fant's future as a stretch/flex TE at the next level. Hock could clearly play in-line for you, and his versatility as a potential H-back/fullback will excite the coordinators who spring from the ever growing Kyle Shanahan tree.
His explosiveness in space at his size is eye-popping, as he moves and leaps with grace and burst that denies his powerful 250 pound frame. He address the football well in the air with soft hands and has good flexibility despite his thickness to adjust to the football away from his frame. Just as Fant does, Hock screams future first-rounder.
4. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
While Fant had a mighty quiet day for the Hawkeyes when I saw him (1 catch, 0 yards), I can't in good conscience have him any lower on the list.
In reality, Iowa QB Nate Stanley could have made the stat line much prettier for Fant, if he was willing to push the ball downfield against man coverage to his future NFL starter. Fant showed great separation quickness at the top of his route stem frequently against the Wildcats, but Stanley's struggles with field vision and decisiveness precluded Fant from his warranted targets.
Fant, as I alluded to above, does look to be around 240 pounds at this time, and offers little as a blocker. Given that Iowa typically develops great blockers, and has asked Fant to block for his time with the program, it's tough to project great development for Fant's blocking in the future. Fant is a pure passing game weapon, albeit with elite tracking and body control ability down the seam.
5. JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
Flip the coin between Arcega-Whiteside and teammate TE Kaden Smith for the final spot here, as both are Top-50 players and had strong performances against Notre Dame earlier this season.
JJAW's opportunities are limited by a stiff and unwilling offensive approach in Stanford, but as a red zone specialist he stands alone in this class. Man coverage inside the 30 yard line is an impossible ask for most college corners, as Arcega-Whiteside has the alpha mindset, size, and length to box corners out of position and present easy throwing windows for his quarterback. It isn't just fade routes: Arcega-Whiteside wins on Bang-8 posts and deep comeback/back-shoulder ideas in similar fashion.
Arcega-Whiteside is a crisp route runner and clean footwork, with the long strides to eat up cushion and quickly stack his opponents. He isn't asked to run complex multi-break routes, which makes sense given his strengths relative to the other receivers on Stanford's roster -- but there's enough tape to feel comfortable with his ability there.
Notes from the trail
A few parting shots before we go:
- I was told that ASU QB Manny Wilkins is expected to make the Shrine Game, which is a good spot for his talent level. Wilkins is talented but wildly inconsistent and can play himself into a rut.
- I've spoken with multiple scouts and agents who think that Ryan Connelly is the best player on the Wisconsin defense; I'm inclined to agree. He's got good range and closing burst for the position and seems to always find his run fits. Expect to see Connelly, fellow LB T.J. Edwards, and SAF D'Cota Dixon all to receive Senior Bowl invites.
- Small school offensive tackles have become increasingly valued for NFL teams looking to get that next H/W/S freak into the building. I've been told to keep an eye on University of San Diego tackle Daniel Cooney, a redshirt senior standing at 6-foot-8, 315 pounds.
- I made two visits to Purdue, so perhaps that skewed my buzz, but everyone I talked to had only glowing reviews for freshman WR Rondale Moore. Work ethic, character towards others in the program, and obviously, on-field talent. He seems a stud.