Senior Bowl Day 1 – The Real Deal

QB Carson Wentz is the top prospect at the Senior Bowl. On Day 1, he did not disappoint. Wentz was clearly better than every other QB and it wasn’t close. No one is  putting him in the Hall of Fame just yet, but this is a critical week and he’s off to a great start.

Wentz played his college ball at North Dakota State. That school has the double-whammy of being I-AA, but also was the heck away from everything else. Think about the state of North Carolina. A scout could go visit Appalachian State, which is 90 minutes from Wake Forest, which is 90 minutes from UNC, which is 20 minutes from Duke, which is 10 minutes from NC Central, which is 20 minutes from NC State, which is 90 minutes from East Carolina. A scout would need a few days to hit all those schools, but they are bunched up. Nothing is close to NDSU.

Area scouts have seen Wentz, but this is a whole other situation. There are coaches here. GMs are here. Nick Saban is here. Dan friggin Marino was here this morning for some reason. Mobile is the center of the football universe for a couple more days. And Wentz is the star of that universe.

Wentz didn’t look nervous at all. He was confident and looked the part of a top prospect. His throws were tight spirals with good velocity. They were accurate. He threw well left and right. To the outside and over the middle. There were times when receivers didn’t look very open, but the throws had enough on them that the DBs couldn’t get to the ball and the throws were right on target.

The test for Wentz now is to continue to play like this. Consistency is crucial for all players, but especially for QBs. Right now he looks like a Top 15 pick.

*****

Let’s talk about some OL for a minute.

Le’Raven Clark is a player that didn’t jump out at me when I watched tape. I thought he did play well today in the 1-on-1’s. He was strong enough to anchor well and athletic enough to handle moves.

Arkansas OG Sebastian Tretola had a great highlight moment when he pancaked a rusher, but otherwise was very up and down. He got beaten multiple times.

John Theus from UGA got into scuffles on 3 straight reps, all with different players. For a moment, I thought DE Noah Spence was going to punch him. The coaches broke that up and let Theus know to dial things down.

Baylor’s Spencer Drango had a good day. He is 6-6, 320 and could play OT or OG.

Cody Whitehair was up and down. He is used to playing LT and dealing with speed. Today he seemed to battle bigger guys and that got the best of him at times.

*****

K.J. Maye is a talented receiver, but he’s not fast. He caught a pass today and took off down the sideline. LB Reggie Ragland, who is 65 pounds heavier, chased Maye down. It wasn’t for 40 or so yards, but seeing a 259-pound LB catch a slot guy was impressive. Ragland has speed and plays hard. Maye is meant to move the chains, not deliver big plays.

*****

If I had to rank the South QBs based on what I saw today only, it would be:

Brandon Allen
Jake Coker
Jacoby Brissett
Daz Prescott

I thought Allen had the best motion and the quickest release. Coker is the guy I had the most interest in. He constantly looked to be holding back from letting the ball really fly. That was a bit odd Brissett was up and down. Prescott just didn’t impress me as a passer.

From what I’ve seen during the year and today, none of these guys is more than a mid-round pick.

*****

DT Sheldon Rankins got off to a slow start today, but once he got going, he was impressive. I missed the highlight moment, a terrific spin move to easily beat the blocker trying to handle him.

Clemson DT D.J. Reader is 325 pounds and he used that bulk to beat several blockers today. Plays with good pad level.

Bama star Jarran Reed was probably the most impressive DT. He was tough to block.

*****

TCU RB Aaron Green had a couple of nice runs today.

*****

I’ve already covered Wentz so what about the other North QBs?

Kevin Hogan, Jeff Driskel and Cody Kessler were all up and down. Hogan is the player I like best out of that trio, but all of them had flawed performances on Tuesday.

Kessler might be the least compelling of the group. He’s only 6-1, 224 and there is nothing special about him or his game at all.

*****

I did not get a chance to focus on OG Josh Garnett today at practice. He did speak to reporters at Media Night and was a really interesting guy to listen to. Garnett explained how he was disappointed not to be getting accolades following the 2014 season. He made a concerted effort to get better this year and was highly decorated.

Someone asked him about Hogan, his QB. Garnett could not say enough good things. And he’s a very well-spoken young man so this seemed very legit and if you weren’t readyGar to like Hogan before that talk, you are now. Garnett raved about Hogan’s leadership. He gave the example of how even when he was young and Stanford had some highly decorated veterans (OG David Yankey, LB Trent Murphy for example), all the players listened when Hogan talked to them. Hogan has a real presence about him, in the huddle and in the locker room.

*****

Duke SS Jeremy Cash is also a very impressive young man. He talked about how one of his big selling points is that he doesn’t get into trouble. He explained that teams invest big money in players and the guys they can trust the most, tend to get picked higher and/or stay employed the longest. Simple, obvious stuff, but not coming from most 21-year old kids.

*****

WR Aaron Burbridge had a rough day. Normally he’s got great hands and makes spectacular catches. Not today.

*****

There is no question that Kenneth Dixon is the top RB in town. He can run or catch. He has good moves and speed He’s got power and strength. Total package and a very impressive player. Had a couple of good runs this afternoon.

*****

TE Nick Vannett had some impressive grabs over the middle. Wentz hit him a couple of times.

*****

I only got to see half of the North practice so I’m a bit limited in what I got to take in. The Tuesday practices are at 2 different locations and the traffic between them is terrible. Starting on Wednesday, all practices are at the primary location, Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

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Shrine Game – Quick Notes

Let’s talk about the E-W Shrine Game.

Vernon Adams is clearly the headliner. He was 6-9-191 with 3 TDs. Suddenly there is a lot of buzz about Adams.

Anyone who watched Oregon this year saw Adams make a ton of plays. The Ducks were 5th in yards and points scored. That didn’t happen by accident. Adams was great for them. The Shrine Game was huge for him because there was no spread offense or up-tempo attack. Adams had to execute well from a base offense.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Adams showed the ability to sit in the pocket, read the defense and make a good throw. He also made plays with his legs, which led to a long TD pass. He threw the ball well, in terms of accuracy and velocity. Great showing by Adams.

The problem is that Adams is a flawed prospect. He only played one year at the FBS level. He was terrific at Eastern Washington, but judging FCS players is harder because of the competition drop-off. Adams is small at 5-11, 195. His hands are only 8 3/4 inches. For the sake of comparison, Russell Wilson was 5-11, 204 coming out of college and had huge hands. Wilson also had a stronger, thicker build. One concern with Adams, because of his size, is durability. He missed time this year with a broken finger and then had to leave the bowl game after a hit to the head. Can he take an NFL beating?

There is no question that Adams has some NFL ability. He is an instinctive player and has a live arm. He can make plays with his feet. He has good field vision and is an accurate downfield passer. He does remind you of Wilson in a lot of ways.

Right now Adams feels like a late round pick. I would loosely project him somewhere around the 5th round. He could develop into a starting NFL QB. There are some who want him to move to RB or WR. I think that’s crazy. Adams is a legit QB prospect. He’s nowhere close to being a sure thing, but there is enough potential there that I would tell him to stick with QB. Assuming he fits your system, Adams is the kind of player I would absolutely roll the dice on him late in the draft.

*****

DE Victor Ochi from Stonybrook had a great game as well. He played RDE and was disruptive all game long. He showed the burst to beat blockers off the ball. He mixed in inside moves, which is important. You don’t want OTs being able to cheat and over-set to the outside every time. Ochi really impressed me with how he used his hands and arms. He got into the blocker so he controlled the battle. That allowed him to go in or out. Ochi showed a great motor as well. That’s crucial for a pass rusher that is only 6-2, 244. He must get bigger and stronger to make it in the NFL, but he’s got serious talent.

*****

QB Nate Sudfeld was erratic, which is how he normally plays. There were some terrific throws he made. You see those, combined with his size and other physical traits, and you think he can be an NFL starter. Then you see him bouncing the ball to WRs to his right side multiple times and you think…what the hell was that? I’m not a big fan of his. Mike Mayock finds him intriguing, but the inconsistency bugs me.

*****

QUICK HITS

Illinois RB Josh Ferguson had a nice showing. He’s got really good burst.

One CB who impressed was Cre’von LeBlanc from FAU. He did an excellent job of breaking on the ball. That showed good timing, burst and body control. He had 4 INTs and 11 PBUs as a Senior.

Brandon Ross, the RB from Maryland, was a late add to the game. He caught my eye. I didn’t watch much of the Terps this year so I need to go study him. He showed vision and good movement skills.

Wisconsin Safety Mike Caputo picked off 2 passes. On the first, he jumped a route and made a nice pick. He took off for the end zone, but wasn’t fast enough to get in for the score. The second pick came in the end zone and was a tough catch. He showed good awareness and very good hands on those plays. As important as turnovers are in the NFL. finding DBs who can catch the ball is valuable.

Without studying the tape, it did look like Nebraska’s Alex Lewis was the best LT in the game. He has played LG and LT in his career.

The best Canadian player in the game was DL David Onyemata. He is 6-3, 302. Showed some pass rush ability. Might best fit as DE in the 3-4. Needs work, but definitely has some potential.

The biggest negative of the game is that Keenan Reynolds wasn’t able to play. I really wanted to see him at RB and/or WR. Mayock compared him to Julian Edelman, who also was a running QB in college. Interesting thought.

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Shrine Game Talk

The East-West Shrine Game is Saturday at 4pm on the NFL Network. There are no elite prospects, but there are some good players in this year’s game. Let’s talk about a few of them.

Vernon Adams played one year of big time football. The Eastern Washington transfer went to Oregon in 2015 and led the Ducks finish 5th in yards and points. Who needs Chip Kelly or Marcus Mariota, right?

Adams is a playmaker. That’s the good news. The question is whether he can be a consistently good QB. The Shrine Game will give him a chance to show what he can do in a conventional offense.

Other QBs of interest in the game are Nate Sudfeld, Brandon Doughty and Jake Rudock. I like Doughty the best of the trio for now. He had a great career at Western Kentucky. Rudock played in a pro-style system for Jim Harbaugh as a Senior and that should help him in a setting like the Shrine Game.

Alex Lewis played OG, OT and even some TE at Colorado before transferring to Nebraska. He started at LT there for the past 2 years. The NFL loves experienced, versatile OL. Lewis could really help himself with a strong showing.

Another interesting OT is Stephane Nembot of Colorado. He has terrific size and some athletic ability, but I see him as a project. He started at RT and LT, but isn’t polished. He tends to play too upright.

Clayton Fejedelem had a breakout year at Safety  for Illinois. He transferred there in 2013 from an NAIA school, but didn’t start until this season. He is a tough, aggressive player that is fun to watch. He’s sloppy as a tackler, though. He needs to s how that he can cover.

Keenan Reynolds  had an amazing career for Navy. Does he fit the NFL? If so, where? Reynolds is playing RB this week. He might be a better fit at slot receiver. He was incredibly productive as a running QB for Navy, but he’s got to find the right role if he wants to play in the NFL.

After the 2012 season I thought Kyle Carter was on his way to being a star. Things didn’t work for the gifted Penn State TE. He struggled in his final 3 years. Carter has NFL potential. He needs to show coaches and scouts that whatever held him back at PSU is in the past and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make it.

Cody Core is the other receiver for Ole Miss. All the headlines went to Laquon Treadwell (and rightfully so). That said, Core had a good career of his own and he’s a talented prospect. He averaged 16 yards per catch for his career and had 10 TDs over the past 2 years. While Core has good size and some speed, he looks a bit stiff. His route-running also needs work, although part of that is him lacking top agility.

The player who generated the most buzz at Shrine Game practices is Javon Hargrave, the DT from SC State. He has okay size at 6-2, 295. He was incredibly disruptive this week and got the attention of everyone. He should be fun to watch.

Teams wanting a 3-4 DE should be interested in Dean Lowry from NW. He is 6-6, 295 and a natural at 3-4 DE. He is athletic enough to make plays (13.5 TFLs this year), but he’s also smart. Over the past 2 years he batted down 14 passes. Lowry knows he’s not a stud pass rusher so he uses his height to his advantage.

Anthony Zettel had a great season in 2014, notching 17 TFLs, 8 sacks and 3 INTs. He came back to Earth a bit this year. He still had 11 TFLs and 4 sacks. He just wasn’t quite as disruptive. Zettel goes about 6-4, 285. He is a good fit for a team looking for a 1-gap DT that can fire off the ball and be disruptive.

Rosters and info

East

West

both from NFL.com

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Official Underclassmen List

The NFL has released the list of underclassmen for the 2016 draft.

» Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon 
» Dominique Alexander, LB, Oklahoma 
» Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson 
» Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State 
» Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston 
» Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn 
» Vonn Bell, DB, Ohio State 
» Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA 
» Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor 
» Dariusz Bladek, OG, Bethune-Cookman 
» Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State 
» Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh 
» Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan 
» Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State 
» Artie Burns, CB, Miami 
» Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA 
» Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor 
» Trenton Coles, DB, Duquesne 
» Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas 
» Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska 
» Jack Conklin, OL, Michigan State 
» Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina 
» Kamalei Correa, DL, Boise State 
» Su’a Cravens, LB, USC 
» Elijah Daniel, DT, Murray State 
» Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson 
» Thomas Duarte, WR, UCLA 
» Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State 
» Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia 
» Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech 
» Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame 
» Jared Goff, QB, Cal 
» T.J. Green, S, Clemson 
» David Grinnage, TE, North Carolina State 
» Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State 
» Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida 
» Jerald Hawkins, OL, LSU 
» Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama 
» Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas 
» Willie Henry, DT, Michigan 
» Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State 
» Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford 
» Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana 
» Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor 
» Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M 
» Myles Jack, LB, UCLA 
» Quinton Jefferson, DL, Maryland 
» Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State 
» Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona 
» Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State 
» Jayron Kearse, DB, Clemson 
» Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas 
» Darius Latham, DL, Indiana 
» Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal 
» Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson 
» Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State 
» Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green 
» Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers 
» Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis 
» Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State 
» Alex McCalister, DE, Florida 
» Brett McMakin, LB, Northern Iowa 
» Keanu Neal, S, Florida 
» Yannick Ngakoue, DL, Maryland 
» Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss 
» Marquez North, WR, Tennessee 
» Emmanuel Ogbah, DL, Oklahoma State 
» Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA 
» C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame 
» Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State 
» Alex Redmond, OL, UCLA 
» Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas 
» A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama 
» Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida 
» Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU 
» Aldrick Rosas, K, Southern Oregon 
» Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma 
» Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State 
» Wendell Smallwood, RB, West Virginia 
» Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame 
» Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame 
» Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida 
» Ron Thompson, DE, Syracuse 
» Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss 
» Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss 
» Quinn van Gylswyk, K, British Columbia 
» Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State 
» Cleveland Wallace III, CB, San Jose State 
» Dwayne Washington, RB, Washington 
» Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt 
» De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State 
» Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia 
» Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona 
» Avery Young, OL, Auburn

The following 11 players have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements. Consequently, they are eligible for selection in the 2016 NFL Draft:

» Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State 
» Travis Blanks, LB, Clemson 
» Zac Brooks, RB, Clemson 
» Eric Enderson, P, Delaware 
» Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State 
» Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia 
» Tyvis Powell, DB, Ohio State 
» Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky 
» Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State 
» Corey Tindal, DB, Marshall 
» Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska

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Draft Notes

The college season is completely over. We don’t have a full list of the early entrants, but we know a lot of them. There will be a ton of key prospects leaving early, making this a deep, talented class. Some key guys are staying.

Alabama TE O.J. Howard had a great showing in the national title game. For some reason, Clemson left him wide open a few times. Howard turned those into big plays and that was a huge part of the Crimson Tide’s win. Howard has a great combination of size and speed. He looks like a blocking TE when he walks on the field, but then you see him run in space and get a feel for just how athletic he is.

Sounds like Bama will be loaded again next year.

*****

Clemson has several underclassmen taking off for the league.

CB Mackensie Alexander
DE Shaq Lawson
DE Kevin Dodd
LB Travis Banks
S Jayron Kearse
S T.J. Green

Yikes.

Alexander is a great prospect. He is only a Redshirt Sophomore, but showed NFL ability all season. You can’t help but think of Richard Sherman when you watch him play. Alexander is talented, but is also tough and ultra-competitive. He talks trash all game long and legitimately wants to dominate his guy for 60 minutes. Alexander suffered a minor injury in the title game, but will be fine. Expect him to be a high pick.

Lawson and Dodd are very good players as well. Lawson led the NCAA in TFLs and Dodd has great size at 6-5, 275. NFL teams are going to like both players quite a bit.

*****

Enough with the kids. Let’s talk about some Seniors.

Stanford LT Kyle Murphy is a fun guy to watch. He looks like the prototypical OL prospect. Murphy is 6-7, 301. He looks like a giant TE. Put on the tape and you see a really gifted athlete. He has good feet and looks natural in pass protection. Effort isn’t an issue on run blocks, but he does need to get stronger. One of my favorite things is to watch him in short yardage situations. Murphy gets low and explodes off the ball. Very effective.

Murphy has started at LT for the past 2 years. You wish he had more experience, since OL is one of those spots where every snap can be huge in learning how to play. That said, you have to keep in mind that Stanford has had a lot of good O-linemen in recent years. Hard to be a 4-year starter at a school that has good upperclassmen already starting.

I’m looking forward to seeing Murphy in Mobile for the Senior Bowl.

*****

NDSU star Carson Wentz missed most of the 2015 season due to a wrist injury, but he returned to start in the FCS title game and led the Bison to a commanding 37-10 victory over Jacksonville State.

Wentz didn’t post great numbers (16-29-197 with 1 TD, 2 INTs). He was rusty, to be sure. Still, it was good to see him on the field making some impressive throws and helping his team to win. Wentz had some really good moments. He was accurate on some short, quick throws. His timing was off down the field, but that’s to be expected when you miss so much time. Wentz showed off his athleticism by running for a TD.

If you just watch him, you can see that he looks the part of an NFL QB  in terms of size, athleticism, mechanics and other physical traits. He will also be in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. Really excited to see him.

*****

Michigan State QB Connor Cook is not going to play in the Senior Bowl. Dumb mistake. Cook just wrapped up a good career, but he is hardly such a strong prospect that he can afford to skip the key all-star game.

Cook has moments when he looks great, but there are also times in games when he does not look like a talented, veteran QB. I think he is a mid-round prospect with upside rather than a top tier guy. The Senior Bowl was a key opportunity for him and he turned it down. Not a good sign.

*****

Back to the underclassmen for a second.

Billings is incredibly impressive. I think he’ll be a Top 20 pick, and possibly higher that. He is powerful, quick and athletic. I haven’t studied him at length, but he is one of those special players who just jumps out at you when you watch him.

All 32 teams will have interest in this guy. Can be a stud NT or DT.

*****

QUICK HITS

I’m not a big fan of Texas Tech OT Le’Raven Clark. Doesn’t have smooth feet.

Michigan QB Jake Rudock will be at the Shrine Game. He was awful early in the season, but got better and better. Curious to see how he does in the all-star game. Honestly, I’m not real sure what to make of Rudock at this point.

TE Kyle Carter showed a ton of promise early in his Penn State career. He looked outstanding as a Freshman. Oddly, he got worse instead of getting better in the next 3 years. Carter will play at the Shrine Game this week. I hope he’s able to impress because the young man has a lot of talent. Something just wasn’t working at PSU after that first season.

It will be interesting to see what happens with LB Jaylon Smith. He’s headed to the NFL, but suffered a major knee injury in his bowl game. Top 10 pick if healthy, but clearly he’s not. Where will he go?

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Top 10 Talent

Not surprising at all. A pair of great players and NFL prospects.

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Christian Hackenberg to the NFL

Penn State lost to Georgia in their bowl meeting on Saturday. After the the game, QB Christian Hackenberg announced he’s headed to the NFL. He got hurt in the 1st half of the game (nothing long term) and if he had any doubts, I’m sure that sealed the deal.

Coming into the 2014 season, Hackenberg was thought to be an elite player. He had a strong Freshman year under coach Bill O’Brien. Unfortunately, O’Brien left for the Houston Texans job. James Franklin took over at Penn State and everyone thought he was handed a great QB that would help him and PSU do some big things (at least on offense).

Things did not go well for PSU or Hackenberg in 2014. Most people thought that would change in 2015. Franklin was in his second year. He and Hackenberg were supposed to look much improved.

Both PSU and Hackenberg were better this season, but both disappointed as well. Hackenberg never looked like the elite QB he was projected to be. PSU beat up on a bunch of mediocre teams and lost to every good team they played.

Hackenberg was once thought to be a Top 5 pick. He was supposed to be another Andrew Luck, a QB who would go first overall and be the key to a franchise. Those thoughts are long gone. There is still some talk about him in the 1st round, but he would go toward the bottom rather than at the top.

I would not spend a 1st round pick on Hackenberg. I see a talented player, but one with too many flaws to be seen as a likely star in the making. I watch Hackenberg and see a poor man’s Jay Cutler, a QB who loves his arm and hasn’t mastered the subtleties of the position.

He is talented. Put on a game and you will see a handful of plays where Hackenberg makes really good throws. There were a handful of plays this year where he made incredible throws. He does have a strong arm. He can throw with great accuracy. He’s also not afraid of throwing into coverage. Hackenberg trusts his arm and likes to give his receivers a chance to make plays.

Hackenberg has good size at 6-4, 230. He isn’t special athletically, but moves pretty well. He even caught a TD pass in the Illinois game. One of the big selling points for me would be that Hackenberg stayed at PSU after O’Brien left. That hurt him in the long run, but showed a lot of character. He’s not afraid of challenges.

There are issues, though. Hackenberg is overly mechanical at times and looks stiff. Tom Brady isn’t an athlete, but is smooth mechanically, has a quick release and moves well in the pocket. Hackenberg is pretty much the opposite. His footwork is terrible at times. He doesn’t move fluidly or quickly.

I wonder about his instincts. There are some times when he makes really strange decisions. He’ll throw the ball right at the LOS on 3rd/15 and then throw a deep ball on 3rd/2. He struggles to consistently put good touch on his throws. You saw this in the bowl game. Hackenberg threw some rocket balls at pass catchers that were just a few yards from him.

Hackenberg played behind a poor OL the last 2 years. He was a poor fit for the James Franklin offense. I think Franklin would strongly prefer a mobile QB who mastered short, quick throws.

While you have to take into account the OL problems and less than ideal scheme fit/playcalling, Hackenberg is hardly an innocent victim in all of this. Great players overcome less than ideal circumstances. Hackenberg did not. There were times when he seemed to make things worse.

I remember watching Matt Ryan as a Senior at Boston College. He had a solid OL, but no real skill talent to work with. He was able to bring out the best in those players and that team had some good wins, most notably an upset win at Va Tech (back when that was a big deal).

Ryan looked like a Top 5 pick to me. Hackenberg is a talented, but flawed project. He had some very good skill players to work with, but the PSU offense was terrible at times, especially when facing good defenses.

The career numbers aren’t impressive. He never completed 60 percent of his passes in a season (good college QBs are well above that). Hackenberg finished with 48 TDs and 31 INTs. As a point of comparison, Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty completed 72 percent of his passes this year and threw for 48 TDs. Different teams, different players, different circumstances, but still numbers worth considering.

I think a better question than should he go in the 1st round is whether he should be a Top 100 pick. I could easily see some NFL team falling in love with his potential and his highlights and spending a late 1st rounder on him, but I don’t think a team should do that. I just think there are too many concerns.

The ideal scenario would be for him to get picked by the Texans so he could be reunited with O’Brien, the coach who brought out the best in him. Hackenberg does have NFL talent. It just seems that most QBs who are flawed tend to stay flawed. If Hackenberg could sit and have time to adjust to the NFL and get good coaching, he might be one of the guys who ends up succeeding.

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Around the League

TE Jordan Reed is having a great year for the Skins. DeSean Jackson is the weapon that gets most of the hype and certainly Kirk Cousins deserves the praise he’s getting, but Reed is the guy that defenses are struggling to stop.

Reed has 83 catches for 907 yards and 11 TDs with one game left to go. Those are big time numbers. To put that in perspective, DeSean Jackson has played 24 games for the Skins and scored 10 TDs in that time.

Reed lists at 6-3, 236. He is a very tough matchup for defenses. Reed is a great route-runner and has a knack for getting open. He is a physical receiver that can play through contact and make tough catches. If you put a LB on him, Reed will use athleticism to win. If you put a DB on him, he will use size to win.

The big deficiency for Reed right now is blocking. His technique, strength and effort are all lacking. He is a valuable enough receiver that you overlook that, but needs to keep working to become functional.

*****

Having a franchise QB isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems. The Colts have Andrew Luck, but that is one dysfunctional organization right now. Luck has been erratic on the field this year and the team has actually won more games with Matt Hasselbeck staring (5 to 2).

Aaron Rodgers might be the best player in football, but Green Bay’s offense has struggled at times this year. The Jaguars have actually scored more points than the Packers this year. That phrase just doesn’t sound right.

Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have combined to win 10 games this year while Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer will likely be starting playoff games.

The point of this isn’t to de-value franchise QBs. You want one if you can get one. However, you need a whole team to win. Just having a stud QB doesn’t guarantee success. We tend to forget that the Colts played great defense the year that Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl. Desmond Howard was the Super Bowl MVP the year that Brett Favre got his ring (GB also had the #1 defense in the league).

Find that stud QB and keep building the overall roster.

*****

There are several CBs having breakout seasons in the NFL this year. One of them is Trumaine Johnson of the Rams. He has broken up 16 passes and has 7 interceptions. In 3 previous seasons, Johnson had a total of 8 picks. Having a player like Aaron Donald bring pressure up the middle over and over can force QBs to make some risky throws. Johnson is doing a great job of taking advantage of those plays when the ball is there for the taking.

*****

Pass rushers and cover guys tend to be the focus of NFL defenses, but there are some 4-3 LBs playing really well this year and making sure people don’t forget the value of that position.

The first guy that comes to mind is Luke Kuechly. He is playing at an elite level and is a huge reason the Panthers are 14-1. He is good against the run, but he is special when it comes to covering ground as a pass defender. You saw him last week 30 yards downfield all over Julio Jones. Jones was able to reach over him and make a spectacular catch, but few LBs would have even been there to challenge Jones on the play.

The Vikings defense is playing well, in large part due to the play of a trio of LBs. Rookie Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway are the team’s leading tacklers. They have also combined for 9 sacks, 3 FFs and 2 INTs.

Sean Lee has been great for Dallas. That defense has been better than expected and the play of Lee is one of the key reasons. He is incredibly active as a run defender and covers a lot of ground in coverage. MLB Rolando McClain has been erratic. If you put on the Tampa game, he looks like a star. There are too many other games where he failed to stand out, even struggling at times.

*****

Blaine Gabbert was a punchline for most of his career, but he’s actually done some good things this season. He has a rating of 86.1 and has thrown for 295 or more yards twice in 7 starts. That’s nothing special, but the fact it is noteworthy tells you how bad he was prior to this year. Gabbert has also run for 178 yards this season.

I don’t think any team will identify Gabbert as someone they want starting for their team, but he has shown that he has value as a backup and spot starter.

*****

The Broncos have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL this year. They are 4th in points allowed.

The defense has a chance to pull off a rare feat. They have allowed the fewest passing yards this season. They are second in rushing yards allowed. Prior to last week’s game, they had allowed the fewest rushing yards.

Very few teams can claim to allow the fewest rushing and passing yards in the same season. The 1991 Eagles did it. The 1975 Vikings did it. We’ll see if the 2015 Broncos can match that feat.

*****

The Chiefs might be the most confusing team in the league. They started off 1-5 and they’ve gone 9-0 since then. They’ve done that without the services of RB Jamal Charles, who is out for the year.

You might think KC has relied on Alex Smith recently. That’s not the case either. He has 4 straight games with less than 180 passing yards. The Chiefs have gotten several defensive TDs in recent weeks and combined that with timely offense to keep winning games.

This kind of formula doesn’t always translate well to the postseason. You can’t count on takeaways and pick-sixes every game. Still, it is impressive that the Chiefs have saved their season and found different ways to win.

You do have to give credit to their OL and run game as well. The Chiefs average 4.7 yards per carry. That is an impressive ground attack.

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GM Updates

Black Monday is almost here and moves are already being made.

The Dolphins have fired GM Dennis Hickey. Mike Tannenbaum is running things for now and will be looking for a replacement for Hickey.

There are rumors (from reliable sources) that the Browns are set to fire coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer on Sunday night. Pettine has a good track record as a defensive coordinator. Farmer did a good job when he worked in the personnel department for the Chiefs. Both men struggled in Cleveland. How much of that is them and how much is the dysfunctional organization is the tricky question.

No one is sure what will happen in Indy. Coach Chuck Pagano seems to be sure to be fired and GM Ryan Grigson could be gone as well. Things have really fallen apart for that franchise.

There are a handful of other teams who could make front office moves.

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More Underclassmen News

Lee is an outstanding athlete. 4-3 teams that like speedy LBs will have a lot of interest in him.

*****

 

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