T.J. Neal is one of the most underrated linebacker prospects in college football. At Illinois, Neal was one of the key players in the Fighting Illini defense; He generated 244 total tackles over three seasons (90 solo, 154 assists), 22.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and an interception. In the process, Neal prove himself as a strong tackler who pursues the ball hard on every snap. Following Neal's outstanding 2015 season (a season in which he put up 109 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and a pass defended), Neal left Illinois for Auburn as a graduate transfer.
This decision was likely made tougher for him with the signing of head coach Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson by Illinois. Neal announced his plans to transfer to Auburn in February, and Lovie Smith was hired by Illinois the following month. Still, T.J. Neal stuck by his commitment to transfer to Auburn, a move that highlights the type of individual that Neal is. While T.J. Neal is an explosive, instinctive player on the field, he is also a good character player off of it, a man who sticks to his word once he makes a decision. T.J. Neal has been attacked for a series of tweets following a loss against Clemson, but those tweets are entirely taken out of context. When taken in context, it is obvious that Neal is a team-first player who is dedicated to his team and who stands by his teammates. Neal never criticized his coaches, and deleted the tweets almost immediately and apologized to his coaches even though it is a far stretch to read them as a criticism of his program. Just take a look at his first press conference with Auburn.
When I watch his press conference from August 2016, I see an extremely positive team player who is excited to have moved to Auburn and is happy to be a part of the team. Neal is not a "me-first" player; he is a player committed to his team both on the field and in the film room. Here's a link to the press conference. It is foolish to allow a single minor incident to adversely affect the draft stock of a promising young player such as T.J. Neal. From a media standpoint, it is unfair to attack him for the incident, especially when the sum of his career has shown a player who is consistently supportive of his teammates and his programs. As an outside observer, the entire situation seems to have been taken out of context (here's the original article covering Neal's twitter posts) and should not be seen as a knock on T.J. Neal's character.
Speaking of character, T.J. Neal was a three time Big 10 Academic All-American. These awards show that he has excelled both as a student and as an athlete. Neal has shown that he can prosper under a heavy workload, and shine both on and off the field. He has completed a bachelor's degree in sport management from Illinois already, and is currently working towards a master's degree in education. This shows him to be a hard-working, driven young man who will do what it takes to succeed. That drive for success is further evidenced by his work in the film room and on the practice field.
What can T.J. Neal bring to an NFL team? He's an outstanding tackler who was especially productive in his final season with Illinois in 2015. He is a player that understands the linebacker position as a role akin to being the "quarterback" of the defense. Neal is a player that not only understands his role in a defense, but also the roles of the players around him. He has a strong motor, and also works hard in the film room. After playing for two major college programs, T.J. Neal has the experience of learning multiple defensive systems at the college level. At the next level, Neal could stand out either as a pure linebacker or as a linebacker-safety hybrid. T.J. Neal has the football I.Q., the athleticism, and the explosiveness to perform in either role. Given his speed and explosiveness off of the ball, he can also make an impact on special teams immediately in an NFL setting.
Where should he be drafted? NFLdraftscout.com has him rated as the 32nd inside linebacker prospect in his draft class. That is a ranking that I am uncomfortable with; Neal is far better as a player in my opinion. However, pre-draft rankings do not mean everything; remember that the same site had Vontaze Burfict ranked behind Keenan Robinson, James-Michael Johnson, Tank Carder, Audie Cole, Caleb McSurdy, and Najee Goode in 2012 (proof here). While a tough season so far at Auburn and the character questions some teams might raise following his twitter incident may drop Neal into the later rounds of the NFL draft or into undrafted territory, he showed enough in 2015 with Illinois to warrant a spot on an NFL roster. At least to this writer, Neal's so-called character concerns are a non-concern when one views the bigger picture; they are taken out of context. As far as a down year at Auburn, his 2015 season showcases a player who should be on the radar of NFL teams. If anything, he should be viewed in the same light as Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson, another solid player (who is ranked as NFL draft scout's #5 ILB). Neal is actually a better pure tackler than Nickerson, and that trait will help him succeed in the NFL. As a guy who might come in as a 7th round pick or UDFA, his upside is outstanding, and if he lands in the right system, he could make some serious noise in the NFL. NFL scouts, do yourselves a favor. Take a long hard look at T.J. Neal. You won't regret it. He could be an absolute steal in 2016. Neal is an extremely talented, hard working player, and I challenge you to watch the tape when analyzing him as a player. He has phenomenal upside, and has dealt with adversity and succeeded early in his football career. He has both the talent and the passion to thrive in the NFL.
With the 2016 college football season underway, it's never too soon to begin scouting for the 2017 NFL Draft. One of the premier events for scouts to get a look at seniors entering the NFL draft is the Senior Bowl. Every year, a Senior Bowl watch list is released long before the final 110 player lineup is decided on. This year, the list comprises more than 400 draft eligible seniors from nearly all levels of college football (this year's list is currently made up of FBS, FCS, and DII players as of 10/4/2016). The names Hardy Nickerson and Barry Sanders are not listed by accident. Both players are sons of the former NFL players bearing the same name. The 2017 Senior Bowl takes place on January 28th, 2017, and the week leading up to the game is filled with practices and player interviews where NFL executives can get a closer look at the players who make it into the game. The Senior Bowl is nearly 4 months away, but it's never too soon to begin scouting. Here's the 2017 Senior Bowl watch list as it currently stands. --Mike B.
Cooper Kupp is probably the most underrated wide receiver in college football heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. He was extremely underscouted coming out of high school; rather than spending his college career in a top program, he found himself playing wide receiver for the Eastern Washington University Eagles. Once there, he set college football on fire. How good has Cooper Kupp been for Eastern Washington? In two fewer games than Jerry Rice, he managed to catch more passes, generate more receiving yards, and score more touchdowns than the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. When Kupp leaves the FCS behind for the NFL, he will do so with possession of most, if not all, FCS receiving records. Kupp was criminally overlooked by FBS teams coming out of high school. This coming spring, he may still be overlooked; Walter Football has him projected as a 4th through 6th round pick. Meanwhile, CBS Sports has him projected as a 3rd rounder. Given Kupp's talent, I will be stunned if he is still there on day 3 of the NFL Draft. I would actually consider drafting him in the second round depending on how the WR board falls.That being said, his best fit is probably in the 3rd.
Kupp comes from a solid NFL bloodline. His paternal grandfather, Jake Kupp made the Pro Bowl as a left guard during a 12 year NFL career spent mainly with the New Orleans Saints. His father, Craig Kupp, was drafted by the New York Giants in the 5th round of the 1990 NFL Draft as a quarterback. Cooper Kupp will likely be the third member of his family drafted this spring. How good is Kupp? His highlight reels are stellar. When you put on the film, he looks the part of an NFL receiver. Here are some highlights. Care to argue that that athletic talent and all those big plays are solely the result of Kupp playing in the Big Sky Conference? Let's look at him against FBS teams. Here's Cooper Kupp playing against Washington State. Kupp had a pretty solid game, with 12 receptions for 206 yards and 3 TD, one pass completed for 22 yards, and 2 rushes for 29 rushing yards. He became the all-time leader in FCS receiving touchdowns on a 7 yard touchdown reception in that game, bringing him to 59. If that game doesn't convince you, he also put up 246 receiving yards and 3 touchdown receptions against Oregon in week 1 of the 2015 NFL season (here's the film to prove it). Kupp dominates any opponent he faces, and will thrive in the NFL in the right situation.
What is the right situation for Cooper Kupp? I think he fits perfectly as a #2 WR in an NFL offense. He is one of most high-character, hardest workers in college football according to those around him, and that will benefit him as he heads towards an NFL career. His floor is that of a Brian Hartline-type player. He'll garner lots of receptions and make the occasional big play while generating respectable amounts of yardages in the NFL. I don't see him as a prototype #1 WR yet, but he works hard to develop his own craft. His weaknesses are minor; occasionally he will let a ball fall into his body as he catches it, and occasionally he will struggle to unglue himself from defenders at the top of routes. That being said, it is obvious that Kupp is working hard to improve those areas of his game. While these are things that he will continue to work on in the NFL, if he begins as a #2 WR, he will have the advantage of not working against a team's top defensive back. That will help him immensely early in his career as he continues to improve as a player.
I've gushed over Kupp's numbers a bit already, but how good are they? In 42 career games, Kupp has 340 receptions for 5143 yards (a 15.1 yard per reception average) and 61 touchdowns. He's also rushed 9 times for 56 yards. As a passer (just for fun), Kupp is 3 for 4 with a 75.0 % completion percentage and 67 yards passing. Two of those three completions went for touchdowns. While Brian Hartline might be a floor for Kupp, he also reminds me of players such as Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu. Kupp is an offensive weapon that, while not a prototypical #1 WR, will add some very nice versatility to any offensive system. That only increases his value.
Cooper Kupp, then, is a likely day 2 prospect who is currently being largely overlooked by many sports sites. If you haven't had a chance to watch Eastern Washington yet this season, use Kupp as your excuse. While he may not have the NFL success that Jerry Rice did (it's possible, but implausible, for any good college receiver to duplicate what Jerry Rice did in the NFL), Kupp will likely have a productive NFL career, and could hear his name called as early as the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL draft. He will be an asset to whatever team selects him in 2017.--Mike B.
Every year, potentially great players slip through the cracks of the NFL Draft. Sometimes, guys come from an unknown program in DI-A or DII school. Other times, players with no major holes in their game are passed on by scouts when they are deemed too small to play the game. Sometimes an undrafted player can change the entire face of a team, as was the case with Tony Romo in Dallas. More often, undrafted players are able to find a key role in an NFL offense or defense that helps them achieve a long and successful career in the NFL. One of the more well-known UDFA role players in recent years is San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead.
Today, we're going to take a look at a player with the potential to be a Danny Woodhead-like running back in the NFL. That player is Chase Edmonds, the running back and kick returner from Fordham. Edmonds has two major knocks against him from a scouting perspective, but both are superficial. First, he's "too small" to succeed in the NFL at 5'9, 196". Second, as an FCS player, his level of competition in college will raise questions among league executives. These factors combine and NFL Draft Scout ranks him as a likely undrafted prospect in 2018. However, when you take a closer look, Chase Edmonds has the very real potential to become a key cog in an NFL offensive scheme if placed in the right system. He also has the vision and burst to succeed as an NFL kick returner.
I'm always a big advocate for scouting guys by game tape instead of measuring tape. When I watch the film (some highlights here) on Edmonds, I see a player with great hips who will quickly sneak past defenders. He has solid hands, and is also a capable returner. After watching a few snaps, I immediately want to pigeonhole him as a 3rd down back in the NFL. That role makes sense for him, as he compares to Danny Woodhead favorably in multiple ways. However, his college production shows that he is capable of successfully handling more carries than an average change of pace back in the NFL; Edmonds is a player who rushed for 347 yards in a single game. Over his first 29 games as a college player, Edmonds has delivered 3863 rushing yards on 608 carries, a 6.4 yards per carry average. He's also caught 57 passes for 616 yards (a 10.8 yards per reception average). He's also found the endzone regularly with 47 rushing touchdowns and 7 receiving touchdowns. He returned 24 return for 514 yards (21.4 yards per return) as a freshman, but hasn't played as a returner since. With increased experience as a player, his ability as a returner may have improved since then. One thing is clear when you look at the film and the stat sheets. Chase Edmonds is a guy who can get things done. He has been since his freshman year when he received the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshman in the FCS in 2014.
As I've mentioned, I believe the best NFL comparison for Chase Edmonds is Danny Woodhead, and Edmonds might beat Woodhead today if the two were placed side by side as college players. Woodhead played for Chadron State, a DII school while Chase Edmonds plays for Fordham, a I-A school. The two players are comparable from a size perspective; Woodhead is 5'8, 200 ", Edmonds is 5'9,196 ". Woodhead outperformed Edmonds as a college player, but Edmonds has played at a higher level of competition. I think Edmonds falls into the undrafted realm, but he has the ability to make an NFL team very happy if he lands in the right system.
Chase Edmonds is a player that is not on many draft boards at this point but he is a name to watch heading into the 2018 draft. I think he plays out his eligibility and plays one final season in college. With a strong conclusion to his college career, Edmonds could find himself much higher on draft boards at that point. For now, he's one of the most overlooked prospects in college football. Right now, I believe that Chase Edmonds is a player with the talent to justify an NFL future. If you happen to be an NFL scout or team exec reading this post, I implore you. Check this kid out. You won't regret it.
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