Zach Zenner is one of my favorite prospects in the 2015 NFL draft and he made some huge strides today against Montana State in the FCS Playoffs. Zenner has been outstanding all season long, but today's performance could put him over the top as a prospect and vault him from a late round pick or undrafted free agent to a middle-late round pick. Combine today's game with one or two more strong performances and a good showing later in the draft process, and Zenner might wind up as a second or third round pick. I think he's a top three running back in this year's draft, behind Gordon and Gurley. Let's take a quick look at what made today's game so special.
Zenner is a special player, who has been accepted to medical school with a 3.87 GPA in the classroom, and outstanding performance on the field. If the NFL doesn't pan out for him, Zenner will pursue a career as a surgeon. That being said, his medical career will likely have to wait a few years. He's been scouted by every team in the NFL, and today's game was dominant.
Zach Zenner scored five touchdowns today, 4 on the ground and one through the air, in 1 degree weather, in blizzard conditions, to carry the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits over the Montana State University Bobcats. If you don't think the conditions were that bad, think again. Montana winters get cold. Extremely cold. I'll post a picture of a millimeter thick sheet of ice that formed on the INSIDE of my dorm room window at Montana State University at the end of the article....but I digress. Some sports writers speculated that the cold weather would slow down Zenner. Zenner responded with the following stat line. Twenty three carries for 252 yards and four touchdowns. The touchdowns were for 45 yards, 7 yards, 60 yards, and 69 yards. Zenner's touchdown catch went for 69 yards. This guy is an obvious big play machine that translates perfectly as a fullback in the NFL, even though some scouts have him pinned as a fullback.
Mark my words. Zach Zenner is a name that you will be hearing a lot leading up to the draft. Don't be surprised to see him go far earlier than most people expect in spring! He would be an especially great fit for a cold weather team, but would be an asset to any franchise.
Here it is. Most draft sites are doing mock drafts already, so I'll jump into the fray with my first official mock draft. I'm using current standings to set a draft order, with the Raiders picking 1st overall and the Arizona Cardinals picking last. I'll include a bit of analysis for each team. My draft will be wrong given the fact that everything is going to change between now and Spring (this is a very deep draft class), but let's have some fun!
1. New York Jets (from Oakland). The Raiders have a ton of needs, needs that won't be met with one pick. There are a few teams that desperately need a QB this year (the Buccaneers, the Rams, potentially the Jets). The Raiders aren't one of them after drafting Carr in 2014. I could see the Jets or Rams trading up to this spot, and such a move would make sense for Oakland; trade back and get more picks. The Jets are a team foolish enough to make a big trade for a QB while not filling their other needs. so trade! The Jets send their first and second round picks to the Raiders for Oakland's first round pick. The Jets will likely fire Rex Ryan after this season and will want to start out fresh with the most hyped QB in this draft class. I'd like to mock someone intelligent to the Jets but I....just....can't... Pick: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jacksonville Jaguars also have a starting QB lined up. The Jags have some good young talent on defense, but need a solid playmaker to go with Telvin Smith. They could also use a WR here (Amari Cooper maybe?), or a RB (Melvin Gordon?), but I'm projecting them with a linebacker. Pick: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson.
3.Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have the potential to be one of the best offensive units in the NFL. However, they need a QB to take them to that next level. They missed out on Mariota and will continue an early QB run. The Bucs take the 2nd QB off the board with the 3rd pick in the draft. Pick: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State.
4. Oakland ( From NY Jets). Now the Oakland Raiders make their pick. They need help everywhere, especially at WR, but also at offensive line, RB, and cornerback. That being said, they made a huge investment in their offense with Carr in 2014, and this year they continue that investment by giving him someone to throw to. Pick: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama.
5.Tennessee Titans. The Titans have a few needs. QB is a possibility. That being said, the best defensive lineman in the draft is still on the board, and this team NEEDS defensive help. They go defense. Pick: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
6.Washington Sentinels. First, this offseason, the Redskins will draft a new name. I picked the Washington Sentinels after the Replacements. Hey, it works. Going with the Replacements theme, they need a big mamba jamba on the offensive line. This offense is bad at best, and it starts up front. There are no Sumo Wrestlers in this year's draft, but all the best OL prospects are still available. The pick is in. Yes, Washington has a first round pick! Pick: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa.
7. New York Giants. The Giants need help both on offense and on defense. Odell Beckham has turned out well for them so far, and hopefully they find luck in this year's draft as well. That being said, this defense needs upgrades, and with good choices both on offensive and defensive line available, the Giants will opt to go defense. Pick: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska.
8.Carolina Panthers. The Carolina Panthers do not have an offense. All formations incomplete. This team has Cam Newton....and nobody for him to throw to besides Kelvin Benjamin. That being said, they also have no protection for him, so I'm thinking they go with one of the top two offensive line prospects in the draft. Pick: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
9. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have a ton of holes on offense. These holes start with the lack of holes opened by the offensive line. That being said, the top two offensive line prospects are already off the board, so the Falcons settle for an elite SS prospect. Pick: Landon Collins, SS, Alabama.
10. Minnesota Vikings. This might be the end of the Adrian Peterson era. The Vikings could go a few ways here, but this is an offense built on the run game. They could use a WR for Bridgewater but this is a deep, deep class, and a replacement for Peterson is more important, since Tate isn't the answer either. They settle for either the second WR on the board or the top RB. I'm going with Running Back. Pick: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin.
11. New Orleans Saints. The Saints always seem to need help on defense. They've still got a solid offensive unit, but they need defensive upgrades. Anyone that can tackle better than the 50 yard line and the invisible green munchkin would help this unit. I'm going with a defensive prospect with lots of upside. Pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington.
12. Chicago Bears. The Bears secondary is so bad that Jimmy Clausen could tear it apart. 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller has looked solid, but they need help. Charles Tillman is probably gone, so the Bears draft another one. Pick: PJ Williams, CB, Florida State.
13. St. Louis Rams. The Rams might need help at QB in the 2015 draft if Bradford isn't ready to play, They need help at OL as well, but Bradford might be done and they don't have a proven answer without him. They address that with this pick. Pick: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA.
14. Houston Texans. Andre Johnson isn't going to last forever, and the Texans need a WR to go with DeAndre Hopkins. They make that move with this pick. Pick: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
15. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo). The Cleveland Browns need one more offensive playmaker in case Gordon gets arrested again or in case Jordan Cameron gets injured. White and Cooper are off the board, so they go with a WR/TE hybrid that can play both positions. Pick: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan.
16. Cleveland Browns. After addressing the WR position at 15, the Browns turn to the defensive side of the ball. Barkevious Mingo is a decent cog for this defensive unit, but the Browns need one or two more playmakers to go with him. They address that with this pick. Pick: Leonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia.
17. Indianapolis Colts. The Indianapolis Colts could go a few ways here. That being said, I'm projecting something relatively out of the box. Ahmad Bradshaw is injury prone, and Trent Richardson is not the answer at RB. Todd Gurley was a surefire top 10 pick before his injury, and at 17, he's a discount if he comes back healthy. The Colts take a chance here. Pick: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia.
18. Baltimore Ravens. If the Colts don't take Gurley, the Ravens take him here. That being said, Gurley is off the board. Since the top 2 RBs are off the board, the Ravens address their defense. The pick is in. Pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State.
19. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins could go a few ways in the draft. They could go RB, continue to upgrade their offensive line, or grab one more CB to start across from Brent Grimes. I'm going CB here. Pick: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon.
20. San. Diego Chargers. The San Diego Chargers could go a few directions here. RB might be an issue, and they could grab a WR here as well. That being said, their run blocking has been poor so far this season, and an upgrade on the line would help. They make that upgrade here. Pick: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State.
21. San Francisco 49ers. This pick is pretty simple. The 49ers need a WR and I'll be surprised if they do anything else with this pick. They pick the best WR left on the board. Pick: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville.
22. Seattle Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks are a deep team in general. However, they have no wide receivers! Doug Baldwin is not a #1 WR. Neither is Percy Harvin. They need to address the position this year, and they do it here. Pick: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State University.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers don't have a ton of weaknesses. That being said, potentially their weakest point is at CB. They'll upgrade the position here. Pick: Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State.
24. Cincinnati Bengals. The Cincinnati Bengals need a head coach and a kicker. They won't select either in the first round of the 2015 draft. This team needs help on defense, especially at DT and linebacker. A CB wouldn't hurt either, but they have young talent there. With a solid pick available at DT, the Bengals opt to upgrade former stud Domata Peko, who has slowed down. Pick: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State.
25. Dallas Cowboys. Rumor has it that Jerry Jones wants to draft Johnny Manziel with this pick, but that won't happen. The Cowboys upgrade their defense with this pick. The pick is in. Pick: Kurtis Drummond, FS, Michigan State.
26. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were torched by the Packers passing game this year, and need some help at CB. This is a draft deep with defensive talent, and we see ANOTHER cornerback picked in the first round! Pick: Alex Carter, CB, Stanford.
27. Detroit Lions. The Lions will draft a RB this year. That being said, they won't draft one with this pick. The Detroit defense also needs some help, and they could go CB or Defensive Line here. They opt to upgrade their defensive line with this pick. Pick: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
28. Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers offense is scary. So is their defense. That being said, their defense is less scary than their offense is. I think they opt to go with an upgrade at defense here. Denzel Perryman fits a huge need for this defensive unit, and I think the Packers bite here. Pick: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami.
29. Kansas City Chiefs. The Kansas Chiefs need a Wide Receiver. Say it with me. The Chiefs need a WR. The Chiefs need a WR. They take one with this pick. This kid could have gone far higher if it wasn't for character issues. But thanks to those issues, he falls to the 29th pick. Pick: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
30. Denver Broncos. The Denver Broncos don't have many holes. One hole is at linebacker. This late in the first round, we're throwing darts in ways, especially this far away from the draft, but I'm projecting a LB to Denver. Pick: Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri.
31. New England Patriots. While I think the Patriots make a stupid mistake this year like normal in the draft, this pick falls into their lap. The Patriots need a defensive tackle and find themselves facing a solid, solid option at 31. They jump. Pick: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington.
32. Arizona Cardinals. I think the Cardinals could go a few directions here. QB? Maybe, but they just gave Palmer a long-term deal, so unlikely. WR? Definitely a possibility, but its a deep class. Defense? Also a possibility. This is an already dominant defense that can only get better with more pieces. I'll freely admit this pick is a reach but I like Kikaha and want to get him somewhere in the first!!! Pick: Hau'oli Kikaha, DE/OLB, Washington.
This mock draft will be obsolete within 2 weeks, but it's a start. I'll have better mocks as we get closer to the draft and move through Bowl games, workouts, the Combine, pro days, the Shrine Game, and the Senior Bowl, but here's a start!
The East West Shrine Game just became a lot more interesting. South Dakota State University standout running back Zach Zenner has been invited to play in the game and fully intends to participate. The Shrine game already boosts some intriguing players, but the addition of Zenner makes this game a must watch on January 17th! I've profiled Zenner on this site already (post here), and think that he is one of the best late options at running back in the draft. The Shrine Game could propel Zenner upwards in the draft in spring; he's got a ton of talent, and it'll be good to see him working with different people and coaches.
Another Shrine Game update. LSU running back Kenny Hilliard has also been invited to compete in the Shrine Game. Hilliard is currently projected to go undrafted, a case not helped by a shoulder injury that will force him to miss the last couple of games of the 2014 NFL season. He needs a strong showing in the Shrine Game to try to find a spot on an NFL roster. Hilliard is a tough player and could be best as a short yardage guy in the NFL. Here's some film.
I'll keep you posted as news comes in!
Every season, the Senior Bowl gets most of the hype, but every year, a few players use the East West Shrine Game as a springboard to the NFL. Zac Stacy had a strong showing before being drafted by the Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo's strong showing at the Shrine Game helped garner attention for him before the Senior Bowl and helped his draft stock immensely. Alterraun Verner? Shrine Game alum. So it's a good bet that at least one player in this year's game will make an impact in the NFL, even though many players in the Shrine Game go undrafted every season. Let's take a look at the players who are confirmed so far:
Anthony Boone, QB, Duke. Anthony Boone is a 6'0 220 pound senior from Duke, projected as the 22nd best QB in the 2015 draft by www.nfldraftscout.com. While Boone has had a decent career at Duke, he also has average numbers and a bad habit of missing open receivers. While Boone may have a successful NFL career, its likely that he starts out as an undrafted free agent fighting for a roster spot. A collarbone injury in 2013 and Duke's unwillingness to fully commit to Boone (they've used Boone in a QB-by-committee type of approach) will scare NFL teams away from drafting him, but I'm rooting for him to catch on with a team. Here's some film.
Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville. Dominique Brown is an intriguing RB prospect out of Louisville. www.nfldraftscout.com has Brown slated as 5th round pick in a deep class of running backs in 2015. Brown missed the 2012 season with a knee injury sustained during training camp, but has been healthy since and has experience at quarterback, giving him some added versatility. Brown is also a decent receiver out of the backfield. He is used to working in a committee-type of role, and this might be the best approach for him in the NFL as well. He has potential in a Brian Leonard-type of third down role, for example, going in on 3rd and short. Here's some film of him and fellow Louisville RB Michael Dyer.
Jamon Brown, OT, Louisville. Jamon Brown is the second Brown of note from Louisville this draft season. Brown is projected as a 6th or 7th round pick in the draft, and at one point weighed in at 350 pounds. Now, Brown lines up as a 6'6 325 pound draft prospect. This is a kid that worked his butt off, literally and figuratively, for a chance to help his teammates and for a chance to follow his NFL dreams, and this is the type of player I'd feel comfortable spending a late round pick on. Offensive linemen deal with weight issues all the time. A prime example is Andre Smith, who struggled with weight issues as a first round pick with the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown worked hard to get his weight under control before his senior season. That's the type of kid I want on my roster. Here's some film. Brown will succeed as a late round pick, and would be well worth a pick even in the middle of the draft. Jamon Brown could be one of the pleasant "surprises" of this year's draft, but I won't be surprised at all if he performs extremely well in the NFL.
Justin Coleman, CB, Tennessee. Justin Coleman is the type of defensive back that teams will take a look at as a project player at the end of the draft. He makes some heads up plays and some game-changing interceptions, but he's not an elite athlete at the position. Coleman projects as a 6th or 7th round pick at the NFL level, and this ranking is partly because of his size (5'10, 190 pounds), and partly because of lackluster numbers (4 career interceptions). As a late round flier, he's worth a gamble, but I'd prefer a player like Deonte Flowers, the CB from Montana State University at the end of my draft. Coleman will have to produce on special teams early in his career, but could carve out a role in an NFL defense.
Larry Dixon, FB, US Military Academy. Larry Dixon is a rare breed in draft conversations. He's a fullback. Dixon is projected to go undrafted, but this ranking is a combination of two factors, first, the devaluation of the fullback position in the NFL, and second, the fact that Dixon has a required term of military service before playing in the NFL. Dixon is the type of fullback prospect that can make a major impact in the NFL, but military commitments will put his career on hold. Dixon is a talented runner (here's some film), and was once tackled 34 times in a game against Boston. Boring stat? Not when you consider that for 22 of those tackles he didn't have the ball. A player of Dixon's caliber has the potential to play a major role in an NFL offense, both as a decoy and as a ball carrier. Here's hoping that Dixon has a safe and successful military career and returns home safely. When he gets back, the NFL might just be waiting for him. Teams would be foolish to not take a long hard look at this young man.
Darius Kilgo, DT, Maryland. Darius Kilgo is one of the main components of Maryland's defense and projects as a 5th or 6th round pick in the NFL draft. Kilgo may get a shot with an NFL team, but his playing technique will need work if he is going to succeed; he plays a bit upright and is slow off the ball. Here's some film. With proper coaching, Kilgo projects as a backup or practice squad player at the NFL level.
Dean Marlowe, FS, James Madison. Dean Marlowe is one of many relevant small school prospects at safety moving into the 2015 draft. Marlowe has a good nose for the ball (film), and projects as an end of the draft type of player (7th round to undrafted free agent). Teams will take a chance on him because of his raw talent, and Marlowe could emerge as a solid role player in an NFL defense or special teams unit. Marlowe also has experience returning kicks and punts. While he may not become an every down starter on defense, his versatility will help him stick with an NFL roster.
Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State. Mayle projects as a middle round pick (4th to 5th rounder according to www.nfldraftscout.com). Mayle has the size (6'3, 220 pounds) and athletic ability (he also has played basketball) to draw the atttention of NFL teams. Mayle switched to football full-time in 2012, and dropped 20 pounds prior to this season as a response to scouts questioning his quickness. Mayle is a prospect similar to Jerome Simpson. He's still learning the game, and may not make an immediate impact at the NFL level. However, he is also a far more polished player than Simpson was when drafted, and will likely at least have a decent rookie season en route to a strong NFL career. Here's some film of Mayle as a junior college player with Sierra College. Here's Mayle in 2014 with Washington State. Mayle is a project player of sorts, but a project player with a good chance at success. He's consistently improved as a player, and this improvement will continue in the NFL.
Joey Mbu, DT, Houston. Joey Mbu is a relatively unknown defensive tackle out of Houston. Mbu is projected to go undrafted, and may be overlooked by NFL teams in general. Don't let the anonymity surprise you; Mbu stands as one of the biggest potential gainers in the Shrine Game. Mbu is a heads-up player with good size that has a lot to like. As a late round pick, he's worth a long hard look by NFL teams. I'm interested to see how he performs in the Shrine Game, as he could be one of the big stories of the week. Here's some film.
Bobby McCain, DB, Memphis. McCain is a kick returner and defensive back out of Memphis College. He's another player that www.nfldraftscout.com has projected to go undrafted, but McCain has been a fairly consistent player for Memphis. McCain is a former catcher, and a relatively instinctive player. There's McCain returning kicks. Here's McCain on defense. Here's McCain in high school. While McCain makes some mistakes in coverage, his return skills will likely propel him onto some team's radar, and I expect him to either be drafted late in the draft or sign with a team after the draft. With coaching, he could also eke out a role as a backup or situational cornerback in the NFL. At the very least, he'll find his way onto a team's practice squad.
Damian Parms, FS, Florida Atlantic. Parms is another small school player projected to go undrafted. He's an obscure enough player that its tough to find film of him online, but here's some film of him playing football and basketball in high school. The Shrine Game can potentially strongly benefit players like Parms, who are fairly unknown.
Terry Poole, OT, San Diego State. Terry Poole projects as a 7th round pick or undrafted free agent according to www.nfldraftscout.com. In 2013, Poole gave up only 2 sacks in 461 snaps, so he is capable of producing on the offensive line. He's a strong player and shows good burst off of the line, but Poole will likely fall late in the draft. Here's some film.
MyCole Pruitt, TE, Southern Illinois State. MyCole Pruitt is a solid small school prospect at tight end. He projects as a 5th round pick, but has received some attention as a small school player, even being featured in a www.nfl.com article highlighting small school players to watch. Pruitt has scored 12 TDs on 71 receptions this year, and may rise on draft boards with a good performance on the Shrine Game. Here's some film. Pruitt will likely make an NFL roster in 2015.
Edmond Robinson, OLB, Newberry. Edmond Robinson is a small school player from Newberry who could see his stock rise drastically with a solid performance at the Shrine Game. Robinson is projected to go undrafted, but has played football since 3rd grade, and once had 2 interceptions, 14 solo tackles, and a td both as a RB and as a WR, all in one game. Robinson is an relatively unknown player so far, but I expect his stock to rise at the Shrine Game. He may go undrafted, but a solid showing may earn him a spot in camp this coming summer.
Jake Ryan, OLB, Michigan. Jake Ryan is one of the better known players in the Shrine Game this year, and may even be a top 50 pick this spring. Ryan missed time last year with a torn ACL, and shifted from OLB to MLB for Michigan this year, but expect him to be drafted relatively high in 2015.
Brandon Vitable, OG, Northwestern. Brandon Vitable is a projected 6th or 7th round pick from Northwestern who will play at either center or guard in the NFL. He's not an elite offensive lineman, but teams will like his versatility and he will find a spot on an NFL roster, likely as a backup, due to his ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line. Expect the coaches at the Shrine game to get him work at multiple spots during practices that week.
Xavier Williams, DT, Northern Iowa. Xavier Williams is another small school player featured by nfl.com. He currently projects as a 7th round pick or undrafted free agent, but a strong showing at the Shrine Game could easily change that. Williams is great on special teams, and blocked 5 kicks in one season. He's a defensive leader for Northern Iowa, and could be a solid, solid part of an NFL rotation on the defensive line. Williams is an extremely valuable pick late in the draft and could see his stock rise heading into spring. Here's some film.
I'll post updates as more players are confirmed for the Shrine Game over the next couple of months.
Almost every year, a major injury or two manage to shake up the shape of the first round of the NFL draft. This season is no different. Going into this week, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon and Georgia RB Todd Gurley were considered to be the top two running back prospects for 2015, with many scouts considering Gurley to be a first round pick. Some "experts" have projected Melvin Gordon in the first round as well. This season's running back crop is a deep and talented one, and at least one running back will likely be selected in the first round. A few weeks ago, the "sure thing" was Todd Gurley. After this week, it's Melvin Gordon. One play or one game can change the dynamics of an entire draft, and that happened this week.
Before tearing his ACL, Gurley was projected by some sites as a potential top 10 pick. Now that Gurley is potentially out for the season, expect his draft stock to drop heavily. However, Gurley might not fall completely out of the first round. Gurley has been compared to Marshawn Lynch by some scouts, and could still slip into the first round. While some scouts will see shades of Ki Jana Carter and shy away from Gurley due to his injury, others will try to compare him to Adrian Peterson and may be willing to roll the dice early. I think at the end of the day, this injury drops Gurley into the second round of the draft. He's a better pass-catcher than Gordon, but Gordon is a better pure runner, and doesn't have the injury baggage now unfortunately carried by Gurley.
Melvin Gordon is the big gainer this week. He has been projected to fall near the end of the first round or the beginning of the second round by most sites. After Gurley's injury, his draft stock will improve. Combine that with a monster 408 yard, 4 TD game this week against Nebraska, and Gordon is putting the final touches on an outstanding season. Gordon is a first round caliber talent and may have been the best running back available in the 2015 draft even before Gurley's ACL tear. That being said, Gordon, who has been compared to Jamaal Charles. Know who's single game rushing record Gordon just broke? LaDainian Tomlinson's. With a strong finish to the 2014 season, Melvin Gordon will cement his draft stock and will now likely be the first RB selected in the 2015 draft. In fact, while I've had a first round grade on Gordon for a while, this injury likely cements his spot in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Senior Bowl website has released their list of the first eleven players to accept invites to the game. This is a very important event from a scouting perspective and allows professional scouts to observe how players from different schools interact in a real-time team setting. The Senior Bowl, as well as the East-West Shrine Game, are far better indicators of a player's potential impact on a professional team than the NFL Combine is, but people often ignore these games. However, a strong Senior Bowl performance can quickly propel a borderline prospect up NFL draft boards. Let's look at the eleven players on the list. I'm going to try to give you some pre-draft analyses on these guys to go with the frustratingly basic information on the Senior Bowl page.
Adrian Amos, S, Penn State. Amos is a graduate of Calvert High School in Baltimore, the same high school that Mel Kiper graduated from. Expect some love from Kiper going into the draft. Amos is 6'0, 209 pounds, and has played both cornerback and safety at the college level. Scouts like his size, and think that he has the skill set to perform at the NFL level. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Amos projects as a 4th or 5th round pick. If you haven't seen Amos in action, here's some film. He'll latch on with an NFL team and has the potential to make an impact at the next level. He's one of the harder hitting defensive backs in college, and that will turn some heads.
Shane Carden, QB, Eastern Carolina. Carden comes from an Eastern Carolina program that has produced four NFL Quarterbacks. Carl Summerall played two seasons for the Giants, 1974 and 1975. Kevin Ingram played for the Saints in 1987 as a replacement player. Jeff Blake had a decent NFL career in the 1990s and early 2000's, most notably as a Cincinnati Bengal. Blake had one of the prettiest spirals in football. Don't believe me? Check this out. Former Jags QB David Garrard is also an Eastern Carolina Alum. In 8 games this year, Carden has thrown for 2791 yards and 18 TDs, so he can definitely produce. Here's some film. Carden is a life-long underachiever it seems when it comes to being scouted. Carden was heavily under-recruited coming out of high school. Carden is rated as the #2 QB in the draft by www.nfldraftscout.com, yet they have him projected as a 3rd or 4th round pick. Carden is 6'2 and 221 pounds, so he won't hear height as a criticism at least. He's produced decent stats through his career at Eastern Carolina. While Mariota gets the hype going into Spring, some QB hungry team will look at Carden earlier than expected in 2015. However, given the volatility in the QB market, he may also fall. I haven't watched enough film on Carden either way to be positive, but I think he's at least comparable to Jimmy Garoppolo in skillset. He's definitely a player to watch going into the Senior Bowl.
Joseph Cardona, LS, Navy. Cardona is one of the best long-snappers in college football. That being said, long snappers don't get much attention going into the draft. However, you do immediately notice when a long snapper isn't doing his job (look at last year's Superbowl with Manny Ramirez). Cardona is drawing attention from NFL scouts, and will likely at least go into the preseason with an NFL team. Film on longsnappers is hard to find, but here are some high school highlights of Cardona.
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa. Carl Davis is a 6'5 315 pound beast of a defensive tackle that will likely be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Scouts love his upper body strength and ability to handle double teams, and Davis has been a key component in Iowa's defense. Davis' stats aren't elite, but you don't need elite stats from a defensive lineman in a defense. You need a guy that is going to mess up the flow of the offense and open up room for the players around him to make plays. That's exactly what Davis does. Here's some film. He could definitely make a nice impact in the right system at the next level.
Kurtis Drummond, FS, Michigan State. Drummond is a solid player who currently projects as a 3rd round pick in the 2015 draft. Drummond has missed a few key plays, dropping two potential interceptions in big moments. That being said, he's critical of himself for those mistakes. Here's a look at him on the field. Drummond came from a solid, solid secondary that featured first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard, so this is a well-coached unit. With Drummond's work ethic and self criticism, he could be a very good NFL player with the right system.
Geneo Grissom, LB, Oklahoma. Grissom switched from DE to OLB this season for Oklahoma. He's had a solid season, but sprained his MCL against Texas Tech and could miss the rest of the season. A projected 3rd round pick, Grissom could see his draft stock slide because of the injury. It's extremely tough to find film on Grissom, and this is the type of prospect the Senior Bowl could really have helped. He has also played at tight end, and I view him as a project player at the next level. Hopefully he comes back healthy and does well.
Justin Hardy, WR, Eastern Carolina. Justin Hardy is a 6'0 188 pound projected 2nd-3rd round pick at WR who also happens to be QB Shane Carden's best friend on the field. Hardy has a knack for making plays, and his draft stock is on the rise. Here's some film. Hardy projects as a slot receiver in the NFL; he'll be a good tool for any offense but will not likely be a #1 guy. That being said, Hardy also has experience as a kick returner, and that could help him eke out a decent role with an NFL team. I view Hardy as a T.Y. Hilton-type prospect that could surprise a lot of people with the right team. His college QB throwing to him at the Senior Bowl certainly won't hurt his draft stock. I'm interested to see how he performs.
Mike Hull, LB, Penn State. Mike Hull is the second player from Penn State on this list. Hull leads the team with 99 total tackles this year; next closest player has 44. Hull doesn't have eye-popping numbers for a linebacker (only 2 sacks and 1 interception this year), and tends to make a few mistakes. That being said, he's recovering from a leg injury. Here's some film. With good coaching, I project him as a backup at the NFL level. He projects as a 6th or 7th round pick according to www.nfldraftscout.com. He could make an impact in the right system but he needs some work.
David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa. David Johnson is one of the guys I'm really excited to watch in the Senior Bowl. He's a small school player, an explosive kick returner, and could be one of the surprise running backs in the NFL draft. Him and Zach Zenner are my two favorite non-first-round running backs this year. I think Johnson is going to be a good player in the NFL, and will be drafted higher than the 4th to 5th round ranking given to him by www.nfldraftscout.com after a solid performance in the Senior Bowl. After the elite running backs are off the board, Johnson could be next. But don't take my word for it, here's some film. He could start out of the gate for some teams in the NFL. Oh, and he's a beast in the weight room too. I really, really like Johnson as a prospect, and will do a piece on him soon. So many intriguing players, so little time. Johnson might be my favorite player in the Senior Bowl so far though.
Nate Orchard, DE/LB, Utah. Nate Orchard is a sack machine. Orchard has produced 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss so far this season. He's a similar player to Washington DE/LB Hau'oli Kikaha, minus the injury questions. I prefer Kikaha as a player, but Orchard will also be a solid, solid player in the NFL. Orchard projects as a 2nd round pick according to www.nfldraftscout.com. Here's a short clip of Orchard on the field.
Jaquiski Tartt, FS, Samford. Tartt is one of my favorite defensive small school prospects for 2015. The guy is a great safety, and even though he hails from a very small program at Samford, www.nfldraftscout.com has him projected as a third round pick. That's rare for a small school player. Last year Pierre Desir was drafted in the 4th round by the Browns. Tartt is a better player than Desir, and will go higher. Here's some film. He may not start immediately, but Tartt will become a major force on defense early in his NFL career. You heard it first.
I'll update you on Senior Bowl prospects as they are announced, but those are the first 11. I'm especially excited for Tartt and Johnson, but this year's crop looks solid in general. It should be a great game and a great week of practice and workouts to follow in January!
So far I've focused on players that will likely be drafted at some point in the 2015 NFL draft. However, every once in a while, underclassmen stand out during college games. That was the case tonight. The Tulsa-UCF game was brutal to watch; UCF won 31-7. However, it was a Tulsa player, not a UCF player, that wowed me tonight.
That player was sophomore WR Keevan Lucas, who made a really nice touchdown grab to put Tulsa on the board. In fact, it was one of the better catches I've seen at any level of football all season long. I'm not overly familiar with Tulsa players, so I did what any draft geek would do. I looked him up. And I think you're going to find him rocketing up draft boards in 2016 or 2017 when he declares.
The negatives on Lucas at this point are mainly his size. He's 5'10 and 198 pounds, and some draft "experts" will use his height to knock his draft stock, claiming that he is too short to succeed at the professional level. Many of these "experts," like Mel Kiper, have never played an NFL game. Know who else is 5'10? NFL receiver Antonio Brown. And Randall Cobb. Steve Smith is 5'9. So while you'll hear height bandied about as a criticism of Lucas, don't take that "criticism" too seriously. Look at what he does on the field.
And what Keevan Lucas does on the field is make plays. He had a modestly productive freshman year, with 32 catchs, 442 yards, and a TD. This season, as a sophomore, Lucas has exploded into statistical relevance. So far in 2014, Lucas has had 79 receptions for 1017 yards and 10 touchdowns. Is Lucas a game changer? You bet! 13 catches, 223 yards and 3 touchdowns against Tulane enough to whet your appetite? No? How about 11 catches for 160 yards and a TD against South Florida? Lucas has gone over 100 yards in 5 games this year, as well as over 10 catches in 5 games this year. The guy is an elite-caliber WR that is going to win some big awards and propel himself into the spotlight in the years to come. He's already made the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, and more awards will surely follow.
He's just a sophomore, but watch Keevan Lucas over the next couple of years. He will be a big-time draft prospect when he declares, and has the potential to make some NFL team very happy. Hop on the bandwagon before the big sites do. You won't regret it.
The 2014 NFL Draft helped the case of small school running backs across the board when the Cleveland Browns traded up in the third round to select Towson running back Terrance West. Towson isn't a well-known name in football circles, and the success that West has enjoyed so far in 2014 shows yet again that lesser-known schools can produce solid players. Enter South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner.
While Terrance West was a touchdown machine at Towson, amassing 84 TDs and 4854 yards on 802 rushes for 6.2 yards per carry, Zenner is a bit more pedestrian, with 52 TDs and 5955 yards per carry on 1002 carries for 5.9 yards per carry. The difference between Zenner and West is as a pass-catcher. In college, West had 36 catches for 385 yards, 2 TDs, and 10.7 yards per catch. Zenner has produced 741 yards and 5 TDs on 89 catches with 8.3 yards per catch. West's average numbers were higher, and his TD totals were strikingly higher, but Zenner is used to a heavy workload and is an explosive player. More on that in a moment. Zenner is also experienced as a kick returner, returning 31 kicks for 754 yards and 24.3 yards per return in 2011. That experience might make him more attractive to teams who might draft him.
Zach Zenner has been compared to NFL running backs Donald Brown and Alfred Morris, and is extremely comfortable as a pass protector. In today's NFL, pass protection is one of those abilities that young running backs need to eke out playing time for themselves. If you can't help keep your QB upright on passing plays, you're not going to be trusted on the field for non-passing plays. Zenner is an NFL ready prospect that has, up to now, largely been overlooked by scouts. www.nfldraftscout.com has Zenner ranked as a 6th or 7th round draft pick, and project him to play at fullback at the next level. I think that such a rating is a grave injustice to Zenner's talent level.
Why? The tape speaks for itself. Consider this highlight reel. Zenner proves himself as an explosive running back who is capable of threading the middle of a defense and is always a threat to make a big play. Now you're probably going to tell me "but those highlights were against lesser competition." Ok, here's film of Zenner playing against Nebraska. Still explosive and still dominant. Need I say more? If so, I will.
Did you know that Zach Zenner is only the 2nd player in FCS history to rush for two thousand yards in multiple seasons? What about the fact that Zenner has finished as a finalist twice for the Walter Payton award? Did you know that Zenner is pursuing an intellectually challenging major (pre-medicine/biology) and excelling at it? Zenner is also a multi-sport athlete, having played baseball in high school, and also had a history of strong academic success in high school. I'm not making this stuff up. The guy is extremely talented.
Want some negatives on Zenner? They're tough to come by. Zach Zenner still uses a Samsung flip phone, which suggests an unwillingness to upgrade to modern technology (yes, sarcasm intended). As a high school pitcher, Zenner once struck out 3 times in one game and gave up 8 runs in a single game! South Dakota State loses games when they aren't consistently feeding Zenner the ball (they were beaten by North Dakota State in a game where Zenner only received 8 carries), so if NFL teams forget to give Zenner carries, will they lose games too? Zenner's coach compared him to Carlos Hyde and Terrance West, saying that those were the only two running backs at any level of college football that could compare to him. Neither Hyde or West is an entrenched starter in the NFL yet...although they both may be soon. Zenner played against a lower level of competition.....but I showed you him playing against a higher level team already, didn't I? My point is that Zach Zenner is an extremely solid prospect that should be on every team's radar heading into the draft. The record shows that it's actually pretty tough to dig up negative assessments on Zenner. Consider the following assessment of Zenner by South Dakota State University head coach John Stiegelmeier:
“He’s going to get 5 yards when there’s only 4 to be gotten. … People joke that we have two plays — Zenner left and Zenner right — but I mean, if he’s averaging 5 or 6 yards per carry in a given game, why wouldn’t you do that? The goal is to win the football game.” (John Stiegelmeier)
Want a running back that will immediately help your team if you use him correctly? Draft a Jackrabbit! Draft a man that still uses a flip phone! Draft Zach Zenner! I expect Zenner's draft stock to rise as we move closer to the 2015 NFL Draft, but as that bandwagon grows, remember, we were on it first, and you heard it from me.
Zach Zenner 2015!
If Hau'oli Kikaha hadn't tore his ACL twice early in his college career, he would be a surefire first round draft pick in 2015. Kikaha is one of the best pass rushers in college football, and leads the entire nation in sacks (16.5) and tackles for loss (21.5). This is a step up from his stats last season, with 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Kikaha effectively uses his hands and is an extremely hardworking player with the chance to make a huge impact as a pass rusher at the next level.
I love Kikaha's personality and his work ethic. This interview from www.cbssports.com offers a nice glimpse into Hau'oli Kikaha's mindset, which is the mindset of a strong competitor. Kikaha has the raw ability, work ethic, and personality to be next year's version of J.J. Watt....provided he can stay healthy. I'll excerpt a few parts of the interview below:
"Q: You have torn the ACL in your left knee twice, basically missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons. But you returned healthy last year and led the team in sacks. Talk about the hurdles both physically and mentally for you to rebound from those setbacks?
A: Anytime you get an injury, it changes your role on the team. That is something that impacted me for a while. I was sidelined, taken away, which changed my leadership role. It was difficult, but allowed me to strengthen things in the weight room, get a better bench. Not being on the field was tough. I had great teammates beside me. The rehab was nine months for each tear. Two seasons in a row was heartbreaking. But I have the best surgeon in the country (Dr. Edward Khalfayan); he walked me through every step and made sure my rehab was on point, checking in and helping me get back up to speed and feeling 100-percent.
There was a lot of mental growth, the injuries taught me to be patient. I got to play as a freshman so I thought I would get in and get out and be on my way, but the injuries taught me to invest more in the program, allowed me to get coached up in the film room.
Q: Do you worry about injuring your knee a third time? Is it something in the back of your mind?
A: No, I really am extremely confident in my surgeon and the technique that he used was different than the initial surgery, one that is proven to be more successful. I don't want to brag about work ethic, but I wasn't holding anything back. With the great trainers we have, I was working out every day. Definitely went non-stop.
Q: What position do you want to play at the next level?
A: I need to get after that quarterback, that's my preferred position." (source www.cbssports.com)
These excerpts say it all. Kikaha goes out there and works hard to be his best. While his injuries took him off the field, he used that time to improve himself mentally. Some guys go home and feel sorry for themselves after an injury. Hau'oli Kikaha went back to work in the film room to find ways to get better. This is a hard-working young man brimming with confidence, both in himself and in the people around him. Kikaha's work ethic and confidence also carry over onto the practice field. Here's some footage of him in practice. We might be talkin' 'bout practice, but Kikaha's strong effort in practice carries over to game day. Here's some footage of Hau'oli Kikaha playing against Hawaii.
At the end of the day, Kikaha is a solid NFL prospect with massive injury concerns. If you're drafting him in the first round as the centerpiece of your defense, you might be disappointed since he may not stay healthy. However, if you're picking him at the end of the first or early in the second round to augment an already solid defense, then Kikaha could become an outstanding value pick and might even make a run at defensive rookie of the year in 2015. He's definitely one of the more intriguing defensive players going into the draft, and could be a solid starter in the NFL for years to come.
If you are an NFL scout or front office executive and happen to be reading this post, I implore you to draft DeAndre Smelter. Smelter is an outstanding athlete who was drafted as a pitcher out of high school by the Minnesota Twins. A shoulder injury derailed his baseball career. An outstanding work ethic, a willingness to fight for extra yardage, and good hands make Smelter an intriguing addition to any team.
Smelter doesn't have eye-popping numbers. Then again, no Georgia Tech wide receiver does. That being said, he does have a tendency for making outstanding plays. Smelter is a playmaker, and playmakers make every offense better. Want to see Smelter break a tackle en route to a 71 yard touchdown? Right here. Want to see DeAndre Smelter make an impressive one-handed catch in practice? Right here. Do you wonder if Smelter is able to make big plays in non-traditional situations? Take a look at this beautiful rushing attempt. Smelter wasn't a bad pitcher either, with fastballs in the 90s and a decent slider and changeup to go with it. Here's some film. Still not convinced the kid is an elite athlete? Here's him working with former MLB pitcher Kevin Brown. This kid has matured into a high-caliber football player after switching from baseball to football. Can you imagine him catching passes from fellow baseball star Russell Wilson? I can.
NFLdraftscout has Smelter ranked #72 out of 373 possible WRs for 2015, and #610 overall as a player. That's an utterly foolish ranking. This guy is similar in size to Calvin Johnson, might be just as athletic, and came from a program that recently produced Demaryius Thomas. Smelter will be drafted, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him slip into an early round. The NFL is sleeping on Smelter so far, but you shouldn't. DeAndre Smelter might be one of the best WRs in next year's draft. At worst he's a Mohamed Sanu-caliber playmaker that can add an explosive element to any NFL team. At best, he's much, much more. Draft DeAndre Smelter. You won't regret it.
And remember, you heard it from me first!
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