by Colin Lindsay
GBN Editor and Publisher
Who’s up; who’s not …. Nothing is
hotter in college football these days than the state of Mississippi and
no one in the state is hotter right now that Mississippi State junior
QB Dak Prescott after he lead the Bulldogs to that big win over Texas
A&M last Saturday. Certainly if nothing else Prescott has vaulted
into the top 2-3 Heisman candidates after accounting for 5 scores
against A&M last week. Meanwhile, pro scouts are starting to warm
to Prescott who reminds many of another Cam Newton. Prescott doesn’t
have Newton’s natural athleticism; indeed, as a ball carrier he’s more
like a bruising Tim Tebow than the explosive Newton, but he’s a much
more mature, poised pocket passer than Newton whose mechanics have
improved markedly in the past season, although he is still something of
a work in progress. However, when he sets his feet Prescott throws
darts and can get the ball downfield in a hurry with just a flick of
the wrist. And while he is not necessarily the most accurate passer out
there, Prescott usually puts the ball where his receiver has a chance
to make the catch and generally takes pretty good care of the football.
For the record, Prescott is on pace to throw for around 2,700 yards
this fall as he has completed 64% of his pass attempts, including 13
for scores against just a couple of picks. For the moment its hard to
get a real good read on where NFL scouts have Prescott graded, but he
certainly appears to be trending way up, particularly with several of
the other top-rated guys struggling at times in recent weeks. Best
guess right now is that Prescott looks to be being considered as a
possible mid-to-late first round pick with the potential to move up
based on his work ethic and character.
Another Bulldog who had an eye-opening game against Texas A&M on the weekend was LB Bernardrick McKinney. The rangy 6-4 McKinney is nominally a MLB, but Mississippi State actually lines him up all over including as a down DE on passing downs and as a pure OLB on others. In fact, most NFL teams figure that McKinney’s best fit at the next level would be as a 3-4 rush LB who likely lacked the overall athleticism to play in reverse at the next level. However, what pro scouts saw against A&M was a guy with surprising quickness and agility in space who more than held his own in coverage who is starting to remind them more and more of former Texas A&M and current Denver LB Vonnie Miller, the second pick overall at the 2011 draft. And speaking of outside edge rushers, another guy who appears to be on the rise is Utah DE/OLB Nate Orchard who led the Utes' sack attack on UCLA QB Brett Hundley this past weekend which saw the Utah defense drop Hundley a remarkable 10 times including 4 by Orchard himself who now leads all FBS pass rushers with 8.5 sacks on the season. Orchard is a solid 6-4, 255 pounds, but was originally recruited as a receiver coming out of high school and still retains much of that speed and quickness and has excelled as an impact defender for the Utes with a penchant for making big plays in key games. Orchard is a good athlete - he was also an all-state BB player in high school - who still needs to add some more polished moves to his pass-rush arsenal, but has good speed and quickness coming off the edge, can plant and change direction and plays with a relentless edge. Plus he's a character kid who is married and has already graduated with a degree in Economics.
Where have all the other QBs gone … It wasn’t all that long ago that QB was considered to be one of the strongest positions for the 2015 draft. However, a number of top prospects at the position just have not developed as expected this fall including juniors Kevin Hogan of Stanford and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, as well as seniors Bryce Petty of Baylor and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. Hogan, for example, was once thought to be a dark horse top 10 prospect heading into the year. However, while no one questions his smarts and athleticism, Hogan’s mechanics have been all over the place this season. In particular, Hogan’s footwork in the pocket has been far from textbook, while his release angles have been inconsistent. Plus, one just hasn’t seen next level arm strength on a consistent basis from Hogan this fall. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about Hundley’s pocket sense and awareness, especially after he somehow managed to get sacked 10 in the Bruins stunning loss to Utah on the weekend. As a result, there is a growing sense in the scouting community that both Hogan and Hundley could be well reserved by returning to school next fall for some additional seasoning.
Meanwhile, while the QB situation hasn’t really developed much in a positive way so far this fall, the WR position just seems to get better and better. For starters, athletic, big-play Auburn WR Sammie Coates appears to be getting closer to 100% after he barely played through the first month of the season because of a nagging knee injury. Saturday against LSU Coates, who led the entire country with 20-yard plus receptions in 2013, had 4 more receptions over 20 yards including a highlight reel 56-yard TD catch to get the AU Tigers off and running. If healthy, there are many scouts who consider the 6-2, 205-pounder with reported 4.35 speed to be a better prospect than Sammy Watkins, the 4th player picked at the 2014 draft. Meanwhile, even before he hauled in that dramatic Hail Mary that gave the Sun Devils a last-second win over USC, Arizona State junior WR Jaelen Strong had continued to grow in the eyes of NFL personnel people such that it will be no surprise at all if he ends up going in the top half of the opening round of the 2015 draft. Not bad for a guy whose only FBS scholarship coming out of high school in Philadelphia was from Eastern Michigan. Strong has always had an intriguing size (6-4, 215) and speed combination with the ability to make the tough catches in traffic, but was never that polished or consistent; however, this year he has significantly improved his route-running as well as his concentration and focus; plus he’s been catching everything in sight. Indeed, Strong is on pace to catch 100 passes this season for 1,500 yards despite being double-covered on most plays. Meanwhile, just what the 2015 draft needs is another emerging big-play WR threat but that appears to be the case for Rutgers’ junior wideout Leonte Carroo who is averaging almost 19 yards per catch through 6 games this fall; Carroo also has 14 TD receptions in his last 16 games including a couple over 70 yards. Carroo is a well-built 6-1, 205-pounder with track type speed who like a lot of young receivers needs to improve his route-running, but could be an attractive second-day option this coming April/May to a team looking for a big-play threat at WR on the second-day of the 2015 draft. Scouts are also reportedly starting to warm to Washington State Vince Mayle, a 6-3, 220-pound former basketball player who only started playing football two years ago, but has quickly emerged as Cougars’ QB Connor Halliday’s go-to receiver in Mike Leach’s high-octane offense. Mayle, who actually dropped up to 20 pounds entering the current season, has appeared to be much quicker this fall, but still has the bulk to beat corners with his size and physicality. And while the WSU passing numbers are always a little inflated - Halliday is on pace to throw for over 6,000 yards this season - Mayle is on pace to finish the year with over 100 receptions and 1,500 yards.
Every year it seems prospects come from
seemingly nowhere to establish themsleves as legitimate prospects for
the upcoming draft. And while there is still a ton of sorting out to do
before the 2015 draft, the following half dozen players have had the
kind of starts that just might fit the bill in one way or another.
Prescott, 6-2, 235, 4.65, JR … Prior to the season we heard more
than one whisper that anyone looking for an emerging sleeper at the
position for the 2015 draft might want to consider Mississippi State
junior Dak (short for Dakota) Prescott. If nothing else Prescott is a
little bit less of a sleeper after he led the Bulldogs to that stunning
upset of LSU last Saturday night right in Baton Rouge. Prescott isn’t
all that tall for an NFL QB at barely 6-2, but he has a thick build and
quick feet; indeed, he’s a legit dual-threat QB who is averaging close
to 100 yards rushing per game this fall and can run out of trouble in
the pocket, although he doesn‘t always throw all that well on the run.
However, Prescott does have a live arm and decent touch when he sets
his feet. Bottom line is that this a kid with a little Cam
Newton/Russell Wilson in him with the natural physical tools that an
NFL can work with.
QB Taylor Heinicke, 6-0, 215, Old Dominion, 4.65, SR … Has a chance to be the first player every to win the Walter Payton Award for the outstanding player at the FCS level and the Heisman Trophy. And yes to the quizzical NFL fan who doesn’t follow college football all that closely, ODU is now a member of the CUSA conference after moving up to the FBS level last fall. In their final year in the FCS ranks, Heinicke was awarded the Payton Trophy after throwing for over 5,000 yards. In fact, he already has over 10,000 career passing yards along with over 1,000 more on the ground. Of course, Heinicke is the mother of all longshots to win the Heisman Trophy playing for a Sun Belt team, much less Old Dominion, but did put up Heisman type numbers last fall when he threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 scores. Like Prescott above, Heinicke isn’t very tall at barely 6-0, but he is a Drew Brees type who sees the field extremely well, has a quick release and real nice touch; plus he’s another good athlete who can escape trouble and is an accurate passer on the run. The knock on Heinicke is that he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm and needs a wind-up to get the ball downfield, but he’s a super productive passer who likely will get some long looks from NFL teams based on the success of guys like Brees and Russell Wilson.
RB Tevin Coleman, 5-10, 205, Indiana, 4.45, JR … Coleman doesn’t get the same recognition as some of this year’s other top runners including Todd Gurley of Georgia, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Mel Gordon of Minnesota, but no back has been more productive in the early going this fall than Coleman who is on pace to rush for over 2,300 yards this fall. And while he put up a lot of those numbers against a couple of cupcakes on the Hoosiers early schedule, Coleman was front and center this past weekend when Indiana restored some pride for the embattled Big Ten when it posted a shock road win at Missouri of the SEC as he ran for 132 yards on just 19 carries despite being hampered by a sore knee. For the year, Coleman is averaging 8.6 yards per carry after averaging 7.3 last season. He’s also a pretty good receiver with 36 career receptions and can contribute as a KO returner. Coleman has a nice combination of size and track speed; has decent vision and instincts and is tough to tackle in the open, although scouts would also like to see him be a little more physical between the tackles.
WR Kevin White, 6-2, 210, West Virginia, 4.50, SR … Perhaps no player has helped his draft status this year than White who was a fair to middling player for two years at the junior college before turning in a fair-to-middling first year at WVU last fall when he had 35 receptions. Indeed, there was nothing to suggest that White was anything more than a fair-to-middling prospect entering the season. That was then, though, as White trails only first-round bound Amari Cooper of Alabama in total receiving yards in college football his fall as he is on pace to finish the year with 120 receptions and almost 1,900 yards. And White has hardly picked his spots as in games against said Alabama and Oklahoma, arguably the two top teams in the country this season, White had 19 catches for over 300 yards and 2 TDs including a spectacular 68-yard TD reception this past weekend against the Sooners. White, a solidly-built 6-2, 210-pounder, has been described as something of a young Anquin Bolden; however, he looks quicker and more athletic than the 49ers’ star and has a really explosive first step; he can also get deep, although he still has to prove he has legit speed and can break tackles in space.
OLB Caleb Azubike, 6-3, 265, Vanderbilt, 4.75, JR … Its been a rough start for 1-3 Vanderbilt this fall which got its only win to date against football orphans Umass - by three points at home. However, the Commodores may have something of a breakout star in junior DE Caleb Azubike, the latest in a growing list of late comers to the football who have bloomed as edge rushers. Azubike’s family only immigrated to the States when he was entering high school, but he has a unique combination of size, speed and athleticism; he’s also known as a workout warrior who will impress at the combine. Azubike, who did not redshirt at Vanderbilt, was one of the Commodores most effective defensive linemen the past couple of seasons in which he had 4 sacks both years despite never starting. This year, though, he’s played almost every sack and aleady has 4 sacks in 3 games playing somewhat out-of-position as an undersized 3-4 DE. NFL teams, though suspect that Azubike could be a dynamite Steelers-style 3-4 OLB given his athleticism and relentless work ethic.
OLB Hau’Oil Kikaha, 6-2, 250, Washington, 4.75, SR … Picked up right where he left off in 2013 when he had 13 sacks as he already has 6 sacks through 4 games so far this fall playing as a Buck DE. Like Azubike above though Kikaha projects to a 3-4 OLB at the next level as he lacks the size and strength to hold the point of attack against big offensive linemen. As an edge-rusher, though, Kikaha has a nice burst, instincts, closing speed and overall athleticism. As a former wrestler he’s also got good balance and agility and can plant and change direction; also understands leverage and uses hands effectively to disengage. Big issue for Kikaha, though, is can he stay healthy after missing much of 2011 and all 2012 with torn ACLs.