2017 NFL Draft: NFL prospects power WKU to second straight Conference USA crown
Senior Bowl invitees Taywan Taylor and Forrest Lamp shine in shootout
On a weekend filled with conference championships holding national playoff implications, the showdown between Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to settle the Conference USA title may not have ranked very high on the must-see list for most college football fans.
NFL scouts, however, were sure to keep an eye on this game, especially given that it featured two of the more productive receivers in the country in WKU's Taywan Taylor and La Tech's Carlos Henderson -- a dynamic duo who entered the contest with a combined 30 touchdown receptions this season.
In part due to Taylor's two touchdowns Saturday, the Hilltoppers won in a 58-44 shootout that set a new record for points scored in the C-USA title game and head coach Jeff Brohm his second consecutive conference championship.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Taylor caught seven passes for 194 yards and the two scores against the Bulldogs, breaking the WKU single-season record that he set a year ago with 89 for 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns with the bowl game (expected to be the Boca Raton Bowl) still to go.
Taylor's consistent production has long been appreciated by NFL scouts. He currently ranks 10th among senior receivers on NFLDraftScout.com's board and recently accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious Senior Bowl, the same all-star game which helped WKU skill position standouts Tyler Higbee (TE, L.A. Los Angeles Rams ), Antonio Andrews (RB, Tennessee Titans ) and Jack Doyle (TE, Indianapolis Colts ) make the NFL jump over the past five years.
Taylor deserves kudos, showing steady acceleration, body control and the vision to track passes over his shoulder. Western Kentucky junior quarterback Mike White delivered strikes on his Taylor's two scores, as well as a critical 33-yard gain on the clinching scoring drive so there was plenty of credit to share.
Though Henderson, a junior, was limited to "just" one score in a losing effort, he was every bit as impressive as his counterpart Taylor, hauling in nine passes for 207 yards in the losing effort.
The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder ranked ninth among receivers in the 2018 draft class by NFLDraftScout.com showed quick feet to avoid four would-be tacklers on his first quarter touchdown, as well as good timing, explosiveness and strong hands to pluck a high pass way over his head in the third stanza.
With all due respect to Henderson, Taylor, White and WKU running back Anthony Wales (who, oh by the way, accounted for 262 combined running and receiving yards and five scores in this game), the best NFL prospect in this game was a man who never touched the ball.
In a shootout like this one, it would be tough to blame fans if they never took their eyes off the ball long enough to focus on the Hilltoppers' senior left tackle Forrest Lamp . By providing his typical stellar pass protection and easy running lanes, however, Lamp shined, even if in a complementary role.
He was often highlighted by ESPN's coverage crew Saturday and is a favorite of many in the scouting community. NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler highlighted his performance earlier in the year after Lamp played well against top-rated Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 10.
Like Taylor, Lamp was invited to the Senior Bowl. He will certainly be one to watch in Mobile as the star left tackle could be asked to make the move inside to guard.
With his broad shoulders giving him the classic square-ish frame so conducive to playing on the interior, it is easy to imagine the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Lamp sliding inside at the next level.
This is a much more difficult transition than many casual observers realize. While pass protection and providing running lanes is obviously the ultimate end goal, the specifics required of tackles and guards are actually quite different. Projecting a spread left tackle inside into the closer, more physical quarters is always difficult as knee bend, core strength and simple aggression is prioritized. Further, two of the traits which have helped Lamp shine in pass protection for the Hilltoppers - his easy kick-slide and patience - will be minimized in the close quarters inside.
Fortunately, Lamp does, indeed, show many of the characteristics that project well inside. He shows good upper body strength and hand placement to jolt opponents off the ball and drives his legs through contact, working to finish his block. Lamp is alert to twists and stunts, sliding laterally with ease while keeping his knees bent and his butt down, helping him anchor against bull-rushers.
With WKU occasionally sliding a tight end next to him, Lamp has some experience while covered up, showing the body control and awareness to handle duties on than "just" on the edge. He began his career at right guard, in fact, starting the first three games of his redshirt freshman season there before being moved outside to left tackle, where he's started the past 49 consecutive games, including Saturday's win.
Lamp is currently ranked 15th among guards on NFLDraftScout.com's board but, frankly, this is too low. He could prove to be this year's Ali Marpet , a former left tackle at D-III Hobart who ultimately was selected 61st overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in part because of how well he performed inside at guard at the Senior Bowl.
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