NFL Draft Stock Report: Pitt's Price could be the next Elvis Dumervil
A look at NFL prospects who helped and may have hurt themselves this past weekend
Who helped themselves?
Ejuan Price , DE/OLB, Pittsburgh Panthers , rSR. (5-11, 250, 4.79, #5)
It would be easy to dismiss Price as a legitimate NFL prospect due to his poor size dimensions for the position. NFL scouts stamped him with an undrafted grade over the summer and I initially overlooked the Western Pennsylvania native when studying Pitt prospects.
However, watching more and more of Price and it is impossible to discount his continued presence in the opponent's backfield. Through four games, he is tied for first in all of college football in tackles for loss (9.5) and forced fumbles (three), also ranking second in sacks (5.5). Although shorter than ideal, Price fires around the edge with flexible dip and naturally low leverage to stay underneath the reach of offensive tackles.
His initial burst allows him to knife through gaps with his eyes always trained on the ball to make mid-rush adjustments. With his lack of desired length, Price can be swallowed by blockers at times, especially in the run game, but he uses strong, aggressive hands to work off contact and his pursuit motor doesn't have an off switch.
As long as he keeps space between him and blockers, Price has natural pass rush instincts that translate well to the next level. His measureables are very similar to Elvis Dumervil , who was extremely productive at Louisville Cardinals , but his lack of ideal physical traits landed him in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Jeremy McNichols , RB, Boise State Broncos , JR. (5-9, 207, 4.55, #13)
Boise State had a large void to fill last season after the early departure of Jay Ajayi , but McNichols settled in nicely as a worthy successor to the now Miami Dolphins back. And he reminded us all of that fact on Saturday against Oregon State Beavers , rushing for a career-high 208 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per rush. McNichols also added a receiving score, which gives him nine total touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving) in 2016, matching the FBS-lead in points per game (18.0).
He is a balanced athlete through congestion, allowing him to keep his feet and momentum between the tackles before using his elusive qualities at the second level. He forced numerous missed tackles by the Beavers on defense due to his tough, determined run style, refusing to concede at contact.
McNichols has a nose for the end zone with 34 total touchdowns in only 15 career starts, including a Mountain West record 15 straight games with at least one rushing score. Yet another running back on the radar in a potentially historic junior crop of running back prospects.
Ryan Switzer , WR, North Carolina Tar Heels , SR. (5-10, 185, 4.50, #3)
After a slow start, the North Carolina passing offense has heated up as first-year starter Mitch Trubisky has gotten comfortable with the pace of the game, leaning on Switzer as his main target. On Saturday against Pitt, Switzer set several career-bests with 16 catches for 208 receiving yards and one touchdown, including several key catches on the game-winning drive.
Quicker than fast, he is able to turn short passes into big gains with his spatial awareness and decisive quickness, showing a great feel for angles and openings, which is clear on punt returns as well. Switzer has steadily improved as a route runner, incorporating body fakes to better set up defenders before bursting off his plant foot and finding open zones in coverage. With his lack of size, he won't break many tackles and his smaller hands will lead to drops, but he makes more full-extension catches than expected. With his value as a return man and slot receiver, Switzer will receive plenty of attention throughout the pre-draft process.
Amba Etta-Tawo , WR, Syracuse Orange , rSR. (6-1, 204, 4.54, #84)
After four weeks into the college football season, there is only one wide receiver with over 700 receiving yards. And four weeks ago, no one would have guessed that receiver would be senior Amba Etta-Tawo in his first season at Syracuse.
After he was buried on the depth chart at Maryland Terrapins , Etta-Tawo elected to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule this past summer and developed a trusting chemistry with Orange quarterback Eric Dungey . On Saturday in the win over Connecticut Huskies , Etta-Tawo set a new Syracuse record with 270 yards receiving on 12 catches, averaging 22.5 yards per reception. He now has at least eight receptions and 100 yards in each of his first four games at Syracuse, flourishing in Dino Baber's pass-happy offense.
Etta-Tawo does an excellent job making himself available in his route with strong finishing skills at the catch point, finding the ball well in flight and showing natural ball skills on 50-50 passes. When matched up one-on-one downfield, Syracuse will continue to force feed him the ball and scouts are taking notice.
Who hurt themselves?
Demetrious Cox , FS, Michigan State Spartans , rSR. (6-0, 198, 4.55, #7)
There was plenty of good and bad from Cox on Saturday in the loss to Wisconsin Badgers , but it was the bad that really stood out, especially early in the game as the Badgers jumped out to an early led. Cox had his eyes caught in the backfield on a critical third down play, causing him to be late out of his break and allowing the tight end to gain a step on the post route.
He then followed up with a missed tackle on the next play, recognizing the wide receiver screen and attacking with speed, but failing to come to balance and finish in space. Although he found himself in proper position on several occasions against the Badgers, Cox was late to react and make a play on the ball. He has the foot quickness and redirection skills to develop into a well-rounded safety prospect, which is why several scouts gave him day two grades over the summer, but the inconsistencies he showed on Saturday must be corrected to convince NFL teams he is worthy of a high pick.
Other NFL Draft notes
- I have been tough on Tennessee Volunteers senior QB Joshua Dobbs (6-3, 208, 4.67, #11) because of his inconsistent decisions and erratic ball placement from within the pocket. But he deserves credit for his calming presence and mental toughness to lead the second half comeback over Florida Gators on Saturday. He finished with only 50-percent completions and two interceptions, but his second half numbers (9-for-12, 235 yards, four touchdowns) were extremely impressive against a stingy Gators' defense. In my opinion, the lack of consistency will keep him from being anything more than a developmental option in the NFL, but his intangibles and physical traits will appeal to some NFL teams.
- Sticking with Florida-Tennessee, it was an up-and-down performance from Gators FS Marcus Maya (5-11, 210, 4.54, #20). In the first quarter, he showed excellent range and awareness on a fourth-and-goal play from the one-yard line. With all 11 defenders congested in the end zone, Maya did an excellent job sifting through the traffic to mirror the running back to the flat, arriving at the catch point for the pass break up and turnover on downs. However, it was the opposite on a Tennessee touchdown in the early fourth quarter, which gave the Voles a 10-point lead and felt like the back-breaking blow. Lined up in the slot, junior WR Josh Malone (6-2, 197, 4.52, #3) sold the outside route before bursting inside on a skinny post vs. Florida's cover-1 look, gaining a step from the cornerback in coverage. With Maya lined up as the single-high safety, he was late to recognize the route, giving up the entire middle of the field for Malone to catch the ball in stride and stretch his legs for the 42-yard touchdown. Not only was Maya late to react, but he then followed up with a terrible angle in pursuit. Poor reads and misjudged angles will happen, but for a single-high safety as the last line of defense, committing both errors equals points for the other team.
- The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense has been a disaster so far this season and it's not a stretch to think the Irish could be undefeated at 4-0 if there was any semblance of a pass rush and the secondary was able to turn in average play. One of the perplexing players on the Notre Dame defense is senior NT Jarron Jones (6-5, 315, 5.14, #94), who is a first round pick on paper, but doesn't consistently play up to that level. He has outstanding movement skills and body control for a man his size, using his core power to be an unmovable object at times on the defensive line. But on other plays, he is washed out of the hole and doesn't show the same effort from snap to whistle. Jones has a unique skill-set that has NFL scouts excited, but he isn't yet the sum of his parts and his inconsistent streaks make it tough to project his pro future.
- Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett (6-5, 262, 4.57, #15) and LSU Tigers RB Leonard Fournette (6-1, 230, 4.55, #7) are two of the most talented NFL prospects in the country and both were banged up in the second half of their games on Saturday. They were both helped off the field and looked at by the medical staffs on the sideline as fans and NFL scouts alike crossed their fingers for positive results. Despite not functioning at 100-percent, both re-entered the game in quick order and showed their competitive juices to help their team. For top prospects like Garrett and Fournette, few would have blamed them if they decided to shut it down for the rest of the game to avoid further injury - basically make a business decision. But scouts certainly took notice of their resiliency and toughness, not allowing pain or worries of furthering the injury to keep them off the field.
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