Stock Report: Colorado QB Sefo Liufau proving he's more than 'just a guy'
A look at NFL prospects who helped and may have hurt themselves this past weekend
Who helped themselves?
Ohio State Buckeyes
, rJR. (6-0, 195, 4.50, #8)
Ohio State's secondary lost three starters from last season, but under the watch of defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, the defensive backs have been one of the strengths of the 2016 Buckeyes. And Conley, the lone returning starter, has been the lynchpin of the group, continuing his rise from raw talent to polished cover man.
With Ohio State lining up in mostly cover-4 man looks, Conley is often left on an island and looks comfortable in this role. His route leverage and body position allow him to stay in phase with receivers and contest balls thrown his way. He also added slot responsibilities to his resume this season and is the most consistent member of the talented OSU secondary.
Against Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, Conley finished with only one tackle and wasn't tested much of the game as the Spartans completed only four passes to receivers all game. However, he did come through with a game-clinching interception in the final minute, coming off his underneath responsibilities to follow the eyes of the quarterback, flip his hips and locate the football to complete the Buckeyes' victory.
, SR. (6-3, 230, 4.76, #13)
Considered a JAG ("just a guy") prospect by scouts over the summer, Liufau has been one of the key reasons for Colorado's resurgence this season, helping lead the Buffs to a possible Pac-12 championship. Built well at 6-3 and 230 pounds, he looks the part and has the functional mobility to extend plays with his legs.
Liufau doesn't have elite arm talent, but his ball velocity is good enough and there is obvious touch on his passes, showing the ability to drop coins in the bucket. He is also a physically tough guy, who is built for punishment and has proven time and again this season that he will play hurt.
Liufau needed to do that on Saturday when he injured his hip and retreated to the locker room for a short time before returning and converting a key third down that led to a game-clinching touchdown. Against the Cougars, Liufau out-played Luke Falk and finished with 345 passing yards on 65.9 percent completions, adding 108 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He isn't considered a top-flight NFL prospect, but his play on the field and resilient mentality will earn him more and more looks by pro teams.
East Carolina Pirates
, SR. (6-1, 197, 4.53, #7)
In 11 games this season, Jones has recorded double-digit catches 10 times and has posted 151 catches for 1,685 yards, leading the FBS in both categories by a sizable margin. And on Saturday against Navy Midshipmen , he set a new career FBS record for career receptions (392), breaking the previous mark held by his former teammate Justin Hardy .
Jones is a sound route-runner and although he doesn't have elite start/stop quickness to instantly separate, he works hard to sell and square off routes. He is quick to evade press coverage at the line of scrimmage and read coverages, establishing tempo to gain route leverage. Averaging only 11.2 yards per catch and averaging only one touchdown per 17 receptions over his career, Jones isn't a home run threat, but he'll consistently produce singles and doubles with his reliable hands and ability to find soft spots in coverage.
, SR. (6-4, 270, 4.93, #80)
Toledo hasn't produced three or more draft picks in the same year since 1970, but I think that streak ends in the 2017 NFL Draft. And Roberts, who is having a career season, is one of the Rockets' draftable prospects. His catch production is solid with 39 receptions for 453 yards, but his impact in the red zone is what really stands out with a school-record 12 touchdowns on the season.
Among the top-50 FBS pass-catchers ranked by touchdowns, there are only two tight ends: Roberts (12) and Ole Miss Rebels ' Evan Engram (8). Lining up mostly inline and on the wing, he is a mammoth target with huge mitts (over 11-inches) to swallow the football and secure the ball after collisions with defenders. Roberts lumbers and doesn't show much burst to his game, but he shows smooth body control to be more than simply a possession target.
His size, length and raw power also shows as a blocker, sealing run lanes and controlling bodies in front of him. A more athletic version of Michael Williams out of Alabama Crimson Tide few years ago, Roberts is limited in areas, but can collect NFL paychecks with his ability in the red zone.
Who hurt themselves?
, SS, Michigan State, JR. (6-2, 220, 4.60, #9)
On more than one occasion, I have had a NFL scout single out Nicholson as an intriguing prospect who could be drafted higher than most expect if he chooses to declare. And on paper, it makes sense. Nicholson is the type of size/speed/strength athlete that the NFL covets, especially at safety. He loads up as a tackler with outstanding stopping power to punish ball carriers in the hole or receivers over the middle.
However, Nicholson isn't a consistent finisher and is still very raw with his cover awareness. This was evident against Ohio State on Saturday, especially on a first quarterback touchdown pass from J.T. Barrett to Curtis Samuel . Nicholson bit on the play action and then froze, waiting for the quarterback to make a move instead of anticipating and retreating to give safety help over the deep middle. Samuel beat the slot defender ( Demetrious Cox ) on an inside post pattern and Barrett lofted a touch pass into his hands for the score.
Nicholson has a lot of the physical traits needed for the next level, but unless his play anticipation, diagnose skills and coverage reads develop, NFL coaches won't be able to trust him on defense.
Other NFL Draft notes
- Texas Longhorns junior RB D'Onta Foreman (6-1, 249, 4.58, #33)has been a great story this season, rushing for 120+ yards in all 10 games he has played. But as I mentioned last week, ball security is a major worry for scouts. And with two more fumbles in the loss to Kansas Jayhawks , that concern isn't going away. Foreman is now averaging one fumble for every 49 offensive touches, which is well below average. One might cite the high number of carries (30+ each of the last four games) as a reason behind his fumbling issues, but that brings up another issue: workload. Foreman carried the ball 51 times against Kansas and is averaging 29.2 rushes per game this season, leading to wear and tear fears.
- Auburn Tigers redshirt junior DE/OLB Carl Lawson (6-2, 253, 4.67, #55) went through senior day festivities on Saturday, indicating his intentions to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. Lawson is a loose athlete with aggressive hand usage, using his upper and lower halves in conjunction to beat blockers. He lacks ideal arm length and doesn't fit the prototype pass rusher in some areas, but with a skill-set that is reminiscent of Brandon Graham , Lawson is a possible top-20 selection.
- Tennessee-Chattanooga didn't have a realistic chance to win on Saturday night against Alabama, but it was a great opportunity for NFL scouts to see redshirt senior DE Keionta Davis (6-3, 270, 4.86, #93) against a SEC offensive line. He more than held his own throughout the game and although he finished with only four tackles, Davis' impact showed much more on the tape than the box score. He is a solid athlete for his size and flashes violence in his hands, setting the edge and working through the jabs of blockers. Davis has the backfield vision to quickly find the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage and make plays - like he did against Alabama with a forced fumble.
- Although he isn't eligible until the 2019 NFL Draft, Houston Cougars true freshman DT Ed Oliver (6-2, 290, 4.95, #10) would be a top-10 draft pick in the 2017 class. His combination of quickness, power and instincts allow him to be a difference-maker and in different ways. On the season, Oliver ranks second in the country with 19.5 tackles for loss and his nine pass break-ups are easily best in college football among defensive linemen.
- Junior RB Dalvin Cook (5-11, 206, 4.46, #4) became Florida State Seminoles 's career rushing leader on Saturday, dominating Syracuse Orange with 225 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Warrick Dunn's former school record stood for two decades, but Cook, who now has 4,166 career rushing yards, is the sixth ACC player to rush for 4,000+ yards and the first to accomplish that feat as a junior. With 44 career rushing touchdowns, the future first round pick needs only one more score to become the school's all-time leader in that category as well. Cook is a great example of the production matching the tape.
- Southern California Trojans senior WR Darreus Rogers (6-1, 215, 4.54, #1) has yet to record a 100-yard receiving game in his Trojan career, but he has been impressive this season, nonetheless. His 47 catches for 605 yards are career-bests and although he lacks special traits, Rogers is a talented size/speed athlete with strong ball skills and has gone from undrafted free agent to possible mid-round draft pick.
- Several more prospects have confirmed receiving Senior Bowl invites, including Kentucky Wildcats OC John Toth (6-5, 310, 5.26, #72), Louisiana Tech Bulldogs WR Trent Taylor (5-8, 178, 4.52, #5) and two underrated players at Tennessee State: OG Jessamen Dunker (6-4, 290, 5.16, #66) and CB Ezra Robinson (6-0, 180, 4.48, #21).
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