NFL Prospects who HELPED themselves this weekend:
WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Despite leading all of college football in catches, receiving yards and receiving scores, Cooks still seems to be flying under the radar as a player and especially as a NFL prospect. At just 5-10 and 186 pounds, he lacks elite size for the position, but he shines with his natural athleticism and dynamic ability before and after he touches the ball. Cooks looks like he's moving at a different speed than everyone else on the field and is an easy starter with explosive feet and natural burst. It's clear he has worked hard to fine tune his routes and shows very good footwork to set up his pattern and fool defensive backs, toying with defenders like a cat and mouse. Albeit in a loss, Cooks showed off these qualities against Southern Cal last Friday night, finishing with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, his school-record 22nd career score. Like Tavon Austin a year ago, he is a special athlete with joystick moves and belongs in the top-40 discussion if he decides to skip his senior year.
RB Andre Williams, Boston College
One of 10 running backs at the FBS-level who have already eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark, Williams has been a workhorse for Boston College this season and scouts have taken notice. He toted the rock 33 times for 166 yards in the Eagles 34-27 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday and it was his 62-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter that was the difference. Williams is thickly-put-together with terrific balance to pick up yards after contact, lowering his pads and driving forward for every yard he can gain. He is a little bit of a slow starter and needs a few steps to get going, but shows good build up speed and enough quickness to pick his way through the crowd. Williams needs to improve his reliability in pass protection and is unproven as a pass-catcher (zero receptions in 2013), but his production and grind-it-out determination is impressive. Scouts are understandably cautious about a running back with his durability history, but I think there is a good chance Williams ends up as one of the top-five senior running backs drafted, likely on the day three.
DE Kasim Edebali, Boston College
The NFL has seen several foreign-born draft picks in recent years, especially at the defensive end position like first round picks Ziggy Ansah and Bjorn Werner in the 2013 class. Although he won't be drafted as high, Edebali is another foreign-born pass rusher who has attracted the attention of scouts. He entered this season as barely a blip on the NFL radar, but has showed outstanding improvements in several areas and has really made a name for himself outside of Chestnut Hill. A native of Hamburg, Germany, Edebali took advantage of the USA Football International Student Program at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. At Boston College, he became a starter as a freshman and has played well over the years, but seems to be inspired as a senior with a team-high 10.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Edebali isn't overly fluid, but has the athleticism to bend and the strength to shed blocks. He has the heart, smarts and energy that separates him from others on the field and will likely get him drafted in the middle-to-late rounds.
RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State
Sticking in the ACC, the Florida State backfield is arguably the most talented in the entire country. And while it could be argued that James Wilder Jr. or Karlos Williams are the more gifted running backs on the Seminoles' depth chart, Freeman has been the most consistent. Through eight games, he leads all Florida State rushers with 639 yards on the ground and eight rush scores and has also proven his worth as a pass-catcher with 13 grabs for 185 yards and a score. Listed at 5-9 and 203 pounds, Freeman is built low to the ground and runs even lower, running much more physical and determined than his size would suggest. Against his hometown Miami on Saturday night, Freeman showed this desire every time he touched the ball, delivering hits and never leaving yards on the field. He has shifty and quick feet to slice through the defense with vision and patience to follow his blocks and make the most out of every run. Freeman, who has started all eight games in 2013, is a running back on the rise and don't be surprised when he's one of the top backs on the board if he declares early.
Prospects who HURT themselves this weekend:
QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Not his first time on this list, Thomas had another rough outing this past weekend, including four 2nd half turnovers that allowed Boston College to stay in the game and eventually pull off the victory. The Hokies quarterback made several mind-boggling decisions and was careless with several throws, including a 4th quarter interception by Kevin Pierre-Louis that gave the Eagles the lead for good. Thomas was obviously rattled by Boston College's pressure most of the game and he needs to show a better internal clock to better get the ball out of his hands before the pocket collapses. He simply hasn't made the progressions necessary to develop from a physically gifted marvel to a complete quarterback the past few seasons. But nonetheless, his natural tools (size, athleticism, arm strength) combined with his attitude and overall make-up will get him drafted higher than his film would suggest, likely in the top-100 picks by a team looking to cultivate that talent.
QB Devin Gardner, Michigan
After an eye-opening start to the season, including five total touchdowns in the win over Notre Dame, Gardner looked like the quarterback that was going to return Michigan to the National Title discussion. But despite 25 total scores already this season, it's clear that he isn't quite ready for the national stage and that was evident on Saturday against Michigan States' No. 1 ranked defense. In his defense, Gardner received little help from his offensive line and the play-calling was curious in several situations. But his poor timing and anticipation caused hesitation, making it tough for him to identify his keys and pull the trigger. Gardner too often dropped his eyes and struggled to feel the action around him, holding the ball too long and relying on his legs to get him out of trouble. Like Logan Thomas, he is extremely gifted, but he still has a long road before Gardner is ready for the next level. But unlike Thomas, Gardner has another year of eligibility to fix the glitches.
Other Draft Notes:
- If you ask five different NFL execs, you might get five different answers to the question: who is the top senior quarterback prospect in the 2014 class? Over the summer, I narrowed my list to three names: Clemson's Tajh Boyd, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State's Derek Carr. And after 10 weeks of college football and hours of tape study, I find myself leaning more and more towards Carr as the top senior at his position.
If you're looking for a technically-sound passer with flawless footwork who stands in the face of pressure, then Carr likely isn't your guy. But if you want a quarterback with a golden arm, quick release and the appetite for football, then Carr will grow on you the more you watch him, much like Matthew Stafford from the 2009 draft class. He definitely has some bad habits with his set up and overall pocket tolerance, but he plays with energy, improves the play of his teammates and makes NFL throw after NFL throw. Not only is he a strong candidate to be the top senior quarterback drafted, but the top-10 is a real possibility.
- Wake Forest senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro's college career might be over. He suffered a broken collar bone against Syracuse on Saturday and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks before he's ready to return to the field. And with Wake Forest currently at four wins and Florida State, Duke and Vanderbilt left on the schedule, there is a good chance the Demon Deacons won't reach the necessary six wins to become bowl-eligible.
Campanaro, who is Wake Forest's all-time leading receiver, isn't the biggest or fastest, but he's a savvy, reliable pass-catcher who is competitive at the catch point and maneuvers well in his routes to hold defensive backs. His detailed-oriented approach and ability to work the soft spots in zones makes him a quarterback's best friend and will endear him to pro teams. Despite the injury, Campanaro grades as a solid third day draft pick.
- NFL coaches want their linemen to play with a nasty demeanor and mauling attitude to set the tone in the trenches. But those players also need to be able to channel that emotion after the whistle blows, something that has become a question mark with Michigan senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. He is known as a passionate competitor, but also a player who doesn't always control that aggression and becomes a cowboy on the football field.
In the second quarter against Michigan State, Lewan was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for grabbing and twisting the helmet of Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis well after the whistle. He received another personal foul penalty later in the game and it's clear that while that nasty attitude is respected among his teammates, it will also hurt his team if he can't control himself. Lewan admitted that he was “wrong” and his head coach Brady Hoke called it “unacceptable” but time will tell if it becomes a continuing issue or if the projected top-10 pick can control his emotions on the field, especially after the whistle.