Seeing is believing
December, 12, 2013
By Kevin Weidl | ESPN.com
Sadly, save the Army-Navy game, the college football regular season came to an end last weekend, and so did my fourth consecutive scouting tour. This fall, I was able to get to 15 games while getting a look at 19 different schools (the list of games is below). Living in Charlotte, N.C., all the programs I saw were from the SEC and ACC conferences. Getting a close look at prospects helps paint a picture of their body type, leadership skills and overall demeanor to tie together with the coaches' copy tape.
At the end of every year, I like to sit down, review my notes, and make a list of different categories of NFL prospects who caught my eye during the season. Below are the thoughts and observations I was able to accumulate during my travels this fall.
Be sure to check back on Dec. 17, when my colleague Steve Muench will review some prospects he was able to see in person this fall. As always, draft-eligible, non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
TOP THREE PROSPECTS
1. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney* (6-5, 275)
Clowney’s production dropped off this year, but he still made an imprint during most contests. He clearly received more media attention this season, which led to some scrutiny about his overall effort and lack of production. While some of the critiques were unfair, there were times Clowney's effort on the field dipped in the four times I saw him play, especially against Mississippi State the lesser of the four opponents. Scouts will do plenty of digging to find out every facet of what makes him tick. However, at the end of the day, there is no questioning his elite frame and overall skill combination.
2. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins* (6-0½, 205)
Watkins was the most explosive playmaker I saw all fall. He has above-average size with a muscular frame and excellent top-end speed. While he still needs polish as a route-runner, he shows a quick burst out of cuts and is a dangerous runner after the catch. I was most impressed with his strong hands and natural body control as he plucks the ball away from his frame.
3. Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan* (6-2, 298)
The junior defensive tackle possesses a thick and powerful frame. He has a powerful upper body and above-average quickness with his feet and hands. Jernigan is a disruptive run defender who shows excellent lateral agility and range at 300 pounds. In addition, he flashes a quick first step and active hands to manufacture interior pressure as a pass-rusher.
TOP THREE INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
1. Georgia QB Aaron Murray vs. LSU
Murray outdueled LSU QB Zach Mettenberger to lead the Bulldogs to a victory in the best back-and-forth quarterback battle I’ve ever witnessed live. Murray, an undersized quarterback (6-0, 207), completed 20 of 34 throws for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Most impressive was his resiliency in clutch moments, including the 75-yard, game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
2. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron* vs. Miami
The Hurricanes had no answer for Ebron’s speed and athleticism as he torched them for 199 yards on eight catches and a touchdown in a losing cause. The junior tight end’s showing created a huge buzz among the numerous NFL personnel in attendance that night.
3. Florida State CB Lamarcus Joyner at Clemson
Joyner had his fingerprints all over the Seminoles' lopsided 51-14 win. He changed the complexion of the game from the start. The senior defensive back forced a fumble on the first play of the game and followed it up with a strip sack for a touchdown and an interception, all in the first half.
TOP THREE PURE FOOTBALL PLAYERS
1. Pitt DT Aaron Donald (6-0½, 281)
This year's Chuck Bednarik Award finalist (and Lombardi Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner) is undersized, but he is a highly disruptive interior defender who has had ridiculous production throughout his career with 64 tackles for loss and 31.5 sacks. Donald has elite quickness and outstanding hands to create penetration, and brings a strong presence as an interior pass-rusher. He should be off the board early on Day 2 in May.
2. Joyner (5-8¼, 187)
Like Donald, Joyner is vastly undersized but has a knack for creating big plays at critical moments in games. He has a ton of versatility with experience as a safety, cornerback, nickelback and returner on special teams. Joyner’s game is similar to that of Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, except without the character concerns.
3. Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller (5-11½, 189)
Fuller isn’t the biggest CB and scouts have some concerns about his top-end speed. However, he makes up for that with outstanding instincts, awareness, technique and overall toughness. In fact, his performance against Alabama in the opening week could be considered 3B on the list of top performances I saw this fall. Fuller was locked up on an island with WR Amari Cooper for most of the game and limited him to four catches for just 38 yards while notching two pass breakups and an interception.
TOP THREE UNDERRATED PROSPECTS
1. Florida State, safety, Terrence Brooks (5-11¼, 199)
Brooks gets overlooked on an extremely deep and talented Seminoles defense. However, he is a steady player who shows adequate range and flashes above-average anticipation and ball skills roaming center field. In addition, he brings a physical presence in run support and could work his way into the early Day 3 conversation.
2. Miami WR Allen Hurns (6-1¼, 195)
Hurns displays some tightness and will suffer from an occasional drop. However, he is a big receiver with the speed to stretch the field and create a big play. He is averaging 19 yards per catch this year and became just the fourth receiver in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard single-season receiving mark (with 1,138).
3. Pitt QB Tom Savage (6-3¾, 245)
Savage has prototypical measurables and a big-time arm to make all the necessary NFL throws. This season, he also showed tremendous toughness as he stood in the pocket behind a subpar Panthers offensive line. Savage can improve his accuracy at the intermediate level, and he doesn’t have ideal mobility. However, he has the intangibles and physical skill set as a passer to potentially stick on a roster as a backup; he is worth a Day 3 look.
TOP THREE GENETIC FREAKS
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneFlorida State Kelvin Benjamin's size is a matchup nightmare for many cornerbacks.
1. Tennessee DT Dan McCullers (6-6[, 353)
McCullers maybe the biggest human being I’ve seen in person. He has a massive and thick frame, with long arms and intimidating height. McCullers is a natural space-eater, but his lack of overall range along with some concerns from scouts about motivation may cause him to fall into the Day 2 range.
2. Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin* (6-5, 234)
Benjamin is a thoroughbred who looks more like a defensive end than a wide receiver. He has elevated his game this year and is benefiting from the play of first-year QB (and likely Heisman winner) Jameis Winston. Benjamin has shown flashes of dominance at times, and his ability to win in one-on-one downfield situations may push him into the first-round mix if he elects to declare for this year's draft.
3. Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas (6-5], 256)
There aren’t many quarterbacks who have the size, arm strength and athleticism Thomas possesses. However, despite his elite physical skill set, Thomas still has a lot of developing to do in terms of throwing with better balance to improve his accuracy and decision-making. His best scenario will be going to a team with an establish starter so he can sit and hone his craft for a few years.
TOP FIVE UNDERCLASSMEN PROSPECTS
1. Florida State QB Jameis Winston
2. Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III
3. Georgia RB Todd Gurley
4. Alabama WR Amari Cooper
5. Florida DE Dante Fowler Jr.