Georgia vs Notre Dame preview: Watch Isaiah Wilson

September 20th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

I didn’t think Notre Dame deserved to in the final four a year ago. Georgia were the superior team and an Alabama vs Georgia rematch felt like a proper ‘semi-final’.

Notre Dame were selected due to their unbeaten record and were subsequently pummelled 30-3 by Clemson. Their best wins in the regular season were against a 10-3 Michigan, a 9-4 Stanford and a 10-3 Syracuse.

Georgia weren’t unbeaten but their two losses were against LSU and a classic against Alabama. I think an eye-test and strength of schedule consideration is required for the playoffs. At the moment there’s a clear power-four in college football — Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma. Everyone else is trying to keep up. Notre Dame weren’t close and they still aren’t.

Saturday’s game is being billed as a titanic encounter but I’d expect a fairly comfortable Georgia win. They have the better players. We’ll see if I’m right. I’m always happy to admit when I’ve got something wrong.

Julian Okwara (DE, Notre Dame) is often touted as a sure-fire first round prospect. I’m just not seeing it. He has a lean upper-body and is listed at 248lbs. You don’t see any real power generated with his hands and he doesn’t control his side of the line with any gusto. Equally though, I’m not sure he’s a dynamic enough athlete to consider a great speed-rusher.

I went back-and-forth with Brian Burns a year ago — initially listing him as a top-10 talent before second-guessing how the league considered his size. Yet the one thing you couldn’t deny with Burns was his explosive power and quickness. He jumped a 34-inch vertical at 213lbs at SPARQ and on the field you could see cat-like agility to work around blocks and win against overmatched college linemen. He’s had a good start to his NFL career in Carolina and we’ll see how he progresses. I still wonder whether he has the size to be more than a specialist rusher but he’s started well.

With Okwara I’m not seeing the same kind of athleticism. He ran a 5.14 forty at Nike SPARQ and only a 4.63 short shuttle. His overall score was a fairly abysmal 52.23. Players develop in college and improve as athletes. I’d never expect Okwara to run a 5.14 at a pro-combine. Yet I’d equally be shocked if he matches Burns’ 4.53. On tape you see the occasional flash where he stunts inside and beats a block or works a lineman off the edge. There’s very little that wows you though and he had games (eg Vanderbilt, 2018) where you struggle to notice him.

This will be a good test for him against Georgia. Andrew Thomas (LT, Georgia) is one of the top players eligible for next years draft along with the likes of Grant Delpit, Jerry Jeudy and Tua Tagovailoa. He’s so incredibly balanced and in control. He has excellent size, mobility and power. Thomas has the potential to be a day-one starter at left tackle and a long term fixture in the NFL.

I’ve also been impressed with Isaiah Wilson (RT, Georgia). I watched him for the first time this week and he’s a gigantic monster of a lineman. He’s 6-7 and 340lbs but carries the size superbly. He’s not carrying much bad weight and cuts an intimidating presence on the right side.

When he locks his arms into position he’s extremely difficult to disengage from. There’s evidence of effective combo-blocks (you always love to see that) and he’ll drive defenders back in the running game. There are occasions where he gets his drop wrong and loses balance and leverage. He drops too deep against speed and gives faster rushers an opportunity to attack from within the pocket, eliminating much space and freedom for the quarterback. He needs to play more inside-out against speed and allow his massive frame to act as a blockade. If he can’t win with a kick-slide then use your tools to your advantage.

This is a coachable issue though. What he does well is appealing and if Thomas is a high first round pick, it won’t be a surprise if Wilson ends up going later in round one as a hulking, powerful right tackle capable of excelling in the run game. And yes, he’s one to watch for the Seahawks if they move on from Germain Ifedi. If you want to focus on anyone in this game — make it Wilson. Interestingly they usually leave him on an island without tight end support. He has first round potential for sure.

How Okwara plays in this game will play a big factor in his draft stock. Many believe he’s a mid-first round talent. He won’t have a better opponent to prove it. Whether he attacks the left or right side, he’s going to face a NFL opponent. I’m not convinced he warrants the hype but I’ll happily be proven wrong.

Khalid Kareem (DE, Notre Dame) plays across from Okwara. He’s a bigger, stouter defender. Georgia has been creating enormous running lanes and plenty of space for D’Andre Swift (RB, Georgia) this season. Kareem needs to be able to push-back against this to max-out his stock. I actually hope it’s a competitive battle in the trenches (although my suspicion is Georgia will win this battle comfortably). Let’s see Swift get some hard yards and face some tough snaps. So far it’s looked so easy for him. He’s a first round talent in his own right. Let’s see a challenge where he has to create some yardage rather than exploiting the opportunities presented to him.

It’s also a key game for Jake Fromm (QB, Georgia). He lacks some of the physical skills of the other quarterbacks in this class but he’s been very effective for two and a bit years now. He’s not flashy but he’s generally accurate and makes good decisions. He rarely gets flustered and he benefits from good blocking, a great running game and speed/talent at receiver. He doesn’t have to declare for 2020 and he might stick it out if Georgia misses out on a National Championship again. This is the type of game where you him want to prove he belongs in the early rounds.

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Seahawks continue to be linked to Jalen Ramsey

September 19th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Granted this isn’t exactly narrowing things down. Josina Anderson lists six teams specifically before suggesting the entire league has contacted the Jaguars about Jalen Ramsey.

Is there any chance the Seahawks would make this trade?

I still think it’s unlikely but there’s a few things to consider and note.

For starters, the Jaguars are reportedly asking for two first round picks. All things considered, they’re well within their rights to expect at least that. The Houston Texans traded two first round picks, a second round pick and two players to acquire Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and a fourth rounder.

You could argue Tunsil plays a position where there’s a dearth of talent. College football is not producing many good offensive linemen. The Texans are in win-now mode and were desperate. That all contributed to the haul they gave up for Tunsil.

Yet Ramsey is also a superior player. He’s achieved more in the NFL so far (they were both part of the 2016 draft) and he’s legitimately one of the top players in the league at any position. The Tunsil move and the Frank Clark trade (including a first and second round pick) set a high bar for big name deals.

Even so, it feels like the Jaguars are backing themselves into a hole. All of the talk is about a forthcoming trade. The best way to max-out their asset is to at least keep up the pretence that they intend to keep Ramsey. Even with the heated dispute between the player and Doug Marrone last week, is this really a situation that can’t be resolved? Ramsey is, after all, set to play against the Titans tonight. If he was that much of a problem and a distraction he wouldn’t be playing.

The Jags seem to be saying ‘we need Ramsey to beat the Titans’ and in the same breath they’re suggesting, ‘we can win without him the rest of the year’. That’s an odd place to be. They sit uncomfortably as a team determined to compete and unwilling to accept their 0-2 start is the beginning of the end yet they’re also about to trade their best player.

Considering the minor mess that happened a year ago with Leonard Fournette, a trend seems to be emerging here between the powers that be and the best players on the roster.

It feels like Tom Coughlin is trying to assert his control. Which is fine to an extent. Even if you acquire two first round picks, you dream of acquiring a talent like Ramsey. The chances are they won’t add a player of his quality with the picks they get back. So why trade him? Again — if it’s a clash that is sending shockwaves through the franchise he wouldn’t be playing tonight.

If it is a Coughlin vs Ramsey situation, teams will know about it. If Coughlin is determined to move on, they’ll know about it. Good luck negotiating a fantastic trade in that environment.

At the moment there aren’t any desperate teams either. The clubs most linked to Ramsey — Philadelphia, Seattle, Kansas City — are a combined 5-1. Pittsburgh’s trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick was an attempt to try and be competitive after losing the quarterback. They were mildly desperate. None of the teams reportedly touching base with the Jags have this massive, gaping hole at cornerback. Could the Eagles, Seahawks and Chiefs do with an upgrade at corner? Sure. Every team could use Ramsey. There’s a difference, though, between an upgrade (however substantial) and a back-breaking need.

If Jacksonville’s weak bargaining position allows the price to come down to say a first and third round pick — you can imagine a team like the Seahawks being interested in a deal like that. I’m not sure the price will drop that low though — simply because Ramsey is that good.

So what’s the argument for the Seahawks making this happen?

Quite aside from the fact he’s an exceptional talent — it’s also about how this team is shaping up. At the moment it’s easy to look at three question marks for the long term. What happens at the end of the season to the pass rush (with Reed, Clowney & Ansah all free agents)? What happens at right tackle (with Ifedi & Fant free agents)? How do they add more talent in the secondary?

Tre Flowers and Shaquille Griffin have started the season quite well. Neither has been a liability. The Seahawks have always preferred to draft and develop cornerbacks instead of splurging. That said — next season they definitely need more depth, competition and talent across the secondary.

Ramsey would provide an immediate injection of talent. It’d no longer be a need — at least not at corner. You’d have a star and improved depth.

This tweet from Ian Rapoport also poses an interesting question…

There aren’t many teams (this isn’t just a Seattle thing) where you can easily make a case that Ramsey is superior to the last two players drafted in round one. The Seahawks haven’t had a pick in the top-15 for seven years. They want to compete for Super Bowls. They’re unlikely to be able to draft a player of Ramsey’s supreme caliber in the first round if they remain a playoff team.

For those reasons, of course a trade is appealing. It doesn’t mean you pull the trigger. You can make a case for it though and the Seahawks are right to be ‘in the mix’ for this trade even if it’s one of the many deals they’re involved in that doesn’t come off.

If they gave up their 2020 and 2021 first round picks, they’d still have two second rounders next year. If they win a Super Bowl in the next couple of seasons and Ramsey contributes towards that, nobody will complain. You could even argue Ramsey is talented enough that it’s not even that much of a roll of the dice — whether the end result is Championship’s or not.

The last player of Ramsey’s quality to be traded was Khalil Mack. He cost two first round picks. Is anyone in Chicago complaining about that deal 12 months on? Of course not. Oakland used Chicago’s pick at #24 on Josh Jacobs.

Who would you rather have?

One report suggested Ramsey wasn’t interested in featuring in a zone scheme and wanted to match-up in man 1v1. Some have argued this rules him out in Seattle. There’s a very important thing to remember here — Ramsey will go to any competitive team that’s willing to pay him a huge extension. He’s not going to complain about his role if a team provides him with Super Bowl opportunities and a record-breaking contract for a cornerback.

Financially can they make it happen? Sure. They have an estimated $75-80m in cap space for 2020. They have some starters reaching free agency but even if Ramsey was given a deal worth $18m a season — there’s still plenty of money to try and keep Reed, Clowney, Ansah, Ifedi, Fant and/or others if they wished. They’d also still have two second round picks to fill some holes.

I personally don’t think a trade to Seattle will happen. They’ll hide in the tall grass waiting to pounce if the opportunity is right. I think the team who trades for Ramsey will be the aggressor. I think the Seahawks wait for a possible deal to come to them, just as they did with Jadeveon Clowney. On this occasion, however, another team will make it happen and the deal will be too rich for Seattle.

It’d be foolish to completely rule it out, however. It’s not often a player like this becomes available. And let’s not forget this is still a front office that traded for Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown.

They have the picks and money to make it happen. Whether they want to pay a high price in both instances and outbid other teams is the question mark.

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Tuesday notes: TFL’s, big plays and the practise squad

September 17th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Looking at some of the college stats

I had a quick browse of the college football stats after three weeks to see if anything stood out. A couple of things did.

Firstly it’s the company Hunter Bryant (TE, Washington) is keeping when it comes to explosive plays. Bryant is a highly athletic player and has been talked up by Brock Huard on 710 ESPN. In an interview during the summer he noted how he’d been working to become a more complete tight end.

Will Dissly and Drew Sample both heavily improved their stock during the draft process. Could Bryant make it a hat-trick?

It’s possible if he keeps making plays like this:

Here’s a list of some of the big name receivers in college football and the number of +10-yard plays they’ve made so far this season:

Jerry Jeudy — 15
Hunter Bryant — 11
Rondale Moore — 11
Tee Higgins — 10
Binjimen Victor — 10
CeeDee Lamb — 7

Jerry Jeudy is very likely to be a top-10 pick. Tee Higgins could go in the top-20. CeeDee Lamb could be a first rounder. Binjimen Victor is underrated and in 2021, Rondale Moore could easily end up being a high pick.

It’s impressive for a tight end to match their production so far.

What about +20-yard plays?

Rondale Moore — 7
CeeDee Lamb — 6
Tee Higgins — 5
Jerry Jeudy — 5
Binjimen Victor — 5
Hunter Bryant — 3

He’s not quite in check with the top names here but three +20-yard plays is still decent for a tight end.

The final group shows plays of +30 yards:

Rondale Moore — 4
Tee Higgings — 3
Hunter Bryant — 2
Binjimen Victor — 2
Jerry Jeudy — 1

If Bryant continues to make big plays for the Huskies and if he can convince teams he’s a capable blocker — he could significantly boost his draft stock.

The other figure I had a look at was TFL’s. The 2020 draft has a handful of really good, eligible defensive linemen but there’s nowhere near the depth we saw in 2019. With Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah both free agents at the end of the year, it’s possible this could be a key need for Seattle.

The big names haven’t been that productive so far. Here’s four that are near the top of the list for TFL’s after three weeks:

Kenny Willekes — 7.5
Chase Young — 5.5
Jabari Zuniga — 4.5
Yetur Gross-Matos — 3.5

Willekes has done incredibly well to return from a major knee injury and pick up where he left off a year ago. He had 20.5 TFL’s in 2018 and 8.5 sacks. Whether he has the athletic profile Seattle craves remains to be seen (he was not a highly touted recruit). His production, however, is fantastic at Michigan State.

Chase Young is off to a fast start (everyone is at Ohio State). He could land in the top-15 very easily next year. Jabari Zuniga at Florida has also been productive but he left Saturday’s game against Kentucky with an ice-pack on his ankle.

Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos has 3.5 TFL’s but he was virtually anonymous against Pittsburgh. He was frequently spelled and had virtually no impact in the game. It was a disappointing performance from a player capable of going in the top-45.

Thoughts on the practise squad

The Seahawks signed Jachai Polite and Cardale Jones to their practise squad at the start of the season and both were eye-catching additions.

Polite was a third round pick this year but was cut by the Jets after one training camp. It was a major fall from grace for a player once considered a likely top-20 pick. He has the talent and quickness to be a lethal pass rusher but for whatever reason the last few months have been a disaster — from his weight gain to his shambles of a combine and so on.

Jones burst onto the scene when, as a backup, he guided Ohio State to the National Championship. He didn’t follow it up with a great final season in college and eventually fell to the fourth round in 2016 (drafted by Buffalo). He was then traded to the Chargers for a conditional pick, lasted a couple of years and ended up on Seattle’s practise squad. Jones played well in pre-season for LA.

Physically he has it all. Great arm, surprising mobility. So far he hasn’t made full use of his extreme talent. He has the tools to be a starter in the NFL.

With Seattle’s strong history of development under Pete Carroll, both players were eye-catching additions to what looks like a strong practise squad overall:

Jazz Ferguson WR
Kyle Fuller G
Jacob Hollister TE
Cardale Jones QB
Kahlil McKenzie G
Ryan Neal S
Parry Nickerson CB
Jachai Polite OLB
Jordan Roos G
Terry Wright WR

There are several players with real promise on that list.

When they signed Polite and Jones we noted that, while there was hope for both, it was possible they were merely receiving extended try-outs with Seattle. If they lasted more than a couple of weeks it’d be promising.

Today they cut Jones to make room for Elijah Nkansah (a likely hedge against some of their O-line injuries). Evidently his extended try-out didn’t last long.

It’s encouraging for Polite that he’s stuck around. As we’ve seen with Jones’ departure — the practise squad gives you an opportunity to check players out. For now at least they are persevering with Polite.

Has the light switched on? Could the Seahawks potentially end up with a first round talent on the cheap? If he’s showing promise could they stash him to further his development on the 53-man roster?

With the strongest looking practise squad in a number of years, this is a list worth tracking. Several could easily make the jump to the full roster depending on injuries and potential.

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Jalen Ramsey requests a trade from Jacksonville

September 16th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Jalen Ramsey is a stunning athlete. One of the best to enter the league in recent memory. He ran a 4.41 at the combine and jumped a 41.5 inch vertical. He’s 6-1 and 209lbs with 33.5 inch arms. That’s insane.

If you were going to create an ideal cornerback — this is what it would look like. Ramsey is the kind of physical talent you dream about. It’s no surprise he’s developed into one of the NFL’s top defenders. He had nine interceptions in his first three years in the league and has earned a reputation for being a true shutdown corner capable of shadowing the likes of DeAndre Hopkins.

So what’s the situation here?

Things have been a little uneasy between Ramsey and Jacksonville for some time. There were issues a year ago. He’s eligible to receive a contract extension as a three-year veteran and yet hasn’t been extended despite his impact as a pro. He’s signed through 2020 because the Jaguars exercised the fifth year option on his contract.

Then this happened on Sunday — a very public sideline dispute between coach Doug Marrone and Ramsey.

A new deal in Jacksonville seems unlikely and the Jaguars might be preparing to cut their losses and move on instead of ending up in a mess similar to the Texans with Jadeveon Clowney.

Any trade would have to include a first round pick. Ramsey is simply too talented to depart for anything less — regardless of any bad blood between player and coach. If you’re willing to pay a first round pick to acquire him, you’ll need a new contract to be agreed before anything is finalised.

The Texans made a huge mistake (likely because they don’t have a GM) when they dealt for Laremy Tunsil without a new deal being in place. It’s simple bargaining sense to turn to the player and say, ‘we’re willing to trade for you — so do you want to stay on your rookie salary in Miami or come to Houston and sign this big new contract?’. By not extending him immediately, the Texans have ceded all leverage in future negotiations. The Tunsil camp will say, ‘you’ve spent a kings ransom on our client — we know you’re not going to let him walk’.

Any trade for Ramsey would need to come with an agreement on an extension — unless you want to run the risk of losing him by 2021.

So could the Seahawks potentially show interest here?

A few days ago I wrote that I thought a deal for Minkah Fitzpatrick was unlikely and I sense the same can be said of a deal for Ramsey (I’m not down on trades by the way, having written several articles on the likelihood of a trade for Jadeveon Clowney).

I keep referring to these quotes from Michael Lombardi in 2017 when he was the first to tout a parting between the Seahawks and Richard Sherman:

“I think Seattle really thought twice about paying Richard Sherman. They felt they had to when they won the Super Bowl…”

“…the scheme in Seattle allows you to find corners especially size/speed corners of which there’s a bundle of them in this draft that can play deep third of the defense, they’ll tackle and they can play within the scheme.”

Lombardi is quite right about Seattle’s scheme. The Seahawks are currently starting a converted fifth round safety and a third round pick at cornerback. In the LOB years they fielded a fifth rounder and a player plucked from the CFL. They’ve had reasonable success with a sixth rounder (Byron Maxwell) and a fourth rounder (Walter Thurmond). They’ve also found nickel cornerbacks on the cheap.

Compare this to the safety position where the Seahawks have placed a lot more value. They drafted Earl Thomas at #14 in Pete Carroll’s first draft. They’ve since added Marquise Blair in round two and spent a third round pick on Delano Hill.

That doesn’t mean the Seahawks would never want to go after a player like Jalen Ramsey. Like every other team in the league, you’d love to have a player of that athletic caliber. Are they likely, however, to invest major draft stock and then pay a record-breaking cornerback contract to make this a reality? The common sense answer to that is ‘not likely’.

Tre Flowers and Shaquille Griffin, without any disrespect intended, are not close to Ramsey’s level. They have, however, been coached into Seattle’s scheme and provide value at two starting positions. They do what the scheme asks of them. If Lombardi’s right and the Seahawks second-guessed paying Sherman because of how they view the position in their scheme, it seems most likely they’ll continue to teach and develop their own prospects without feeling the need to splurge.

This tweet from Ian Rapoport is also worth considering…

The Seahawks very rarely asked Richard Sherman to play man-to-man and lock down a receiver. He did it on rare occasions (I seem to recall when Pittsburgh visited Seattle in 2015 he shadowed Antonio Brown). Ramsey would mostly be playing in zone covering one side of the field — the exact thing he’s supposedly expressing he’s opposed to.

He’s a terrific player and if a team acquires him they will rightly celebrate their addition. If the Seahawks made a bold move to get him — it’d be a huge get. Nobody can dispute his talent and ability. This is only about how likely it is for Seattle.

I suspect the Seahawks have played their hand in terms of trades for 2019. The Clowney addition on a possible one-year rental was too good to ignore and filled a vital need on the D-line (imagine how porous the line would currently look without Clowney).

The compensation was cheap in terms of picks and salary. They had an extra third rounder and they could get it back if Clowney leaves as a free agent in the off-season.

The trade didn’t really shift them off a path they’ve been on for some time. They’ve been gradually rebuilding their depth with a new younger core. They seemingly deliberately collected picks for 2020 and have a good looking haul for next year. While it’s very true that they’ll look for any opportunity to add talent via trade — I think the deal has to be right for them (like the Clowney trade). Otherwise, they’re going to continue to build through the draft.

Ramsey might just be too expensive — in terms of picks and salary.

Fitzpatrick is a different situation. I wrote about my reservations there a few days ago. Has he got a fixed position? I know plenty of people dismissed that suggestion because this video basically hailed him as the second coming of Earl Thomas. Yet I think it’s relevant to ask why neither Alabama or Miami played him as a full-time free safety if he’s tailor-made for the role. If he’s best suited to playing nickel, is that really worth a first round pick via trade? Did you watch Jamar Taylor on Sunday and think, ‘he needs to be replaced by a first round player pronto’?

I also think the investment in Marquise Blair, the trust they have in Bradley McDougald and their willingness to pay a cheap price for the nickel position all makes a deal unlikely.

I’m not ruling it out 100% or anything like that. I’m just offering a view on why I personally can’t see it happening.

If they trade for Ramsey or Fitzpatrick in the next few days I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and admit I was wrong. I will say this though — Ramsey is a legit, proven, elite defender. Fitzpatrick remains as much a mystery as he did entering the league.

Here’s a prediction (if both players are dealt)…

Jalen Ramsey to San Francisco, Minkah Fitzpatrick to Green Bay.

The Niners have cap space and a 2-0 start might encourage them to be bold.

The Packers reportedly targeted Fitzpatrick in the 2018 draft and were going to take him at #14 if he lasted (he was taken at #11). Plus the Packers just IR’d one of their safety’s.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks overcome errors, beat Steelers

September 15th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks made hard work of this game but the end result is all that matters. They’re 2-0 and off to their best start since 2013.

And they have their quarterback to thank.

Chris Carson fumbled twice (he has three in two games), the defense struggled to contain backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, the offensive line played poorly in the first half and they gave away 10 penalties (twice as many as Pittsburgh).

Seattle won because Russell Wilson was practically flawless. This is why they made him the highest paid player in the league. To win games like this.

If you want to be a contender you can’t drop a game where the opposing quarterback leaves at half time with an injury. Not when the backup is facing his first NFL action in his second year in the league (he was inactive for every game in 2018). A good team led by a quality quarterback gets the job done.

Wilson delivered the win.

He finished the game with 300 passing yards (29/35), 22 rushing yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 131. He created rhythm for the offense in the second half and carved open Pittsburgh’s defense. He diluted the pass rush, he made sensible decisions. He never came close to turning the ball over and every throw was laser sharp.

His good work was almost undone by a safe defensive scheme that allowed Rudolph a surprisingly long, energy-sapping touchdown drive and a Carson fumble that turned what should’ve been a saunter into a nerve-wracking ending.

No problem. Wilson stepped up to the mark and delivered a game-winning drive to run out the clock.

Credit must also go to Pete Carroll. His challenge on the pass interference call just before D.K. Metcalf’s touchdown was a game-changer. His decision to go for it on fourth and one at the end was bold and finished the game. Carson, along with some solid blocking, kind of made amends for the fumbles.

This is a team with some holes for sure. The pass rush was tepid again and it’s been uncomfortable to watch Andy Dalton and Mason Rudolph have success the last two weeks (especially given what the Niners did to Dalton today). Carson’s three fumbles are worrying. He’s a dynamic, potentially game-winning running back. Yet with the Seahawks playing things so close all the time — you can’t keep turning it over. Notably all three fumbles have come deep in Seattle’s territory too.

Yet with Wilson in this type of form the Seahawks will be tough to beat. This had the makings of a rough day. Seattle are not a good road team in September. The Steelers were hurting after an embarrassing loss last week in New England.

You expected a reaction.

Clearly Roethlisberger leaving the game had an impact but it’s not like Rudolph didn’t move the ball in his place. I’m not sure that had a massive impact. Wilson did and the Seahawks will host the Saints next week with a huge opportunity to make a NFC statement.

Some other notes…

— In back-to-back weeks Jadeveon Clowney has started well and faded. It could be conditioning. The promising thing is when he flashes he looks great. Now he needs help (Ziggy Ansah) and to get close to 100% game health.

— They have to clean things up. There were too many errors today and it almost cost them the game. The turnovers, the penalties, the O-line play. They don’t want to lose a winnable game due to things like this. Let Wilson win you games, not rescue you from bad losses.

— How big are errors, turnovers and penalties? Seattle had 426 yards compared to Pittsburgh’s 261. They had eight more first downs. They dominated time of possession (35:46 vs 24:14). This shouldn’t have been a two-point game.

— Rashaad Penny’s touchdown was an excellent play and he finished with 62 yards on 10 carries. Carson’s fumbles could lead to more snaps in the future. He’s been written off way too early by some.

— Kudos to Malik Turner and Will Dissly for coming up big in the passing game. D.K. Metcalf isn’t playing like a rookie either — he looks extremely comfortable out there. The great thing is he’s making the plays he’s expected to make. There’s another level to come given his athletic qualities. It’ll be fun to watch his development.

— Bradley McDougald is vital to this team. Lano Hill seemingly had a good performance next to him. Jamar Taylor was sound in the nickel. People wanted to see a better performance from the secondary and I think we did today. Let’s just hope they’re prepared for next weeks fleaflicker.

— The next three games are enormous NFC encounters. The Saints at home is clearly a difficult game. The Cardinals look better than expected to start the season led by the excellent Kyler Murray. That one won’t be easy at all in Arizona. Then it’s the Rams at home on a Thursday night. What a run and what an opportunity — starting next Sunday.

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CFB Week 3: Javon Kinlaw flashes potential

September 14th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

— We highlighted Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina) over the summer and he had an impressive performance against Alabama. If the Crimson Tide have a weakness it’s their O-line. Kinlaw absolutely dominated junior Chris Owens. He had a sack that showed off his massive potential. He hammered Owens with a devastating punch that dumped the lineman on his backside. He then exploded to the QB for a huge play. He also had a terrific splash on a running down on 3rd and short. He drove Owens deep into the backfield to disrupt the running lane. Najee Harris had to cut away from the pressure and ran into a blind alley for a stop. Kinlaw has everything. He’s unnaturally athletic for his size with a great build yet minimal body fat. He wins with power and speed. He’s only scratching the surface of his potential but his upside is tremendous.

— Alabama’s big names showed well as usual. Tua Tagovailoa has so many weapons it looks easy. Tua looks like a more robotic, left-armed Russell Wilson. It felt like Devonta Smith was open on a short slant every single down. Smith is slight and lacks the big-name power of the other receivers but he has terrific hands and control. Jerry Jeudy was kept quiet (Tua also missed a couple of times to Jeudy) but it just created opportunities for Henry Ruggs and Smith. Raekwon Smith was active at defensive tackle and will make a great addition for someone at the next level. His ability to control the LOS and yet work down the line with great mobility is incredible for a man listed at 6-7 and 315lbs. He did leave the game with a shoulder injury. Trevon Diggs is extremely underrated and has all the potential you could ask for at cornerback. If he stays healthy, he’s big time. Najee Harris had an incredible touchdown on a fourth down catch-and-run. He ran a great route, shoved off one defender, hurdled another and then dodged two tackles to score.

— Yetur Gross-Matos was completely anonymous for Penn State against Pittsburgh. It was a bitterly disappointing performance. He was often spelled despite being Penn State’s top pass rusher. I can’t recall any meaningful pressures and he didn’t even register a shared tackle. He has the hand-use and frame to be a dynamic rusher but he needs to be more impactful if he’s going to max-out his draft stock.

— Ohio State’s sheer number of athletes at the skill-positions makes most of their games ugly mismatches. Running back J.K. Dobbins had the top Nike SPARQ score in 2016 with an insane 146.76 score. His combination of speed and explosive athleticism shows up week after week and it was on show again today against Indiana. He finished with 193 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. He added another score in the passing game (two catches, 14 yards). He doesn’t get much attention but he’s a player worth monitoring. Chase Young (DE, Ohio State) had two sacks in the blow-out win and Jeffrey Okudah (CB, Ohio State) again flashed his top-15 potential.

— Anthony McFarland (RB, Maryland) is such a dynamic playmaker. In a 20-17 defeat to Temple he still managed 132 yards and a touchdown. How he eventually tests will be interesting. Every time you watch Maryland he stands out.

— I haven’t seen the game but Colorado were beaten by Air Force 30-23. I’ll be interested to see how Steven Montez performed in a contest he was expected to win. Montez has the arm talent and mobility but has erratic streaks. He threw an interception but also had two scores and finished 26/43 for 220 yards. Leviska Shenault has been quiet so far this year but he had a more productive day with 124 yards on eight catches and a score (he also had 25 rushing yards and another touchdown). Linebacker Nate Landman is a name we talked about a year ago. He had nine tackles and has a lot of NFL potential.

— Blog favourite Eno Benjamin (RB, Arizona State) was mostly kept in check (11 carries, 38 yards) in a low-scoring game against Arizona State. However, with seconds remaining, he scored a vital touchdown…

— Washington has had a good run with tight ends recently, sending Will Dissly and Drew Sample into the league after both enhanced their stock pre-draft. Hunter Bryant is the next off the production line and he’s the most athletic. He’s also spoken about improving his blocking to become a more complete tight end. He’s one to watch and scored a 47-yard touchdown against Hawai’i. The Seahawks might be in the market for a TE in the draft in 2020. He ended the game with five catches for 115 yards and this score…

— The Florida vs Kentucky ended up being the walking wounded. Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered what looked like a broken leg. Jabari Zuniga was sat on the sidelines with ice on his ankle. C.J. Henderson was injured and Kentucky also lost players. Fingers crossed the Zuniga and Henderson injuries aren’t serious.

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Why a Minkah Fitzpatrick trade to Seattle might be unlikely

September 13th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Minkah Fitzpatrick has been given permission to seek a trade

A few people have asked for some thoughts on a possible Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, following reports that he’s been given permission to seek a move.

Personally I think a deal is unlikely.

For starters, Fitzpatrick has always been a player without a specific position. At Alabama he moved around. He’d play in the slot, at safety. He was a hybrid defensive back best suited to match-up scenarios. He was probably closer to a big nickel than a free safety or full-time nickel corner.

In Miami it’s been no different. According to the ESPN story which broke the news, he’s not happy about that:

Fitzpatrick, who was projected as a cornerback/safety out of Alabama, played three or four different positions against Baltimore. He has been uncomfortable with his constantly fluctuating role on the Dolphins’ defense throughout the offseason.

Given the way Alabama and now the Dolphins have used him as a movable chess piece, perhaps that’s the best way to utilise him?

In Lance Zierlein’s NFL draft profile of Fitzpatrick, he was described as such:

Fitzpatrick has experience as a slot cornerback, but will likely be targeted as a “do-everything” safety who can be deployed as a sub-package linebacker, a blitzer or in the slot against big receivers and move tight ends.

While an anonymous AFC team executive offered the following take:

“He’s not quite on the same level of Jamal Adams when it comes to changing the entire culture of a locker room, but he is just as talented and probably more versatile.”

There’s a constant theme here — ‘versatility’, ‘multiple positions’, ‘do everything’, ‘sub-packages’. Everyone speaks well of his attitude, talent and leadership abilities. Yet sometimes you can be too flexible. A jack of all trades and master of none. Alabama and Miami have both used him in a multitude of ways.

Is a third team going to do things differently? He has decent speed (4.46) but not elite speed or range, short-area quickness is arguably his greatest asset and he lacks the size (6-0, 204lbs) to be a strong safety or handle regular duties if asked to play up at the line.

Going into the draft nearly every conversation about Fitzpatrick was week-to-week you want his role to be flexible. Covering in the slot or playing in a two-safety look or as a big nickel. Match him up with a specific tight end or slot receiver.

The Seahawks need more talent in their secondary and clearly Fitzpatrick is talented. How much are you willing to pay for this type of player though? The Dolphins reportedly want a first round pick. You’re not acquiring an Earl Thomas type here. You’re not even getting Keanu Neal. You’d be getting a plus version of Ugo Amadi. Someone who’s a better athlete but ultimately is a nickel/safety hybrid.

I always thought Fitzpatrick was a bit overrated going into the 2018 draft. In the days leading up to the draft I wrote a piece listing the top six players at every position. I had Derwin James as the #1 safety with Fitzpatrick second and Jessie Bates third. I didn’t think there was much of a gap at all between the three.

If anyone thinks he can be a long term answer for Seattle as a rangy, single-high safety — I’d say that is unlikely. There’s very little evidence of that.

The Seahawks do need an answer at nickel corner. Losing Justin Coleman looks like it could be a bigger deal than many thought at the time. Yet they also seem set to play a lot more orthodox base with Mychal Kendricks playing SAM linebacker. If you trade for Fitzpatrick you’re basically taking Kendricks off the field. If you trade a high pick for a player, they need to be playing a high percentage of snaps.

At the very least they’ll want Kendricks on the field half of the time. Spending a first rounder (or even if it ended up being a second rounder) for a player to play around 50% of the snaps at best just seems like a poor use of resources — even if the Seahawks have a need at nickel corner.

It’s also unclear if Fitzpatrick would even work as a full-time nickel corner. That’s an unknown. It’d be wrong to assume this would solve a problem. When they acquired Jadeveon Clowney we had a good idea on his skill-set and fit due to years of tape. Fitzpatrick has buzzed around different spots at Alabama and Miami. We don’t know what his best position is.

It’s also important to remember they just spent a decent second round pick on Marquise Blair. He’s the tone-setting hitter they want and he also runs in the 4.4’s. If you trade for Fitzpatrick with the intention of using him as a safety you’re just putting a roadblock up for Blair. Not unless you intend to bench Bradley McDougald — which would be silly given he’s one of the best players on the defense.

Fitzpatrick is a name and the perception that he’s an Earl-type free safety will get fans salivating about the prospect of adding him. The reality is somewhat different. Ask yourself this — how much are you willing to pay for a player without a fixed position who might be best at nickel corner at a time when Seattle prefers to use three linebackers?

And what kind of a trade are Miami willing to consider? They’re not desperate to move Fitzpatrick for any specific reason. He’s not holding out like Clowney in Houston. They just dealt Laremy Tunsil for a kings ransom.

The chances are you’d need to pay a top price to acquire a player with a suspicious looking full-time fit in this defense.

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Thoughts on the Seahawks @ Steelers

September 12th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

We’re going to learn a lot about the 2019 Seahawks in the next two games.

A trip to Pittsburgh followed by a home game against New Orleans. Two opportunities to make a statement but also two very challenging contests.

Beating Cincinnati by a solitary point was so incredibly vital with these two games next on the schedule.

For now I want to focus on the game this weekend against the Steelers. It’d be very easy to look at their 33-3 defeat in New England and think they’ve regressed. Admittedly they’ve lost Antonio Brown this year (they didn’t technically have Le’Veon Bell in 2018). Overall, though, they remain a strong and competitive opponent on paper.

The Steelers are 8-2 in home openers over the last 10 years. They’ve also shown a knack for bouncing back after difficult road starts.

For example — they were heavily beaten (35-7) at AFC North rivals Baltimore in 2011. They responded by trouncing the Seahawks 24-0 in their home opener the following week. In 2012 they lost 31-19 to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. They then handsomely defeated the New York Jets 27-19 in week two.

Last time they started a season with a defeat in New England (2015) they hammered the 49ers 43-18 the following week at home.

Their only two losses in home openers over the last decade were against Tennessee in 2013 (they started the season 0-4 before recovering to 8-8) and last year against the Chiefs (where Patrick Mahomes announced his arrival leading Kansas City to a 42-37 shoot-out win).

Steelers home openers over the last 10 years

2009 — Tennessee (W 13-10 OT)
2010 — Atlanta (W 15-9 OT)
2011 — Seattle (W 24-0) (Lost opening game 35-7 @ Baltimore)
2012 — NY Jets (W 27-10) (Lost opening game 31-19 @ Denver)
2013 — Tennessee (L 16-9) (Started 0-4 before finishing 8-8)
2014 — Cleveland (W 30-27)
2015 — San Francisco (W 43-18) (Lost opening game 28-21 @ NE)
2016 — Cincinnati (W 24-16)
2017 — Minnesota (W 26-9)
2018 — Kansas City (L 42-37)

You can learn a lot from team trends. A slow start for the Seahawks isn’t unusual. Sunday’s ‘tighter than expected’ win against the Bengals is par for the course. Mike at Beast Pode wrote an excellent piece discussing why the game was close and it’s well worth checking out.

For the Steelers it isn’t unusual for them to lose on the road to start a season and then rebound the following week.

The Seahawks were also shredded by Ben Roethlisberger the last time the teams met in 2015. It’s hard to believe that game was four years ago. Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards against a secondary that included Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The Steelers should’ve won the game and didn’t due to highly avoidable errors (a bizarre Big Ben interception, a poorly executed fake field goal, going for a field goal late in the game).

Seattle took away Pittsburgh’s running game (DeAngelo Williams had only eight carries for 29 yards) and were still carved up (much like they were at times last week).

There is one big difference between the 2015 Steelers and the 2019 version though. Speed. Markus Wheaton gashed the secondary for 201 yards on nine catches. Martavis Bryant added 69 yards and Sherman did an excellent job restricting Antonio Brown to 51 yards. Pittsburgh doesn’t have that kind of speed at receiver any more. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington are both 4.54 runner’s. They’re also both adept at making big plays downfield and competing — so this will still be a real challenge for Seattle’s secondary.

The concern has to be that even if Pittsburgh aren’t able to run the ball, they’ll still be able to exploit Seattle’s structured defense. They might do a more effective job than the Bengals of finishing and they’re at home — not on the road. Pressuring Roethlisberger will be vital on top of avoiding some of the mistakes we saw in the secondary against Cincinnati. This will be a big game for the cornerback’s and safety’s — the pass rush has to be consistent too. Roethlisberger can be provoked to make mistakes. He’s also approaching his 38th birthday in March and isn’t quite as nimble as he used to be. He’s still elusive — but they’ve got to make life difficult for him or he’ll likely repeat Dalton’s production from week one.

The Seahawks are going to have to score points and stay out of their own way. If they can’t run the ball — and Pittsburgh will likely dedicate resources to stopping the run — they’ll need to find other ways to put points on the board. Seattle’s ability to execute their offensive plan and dictate the tone of the game will be especially important this week. If it ends up being a shoot-out like 2015, they’ll need answers and a Plan B.

This is a very difficult second game for Seattle. Winning in Pittsburgh is tough. If they pull it off to go 2-0 — the contest against New Orleans will feel a little bit like week two in 2013. It’ll be an opportunity to flex to the rest of the NFC and make a statement.

They’ll need to play a lot better than they did against the Bengals to achieve that though on both sides of the ball.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks fortunate to win

September 8th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Games are won in the trenches

I don’t really like that piece of football rhetoric. Teams with bad O-lines have won Championship’s. Yet on a day like this, you can’t help but accept there’s an element of truth to it.

Seattle lost on both sides of the ball and were incredibly fortunate to escape with a win.

This was the football equivalent of the Jadeveon Clowney trade. Highway robbery.

The O-line and pass protection was horrendous. The Bengals took away the run and Russell Wilson had no time to throw. Seattle couldn’t find something to go to. They had no counter.

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals came into the game without their starting left tackle. The left guard, who’d moved to left tackle, was out with a concussion. You wouldn’t have guessed. Cincinnati’s new coaching staff put together a superb gameplan to put Andy Dalton in a position to succeed.

They had answers. Dalton had a career day (418 yards). He exposed Seattle’s secondary and picked on the second level of the defense. Tre Flowers was regularly targeted and the attack-minded linebackers barely had an impact.

Seattle’s D-line didn’t play poorly. Quinton Jefferson, Jadeveon Clowney and Al Woods all excelled. The Bengals just kept going. It was methodical, calculated and a perfect advert for those who advocate a pass-focused offense.

The Seahawks ended up playing one of those games. You know the type. The kind that Bruce Arians used to provoke when he brought his Arizona teams north.

Seattle had 233 total yards compared to 429 for Cincinnati. The time of possession was 35:10 to the Bengals and 24:10 to the Seahawks.

Cincy’s staff out-coached Seattle’s. Their starting units were far better. They thoroughly deserved to win.

So why didn’t they?

Simple.

The Bengals had drives to Seattle’s 12, 27 and 36-yard line in the third quarter and scored no points. They missed a field goal, had a turnover on downs and conceded a flukey interception.

And at the end of the game, with one final chance to win, the ref’s made a horrible call to judge Rasheem Green forced a fumble when it should’ve been an incomplete pass by Dalton.

Three turnovers compared to Seattle’s one.

There we have it. Carroll might be older than every other coach in the league. His philosophy might be outdated according to some.

Yet on a day when his team were outplayed — they won the game because they were +2 on turnovers and had fewer errors on special teams.

Make no mistake — this was a vital game to win. A year ago the Seahawks started 0-2 and eliminated all of their margin for error in the NFC West within the first two weeks. They couldn’t drop this game — not with the Rams and Niners winning on the road.

They’ll need to be much better next week in Pittsburgh. They’ll need to be much better across the remainder of the 2019 season.

This was an ugly way to start and they were fortunate to avoid defeat. The opening game of a season is often unpredictable and sloppy. Winning regardless is the key. And we’ve seen performances like this be one-off’s in the past — even during the Super Bowl years.

Some final notes on a weird day…

— D.K. Metcalf had two huge plays. A deep bomb that led to a touchdown for Chris Carson and a vital third down reception that preceded the Tyler Lockett TD. This was an encouraging and excellent debut.

— Quinton Jefferson was Seattle’s star on defense. He had two sacks and two PBU’s. Al Woods chipped in with an interception and a stop on fourth-and-1. Jadeveon Clowney flashed — forcing a team sack and he created some early pressure. Let’s hope Ziggy Ansah missing out isn’t a sign of things to come.

— No targets for Tyler Lockett in the first three quarters. Then he has a long 44-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth followed by an easy dropped pass. Weird, weird day.

— Andy Dalton’s previous most productive passing game was against Baltimore in 2015 (383 yards). That was the year the Ravens went 5-11. It’s concerning how poor Seattle’s secondary was in this game. Tre Flowers was targeted throughout. Tedric Thompson had the big error on the awful touchdown before half-time. Bradley McDougald had a blown assignment just before that. Introducing a rookie (Marquise Blair) isn’t the answer. Delano Hill might be.

— Poona Ford picked up a calf injury and Will Dissly sufferd discomfort in the knee he injured last year. The Seahawks can’t afford injuries at either position.

— I sort of want to watch the game back to see what was happening up front (I’m just not sure I can take another viewing). Were the Bengals pressuring with four, eliminating Seattle’s hot-routes or checkdown’s? Were they aggressive? Why couldn’t Seattle find something — anything — to gain some offensive momentum? Or at least avoid massive yardage loss? Why did Seattle’s version of the Pats defense vs the Rams not work?

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CFB week 2: Joe Burrow & LSU impress vs Texas

September 8th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

— LSU beat Texas in a highly entertaining contest, punctuated by the performance of Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow. He was a surgeon in the second half, ending with 31/39 passing for 471 yards and four touchdowns. For years LSU were let down by poor quarterback play. This year it could be one of their key strengths. Burrow really looked the part as he sliced Texas open. Every time the Longhorns scored, Burrow would immediately answer. He looked like a pro in this game. If he can keep it going, he’ll end up on the NFL radar.

— LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton is well sized and does a great job tracking the ball in the air. There was further evidence of that in this game. He’s not a face-guarder and he regularly gets his head around to locate the ball in the air. Fulton was beat on an early touchdown. On the previous play he’d judged the throw to perfection — leaping to make a PBU on a shot to the right sideline. Texas went with the exact same call on the next play and Fulton didn’t get deep enough in his drop before leaping for the ball — leaving the receiver wide open to make a catch and run. It’s not overly concerning though. Fulton shows the traits to cross over to the next level — sticky in coverage downfield and on shorter routes. He can kick inside to the nickel. He’s physical and tracks the ball well. The occasional minor error can be rectified by scheme and coaching. The reality is — in Seattle’s scheme he’d never be asked to be in the position he was to get beat on the Texas TD. He’s a promising player within a good looking 2020 cornerback class.

— Jabari Zuniga (DE, Florida) was a player we talked a lot about last season as a possible Seahawks pick. He’s off to a flying start this season. His display against UT Martin on Saturday takes him to 3 sacks and 4.5 TFL’s in just two games. He’s a complete defender and is already taking over the Jachai Polite role as Florida’s main pass-rush threat. Another top pass rusher, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, gained half a sack in a big win against Buffalo. South Carolina’s possible first round defensive tackle, Javon Kinlaw, has sacks in back-to-back games to start the season. He had a TFL too in a blowout win vs Charleston.

— I need to watch more of Kenny Willekes (DE, Michigan State). He’s a difficult projection. Will his production translate? How good is he as an athlete? On tape it’s very easy to appreciate his effort and quickness. He’s been a playmaking machine for a while. He’s continued to produce this season despite suffering a bad injury a few months ago. Willekes had two sacks and two TFL’s against Western Michigan.

— For the last few years, Clemson’s defense has made the NFL draft headlines. This year the top prospects are on offense. Receiver Tee Higgins and running back Travis Etienne have immense talent and that showed again against Texas A&M. Higgins is such a fluid, natural receiver. Clemson do a tremendous job coaching up technically and physically gifted receivers. Etienne is a threat as a runner or receiver with an excellent lower-body base to create explosive power and quickness. Both could easily go in round one.

— Coming into the season I spent some time talking about Eno Benjamin (RB, Arizona State). He’s a powerful, gritty running back but he needed to show a bit more in the passing game. Against Sacramento State he had four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown to go with 69 yards rushing. He’s talented and fun to watch.

Last season we highlighted Maryland running back Anthony McFarland as one to watch. He’s diminutive but fast and explosive. Against Syracuse he had 75 rushing yards on 14 carries and two catches for 45 yards. He added three total touchdowns. He’s a playmaker and someone to monitor this season.

— Alabama were never likely to be threatened by New Mexico State but Tua Tagovailoa confirmed his credentials as the front-runner to go #1 overall next year. He was accurate, comfortable and he’s made a terrific start to the season. He scored four touchdowns in the game before taking a seat. Jerry Jeudy scored three touchdowns and had 103 yards on eight catches. It’s very possible Jeudy lands in the top-10 in 2020. Raekwon Davis recorded a TFL in an easy 62-10 win. Alabama always wait a few weeks to play anyone worthwhile.

— Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn) didn’t have a great start against Oregon last week. He collected a TFL in a modest win against Tulane. Ohio State’s Chase Young had 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFL’s against Cincinnati. Running back J.K. Dobbins — a SPARQ freak who led the Nike event in 2016 with a 146.76 score — is off to a great start this season and had 141 yards on 17 carries plus two touchdowns. Ohio State’s offense will be tough to stop this year and Georgia transfer Justin Fields is fitting in very well at quarterback (although it’s a scheme that is very kind to QB’s).

— I’ve been a fan of Steven Montez (QB, Colorado) for a long time. He’s underrated. He led his team on a fantastic second-half comeback to beat Nebraska in overtime. That included a 96-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker and a superb corner-of-the-end-zone throw with seconds left to tie the game. Montez can be streaky at times but he’s big, mobile and has a terrific arm. Laviska Shenault was quiet again. He had five receptions for 31 yards and three runs for six yards. I said last week he didn’t look anywhere near his best. Is there an issue?

— We highlighted Rondale Moore (WR, Purdue) as a player to watch at the end of last season and I want to try and see more as the weeks go on. Against Vanderbilt he had 13 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown. Purdue won a key game 42-24.

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