College football week five notes: Damian Swann shines

September 28th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Damian Swann has a chance to rebuild his stock this year

Tennessee vs Georgia
Damian Swann (CB, Georgia) showed a lot of promise in 2012 before regressing last year. The Georgia defense was terrible in 2013. A real joke at times. In several key situations they failed to line up correctly, they were badly organised. They’ve changed the staff and Swann appears to be benefiting. Against the Vols he played well in run support and had a sack on a corner blitz. In coverage he was extremely competent. It took a superb route by Marquez North to beat him in the red zone late on. He also had a big time impact on special teams. On a punt he made an incredible play on the ball to down it on the one-yard line. Two plays later Tennessee fumbled the ball in their own endzone for a defensive touchdown. Some players have what it takes they just need the appropriate pro-coaching. Richard Sherman was one of those players. Swann could be a steal if he lands on a team that knows how to develop defensive backs.

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest Georgia aren’t likely to drag their way back into playoff contention, but Todd Gurley still deserves to be at the heart of the Heisman chase. Whether he can translate his insane promise into a productive pro-career, who knows. He’s insanely talented, but so was Trent Richardson. In college he’s a class above and a huge run in the fourth quarter acted as a real exclamation point. It’ll be very interesting to see how he tests at the combine given his size.

I’m not sold on Leonard Floyd — a favourite of some. He’s tall and lean, looking more like a wide receiver playing defensive end. He’s not as explosive or as polished as Barkevious Mingo — a player he at least compares to physically. He didn’t have much impact here. As a redshirt sophomore it’s hard to imagine him declaring for the 2015 draft on this evidence.

Missouri vs South Carolina
I just sat and watched Markus Golden and Shane Ray in this game, clearly the two best players on the field. Missouri’s pass rush caused problems all day, usually due to the attention given to the star pair. Golden wasn’t playing at 100% after missing the loss to Indiana with a hamstring issue. The fact Mizzou lost to such a basic opponent and played this well on defense a week later says a ton about Golden’s talent. Even without a mega stat-line he had numerous splash plays. For his size he has great balance and lean. He can mix it up and dip inside. He’s an impact pass rusher and is destined to be an early pick in 2015. Terrific prospect.

We’ve talked about him a ton already so without re-hashing the debate, they key here is the ability to engage a blocker and still make plays. Golden is smooth enough to round an edge but if he needs to use his hands he can. He plays with an attitude and on a day where he doesn’t get any sacks — he’ll help others make plays.

Ray had an explosive first half and was virtually unstoppable at times. He stunted inside to great effect, he rushed the edge with success. He’s lighter than Golden and has a better first step and initial burst. It’s deadly. The only concern will come with his size. He’s listed at a generous 6-3 and 245lbs but looks shorter and lacks length. He had less impact in the second half. If he measures well at the combine and the athleticism he showed here translates to the combine, he too will be an early pick. Both players are superior to Kony Ealy — a second round pick in 2014.

Other notes

Arkansas running back Alex Collins has some talent. He showed a great cut-back ability in a tough loss to Texas A&M. He keeps his feet moving, he has good size. He’s capable of a pro-career. I think he’s only a redshirt sophomore.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) had two more sacks against North Carolina. Make that 27 sacks in his last 24 games. He’s explosive and productive and will go early.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC) could easily play his best football at the next level but I’m not sure what he is watching him for the Trojans. He doesn’t look like a speed guy off the edge. He doesn’t look like a natural three-tech. If he’s just a 3-4 five-tech do you have to limit his stock? I have a hard time imagining him going in the top 5-10 of the draft.

 

Most impressive emerging player in 2014? WVU’s Kevin White

September 26th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White stood out in week one against Alabama. The Mountaineers flirted with an upset and most of that was down to White. He had nine catches, 143 yards and a touchdown (see the video above). For a player who’s suffered with confidence issues in the past, it was the perfect start. A launchpad.

After four games only Amari Cooper has been more productive in the NCAA. White is a legit candidate for the Biletnikoff and his stock is growing. I’m not convinced he’s the 6-3 210lbs listed by ESPN, but he ticks a lot of boxes. He’s got excellent acceleration, he high-points the football, he makes difficult grabs and he knows where to sit and find the soft spot in zone. He has a shot at the next level.

The big concern, sadly, may be those confidence issues. He’s extremely softly spoken to the point of being quite shy. He’s no fool, far from it. But he’s shy. One of the big things we learnt this year is Seattle wants players who can survive in their ultra-competitive locker room. This is a question we have to ask now about every player, including White. Can they have a rocky session against the Legion of Boom during camp and come back the next day with amnesia? Can they take the talking, the physical challenge? Can they thrive in the environment of this team? Can White?

If there are questions to be asked there, you’ll struggle to find many regarding his on-field performance. Against Maryland he had 13 catches for 216 yards. Watch the tape below and tell me you’re not impressed. At the very least check out the following plays:

2:13 — An explosive catch and run on a WR screen, breaking off a 44-yard sprint through traffic.

2:58 — Competent run blocking at the perimeter, sealing his man and allowing the running back to get a first down and make a significant gain.

3:51 — Complete trust from the quarterback. On play action he steps into the pocket and throws into blanket double coverage. Against two defenders White goes up and plucks the ball out of the air. It’s textbook stuff.

5:25 — Excellent catch again in good coverage. White tracks the ball superbly and somehow makes the completion and gets both feet down.

He’s a smooth athlete, he competes for the ball and he can make big plays. It’s hard to judge his stock right now and he’ll need to maintain consistency throughout the year. He’s an exciting player though, certainly the most impressive prospect to emerge in the early stages of the 2014 season. He’s putting up numbers against good teams too — Alabama in week one, Oklahoma last week (10 catches, 173 yards and a touchdown).

I’m not convinced he’s as good as DeAndre Hopkins — a very underrated receiver who thoroughly deserved to go in round one. They share similar traits though.

West Virginia don’t play this weekend but White will get another opportunity to impress on October 4th against 2-1 Kansas.

 

Lincoln Kennedy on the NFL in London & Seattle’s chances of repeating

September 26th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

 

Reflecting on the Denver game, CFB week four thoughts

September 24th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Are the Seahawks weaker than last year?

That was the question debated on ‘First Take’ this week. The answer, resoundingly, is ‘no’.

Pete Carroll made quite a bold statement on the Brock & Salk show on Monday. He claimed the Seahawks had done a better job against Denver’s offense compared to the Super Bowl rout back in February. The 43-8 and 26-20 scorelines suggest otherwise.

Having watched Sunday’s game for a second time today, the score doesn’t matter.

He’s right.

The Super Bowl was an avalanche. Seattle got momentum early with the safety, forced a couple of big turnovers (including a pick six) and scored on a kick return to start the second half. It was a very opportunistic performance. They took their chances.

Denver still put up stats — Demaryius Thomas had a Super Bowl record for receptions. Peyton Manning threatened a couple of times before Seattle took the ball away. On the night everything that could go wrong for Denver did go wrong. They were helpless.

On Sunday, Seattle completely shut down the Broncos. They didn’t rely on huge momentum-changing turnovers. They didn’t need a kick return for a touchdown. They simply did to Manning and his record-breaking offense what they’ve done to so many lesser teams in the last couple of seasons.

They made them look bad.

The run game was totally ineffective. Denver tried desperately to establish it early and were forced to become one-dimensional. The screen game — so integral to their system — was never allowed to prosper. They didn’t attempt any downfield throws and kept everything short. Emmanuel Sanders had some success because hey — you can’t cover everyone brilliantly and he’s the only one on that offense with the speed to compete with Seattle’s defense. He played well. Nobody else did. Not Demaryius Thomas. Not Julius Thomas. Not Wes Welker. Not Montee Ball.

As the game headed to the fourth quarter, this was a beat-down. Another one. A more comprehensive destruction of Denver’s much vaunted offense. They had no answer. Manning sat sweating on the sideline with a look on his face that screamed, “this team has our number”. On another day Seattle would’ve added a couple more scores and romped to the kind of home win they had in week one.

They were totally responsible for what happened in the fourth quarter — turning a coast into a near crumble. The missed a field goal, conceded an avoidable safety and gave up a careless interception. Then to cap things off — an 80-yard, 40-odd second, eight-point drive where the Broncos used the same concept multiple times.

Kudos to Denver — this time they were the opportunistic team. Manning still had to make those throws. The two-point conversion was a brilliant piece of scheming and execution. The shovel pass for the first touchdown was equally good. Aqib Talib breaking off his route to deflect Russell Wilson’s pass was another excellent play.

All of this was avoidable though. Seattle almost gave the game away — before finally snatching it back.

None of this should diminish the performance of Seattle’s defense for three quarters of smothering, dominant football. This was possibly their most accomplished performance in the Carroll-era.

A 2-1 record might look only ‘Okay-ish’ for a team carrying so many expectations. In reality they played incredibly well against Manning and the Broncos, handled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and were beaten, just, in 120-degree heat in San Diego at the hands of Philip Rivers at his very best.

Seattle lost three games last year. In none of those defeats did they face an opponent like Rivers playing at such a high level. They almost lost other games too — including against a Kellen Clemens led St. Louis and against hopeless Tampa Bay fielding a rookie QB.

In the video above it’s pointed out that Seattle has conceded a lot more points in their first three games this year compared to 2013. This year they’ve faced Rodgers, Rivers and Manning in weeks 1-3. Last year they faced Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Chad Henne.

That information wasn’t disclosed in the take-making process.

Week four college football notes

— I posted the video earlier in the week, but I was very impressed with Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) against Florida State and left tackle Cameron Erving. Seattle has the smallest roster in the NFL but they’ve got a ton of speed. Beasley plays in the 235lbs range but he has fantastic get off, terrific balance to lean round the edge and explode to the quarterback. He’s prepared to use his hands (vital) and will mix it up. Yes — he will get blocked out of plays. Yes — he will struggle in run defense. As a pure pass rusher though he is exceptional. He’s a fighter. He plays with the required attitude. In his last 23 games he has 25 sacks. I’m convinced he’ll go a lot earlier than people think next year, especially if he tests well at the combine.

— Markus Golden didn’t feature in Missouri’s costly defeat to Indiana. He reportedly has a hamstring issue — but it’s not clear how long he’ll be absent. The Tigers clearly need him alongside prolific team-mate Shane Ray.

— We highlighted Kevin White (WR, West Virginia) in week one after he put up gaudy numbers against Alabama. This guy is legit and worth monitoring. He’s tall (6-2/6-3) with deep speed and excellent control. He high points the football well and he’s competitive. In the past he suffered with confidence issues but there’s no sign of that in 2014. Against Oklahoma he posted a 10-catch stat-line for 173 yards and a touchdown. He looks a bit like Bruce Irvin with the WVU jersey, dreads and #11. Only Amari Cooper has more yards in the NCAA after week four.

— Landon Collins (S, Alabama) had his best game in college against Florida on Saturday. At times he’s looked a bit pedestrian — perhaps more suited as an undersized linebacker without the range at safety. Yet against the Gators he was all over the field — breaking up plays, making tackles at the LOS and grabbing a nice interception. On this performance he has the skills to be effective at the next level. He’s got to keep it up though. It looks like another weak group of safety’s this year.

— Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) already has more touchdowns than last season and it won’t be long before he has more yards too. Cooper was sensational as a true freshman — flashing natural catching ability, route running skills and the ability to get open. Arguably he was the best receiver in the SEC in 2012. Last year was a step back. I’ve seen arguments to suggest he wasn’t 100% — but he still made to many mental errors. Alabama are throwing a ton right now and Cooper is putting in a Biletnikoff winning year. He had ten catches against Florida for 201 yards and three touchdowns — you can see the tape below. He’ll need stats and technical quality to make up for a lack of elite size/speed.

— Austin Hill (WR, Arizona) has injury issues but is incredibly talented. On Saturday he had his first big performance in a while — helping the Wildcats beat California with 127 yards and two scores, including the game-winner. A serious injury history will hold him back, but he can make it in the NFL.

 

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson ) vs Cameron Erving (LT, FSU)

September 22nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Here’s Tony Pauline’s take:

A year ago when Florida State annihilated Clemson, Beasley’s performance ran parallel to the beating his team received as he tallied one solo tackle and was handled all game by Seminoles left tackle Cameron Erving. And while Clemson lost a close game in overtime this weekend, Beasley’s performance was brilliant compared to a year ago. The senior terrorized Florida State all night posting 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. It was obvious Florida State focused on Beasley as two blockers were assigned to him most of the night. The end result was Beasley breaking through blocks to make plays or the creation of opportunities for teammates. Most impressive was his ability rushing the passer out of a three point stance as well as standing up over tackle. This time around Erving looked intimidated and confused through much of the game.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Broncos (just), move to 2-1

September 21st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch won the game for Seattle in overtime

The Seahawks had two opportunities to finish this game. They wasted the first, but grabbed the second to defeat the Broncos 26-20 in overtime.

A missed Steven Hauschka field goal, an avoidable safety and unnecessary Russell Wilson interception gave the Broncos a chance to steal a game they appeared destined to lose at 17-3. Russell Wilson’s brilliant overtime drive made sure Seattle kept the victory — just.

It’s not often you play as badly as Seattle did in the fourth quarter and still beat Peyton Manning. The Seahawks got away with an uncharacteristically sloppy final quarter to escape with the win.

At one point the game threatened to turn into another one-sided Super Bowl-esque beat-down. The Broncos were struggling to sustain drives and suffered with a conservative approach in the first half (two draw plays on 3rd and long proving fruitless). Seattle established a big lead thanks to touchdown passes from Wilson to Ricardo Lockette and Marshawn Lynch. Even without scoring, they remained in control in the third quarter.

Then they threw it away.

The game-tying 80-yard drive with a minute to go was inexplicable. The Seahawks rushed three and played prevent defense — no shocks there. Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders on a blown coverage by Byron Maxwell for 42-yards just moments after surviving a big scare on the exact same play call. Moments later he found Jacob Tamme on another poor coverage and a similar wheel route exploiting K.J. Wright. 80-yards in just over 40-seconds with no time-outs. In Seattle.

Give credit to the Broncos for finding the hole in the defense — give them more credit for a brilliantly executed two-point conversion. Yet for such a good defense to get beat like it did — this was a shocker.

Until that point Seattle’s unit had appeared every bit as dominant as in the Super Bowl.

Having coughed up one chance to finish the game it was left to Wilson to get the job done — and he did so with a brilliant game-winning drive of identical length to Manning’s surge. 80-yards of hurry up, keeper’s, nicely designed plays to the perimeter and eventually a strong run up the middle ended an entertaining contest. The type Super Bowl Champions are supposed to win at home.

Other notes:

— Seeing Walters, Lockette and Richardson line up on 3rd and 9 at 17-12 was, well, strange. Seattle failed to convert on a throw aimed at Walters. That’s no disrespect to the three receivers on the field, but surely you’d expect to see Harvin, Kearse and Baldwin in that situation — at a critical point in the game?

— Ricardo Lockette had a big day — catching a nice deep ball on Aqib Talib for a score (high pointed the football too), excelling as a gunner (again) and even breaking up a sure-fire pick-six with a tactical offensive P.I.

— Justin Britt might not face a tougher non-NFC West opponent this year. DeMarcus Ware gave him fits at times. Ware and Von Miller did a great job containing Wilson in regulation. Denver also had Seattle’s number defending the run — the Seahawks appeared to have most success when using Harvin as a decoy, before handing off to Lynch. It’s a nice wrinkle to have, especially if standard formations are struggling to penetrate.

— Prior to Kam Chancellor’s late pick, Peyton Manning hadn’t thrown an interception in the month of September in any of his previous 380 snaps.

— Russell Okung couldn’t afford another serious injury. He looked in serious pain at the end of the first half due to a shoulder problem. To his credit he returned after half time — and he needed to.

— Marshawn Lynch is so vital to this team, it’s going to be virtually impossible to replace him whenever that day comes.

— San Francisco lost to Drew Stanton’s Arizona to drop to 1-2. I dipped in and out of the game and from what I saw they appeared ill-disciplined, rattled and nothing like the 49ers of recent memory. They face 3-0 Philadelphia next week. Meanwhile Arizona leads the NFC West at 3-0. Bruce Arians is a fantastic coach — they haven’t missed a beat despite a series of key injuries. After the bye the face Denver (A), Washington (H), Oakland (A) and Philadelphia (H). They face Seattle for the first time on November 23rd. The 10-6 record last year was no fluke.

 

College football week four open thread

September 20th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Thoughts to come after the weekend, in the meantime feel free to use this thread to debate today’s games.

Comedy moment of the weekend goes to Florida State, who suspended quarterback Jameis Winston for the whole of today’s game against Clemson. Winston still dressed in full pads, but was sent back to the locker room by Jimbo Fisher to change. The look on his face is priceless…

As PFT’s Michael David Smith writes, I’m not sure Winston “gets it”:

Florida State announced late last night that Winston will not play at all in today’s game against Clemson. He had initially been suspended for the first half of the game for screaming an obscene phrase in the student union; the suspension for the second half reportedly comes because Florida State discovered that Winston lied to school authorities about some of the circumstances surrounding that incident.

Winston, of course, has had many prior off-field incidents that will make NFL teams question whether his immense talent is worth the headaches. By far the most serious is the accusation from a female Florida State student that he raped her. Winston was not charged, and the Tallahassee Police Department botched that investigation so thoroughly that we’ll never know what really happened.

Winston’s other incidents were far less serious than a sexual assault, but the sum total of them is to question whether he cares at all about the potential consequences of his actions: He was arrested for shoplifting crab legs. He was involved in a BB gun battle that damaged his apartment complex, and hours later Florida State police stopped him and handcuffed him for carrying a pellet gun near campus (he said he was using it to shoot at squirrels). Before last season’s national championship game, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher kicked Winston out of practice and explained later that he wanted Winston to understand that “it’s not about you.”

For me it’s quite clear, Jameis Winston isn’t ready to be a professional football player and has no place declaring for the 2015 draft. Whether he does or not remains to be seen. But he isn’t ready.

 

Thoughts on Shaq Thompson & tape vs Illinois

September 18th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Huskies have several prospective NFL players. Only one, in my opinion, is likely to go in the first round next year. It’s too early to say that with any certainty, but Thompson is the one who ticks pretty much every box as a likely high pick.

He’s athletic, having moved from the defensive backfield to linebacker. He has ideal size to act as a roaming linebacker — not too heavy, but certainly not as light as Ryan Shazier (who went in the mid-first in 2014). He’s a good tackler, he’s a potential playmaker. He’s a former 5-star recruit. You sense his best football is yet to come.

Speaking of Shazier, personally I don’t think the two are overly similar. While Thompson is an excellent athlete, Shazier is a freak of nature. He was the heart and soul of a competitive Ohio State defense. He was a big time character guy and leader. Without a doubt he was one of the top players in the 2014 draft and one of the best defensive prospects to enter the league over the last few years. Shazier was totally underrated.

Thompson will struggle to live up to that standard. It doesn’t mean he can’t go as early, but there’ll be no shame if he’s not quite as good. He’s perhaps more likely to go in the 20-32 range if he does go in the first frame. That’s still no mean feat.

It’ll be interesting to see if any teams consider moving him back to safety and asking him to drop a few pounds. You can’t rule it out. He could easily revert to strong safety.

He’s a terrific player with a lot of potential. Speed is an increasingly valuable commodity on defense as the Seahawks are showing. Thompson is entering the league at an ideal time to max out his draft potential.

 

Wednesday draft notes — Marcus Mariota & Jameis Winston

September 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marcus Mariota isn’t a big talker. Who cares?

Greg Bedard at MMQB.si.com has written a feature on Marcus Mariota’s pro-prospects. The headline for the piece is ‘Everything’s There But the Fire‘.

Here’s how the story begins…

“He scrambles like Kaepernick, sheds tacklers like Roethlisberger and throws with preternatural precision. It all points to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 pick next year and sure-fire NFL franchise QB.”

Bedard goes on to further compliment Mariota…

“Mariota looks as if he’s been designed by a franchise-quarterback computer program.”

“He also has a bulletproof work ethic and a desire to be great. Raised in Honolulu, he’s kind and humble and soft-spoken and has never been linked to any sort of off-the-field trouble.”

“Mariota throws the ball with a quick, smooth and quiet over-the-top motion… he doesn’t take a long stride when stepping into his throws, which is the foundation of a quick release.”

“Then there’s Mariota’s speed. Even after Michael Vick, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Mariota may project as the best dual-threat quarterback ever to come out of college.”

All of these points come with a counter. A negative to temper the extreme positives, albeit only slightly.

“Does he play it too cool?”

Bedard later adds…

“Outwardly, the concern is understandable. Before Michigan State, the biggest nonconference game in Autzen Stadium history, it wasn’t Mariota who stoked the flames by screaming encouragement at the team; it was senior cornerback Dior Mathis. And as the Spartans scored 20 straight points to take a 27–18 lead, Mariota was seen on the sideline only quietly clapping or giving players fist bumps.”

Five NFL execs were asked about this for the piece and one replied he didn’t think it was a fair question. I sort of agree.

Mariota is a fantastic player, as Bedard acknowledges. In the modern NFL he might be pretty much the ideal QB prospect. He has the physical strength to make the downfield throws and the accuracy for any team looking to play with a quicker tempo. He can be a read-option threat, he can run for positive yardage and he’ll extend plays against a productive pass rush. He is Kaepernick-plus and he’s capable of being effective in both conventional and creative schemes.

Who cares if he’s not an alpha male?

Some of Seattle’s success in player recruitment is down to constantly asking what a player can do, while avoiding lingering too much on what he can’t.

Any team doubting Mariota’s skills because of a supposed issue like this deserves to lose games and be in position to draft him with the top pick. Nobody — nobody — comes close to his level of potential heading into next year’s draft. It might be an issue if he was moody, aloof and unresponsive. Every report you read about Mariota suggests he’s the ideal team player with a great work ethic. He just isn’t a big talker.

You could even argue his ability to keep his emotions in check is a major positive trait. So what if he wasn’t shouting at his team mates during a tough stretch in the Michigan State game? His ability to take each play at a time, remain composed and ultimately lead an emphatic comeback is surely only a good thing?

A quarterback doesn’t have to be the most outspoken, vocal leader on the team. Russell Wilson is a very determined, hard working individual. He leads by example. I sense — with some confidence — he’s not a chest beating, emotive speech-maker. Seattle’s players probably turn to Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman for that kind of motivation — and previously Red Bryant. In fairness Bedard himself name-checks several Super Bowl winners, including Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, who have similar personalities to Mariota.

We as draft enthusiasts shouldn’t waste any time worrying about this — and more importantly, neither should NFL teams.

Mariota will be a terrific player at the next level, giving a team an instant identity, a playmaker and a cause for optimism.

Jameis Winston to miss one half against Clemson this weekend

A good example of someone who is viewed as a vocal leader in his dressing room — and very much an alpha male — is Florida State’s Jameis Winston…

Winston won the Heisman last year and led Florida State to a national title. However, the character concerns he presents are much more serious. This latest act doesn’t touch the seriousness of some of the previous issues he’s had — it’s just another sign of immaturity.

Nobody expects college players to be saintly in their approach. Who can say they were perfect, upstanding citizens aged 18-21? Yet Winston has a lot to lose and needed to keep his head down this season. He also has a lot to work on technically — especially a long-winding release that must be addressed to avoid growing comparisons to Byron Leftwich. He’s not as accurate as Mariota and he’s not the same kind of runner. It was strange watching him squint at the sideline last season and refuse to wear contact lenses. And now this.

Michael David Smith at PFT sums it up pretty well:

Winston’s latest offense is that he stood up in a crowded area of the Florida State campus and screamed, “F–k her right in the pu–y.” He apparently thought that was funny because that phrase has been spoken on some viral videos, and some pranksters have managed to say it on live television.

If this were Winston’s first offense, it might be written off as a sophomoric joke. But it’s far from the first offense for Winston, who was accused of raping a fellow Florida State student in a case that led to no criminal charges but a subsequent investigation into whether the school and the local police botched their handling of the matter. Winston was also previously suspended from the school’s baseball team for shoplifting. There’s a widespread belief that Winston just doesn’t get how a high-profile athlete is supposed to conduct himself.

For me, he’s not ready to be a NFL pro. Some people need longer to mature. Remember, this is only Winston’s second season as a starting college quarterback. He’s a redshirt sophomore.

By January he could be a double National Champion with nothing else left to prove. For the sake of his NFL career, he might be best served going for the hat-trick. Even then — the FSU staff clearly aren’t getting through to him, which is probably why they’ve taken this latest measure to suspend him for such a key game.

Either way, it’s hard to imagine any franchise spending a first round pick on Winston in 2015 — however successful he is.

 

Monday notes — about PFF, Shawn Oakman, Eric Striker & more

September 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Pro Football Focus received a lot of attention this summer when broadcaster Cris Collinsworth bought a stake in it. In many ways it further legitimised the product. We’re going to be hearing even more about PFF’s grades as a consequence. Bob Condotta at the Seattle Times dedicated a lengthy blog post to their breakdown of the defeat in San Diego.

I hope the extra attention and respect doesn’t stop people challenging some of their analysis. PFF’s system isn’t always water-tight, as the following tweet suggests:

Wilson’s two-touchdown, highly productive display against San Diego graded almost identically to Colin Kaepernick’s four-turnover meltdown against Chicago.

Here’s the issue as far as I can see it — PFF’s grades rely on one man’s opinion on a players responsibility during a given play and his ability to execute. As far as I’m aware they don’t use all-22 tape, it’s based on the broadcast output. They’re also judging based on their diagnosis of the scheme and play call. They’re grading a guard, for example, and saying he didn’t do his job because of X, Y or Z.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was criticised by some for the following remarks…

I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do. I would just ask everybody to take that with a grain of salt, including our fans.

… and yet instead of appearing dated or out of touch, Zimmer simply points at the elephant in the room. An analyst sat at home watching the game on his TV or computer is grading every player based on what he interprets his role to be. Sometimes they’ll be right, sometimes they’ll be wrong. To take those grades on face value is to take a leap of faith in the individuals ability to break down every play call and scheme.

I’m not doubting their ability to get it right most of the time. However, it would only take one misjudgement on one scheme to potentially eschew a grade dramatically. If a player isn’t doing what they think he should be repeatedly, he’ll get marked down — possibly unfairly if he’s doing the exact job he’s been set by the coaching staff.

It’s also my understanding they don’t take into account the opponent. So a player competing against J.J. Watt is graded in exactly the same way as a player facing Benson Mayowa. Neither does it take into account supporting cast. J.R. Sweezy was marked down during a stretch where he was the only healthy starter remaining on the offensive line. He was criticised, to some extent, because he played on a hopeless line featuring Paul McQuistan and rookie Michael Bowie at tackle against the likes of Watt, Robert Quinn and Calais Campbell.

In the case of Kaepernick, whoever graded the Bears game clearly decided the quarterback wasn’t responsible for the four turnovers. They decided that his display was on a par with one of the top QB performances over the weekend.

It just doesn’t seem right.

I first became sceptical of the PFF system when I noticed they’d graded Earl Thomas as one of the worst starting safety’s in the league during the 2012 season. Perhaps he wasn’t at his Defensive MVP best like we saw in 2013, but one of the worst?

There is some science involved in the way they grade. It’d be wrong to suggest this is all based on a take. Yet there is a lot of one man’s opinion involved. The Collinsworth-inspired attention has legitimised PFF in a way it never previously experienced. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, because it seems like people are accepting their analysis as gospel. It isn’t. Use it, quote it, debate it. But take it for what it is.

For what it’s worth I’m not one of those anti-analytics types. Football Outsiders is a fantastic website and a weekly must-visit.

Shawn Oakman tape vs Buffalo

He stands out on a handful of plays here — especially the sack. He moves so well despite a reported 6-9, 280lbs frame. For that reason I’m almost certain he’ll be a high pick. There just aren’t many human beings with this level of size and freedom of movement. If Ziggy Ansah can go in the top-five based purely on potential, Oakman could easily be a very high pick next year.

Like Ansah, however, there’s a lot to work on. He has a tendency to get blocked out of plays too easily given his size. He can play with a greater intensity and his technique overall needs some refinement. Yet if he was a really polished, dominating defensive end he’d be a lock to go first overall. Nobody should be surprised he needs a bit of fine tuning.

A coach or GM somewhere will fall in love with the idea of developing this guy. The top-10 doesn’t seem unlikely.

Weekend scouting notes:

I watched the Tennessee-Oklahoma game and focused mainly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. He’s a talented player who moves well for his size. He had a sack in the first half — stunting around and bursting to the QB. He could develop into a first or second round pick — but he wasn’t the most impressive player on the field in this game.

Eric Striker (6-0, 221lbs) is used mainly as a pass rusher but he’s really an athletic, roaming linebacker who just makes plays. He’s a junior and had three sacks in the Sugar Bowl last season versus Alabama. In this game he was constantly involved and stood out a mile.

With smaller, athletic linebackers getting more attention (see: Ryan Shazier) — Striker could be a coveted prospect. His ability to rush from the outside, cover and fly around will be attractive to many teams. If you get a chance to watch the Sooners this year take a look at #19.

It was also another impressive day for senior Chuka Ndulue. He looks bigger than 6-3 and 289lbs and while he might not end up being a high pick — he’ll add quality depth to a defensive line rotation. He’s a NFL player playing college football right now and it shows — he dominated the true freshmen on Tennessee’s O-line.

If we’re debating athletic linebackers destined to be high draft picks, Washington’s Shaq Thompson deserves a mention. He had two defensive touchdowns against Illinois and will almost certainly be a first round pick. The Huskies are getting a lot of love right now, but I’m not convinced Danny Shelton or Marcus Peters will go anywhere near round one. Thompson is a different case altogether.

Shelton is a big, productive tackle but is he enough of an athlete to warrant a high grade? Is he not the prototypical mid-round DT? As for Peters — his recent team suspension is a concern and while he showed what he’s capable of against Stanford last year, his performances are quite inconsistent. With good coaching he could be special, but it’s probably a risk too high for the first frame.

I mentioned it on Saturday but Markus Golden continues to dominate for Missouri. He and team mate Shane Ray have already notched nine sacks between them. They could both go in the first two rounds next year.

Kevin White’s fast start continues. The West Virginia receiver is a fantastic prospect — he had a big game against Alabama in the season opener and he’s already up to 460 yards (2nd in the nation overall) and two touchdowns. He’s 6-3 and 210lbs, sudden in his movement and he high points the football. He has suffered with a lack of confidence in the past but he’s showing no signs of that as a senior. He’s another player to keep an eye on this season.

Congrats to Austin Davis

Three years ago I had a chance to interview Davis — a highly motivated and talented individual at the time playing quarterback for Southern Miss. He went undrafted in 2012 and landed with the St. Louis Rams — and this week had his first NFL start against Tampa Bay. He completed 22/29 for 235 yards in a 19-17 upset victory on the road.

If the Rams want someone to control their offense and make the most of a difficult situation, I’ve no doubt Davis is up to the task. And while he’s now playing for a NFC West rival — I wanted to take the time to congratulate him on his first victory as a pro.