Emerging prospects few people talk about

Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Sometimes you only need to see a few snaps of a prospect to notice they’re special. That’s what happens when you watch this guy. The entire NFL is looking for the next Earl Thomas and it could be Malik Hooker. I watched two Ohio State games today and he’s incredible. This draft class is loaded at safety and this guy has the potential to be the best of the lot. The Buckeye’s use him as a single high safety and his range is fantastic. Like Thomas he’s shot out of a cannon, covering ground rapidly and delivering well-timed hits. One interception he had against Bowling Green was stunning. It’s a deep shot to the left sideline — Hooker sprints to the ball and makes a superb leap (amazing vertical) to tip the ball to himself for the pick. Instinct, skill, athleticism — it’s a sensational interception. He reads the play initially, covers about 30 yards in no time at all and his range puts him in position to make one of the picks of the year. He already has four picks this season (most in the country) and returned one for a touchdown. Hooker is special.

Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
These days big defensive tackles generally don’t go early in the draft unless they offer pass rushing ability (see: Jarran Reed’s fall to round two) — but Gaines has the necessary explosive potential despite his size. On one sack against Stanford last week he showed incredible quickness and get-off combined with a terrific swim move to break into the backfield — despite looking every bit a nose tackle at 6-2 and around 320lbs. He added two more sacks against Oregon (he has 7.5 TFL’s for the season & 3.5 sacks) and people are starting to talk. Yes — he’s playing alongside two other excellent prospects in Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls. Yet Gaines has that X-factor that Danny Shelton had — and he’s a better pass rusher. Shelton was the #12 pick in 2015 and while Gaines might not get as high as that — he genuinely looks the part of an impact D-liner. He’s a redshirt sophomore so could easily choose not to declare — but as this Washington team becomes more nationally prominent, some of these defensive studs will start getting more attention. Gaines is very intriguing.

Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
The Washington defense is loaded with talent — an exciting group with NFL players at every level. Budda Baker could be a #1, Sidney Jones could be a #1 — it’s not just Gaines on the D-line with high-pick potential and they have talent at EDGE and linebacker too. Usually the really great college defenses have a linebacker that just pulls everything together and that is the case here. Victor gets things organised and sets the tone but his range and versatility really sets up his draft stock. He can play up in the box and handle the run, he can play in space and read/react and he seems pretty adept in coverage. Linebackers need to be explosive to go early and Victor has that level of athleticism. He can handle sideline-to-sideline, recover and quickly change direction and he’s a sure tackler. It helps playing behind the three-headed monster on the D-line but it’s no different for the brilliant Reuben Foster at Alabama. Both players could go in the top-25.

Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
This time last year nobody was talking about Keanu Neal and he ended up being the #17 pick and with good reason. Explosive speed and hitting — the ability to play coverage and handle playing in the box. Neal was a warrior for Florida and was vastly underrated by the media going into the draft. Marcus Maye isn’t quite as good but he is underrated. He can line up in coverage vs tight ends and hold his own (see his matchup vs Jake Butt from the Citrus Bowl last season). He frequently lines up at the LOS and sets the edge. Maye has the same ability as Byron Maxwell for punching the ball out — it’s an instinctive talent. Pete Carroll once suggested you’ve either got it or you haven’t, that some players have an innate feel for dislodging the ball. Maye has a number of forced fumbles in his career. And while he might not hit quite as hard as Neal he’s arguably better and more fluid in coverage with great anticipation and feel for the flow of a play.

Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
Lawson isn’t by any means an unknown and many have touted his potential to go in the first round. Yet a series of injuries have prevented him from building up a reputation as one of the truly great pass rushers in college football — and that’s exactly what he is. Lawson is a superior talent to Dee Ford (#23 overall pick in 2014) with a fantastic repertoire of pass-rush moves, great speed and hand use and the ability to finish. He already has six sacks this season including five in his last three games. It’s his ability to keep a lineman guessing that really stands out. He’s not a one-trick pony content to win with a predictable speed rush. He’ll stunt inside, he’ll use a spin move, he uses the club/rip. He’ll set up a lineman by rushing inside initially and then changing direction with great quickness and explosion. Lawson converts speed-to-power well, his first step is terrific. Despite a lack of great size or length (6-2, 258lbs) he is really good setting the edge against the run, he anchors with ease and has great upper body power. He’s a street fighter type who loves a battle — his effort is always 100% and he plays to the whistle. If the injury problems (ACL, hip) lead to a fall it’ll be a real shame.

Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
There’s usually one quarterback who emerges and ends up being a high draft pick. Last year it was Paxton Lynch and this year it could be Trubisky. He had a bit of a nightmare against Virginia Tech during the Hurricane/storm that battered the east coast over the weekend. In his previous outings against Florida State and Pittsburgh he was extremely impressive. He doesn’t have a cannon arm but it’s good enough, he manipulates coverage well with his eyes and throws to all areas of the field. He’s mobile enough to extend plays and scramble away from pressure. His footwork is very impressive when he’s moved off the spot and he has to reset and fire. He gets the ball out very quikcly. He hadn’t thrown an interception until the Virginia Tech game and in the Florida State & Pittsburgh games he never came close to a turnover — he was accurate and made great decisions. Plus in those two encounters he led game-winning drives with seconds remaining. He is extremely inexperienced (first year as a starter) and would benefit from more time in college (he’s a junior) but sometimes you have to take the chance when it’s there. And with other quarterbacks eligible for 2017 failing to impress, this could be his chance to compete with Deshone Kizer and Deshaun Watson.

Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
We’ve talked a lot about Engram already but it’s really surprising that he doesn’t get as much buzz as Jake Butt and O.J. Howard. Engram is a terrific athlete with a great vertical and safe hands. He might have the best hands in college football — plus the ability to high point the ball in coverage. He’s finally moving out of the shadow of Laquan Treadwell and turning into Ole Miss’ number one target. He leads the team with 479 yards and four touchdowns in five games — and that includes half a game in a walkover against Wofford. In his four other games against Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis he has 436 receiving yards (an average per game of 109 yards), he’s averaging 16.25 YPC and he has four scores. He’s not only producing — he’s producing against some of the best teams in college football. He’s 6-3 and 227lbs so he’s not the biggest but he still gives plenty of effort as a blocker (and he’s somewhat effective) but his major strength at the next level will be working in the slot, detached from the line or as a H-back. He will create mismatches against linebackers and safety’s and would be the perfect addition for teams that like to run 2TE sets. He could be the next big thing at the position — a thoroughly modern day weapon.

DeMarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
When he turns it on — he can be virtually unstoppable. He’s adept at getting off a block. The right coach or environment that gets him amped up could be the catalyst for a productive DT/DE at the next level. By now you’ll know about his 4.5 sack performance against Ole Miss where he flashed get-off, violent hands, technique, burst and the ability to finish. He helped change the game completely. It wasn’t a one-off this year. Florida State’s defense has been pretty miserable in 2016 but Walker was the only player who got close to limiting Lamar Jackson. He did a decent job on his side vs the read-option on a day Jackson helped Louisville to an improbable blow-out. On Sunday against Miami Walker won the game for FSU. In the second half he made a number of crucial plays — including helping DT Derrick Nnandi get a sack by forcing Brad Kaaya to step into the pocket with a great outside rush. And when Miami scored a late touchdown to seemingly tie the game — Walker blocked the extra point to secure a dramatic one-point victory. He’s an impact player who can work inside and out — and when guys make as many plays as Walker has in 2016 so far you can forgive a little inconsistency.

Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Another player we’ve talked a lot about so far this year but surprisingly he still isn’t getting much attention. Anzalone is basically a Clay Matthews clone — and it’s not just the hair style. He plays virtually the same role as Matthews in college. Neither had major sack production but showed flashes of potential. Green Bay moved Matthews into more of an EDGE role in the 3-4 to start his career and he piled up the sacks. Anzalone has great get-off and pursuit and looks tailor made for a similar role either as a WILL or a 3-4 OLB. Florida challenged him to work predominantly in coverage vs Tennessee and he held his own — working well against tight ends and receivers over the middle. This is a loaded Gators defense with talent all over the field but the coaches consistently highlight the play of Anzalone and fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis. Like Matthews he’s unlikely to wow anyone with a great forty time but I’m willing to bet he also has a really good 10-yard split (also like Matthews) and it’s that ability to go from 0-60 in a flash that’ll intrigue teams enough to think he can have the same kind of impact in the pro’s.


  1. HawkFan907

    I’m hoping that Victor will be there at the end of the first for us to grab. He would fill that hole that Bruce Irvin vacated.

    Rob, have you had a chance to check out Jamaal Williams out of BYU? He has been discussed a lot in the comments lately and many others have begun to take notice. This was an article written today about him… http://www.todayspigskin.com/nfl-draft/top-rb-prospect-havent-heard-byus-jamaal-williams/

    He reminds me of LeGarrette Blount, although he doesn’t weigh as much and is definitely faster (and he doesn’t have the off-field issues). I think he is exactly what we thought Alex Collins could have been. If the Seahawks want to go back to a two-back system like Carroll had at USC, he could be the thunder to the lightning Michael/Rawls bring.

    My favorite stat outside of the nearly 900 yards he has racked up this year against quality opponents (5 P5 schools and Toledo) is that he leads the nation in missed tackles forced according to PFF with 35. The On The Clock podcast from SI think he could end up being a Day 2 pick. Any thoughts on him?

    • vrtkolman

      It would be hard to justify spending a 1st round pick on a linebacker who will play … 20% of snaps? Love Victor though.

      • Jeff M.

        If they got a versatile rangy LB in the Irvin mold who can both cover and rush the passer he’d play a lot more than the 25% of snaps Mike Morgan is currently getting (even if that’s the guy he would most directly replace). You have to figure he takes some snaps from all of Bennett (90%), Avril (80%), Lane (75%), Clark (60%), and Marsh (25%) as well. In fact, we can just look to the 70% of snaps Irvin played last year (while the pass rushers all got rotated more frequently and the nickel was used less frequently).

        None of that says Victor is the guy necessarily, but if there’s a multi-role LB or a modern S/LB hybrid available in the late first (particularly if there’s no OT they like, which seems like it may be the case from preliminary reviews of the class) it could definitely be a spot we target.

        • vrtkolman

          Can Victor cover slot corners in the NFL? Shaq Thompson is probably the most athletic and freaky linebacker in the league and even he is taken off the field on nickel packages.

          • Rob Staton

            Thompson’s combine wasn’t that great.

            • Volume12

              BYU RB Jamaal Williams is one of the most unique runners in terms of style in this class. Great contact balance, can create for himself one on one, has an extra burst to get to the edge. A physically talented back.

              He just runs so damn hard. And has shown he can be a workhorse. Explodes upfield. Love his ability to work in tight/small spaces.

              I couldn’t agree more with comp that someone said. ‘There’s a certain aspect of his game that is very, very similar to BeastMode’s. That high-stepping.’

              I don’t see LeGarrette Blount at all. I actually think Texas RB D’Onta Foreman is the most similar to Blount, but better feet, speed, and wiggle.

              • Volume12

                And speaking of feet, BYU’s Williams has excellent, nimble feet.

              • HawkFan907

                They way Blount broke tackles coming out of college was what I was insinuating. One play I really enjoyed from him this past game was when he broke off a huge run and looked up at the big screen to see the defender closing in on him. Right when the defender was getting ready for a strip he cut towards the sideline to avoid it.

                Another stat which I didn’t know is he leads the nation in 40+ yard runs. Again, BYU isn’t playing against a bunch of no name schools either, they have played one of the toughest schedules this year. Here is to hoping that he is there in the third for us to take.

                • Volume12

                  I see what ya mean.

                  Regarding their schedule. Talent is talent. I bet next year BYU will be in the BIG 12 along with Houston.

                  Yeah grabbing him in the 3rd would be pretty ideal. Wouldn’t mind him at the end of round 2 either.

                  Georgia’s Nick Chubb is another back I could see them liking. He’s obviously not the same speed or weight wise as he was back in 2014 before his injury, but dude is a human bowling ball. Defenses can’t tackle him one on one. Ya wanna stop him? Better swarm to him and gang tackle dude.

                  What Chubb is doing right now at probably 75-85% healthy, is pretty remarkable. For me, it shows his toughness, grit, and leadership.

  2. Volume12

    Big fan of all 3 of Ohio St’s eligible DB’s.

    Not 1st rounders like S Malik Hooker, but CB’s Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, I like Lattimore, all look like they’ll be very good-great at the next level.

  3. Kenny Sloth

    Anyone else notice the first vine had a handle of aaron hernandez?

    I guess it could be dude’s name

  4. Chase

    Hey Rob. Have read everything you’ve written since the beginning but don’t post too often. Really appreciate the hard work and dedication you put into all things Seahawks and the draft itself. I use a lot of your player writeups/rankings/tape/etc. for my own lists I create. Thank you brother. I’m a big Michigan fan and as you know they have a loaded D. Two players that stand out to me (not named Peppers) are DLs Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. I wanted to get your thoughts on those two, if you see either in the first round and if either would look good in a Hawk’s uni.

  5. Ishmael

    Lot of fun dudes to watch in there, can’t get over that Engram TD though… Moves so fluidly and gets some serious hangtime. Imagine him and Graham in the RZ together?

  6. East Side Stevie

    I am liking Michigan’s Jourdan lewis more and more although he has only played in 3 games so far this season

    I dont think he will be a first rounder though

    • Volume12

      He is a stud, but he’s only like 5’8 1/2-5’9. He does appear to have good length for his size, but I doubt their 32″.

      He’ll be a really good nickel corner for someone, I could see NE liking him, just not for us.

  7. FKA_Mousecop

    Gaines armlength is something that hold him back even though it looks like he has the talent to overcome it.

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