Even with canceled games and missed opportunities for draft prospects, our weekly “Winners and losers” column rolls on. Here are the prospects who impressed us this past weekend — and those who came up short.
Notre Dame QB Ian Book
For a few weeks now, my stock answer for what kind of prospect Book will be has been to default to former North Dakota State QB and 2019 Los Angeles Chargers fifth-rounder Easton Stick. It felt like a fair assessment.
Book entered the season with mostly mid-to-late Day 3 grades, and his smaller frame and sometimes hectic style figured to always limit his appeal. Now, following a string of impressive performances (including the past three games against Clemson, Boston College and North Carolina), I’m ready to revise that comp.
After all, Book completed 23 of 33 passes against the Tar Heels for 279 yds and a touchdown, rushed for 48 more yards and currently has an interception-less streak of 237 passes, dating back to the opener against Duke. In fact, if you go back to the end of the 2019 season, Book has only one pick in his past 368 passes. (Duke picked him off twice a year ago, coincidentally.)
So I texted a Midwest scout who has seen Book’s success as a college QB and watched him grow as an NFL prospect. Who does Book remind the scout of?
Jeff Garcia, he told me. Not the name I was expecting, but it makes sense.
Garcia was far from a roundly beloved prospect coming out of San Jose State in the early ’90s — like Book, branded too small, too hectic, too not NFL. For that time, anyway. And it took him five years of success in the CFL and a visionary in Bill Walsh (who had returned to the 49ers’ front office) to see Garcia’s NFL potential.
Book’s road to the league shouldn’t be quite as circuitous because it appears that he’s only helped his draft stock and could push for a spot in Round 4 — or even higher. It will be fascinating to see which team drafts him, perhaps a club such as the Pittsburgh Steelers that will need to find its eventual starter or one such as the Houston Texans or Kansas City Chiefs, who have their current starter but might want a backup to groom with similar skills to their almost irreplaceable stars in Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.
Book’s deep-ball effectiveness has improved dramatically from his first few seasons, and even — despite fewer downfield attempts — from a year ago. He still has issues throwing intermediate and deep toward the sidelines but has developed the kind of hip torque and arm strength to get the balls to their targets more readily.
Like with Jalen Hurts a year ago, Book holds onto the ball too long. That won’t fly as readily in the NFL; he has to speed up his clock and not assume his brilliant offensive line and his own athleticism will keep him safe.
Overall, it’s hard not to love and appreciate the strides Book has made as an NFL prospect over the past few years. And with a potential playoff spot looming for the Irish, there are more tests awaiting.
UCLA RB-WR Demetric Felton
The time is nigh that we talk about the Bruins’ multi-purpose back after a tremendous outing against Arizona on Saturday. Felton ran the ball 32 times for 206 yards with a touchdown and caught four passes for 24 yards in the Bruins’ 27-10 victory, despite leaving the game with a lower-body injury and the Bruins having been forced to start a freshman backup QB.
Felton’s receiving output actually has dwindled this season — and that was considered his main skill coming into the year. He caught 55 passes for 594 and four scores a year ago, including a 7-150-2 receiving performance against Washington State in 2019 that only was marred by a rare pair of drops. He was essentially a wideout last year who occasionally took carries out of the backfield.
This season, Felton’s role has been different and he has made more hay on the ground than in the past. He has exactly the number of carries through four games (101) that Felton totaled in his first 25 college outings, taking a backseat to Joshua Kelley (who has been a solid performer for the Chargers this season).
As a runner, Felton has displayed excellent burst, change-of-direction skills and nice contact balance. In the Arizona game, Felton gained 143 of his 206 yards after contact, staying low and keeping his legs churning. In the past, we’d seen him get too high and also make some questionable decisions in the hole, but that hasn’t seemed to be an issue lately.
Felton has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and he has helped his cause this season with his improved running output and instincts. He also has held up fairly well in pass protection for a back whom scouts estimated was a tick shorter than 5-foot-9 and about 185 pounds last spring.
He might still be a Day 3 draftee, but Felton’s versatile game — he’s also a quality kick returner and could be moved to receiver by an NFL team — will make him a solid prospect.
Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson
Thirty-six carries, 409 yards, eight touchdowns. It’s the kind of stat line you need to do a double take for, and yet it’s what Patterson put up against a respectable Kent State team on Saturday, nearly breaking the FBS single-game rushing yards and TD marks. (And he could have had both had his coach kept Patterson in a few more plays.)
In fact, over the past two games, Patterson has run 67 times for 710 yards and 12 TDs. Only 17 FBS backs have more rushing yards all season and only seven have more rushing touchdowns.
This was one of his final carries of the game:
“He’s a Sunday back,” one NFL talent evaluator told us this summer when the MAC’s playing status this season was in question, and Patterson only has helped his cause with a brilliant start to the season.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Patterson is a fascinating study because he might lack elite burst and long speed, but he possesses excellent vision, good inside running instincts and outstanding feet to change directions on a dime. Patterson’s speed tends to show itself on longer runs once he’s in the clear, more build-up speed it appears.
The other perplexing factor to his game is that the Bulls have yet to throw a pass in his direction this season; that’s now six straight games, dating back to last season, where he has zero targets as a receiver. He only caught 15 passes last season but showed game-changing ability with catches for 54 and 61 yards.
Can he be a third-down back in the NFL? A change-up runner? Those are questions scouts want answers to. But with Patterson’s shocking output as a make-you-miss runner, there’s still quite a bit of intrigue. He has a year of eligibility remaining, but Patterson is believed to be considering early entry while his stock is scorching.
We’re not saying he’ll be as successful in the NFL, but Patterson gives us some serious Ray Rice at Rutgers vibes.
Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar
It figures to be a better year at tight end in the 2021 NFL draft than this spring, when only one was selected in the first 90 picks. Kolar’s solid season — especially after a breakout game Saturday against Texas — only seem to strengthen a respectable group of prospects at the position.
Kolar first caught our attention with a big game against Oklahoma last season, and on Saturday against the Longhorns he was an instrumental figure with six catches (five for first downs) for 131 yards in the Cyclones’ 23-20 win. He did have an early drop, but Kolar delivered as a receiver the rest of the afternoon.
QB Brock Purdy seemed to lean on Kolar in crucial moments, such as on the final drive of the first half (which ended on a missed field goal), the opening drive of the second half (three straight catches for Kolar, netting 6, 31 and 17 yards to set up a field goal) and on Iowa State’s final drive of the game, when a Kolar catch set up the game-winning score.
Kolar also hauled in an impressive 44-yard grab late in the third quarter, finding a soft spot in the defense and dragging three defenders an extra few yards at the end of the catch.
We view Kolar as being somewhere on the Cameron Brate-Mark Andrews spectrum as a prospect. Kolar lines up flexed out into the slot or split wide more often that he’s in-line — despite his 6-foot-5 and 255-pound frame, he’s more of a king-sized receiver in Iowa State’s offense.
Can he block? Functionally, we’d say, as he’s not at all a people mover in the run game but appears to have — in very limited opportunities — improved as a pass blocker a bit. Still, his best skill is roaming the seam and finding open spaces to high-point the ball and serve as a security blanket for his quarterback.
Alabama offensive line
This was just a banner performance all around in Bama’s whipping of Auburn.
We’ll have time to extol the virtues of true sophomore RT Evan Neal and redshirt sophomore Emil Ekiyor Jr., both of whom could be tremendous prospects in 2022, on another day.
But for this week, we’ll focus on Bama’s 2021 draft-eligible trio — LT Alex Leatherwood, C Landon Dickerson and RG Deonte Brown — plus Kendall Randolph, the unit’s sixth man and occasional blocking tight end.
First, he’s a pretty good snapshot of how the group played. Absolutely clean and precise dominance across the board on all six of Bama’s touchdowns.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 28, 2020
There were a few mixups in the game in terms of pass protection. On a few of them, it’s hard to know where to place blame — the quarterback, play call, the line or other factors. But in terms of run blocking, this group just owned the line of scrimmage
Taking away the lost sack yardage and the end-of-game kneeldown, the Crimson Tide averaged 7.1 yards per rush attempt and were not tackled behind the line once.
The 6-foot-5, 313-pound Leatherwood might be an NFL guard for some, but he punches with urgency, possesses some solid physical traits and has versatility, starting at left tackle and right guard (and playing some right tackle). He looks like a second-round pick to our eyes, perhaps with the potential to trickle into the back end of Round 1 with excellent testing.
Dickerson is a tough, nasty mauler with great awareness who can line up at any of the three interior spots — and has played all five OL spots, dating back to his time at Florida State. That versatility, outstanding size (6-foot-5, 344 pounds with nearly 11-inch hands), football IQ and toughness could make him a top-50 selection. He reminds us a bit of a taller version of Seattle Seahawks 2020 third-rounder Damien Lewis, who already has started games at guard and center in the NFL and looks like a steal.
Brown likely isn’t going to test through the roof come NFL combine time, but he’s an absolute mass of humanity (6-foot-3, 360 pounds) despite relatively short arms and small hands. In the run game, Brown is a powerful masher, but it has been his ability to climb to the second level and lead the pull game that has opened my eyes. He might be an early Day 3 pick but carries starter-level potential at the next level in the right type of system.
Randolph might end up being a quality utility lineman. He’s a redshirt junior and could return to try to earn a starting spot next year and help his stock.
Washington DB Elijah Molden
Call him a nickel. Say he’s undersized. Question his speed, if you wish. But don’t say that Molden isn’t a terrific ballplayer.
The roughly 5-foot-9, 186-pound (scouts’ measurements) mighty mite has been one of the Huskies’ most valuable and versatile defenders, mostly manning the spot but also handling various other roles, for the past few years now.
And he came up in a big way on Saturday. Trailing 21-zip to Utah at halftime, Molden cut off a crossing pattern to pick off Utes QB Jake Bentley early on in the third quarter, returning it 24 yards and helping set the stage for a massive comeback. Molden finished the game with eight tackles (one for loss), one pressure as a blitzer, that pick and a great game all around in coverage.
Molden came back to school after flirting with entering the 2020 NFL draft, and we think it will boost his stock from the mostly late Day 2 grades he received this summer. With three more strong games under his belt so far, Molden might be trending toward being a Round 2 pick, even though his size and lack of track speed (estimated 4.6 40-yard dash) might scare some teams just a bit.
But with his tenacity and instincts, Molden reminds us a bit of the kind of player Steelers CB Mike Hilton has become, perhaps with a tad better ball skills and just a little less skill as a blitzer.
Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond
It’s been a see-saw season for Mond, who had a poor performance in the 20-7 win over LSU.
He completed only 11 of 34 passes — with at least five drops, but still — for 105 yards. Mond also lost a fumble inside the LSU 5-yard line. He also coughed up a ball on a third-quarter sack in a 13-0 game but was ruled down.
Mond has been much better this season not holding onto the ball too long, speeding up his process and getting his passes off quicker. He also has been an effective runner, even if his numbers have been down in that area, ripping off a 26-yard run on Saturday on a read-option keeper.
But Mond’s week-to-week inconsistency has to drive scouts batty. Even with some missed throws against Alabama, Mond gave the Tide a tough time; he also played very well against Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina, yet his tough outings against lesser defenses — Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and LSU — raise serious questions.
Even on a day when his receivers let him down, Mond’s poor showing as a passer adds another layer of frustration to his overall evaluation. He earned some Day 2 grades over the summer and still figures to intrigue an NFL team with his unlocked potential. A strong Senior Bowl showing could ease some scouts’ nerves on Mond.
For a senior with three years of tutelage under Jimbo Fisher, Mond’s development should be better than where it is now.
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett
It was a really tough outing for Pickett against Clemson, the kind of performance we saw far more of earlier in his career and less so in a relatively strong senior campaign, save for an ankle injury that caused him to miss time.
On Saturday, Pickett threw four interceptions — matching his season total coming in — and took six sacks. Some of them were not Pickett’s fault, and his receivers (four drops) again let him down as things avalanched into a Clemson blowout.
The good news is that Pickett kept fighting despite the scoreboard before being pulled, and he looked to be moving around well despite undergoing a “tightrope” ankle procedure about six weeks ago. Scouts love his toughness and mental makeup.
But more and more it’s looking like Pickett is going to have to carve out a career as a backup with upward mobility than as a possible Day 2 pick who might win a starting spot during his rookie year on merit alone.
We really do like Pickett — to a degree. There are forces beyond his control at Pitt, and no team has dropped more passes over the past few seasons, marring his production quite a bit. That said, there’s only so much draft appeal for a player with only so much quality tape on his resumé (despite starting for parts of four years) against top-tier opponents.
Mississippi State LB Erroll Thompson
It was a tough game all around for the Bulldogs’ defense, but Thompson had a rough afternoon with at least four missed tackles.
The 6-1, 254-pound thumper can deliver some blows in the run game and won’t back down from taking on any blocker. His limitations in coverage and as a blitzer (more of a bull-rush pressure source as opposed to a refined rusher) always will hold him back. And games such as Saturday won’t help either.
Thompson was victimized on Ole Miss’ second touchdown of the game when he slammed into Rebels tackle Royce Newman and couldn’t disengage as RB Snoop Conner flew right by him for the score.
Overall, Thompson has some traits that should get him drafted somewhere on Day 3. People around the program consider him a hard-nosed, tough leader and quality player who might be frustrated with the program’s direction — and perhaps some of that is leaking into his recent play, which has been a shade on the reckless side.
If he can get his pre-draft conditioning in order, shed a few unnecessary pounds and run faster than the mid-4.8 40 times scouts expect out of him, Thompson can improve his draft stock. It has been a slog for a Bulldogs program that came up a few plays short in Saturday’s loss and has had a frustrating run the past few months.
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