When we wrote last week that Saturday would be a big game for LSU’s quarterback, Joe Burrow, we admittedly didn’t realize just how big it would be.
Burrow walked away from the Tigers’ showcase victory over Texas as perhaps the biggest winner of any 2020 NFL draft prospect from last week.
He entered this season with draft grades hovering in the Day 3 range. Now after two weeks, his incredible efficiency — 54-of-66 passing (a stunning 81.8 percent) for 749 yards, nine TDs and one interception — has that grade very much on the rise.
Texas’ defense didn’t do much to stop Burrow and LSU’s revamped passing game. What struck most: A program that for decades has turned to the run as soon as it had a lead late in a game instead asked Burrow to continue throwing to victory. Who was the last LSU quarterback we could say that about?
Even if you doubted Burrow as an NFL prospect or somehow felt that his early season production was scheme-driven or inflated, this throw has to impress you. Watch Burrow step up amid pressure on a crucial down, throw off-balance and on target for the dagger touchdown:
That’s a big-time play. An NFL-caliber throw, no doubt.
It’s unclear where Burrow rates in this class. There’s a ton of season remaining. There are blue-chip QB prospects with more skins on the wall and higher ceilings, such as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert, with Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Utah State’s Jordan Love also garnering a lot of positive attention.
Burrow might not infiltrate that top tier, but he certainly has the potential to go higher in the draft than I thought he might even a few weeks ago. His poise, touch, ability to throw accurately on the move and to reset his feet are all pluses. There’s a lot to like, and this new offense fits him like a glove.
Perhaps he’s Drew Brees’ eventual successor? Joe Brady is LSU’s new passing-game coordinator, helping add life to this offense, and he spent the previous two seasons on Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans. The Saints and LSU have had good working relationships the past several years, too, which is why that connection makes a lot of sense.
There’s a long way to go, but the Utah State-LSU game in early October — and the Love-Burrow showdown — looks even better than anyone could have hoped for. It might be one of the more important draft QB battles we get this season.
A few down for LSU, too
It wasn’t all roses for LSU on Saturday. Although it had a few defensive standouts, it was not the best night for two possible first-round picks — safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton.
Delpit has rare instincts and gifts, and looks to be a future NFL starter. He has been praised by scouts for his all-around play, and for good reason. But after Delpit made a fine third-down stop early in the game, he uncharacteristically missed a few tackles.
Battling against a tough customer such as Texas QB Sam Ehlinger has to be factored into the equation, and I doubt Delpit has many more games such as that one. But you’d like to see him clean that up a bit.
Fulton also was hot and cold. He did a good job in the first 35 minutes of the game or so in his matchups with 6-foot-6 Texas wideout Collin Johnson (giving up about 7 inches in the process) and finished with two passes broken up. But Fulton also was flagged for a DPI and allowed Texas’ Brennan Eagles to beat him a few times late in the game as the Longhorns fought to stay in the game.
Entering the season, I had Fulton as my CB2 in this upcoming class. He was playing lights out last season — even better than Cleveland Browns second-round CB Greedy Williams — before getting hurt. But watching Fulton get handsy in coverage a few times (some of which were not called) and giving up some grabs in this one, I am going to have to reevaluate him in what could be a very deep class.
Longhorns receiver states his case
For the Longhorns, my big winner from the game was Devin Duvernay. What a performance. First, the 5-11, 209-pound WR — who is cousins with Kyler Murray, by the way — broke a Delpit tackle attempt to power his way for a first down on what could have been a tackle for loss. Then Duvernay broke a tackle on the fourth-and-2 completion that he took 44 yards for a score to put Texas back in the game early in the fourth quarter.
It was easily his best college game. Duvernay caught 12 passes for 154 yards and two scores, with most of that coming in the second half against one of the best secondaries in the country. For good measure, Duvernay also completed an 8-yard pass. Still working on a comp for him, but I see a little Deebo Samuel-ish element to his game.
Duvernay first popped on my radar this summer when I watched him make a brilliant diving catch against Maryland last season, and it’s clear that he has some real game-changing ability.
The Longhorns have some talented receivers, but Duvernay needs to see a steady diet of passes every week now. He moved into the slot this offseason, and it looks like he has found a perfect home there with his body control, run-after-catch toughness and nice burst.
He has 21 catches through two games, and he could have another big day next Saturday vs. Rice, which allowed 312 yards on 21 catches by Wake Forest last week.
Other standouts from the game included Texas OG Parker Braun (and redshirt sophomore OT Samuel Cosmi, who did a fantastic job on LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chiasson) and LSU LB Michael Divinity, Jr. Both showed NFL ability, especially in passing situations. Braun will be an interesting study, having come from Georgia Tech’s triple-option system. He held up well in pass protection in this game.
Now onto the rest of this past weekend’s winners and losers:
EDGE1, no doubt
Ohio State’s Chase Young is a manimal. (That’s man plus animal, you know?) The 6-5, 256-pound junior pass rusher was hailed as a top-five pick entering the season, and so far he’s living up to the billing.
On Saturday, Young made his presence felt early and often with five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a blocked field goal. He’s a special talent who can impact games in so many ways. There are still a few small warts on his game, and he might not possess that freakish twitchiness some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers possess.
Young also failed to haul in a tipped-pass interception that hit him squarely in the hands. It would have been his first college pick and — very possibly — his first touchdown since high school. But nitpicking Young’s game can be someone else’s hobby. I’m all in on him at this point.
A national scout who made his way through Columbus this summer relayed a story to me about that trip. The scout had seen only two games of Young’s from last season and was confused about all the hype. Turns out, the scout probably watched Young’s two worst games last year — and neither were bad, mind you. Just not top-10-pick type of games, he’d find out later.
The scout asked Buckeyes coaches, “So is Young really that good?” They looked at him like he had a hole in his forehead, which led to some awkward laughter. And that is likely how I’ll be looking at anyone questioning Young’s place in the top 10 until further notice.
Nothing against Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa or any of the other fine pass-rush candidates in the 2020 class. It should be a very good group the way things are looking. But Young is the guy leading the way now.
Vanderbilt-Purdue: some good, some confusing
I attended Saturday’s game at Ross-Ade Stadium and came away convinced that Rondale Moore needs to rise on your 2021 NFL draft lists. (Never too early, right?) I’ve made it a personal policy not to compare prospects to Steve Smith, but my goodness, there’s a lot of overlap in the true sophomore’s game.
Moore is explosive, compact, fast, competitive and nearly uncoverable by college DBs. He repeatedly torched the Commodores with short, intermediate and deep catches and was lined up all over the place, creating a headache for any defense that must face him.
I was not that impressed with Purdue’s fifth-year QB Elijah Sindelar, and yet he finished with 509 yards passing and five TDs, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors. But Moore’s 220 yards clearly were a big reason for Sindelar’s production.
Early in the game, Moore dropped two passes and bobbled another catch. He more than made up for it with a showcase performance. He’s special and could even be a Heisman Trophy finalist if he keeps up his average of 229.5 yards from scrimmage per game this season.
As for the 2020 prospects from that game, it was a mixed bag.
Purdue LB Markus Bailey is a clear winner. The fifth-year senior is nicely put together at 6-1 and 240 pounds. He runs very well laterally and closes fast. Bailey’s blitzing and coverage ability will make him appealing to NFL folks. He had a QB hit on the third play of scrimmage Saturday that forced an incompletion and later sacked Vandy’s Riley Neal.
After Purdue’s defense folded late in the opening loss at Nevada, Bailey set the tone early and made sure that wasn’t going to happen again. Talking to Bailey at Big Ten Media Days, he admitted that coming back from offseason hip surgery (which forced him to miss all of spring ball) led him to have some uncertainty. But he was dominant on Saturday.
I need to dig in more on Bailey overall, but he’s moving up my list.
Another strong showing came from Boilermakers TE Brycen Hopkins, who overcame an early drop and a missed block midway through the second quarter to post six catches for 84 yards and a score. Sindelar also missed him high on a red-zone pass where Hopkins had separated. The 6-5, 245-pound fifth-year senior — and the son of former Houston Oilers first-round OT Brad Hopkins — is perhaps the best all-around tight end in this class right now.
Vanderbilt’s impressive offensive playmaker trio was up and down in the game.
I liked what I saw from RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who scored a touchdown and showed excellent contact balance on a short run in the first half, preventing a potential loss. The NFL scouts I sat next to at the game appeared impressed. Box-score scouts might not be blown away by Vaughn’s 17 rushes for 66 yards and four grabs for 22 yards, but his offensive line isn’t opening holes. Vaughn showed out well with what he had.
I was less enamored with WR Kalija Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinkney. Pinkney had three grabs for 61 yards, including a nice 26-yard stab, and he returned to action after it looked like he got the wind knocked out of him in the first half. I am still on the Pinkney train overall, but that’s two straight games this season he had to come out briefly with minor injuries. He’s in the wait-and-see category for me.
With Lipscomb, something isn’t quite adding up. His 2018 tape was impressive and he deserved to be mentioned among the top returning seniors at his position.
At this moment, however, he’s raising caution flags. Lipscomb compiled a good statistical game Saturday, with eight grabs for 98 yards and a 16-yard run after a one-catch dud vs. Georgia in the opener. But there is something perhaps concerning about his focus. Lipscomb didn’t appear happy on the field in the Week 1 loss to Georgia, openly expressing his dismay on the field by game’s end. In Saturday’s game, he appeared to quit on a route with about 5:30 left in the game, which raises questions about how Lipscomb and Neal (a Ball State transfer who won the QB job in camp) are meshing.
Lipscomb also isn’t terribly big (6-1, 195), will avoid contact at times and will try to make too many moves. In a potentially loaded WR class in 2020 with some elite underclassmen at the position, Lipscomb could stand to put some cleaner tape out there.
Big Ten RBs go wild
Jonathan Taylor is running over and past the competition for Wisconsin. J.K. Dobbins had a huge game in Ohio State’s thrashing of Cincinnati.
Both of those backs deserve mention among the top 2020 prospects at the position. The NFL knows all about them both.
But I wanted to highlight another Big Ten back, one who is a bit lower on the radar — or was, anyway. Maryland’s mighty-mite playmaker, Anthony McFarland Jr., is a blast to watch. After a light workload in the Terrapins’ 79-0 demolishing of Howard, McFarland was given more of a chance to shine in another blowout this past weekend: a 63-20 beatdown of No. 21 Syracuse.
Against an Orangemen defense that has a few NFL prospects, McFarland ran 14 times for 75 yards and two scores, and also caught two passes for 45 yards and another touchdown.
At Big Ten Media Days this past summer, the 5-foot-8, 196-pound big-play specialist hinted that he’d consider coming out for the NFL following his redshirt sophomore season if everything broke right. And right now, we can see it happening.
New head coach Mike Locksley has Maryland’s offense humming, and the Terps have the playmakers to spread the ball around and not overwork McFarland.
He’s just … different. He’s going to be a problem for most opponents this season. McFarland’s wiggle, burst and tackle-breaking ability all are NFL-caliber.
Anthony Mcfarland Jr. is a GROWN MAN. pic.twitter.com/UP6QL20cCu— Terps Watch (@TerpsWatch) September 7, 2019
McFarland’s breakout game last season came against Ohio State when he was virtually unstoppable in the overtime loss to the Buckeyes. He’ll have some great opportunities to rack up yards over the next few weeks before the schedule stiffens.
I can’t wait to see how he performs the rest of this season. I am a fan of his game despite the clear lack of size.
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