WEEK 4: Pittsburgh vs UCF
The NFLPA Bowl was in attendance to see the Pitt Panthers upset the UCF Knights, led by defensive team captain Dane Jackson, one of the top-rated senior cornerbacks in the country. A smart player with great instincts, sound technique and excellent ball skills, Jackson possesses smooth change of direction and solid man coverage skills.
— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) September 23, 2019
On offense, do-it-all weapon Maurice Ffrench showed off his versatility, scoring a receiving touchdown while also demonstrating his rushing ability, in addition to handling both kick and punt return duties. A hard-nosed runner after the catch, Ffrench plays with a distinct toughness and his ability to create separation makes him an ideal slot receiver for the next level.
For UCF, cornerback Nevelle Clark demonstrated the ability to play both man and zone coverage, while flashing some physicality against opposing wide outs. His technique and backpedal are sound, displaying a low stance, which enables him to get out of his breaks quickly in order to make a play.
WEEK 3: Purdue vs. TCU
It’s been a tough start to the season for the Boilermakers and the news only got worse when senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar – who was leading the nation in passing yards – was ruled out prior to the TCU game with injury. Purdue struggled much of the night offensively against an impressive Horned Frog defense, but the Boilermakers did find tight end Brycen Hopkins for several big plays that helped keep the game competitive in the first half. Hopkins – who’s an athletic player with good quickness at the tops of routes – displayed his receiving skills while leading the team with four receptions for 77 yards, providing a much-needed spark for the offense on several occasions.
For TCU, this is an imposing-looking team that has a lot of NFL bodies on its roster. On offense, the Horned Frogs have a two-headed monster in the backfield with seniors Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua, who both topped the 100-yard mark on Saturday. Both RBs are well put together and Anderson in particular showed consistent vision to find open lanes while rattling off several explosive runs on the night. Olonilua – who looks like he could easily be a starting defensive end with his 6-3, 240-pound frame – is a load to bring down and has good body-lean as a rusher to consistently fall forward for additional yardage. I would like to see Olonilua get north/south a little bit quicker to truly use his commanding size, but both rushers should have opportunities to play at the next level.
Up front, right tackle Lucas Niang is a player that I’ve been waiting to see live as the 2.5-year starter is a specimen who understands how to play with his length and utilize his size to wall-off defenders. I was not disappointed with Niang or with left tackle Anthony McKinney opposite of him, as they paved the way for Horned Frogs rushers to total 346 yards!
On defense for TCU, the trend continues in the secondary with good looking DBs Innis Gaines (strong safety), Vernon Scott (free safety) and Jeff Gladney (CB). All three stand 6-0 or taller, have good arm length, and both safeties eclipse the 200-pound mark. Gladney in particular made a nice read on a play, sinking back from flat responsibility versus a flea flicker and elevating up to make an interception. Both he and Gaines add value on the punt team and did an outstanding job getting downfield twice to down punts inside the 5-yard line.
WEEK 3: Eastern Illinois vs. Illinois State
At the home stadium where the names of Tony Romo, Mike Shanahan and Sean Payton overshadow the actual field, I was able to observe a good Missouri Valley Conference rivalry game between the Eastern Illinois Panthers and the Illinois State Redbirds. The Panthers have a prospect on the Collegiate Bowl’s radar in running back Darshon McCullough who is a good-looking athlete that’s well put together physically. Though he was bottled up much of the day, McCullough showed some versatility by doubling up as the team’s starting kickoff returner.
For Illinois State, running back James Robinson continued his impressive start to the season with his second straight game with three touchdowns runs for the FCS-ranked Redbirds. Typically, when evaluating running back prospects who are as muscled-up and compactly built as Robinson, there tend to be signs of tightness and straight-line ability rather than fluidity; but he impressed with his foot quickness and ability to evade initial tacklers – traits that will no doubt help him at the next level.
Handing the ball off to Robinson is senior prospect Brady Davis, who wasn’t asked to throw the ball much against Eastern Illinois but shows some arm talent when he does. The Memphis transfer immediately earned the respect of his teammates when he joined the Redbirds last season by being voted captain, an honor that he now carries into his second season in the program. Davis – in addition to his intangibles – shows some arm talent and athleticism in his play, but there is some refinement (primarily with his lower-body mechanics) that is needed in order to increase his accuracy.
On defense for Illinois State, safety Luther Kirk is a versatile piece capable of playing corner, nickel and free safety at the next level due to his combination of size and athleticism. Kirk, who’s another two-time captain, presently leads the team in tackles and pass breakups
WEEK 3: Illinois vs. Eastern Michigan
With a handful of senior starters, Illinois has two prospects on each side of the ball for the NFLPA to evaluate, and it starts at the running back position with the undersized yet explosive Reggie Corbin. While short, Corbin is a thickly built runner with a good-sized trunk that undoubtedly gives him the power to run through would-be arm tackles. Coupled with his speed and quickness, it’s easy to see why he made our 2019 Big Board.
Behind Corbin on the depth chart is fellow senior RB Dre Brown who looks like an athlete while being more linearly built. Brown has long arms and good ball skills that enable him to also contribute on special teams as the starting kickoff returner.
On defense, nose guard Jamal Milan plays both the shade and the 3-technique positions for the Illini, but I see his future being closer to the center as a team’s nose. The thick-bodied Milan has deceptive athleticism to go along with his hustle to the football, and what impresses me the most is his ability to remain on his feet. Behind Milan in the defense is linebacker Dele Harding who captains this team while making all the calls defensively. Harding is an instinctual run defender who keys guard-pulls very well from his stacked position, and he’s productive in the box getting to the football. He made a game-sealing INT versus UConn in Week 2, but I’d like to see him continue to make more plays in pass defense.
For Eastern Michigan, wide receiver Arthur Jackson III made some memorable touchdown receptions using his body wisely to shield defenders from the ball. Both he and “Z” receiver Mathew Sexton brought great energy to the field in pregame and then backed it up by combining for three TDs through the air.
Starting left tackle Steven Nielsen is a big man upfront for the Eagles as is tight end Thomas Odukoya, who wasn’t on my radar prior to Saturday but now is with his rare combination of size, length and tenacity as a blocker. The JUCO transfer inline blocking candidate has yet to record a reception in his 1+ seasons in Ypsilanti – which is unusual – and I’ll be curious to follow his progress throughout the season.
On defense, a couple of secondary members were already on the Collegiate Bowl’s radar but unfortunately, cornerback Kevin McGill was unable to play against Illinois. I was able, however, to watch safety Vince Calhoun have a productive afternoon while pacing the team with an impressive 15 total tackles. Calhoun is a good-sized safety with some position flexibility due to his frame and length, and he’s shown good ball skills in his career breaking up and intercepting passes.
Week 3: Kansas at Boston College
In Kansas’ upset of Boston College, bookend offensive tackles Hakeem Adeniji and Kevin Feder both played well for the Jayhawks. Adeniji demonstrated sound technique and power, to go along with his prototypical size. Meanwhile, Feder, who is a lean 6-7, 300-pound mammoth, flashed glimpses of what made him such a heralded recruit coming out of high school.
The top player I saw this weekend would be @KU_Football OT Hakeem Adenini, a potential top 100 overall prospect.
Hakeem has caught the attention of the @NFLPABowl scouting staff. Thick frame, prototype size, long arms, strong + excellent feet.
— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) September 16, 2019
Taking advantage of the stellar blocking up front was Kansas running back Khalil Herbert, who ignited the offense with an 82-yard game-busting run up the gut of the Eagles defense. While Herbert is part of a committee backfield, he showcased the ability to be the type of workhorse back that head coach Les Miles can appreciate. With his straight-ahead, one-cut-and-go running style, he finished with 187 rushing yards on just 11 carries for the day—look for him to play a key role this season.
Big, strong, stout at POA and also plays ST. Demonstrated a good feel for the game and did his job.
— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) September 16, 2019
For Boston College, the program has historically produced polished, productive offensive lineman at the next level and guard John Phillips looks to continue the pipeline. A classic mauler, Phillips shows an astute feel for the game and possesses the versatility to play several positions along the offensive line, in addition to experience on special teams.
Every week during the NFL regular season, we will track notable performances by NFL players who participated in the Collegiate Bowl. Here are the top performers from week 2:
WEEK 2: Baylor vs UT-San Antonio
Baylor’s offense has some very talented seniors at the skill positions, including wide receivers Denzel Mims, Chris Platt and Marques Jones. With imposing size and very good length, Mims is a threat both across the middle of the field as well as downfield, where he can utilize his God-given size to play big-boy football with DBs. Sixth-year player Platt plays the slot role, where his shiftiness and quickness enable him to free up underneath and help compensate for his lack of elite stature.
Up front for Baylor, Jake Fruhmorgen – who plays both center and tackle – anchored the offensive line. Fruhmorgen’s versatility to potentially play any of the five OL positions will give him great value as he looks to translate to the next level. Both he and left guard Sam Tecklenburg possess the size and length to hold their own in the trenches, with Tecklenberg being that big-bodied guard more in the mauler’s type. In the backfield, shifty running back JaMycal Hasty had lower production in the game due to Baylor spreading the action around, but he remains a tough, inside runner with ability to catch the ball out of the backfield to contribute in the passing game as well. Hasty has been a kick returner in the past, giving him good versatility to contribute on special teams.
On defense for Baylor, nose tackle Bravvion Roy anchors the middle of the line with his shorter, compact frame, which enables him to keep his pads down in the run game. Behind Roy roaming the middle of the field are senior linebackers Clay Johnston and Blake Lynch. Johnston is a slighter framed middle linebacker who makes the defensive calls, gets everyone aligned pre-snap and then is a force once the ball is snapped. Lynch – who’s a taller athlete with good thickness in his trunk and lower legs – has this whopping statistic: in his career, he’s made 18 starts at five different positions (corner, linebacker, safety, wide receiver, running back) and has also seen game action at wildcat quarterback! That clues you into the type of athlete he is and the Collegiate Bowl is anxious to monitor his strides this season as a full-time linebacker. In the secondary, Chris Miller returns for his second season as a starting safety and is a good-looking prospect physically.
For the Road Runners, Carl Austin III led the team in tackles from his free safety position, which is a good sign that he’s back from an ACL injury that cost him his 2018 season. Austin III is a physical player with adequate size and length who likely will have to compete as a special teams player at the next level. Up front for San Antonio, Eric Banks is as pretty as they come physically while standing 6-5 and weighing 270 pounds. NFL teams that run 4-3 defenses surely will fall in love with his size and length, but it will be his production and ability to harass the quarterback that remain the biggest question marks.
WEEK 2: Texas vs. LSU
For Texas, it’s literally difficult to overlook their wide receiver corps, particularly with deep threat Collin Johnson standing on outside. The human highlight reel from a season ago possesses not only an imposing frame to shield defenders from the ball, but also the athleticism and body control to adjust, elevate and high point the ball in the air. Barring the unforeseen, the NFL commissioner will be calling his name early come late April.
Fellow wideout Devin Duvernay’s name may not be called much later if he continues to do what he displayed versus LSU. Duvernay – while possessing a stockier, compact frame – displayed the ability to regularly break arm tackles with his power, and then the speed to take it the distance. He claims to run the 40 in the 4.3-second range and to be the fastest player in the Big XII; if he does, then we could have two Longhorn receivers taken early in April.
John Burt is another senior wideout for Texas to keep an eye on as he has the physical tools to potentially warrant a shot. Finally on offense, center Zach Shackelford anchors a Texas OL that dominated much of the game in trenches. In his third year as a starter, Shackelford owns the size, strength, athleticism and versatility to potentially be a three-position contributor who can compete for a backup spot early in his career.
On defense for the Longhorns, Malcolm Roach headlines a deep defensive line with fellow senior Jamari Chisholm getting in on the action. Roach – who’s a stockier built player in the mold of a 3-technique at the next level – began his career at OLB before growing into his current position.
At linebacker, Jeffrey McCulloch is a thickly built athlete who was active while recording six tackles, including one for a loss. Safety Brandon Jones also recorded six tackles but his tackle for loss came when he recorded a sack. There were some whispers a year ago that the three-year starter may declare early after a 70-tackle, two-interception season, but the senior returned to build on his production and captain this talented Longhorn team.
For the Tigers, quarterback Joe Burrow took center stage, demonstrating great poise and confidence while passing his way to 471 yards and four touchdowns. While it’s still early in the season, Burrow has shown development in decision-making as well as increased accuracy while completing an astounding 81% of his passes through two weeks. Up front protecting him is All-SEC right guard Damien Lewis, who is a mauler in the run game. Despite only standing about 6-2, Lewis is a powerful, powerful man with quick feet and the ability to win his matchups with leverage.
On the other side of the ball for LSU, defensive end Rashard Lawrence had a quieter night statistically speaking but came up with a big patted pass where he alertly got his hands up in the throwing lane. Linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. may have seemed heavenly to some Tiger supporters, pacing the team with 10 tackles and a sack while playing like his usual hair-on-fire self. The Marrero, LA native moved inside this year from outside linebacker where his leadership and ability to see the field are front and center.
In the secondary, Kristian Fulton returned to lock-down his side of the field playing cornerback. Blessed with prototypical NFL size and length to accompany his excellent playing speed, Fulton led LSU with two pass breakups against Texas, displaying the type of anticipation and ball skills that will translate immediately to the next level. Not to be forgotten, senior long snapper Blake Ferguson also had a good night for the Tigers while accurately placing his short and deep snaps. Blake, now a four-year starter and permanent team captain, is the younger brother of Reid Ferguson, who preceded him at LSU and now snaps for the Buffalo Bills.
WEEK 2: Rice vs Wake Forest
Under second-year head coach Mike Bloomgren, Rice fields a young team with only six senior starters. One of those who we have our eyes on is left guard Nick Leverett, who is a grad transfer from N.C. Central that started the last three years at tackle for the Eagles. Leverett is a thick and athletic guard with adequate length who blocks physically in the run game while staying alert in pass protection. He’ll remain as an interior prospect for the NFL, and I’d like to see him take some reps at center if he gets into an all-star game setting.
One fellow Owl who stood out in pregame is grad punter Chris Barnes, who flashed a big leg while hanging one punt up in the air for 4.78 seconds. He displayed his leg strength with a 50-yard punt in the game, but his consistency will be a determining factor on his NFL chances.
For the Deacons, head coach Dave Clawson has a much deeper senior class of prospects, highlighted by defenders Justin Strnad and Essang Bassey. Strnad – a three-year starter at linebacker – is a long, rangy athlete who’s active with a nose for the ball. Bassey, also a three-year starter, is a shorter cornerback with a good frame and long arms for his size and demonstrated his speed and ability to remain sticky in coverage. Despite his shorter stature, the Columbus, GA native has been very productive in his career breaking up passes, due in part to his good length.
On the offensive side of the ball, left tackle Justin Herron is an athlete who’s a bit undersized while teetering around 295 pounds. But that didn’t stop him from getting good movement working double teams in the run game. After suffering a season-ending injury in the opener last season the four-year starter has the opportunity to become Wake Forest’s all-time starts leader among offensive linemen.
Out wide, big receiver Scotty Washington had a memorable game while leading the team with seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The Washington, D.C. native made some Moss-like catches in the game, twice going up to highpoint balls en route to explosive touchdowns. Continuing to use his body to shield defenders from the ball will surely raise his draft stock, as will continuously improving his short-area quickness at the line of scrimmage to escape what will be aggressive NFL corners.
WEEK 2: Missouri Western vs Northwest Missouri State
When it comes to scouting Division II schools, it’s easy for many to dismiss the level of competition. But if you look closely, you’ll see that 49 D-II players made NFL rosters this season, with another 17 on practice squads. The top active roster position group is defensive backs, which comprise 13 of the players.
In a battle of two MIAA rivals, I was able to see perhaps the most impressive-looking cornerback of the season in Northwest State’s Chama Pierre, who stands just a shade under 6-1 and has greater than 33” arms – which is rare! When there’s talk about prototypical press corners, Pierre is what NFL scouts picture. The Lake Worth, Fla. native showed his speed and athleticism chasing down a kick returner who had broken through the pack. Unfortunately for Pierre, he suffered a knee injury early in the 2nd quarter, causing him to miss the rest of the game.
On the opposite side of the field, Missouri Western fields a team nicely comprised of seniors and upcoming depth. Protecting senior quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald is an all-senior offensive line, anchored by four-year starter Hayden Eatinger, who made first-team all-conference last season in his first year playing center. Eatinger – who started at guard during his first two seasons – is a broad-shouldered player with good length playing inside who displays the toughness and finish to have a chance getting into an NFL camp. Position flexibility is imperative for backup offensive linemen in the NFL so his experience playing three positions will bode well for his chances.