This extended and very gradual process through the Big 12 conference is at its penultimate stop, with a look at a few of the top draft prospects on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. After the final team, West Virginia, a full Big 12 summary of preseason grades will be given, a significant portion of which will of course change over the course of the 2017 season. You can view the previous articles in this series by following this link. In terms of the Red Raiders, many of the best prospects are receivers, who will have a new quarterback taking over from the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
Top Prospect: Keke Coutee, Jr, Wide Receiver (#20)
Coutee is only a junior, but if he meets the lofty goals that he’s set for himself, an early departure for the 2018 draft would be understandable. The outspoken target in question is to set the school record for touchdowns in a singles season. That would be a noteworthy achievement at most Power Five schools, but even more so at the Red Raiders, where that particular mark is held be Michael Crabtree and his 22 touchdowns back in 2007. That will be some progress from his 7 touchdowns (plus one rushing score) last season, but it was still a breakout year for Coutee, who also totalled 55 catches for 890 yards with an impressive average of 16.2 yards per receptions.
Expected to measure in at just under 5ft 10 and listed at 175 lbs, the junior receiver has a smaller frame, but has shown an exciting level of short area quickness, with suddenness in his movements and a burst of acceleration to distance from defenders, contributing to his impressive yards after catch ability. Well suited to the explosive offense that Tech run under Kliff Kingsbury, Coutee’s change of direction sees him create separation that makes up for having a relatively tighter throwing window.
In terms of his hands themselves, Coutee claims the ball out of the air naturally and usually cleanly.That’s backed up by overall timing, ability to catch in stride and body control. He regularly secures tough catches, including under tight coverage and deeper down the field. With the ball in his hands, he has excellent balance that often sees him shake would-be tacklers to continue to add yardage after first contact. Often that is not needed, with the lateral jump-cuts to evade contact entirely before accelerating away. Coutee talks a big game, but if backs it up in 2017, perhaps he’s part of the next NFL Draft class, and perhaps ends up going a bit higher than his current grading here going into the year. Preseason Grade: 5th Round.
Small but Fast: Cameron Batson, Sr, Wide Receiver (#13)
Another receiver with a relatively smaller height/weight listing is Batson, at just under 5ft 9 and 173 lbs. He should not be underestimated however, with so much to like about his game. Standing out firstly, is his speed. College football is loaded in terms of elite athletes, and yet Batson may prove to be up there with the fastest, reportedly very capable of getting into the 4.2 range in terms of the 40-yard dash drill. Offensively, Batson’s regular spot in the lineup is as a slot/inside receiver, while also having experience on special teams as not only a punt returner (23rd nationally in yards per return last season), but also as a holder at times on kicks. The versatility there adds value, and it’s noteworthy that he has excelled academically throughout both high school and college.
There’s many similarities in his traits to that of Coutee, his teammate discussed above. Not just featuring top-end straight line speed, he equals that in his suddenness and change of direction. That again results in separating from defensive backs, and Batson has particularly looked impressive in stopping from high speed on the spot and working back to his quarterback for easy completions. While some with his quickness are more athletes than football players, Batson is intelligent and polished in his role, selling his routes and sharply executing in and out of his breaks. He adjusts superbly to the ball in the air that bails out errant throws by his quarterback.
Something that absolutely stands out throughout his film, is Batson’s extremely competitive, aggressive and physical style of play that sees him play bigger than he is. The tough receiver doesn’t back down from bigger opposition, takes on and commits well to blocking duties, drives into contact and fights for extra yards; it’s easy to love his game when watching film. While he did collect 61 receptions and 8 touchdowns last season, in a crowded group desiring targets, an uptick in his average yards per catch would be good to see in his senior season, having averaged a relatively lower 10.66 YPC for 650 yards on those 61 receptions. Preseason Grade: 5th Round.
One to Watch: Nik Shimonek, Sr, Quarterback (#16)
While it remains a relative unknown as to how his NFL career will ultimately go, there’s no doubt that Mahomes was certainly an outstanding college quarterback who excelled during his two and a half seasons playing for the Red Raiders. While far from boasting the same skill set, the drop off might not be all that evident in 2017 with his replacement, Iowa transfer Nik Shimonek.
The backup last season featured in four games last season, with some nice numbers in the second half of a walkover win against Stephen F. Austin, but got more meaningful action stepping in during the Big 12 matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks when Mahomes picked up an injury. He completed 71.4% of his 21 passes for 271 yards and 4 TDs, with no picks. More impressive than that from a scouting perspective though, is the immediate composure and confidence he showed in taking over unexpectedly, knew the offense well, and was fully prepared for the moment.
Overall though, even with a full season as the starter in 2017, Shimonek would still graduate as a relatively inexperienced college QB from a system that continues to rightly be considered as not ideal preparation for the pro level. That said, a big year could earn him a shot in camp as a free agent, even if the draft would seem a stretch, when breaking down his game (from the admittedly limited film available so far). The physical measurables are reasonable, at around 6ft 2 and 210lbs. There’s a lot to like about his touch and overall ball placement, showing reliable accuracy. A clear negative right now though is that he is consistently staring down his intended target, often from snap to release.
However, he doesn’t have great arm strength, really lacking that extra zip looked for on many of his throws. Though his footwork in the pocket is nice and poised, very purposeful and deliberate when given the time in pass protection, the mechanics as he releases is less impressive. Shimonek really doesn’t step into his throws; he’s quite upright and the lower body is very quiet in terms of lower body motion. To counteract that, there’s a lot of effort to work his upper body, in his torso and shoulders to try and generate the velocity there instead. It’s just very inefficient and is reflected in the velocity of his throws. Something to watch this coming season also, is how he handles pressure. There’s been some mixed examples of good and bad so far from adjusting to early pressure, to escaping the pocket. Preseason Grade: Undrafted Free Agent.
Others to Watch:
While Coutee and Batson have been the receivers profiled here, both Derrick Willies and Dylan Cantrell are intriguing senior wideouts to watch who also have the potential to be drafted in 2018. On defense, Jah’Shawn Johnson is a fantastic playmaker from safety, though only a junior currently.
WR Derrick Willies, rSr, #11 (6ft 3, 215 lbs)
S/CB Jah'Shawn Johnson, rJr, #7 (5ft 10, 176 lbs)
WR Dylan Cantrell, rSr, #14 (6ft 2, 212 lbs)
CB D.J. Polite-Bray, rSr, #3 (6ft 0, 185 lbs)
DL Mychealon Thomas, Sr, #99 (6ft 1, 325 lbs)
LB Dakota Allen, rJr, #40 (6ft 2, 234 lbs)
OG/C Paul Stawarz, rJr, #76 (6ft 5, 295 lbs)
EDGE/LB Kolin Hill, rJr, #43 (6ft 2, 235 lbs)
RB Justin Stockton, Sr, #4 (5ft 9, 192 lbs)
EDGE Zach Barnes, rSr, #12 (6ft 2, 229 lbs)
C Tony Morales, rSr, #51 (6ft 2, 290 lbs)
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