A promising 5-0 start to the 2015 season for A&M was quickly derailed, going 3-5 the rest of the year amid quarterback trouble that has since seen two 5-star QB recruits both choose to continue their college careers elsewhere. Entering his fifth year in charge, Kevin Sumlin faces some pressure but has always had productive offenses, and can call on arguably the best defensive player in the country as well, who is first up in our look at the top draft-eligible prospects for the Aggies entering the new season.
THE TOP 5
Myles Garrett, Jr, EDGE, #15 – 6ft 5, 255 lbs
Going into the 2016 college football season, Garrett will begin the process as the number one player on my board and I won’t be alone in that assessment. He’s not perfect, which combined with the attention and early massive hype means he will probably be the one more than any other who will face getting his game picked apart far too much. It always happens to someone, and it is usually way over the top. Garrett is a sensational pass rusher, with the production to reflect the skill set, and a season in keeping with the previous two should cement his place right near the top of the next draft. Quarterbacks tend to find their way into the first pick or two, and probably happens again, but if not, Garrett is the quality of prospect worthy of going number 1 overall. Garrett was an instant hit in College Station as a true freshman, bursting onto the SEC scene with 53 tackles, 14 tackles for loss (TFLs), 11.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries and a blocked kick on special teams. Everyone was on alert going into his second year, but despite all the extra focus that might have led to an understandable plateauing of his numbers, he couldn’t be subdued, finishing his sophomore season with even better totals of 59 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, 10 hurries, a fantastic 5 forced fumbles, then adding another element to his game with a couple pass breakups and an interception, and finally with another special team block. Garrett’s first step is outstanding, combined with perfect timing off the snap that immediately gives him the initiative. He displays advanced abilities to dip low below his blocker and turn the corner. His most effective tactic might be his violent arm attack into the O-lineman’s side then rip move to burst past his man and close down the QB. He can win with his power and strength, uses his excellent length to his advantage, and while he isn’t Von Miller level of explosion by any means, is a very good athlete as well, with those lightning fast reactions making him look even quicker. The motor runs high, but if I’m going to get slightly picky, the intensity in pursuit could be a little better sometimes, and he will take the occasional play off. As the high tackle numbers attest to, he can play the run well, understanding his duties well, even if I’d place SEC rival Barnett of Tennessee as superior in that area. Great talent though and up there with any of the better defensive prospects in recent years in terms of potential.
Josh Reynolds, Sr, WR, #11 – 6ft 3, 190 lbs
Reynolds joined the Aggies in 2014 from junior college, and over each of his first two seasons he has been over-shadowed in terms of media attention by receiving teammates. Firstly, it was Speedy Noil, then last year with dynamic freshman Christian Kirk. Do not sleep on Reynolds though when it comes to NFL prospects, as he’s worthy of being an early round selection in the next draft (depending on how the final year goes). The comparison I’ve seen written at this stage, and that I agree could be apt to some degree, is the suggestion that Reynolds could be this year’s version of Josh Doctson. There’s plenty reason to see the validity of likening the pair. Reynolds has very similar physical traits with his length and his excellent athleticism as a quick, savvy receiver. He runs impressive routes, finds ways to get open, and can eat up yards after the catch as he transitions into a runner with the ball in his hands. A big play receiver, Reynolds averaged almost 18 yards per catch last season, and has the versatility to be dangerous on every level of the field. That includes in the end zone – even though there was a drop in touchdowns in 2015 with “just” 5, he scored a fantastic 13 times in 2014 to give 18 over the past couple seasons. Where he fails to match up with the aforementioned Doctson though is with his hands and the consistency. The former TCU receiver was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time with his natural hands, ability to high point, and adjust mid-air to bring in seemingly every ball within his radius. Reynolds meanwhile can have the occasional lapse, in particular with contested catches, and does like to bring the ball into his body when able to get away with it. There’s no doubt though that there is a lot to like about his skills translating to the NFL. Reynolds finished last season with 51 catches for 907 yards and 5 scores.
Daeshon Hall, Sr, EDGE, #10 – 6ft 5, 260 lbs
The Aggies could potentially have one of the best pass rushing duos in the country. They potentially could have had that last year as well, but Hall didn’t quite meet expectations after a spectacularly encouraging opening to the 2015 season that saw Hall destroy Arizona State with 4 sacks in that first game of the year. That was even more impressive given that the Sun Devils offense is such that the QB is getting rid of the ball very early, making getting there in time difficult theoretically. He couldn’t keep it going though, and while he still created some pressure and collecting TFLs, the sacks dried up with just another 3 in all of the rest of the season. He needs to find a way to be more consistently effective getting to the quarterback. That said, his 2015 season was a very positive one overall. A final tally of 14.5 TFLs and 7 sacks is not a bad total at all, as were his 54 tackles on the year. Hall really upped his game defending the run last season, making much improvement in that area of his game and his ability to perform well there should not be undervalued as part of his draft stock. As a pass rusher, he of course has outstanding length, and certainly has the room to add perhaps around 15 lbs onto that frame; there is more than enough room for growth. That will be a big benefit to the power he can deliver, as his game is more suited to using that style along with his long reach to win, more than it is to use speed. Hall’s first step and explosion on that initial get-off the snap are not particularly explosive, pretty average really, but he works hard after that as he engages with tackles, uses his hands well with a few solid rush moves. A recent comparison which I though fitted was Vikings edge defender Danielle Hunter, a 3rd round pick a couple drafts ago, with similarities in their size along with the untapped potential to exploit with the right coaching and development. That sort of range might well be around where Hall ends up also when his time comes next year.
Armani Watts, Jr, S, #23 – 5ft 11, 190 lbs
I could have left Watts out of this section, and saved him for the juniors to watch list further down the article, and indeed I’m not a massive fan of how he projects to the next level. But he’s built up plenty of experience having made a big impact right away as a true freshman that will see him have three full years of film for evaluators to pour over, and with some strong production on the stat sheet, he might well be one to make the decision to leave early for the pros. With another season like those before, there arguably wouldn’t be a lot else that he could really show as a senior were he to stay, so in that respect I would get it, but at the same time, he very much looks like a day three prospect to me at this stage. Watts won the starting free safety role straight away, and had an immediate impact in his first ever college game in the 2014 season opener vs South Carolina that included an interception, and he went on to the lead the team that year in both interceptions (3) and pass breakups (8) to make a case for his ability in coverage. The stat sheet versus the pass wasn’t quite so bursting his second season in 2015, but instead became a tackling machine, jumping from 59 tackles his first year to 126 stops as a sophomore. Despite that, I’m not a fan of his tackling habits to the point where it’s questionable that he can reproduce that big total at the next level. Watts seems to prefer to dive at opponents’ ankles, appearing to not be keen on too much contact if it can be avoided, even when he has an opportunity to hit the ideal strike zone cleanly. Other times when trying to wrap up a little higher he finds himself sliding down to the ankle area anyway with the initial hit failing to do the job. He can still make plenty of plays, the stat sheet clearly shows that, but he doesn’t leap off the film as the most committed and imposing of tacklers that you draft thinking “with him on our defense, ball carriers will think twice about entering this guy’s area”. In his coverage game, he has some ball skills for sure, but can also get out of position to leave wide open areas. On top of being quite small, what’s more significant is that he doesn’t look the most dynamic safety in space, not really flying around the field like a standout athlete, instead looking fairly modest in his range and movement skills. The former 4-star recruit has been a highly effective college player who has contributed well for the Aggies, but there’s enough doubts about how he might fair at the NFL level to risk taking him all that early.
Ricky Seals-Jones, rJr, WR, #9 – 6ft 5, 235 lbs
Seals-Jones is another junior, and it’s not a stretch to think that he also might favour entering the 2017 draft rather than return for his senior year, as he reportedly strongly considered leaving for the last draft as well before opting to stick around. His chance to make an impact in College Station was delayed, when 2 games into his freshman season, knee issues hit, resulting in a medical redshirt being taken. Things didn’t get much better when a drunken incident led to a disorderly conduct charge in June 2014. Everything seems to have steadied since then though, and his redshirt freshman year in 2014 showed signs of the potential with 49 catches for 465 yards (though for a rather low 9.5 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns. Statistically, there was only minor progress made in 2015 that saw him finish with 45 catches this time around, for 560 yards (a better 12.4 average) and another 4 scores. In fairness though, the Aggies deep receiving group certainly factors in to the number of targets available. Seals-Jones did manage to have a big performance against very strong opposition in a losing effort against Alabama with 107 yards and a touchdown, his only 100+ yard performance of the year. The appeal with Seals-Jones for the next level begins with the size on offer, with almost a tight end body rather than that of a receiver. It wouldn’t actually be a surprise to see some consider him adding a few more pounds and listing him as a receiving tight end. He does line up both outside and inside in the slot for A&M, and using his big frame to his advantage over the middle will make him a tough matchup. While the size is good, and he runs ok enough routes, he is not the fastest by any means or with the most impressive change of direction. I don’t think we’re looking at a prospect with a potentially huge ceiling for the NFL level, but one who has the size to be a factor and solid member of a receiving core, much like his is currently for his college team.
OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Avery Gennesy, rSr, OT, #65 – 6ft 5, 305 lbs
With the Seahawks selecting Germain Ifedi at pick 31 in April, it represented the fourth straight year that a Texas A&M offensive lineman was chosen in the first round of the NFL draft (following Joeckel, Matthews & Ogbuehi). And that was despite Ifedi not making the expected transition to the left tackle spot. In his way was community college transfer Gennesy who impressed the coaching staff, earned that coveted position and held it for all 13 starts in 2015, keeping Ifedi over on the right. However, that long run seems very unlikely to be extended to a fifth O-lineman in round 1 in the next draft. In fact, personally I’m not sold on Gennesy as even a mid-round guy just yet. While he may have started all season, he was vulnerable at times, and had a particularly difficult time in the bowl game finale against Louisville’s pass rush. Much of the appeal for Gennesy’s potential at the next level centres around his good athleticism at his size. He’s quick out of his stance and moves well in space with smooth footwork. Where he shows issues is in his anchor, often forced back a few steps immediately on contact as he is out-muscled. His overall effectiveness as both a pass rusher and run blocker are solid without really excelling in either. 2015 was his first year as a starter at this level though, and should show some progress in year two.
Justin Evans, Sr, S, #14 – 6ft 0, 195 lbs
Another community college transfer who was playing his first year in the SEC, Evans made his presence known with 78 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 pass breakups and an interception. While not the biggest for a safety, he’s a good athlete, notable as he charges downhill towards ball carriers to deliver some hard hits. Right now though he’s a bit wild. Evans is far too often at fault for getting himself way out of position that exposes the defense to big play opportunities. Other occasions see him overrun plays, purely guessing at times rather than recognising the situation and having to try and recover late. There’s significant hit or miss with Evans’ game, you take the bad plays with the good. More consistency, awareness and all-round discipline are critical for his senior year if he wants to be considered for a draft selection.
Jermaine Eluemunor, rSr, OG, #72 – 6ft 4, 315 lbs
There’s some intrigue with Eluemunor who not only has size suitable for the NFL but also a good athlete for his build, looking very useful moving in space on the second level when searching out blocks in the run game. However, the English born prospect has a rugby background, is fairly new to football, and his relative inexperience really showed in extended playing time during the bowl game against Louisville, where he proved very beatable round either side, and particularly troubled by secondary counter moves after the initial rush phase. The situational awareness is under-developed to recognise when and where pressure is coming from and expose the quarterback to direct unblocked hits due to misreads. If he can hold on to a starting spot at guard throughout his senior season, the physical traits and upside that saw him a popular recruit out of junior college might similarly earn a look at the pro level too.
Edward Pope, rSr, WR, #18 – 6ft 3, 180 lbs
After playing both receiver and safety in high school, a lot of teams were recruiting Pope to play on the defensive side of the ball, but has been an offensive guy since he decided to join the Aggies. Following a redshirt year in 2012 to focus fully on player as a wide receiver and a handful of opportunities in 2013, his redshirt sophomore season was a little bit of a breakout with 30 receptions for 454 yards (a 15.1-yard average) and 4 scores. But last year was a step back into anonymity with just 8 catches as he struggled to make an impact among the afore-mentioned deep group of passing targets. He has height to offer and is a quick athlete, so there are traits on offer. He is far too skinny though and it’s reflected in poor physicality in his games that shows on film. Pope is a long shot, and needs to find a bigger role in his final chance to impress.
Hardreck Walker, Sr, DL, #98 – 6ft 2, 300 lbs
It might be in part due to his relatively short frame, but Walker has a wide body and looks heavier than his listed 300 pounds. Despite the potential of a leverage advantage and the heavy build, he tends to go backwards on contact himself more often than he manages to generate push on his opponent. There’s decent quickness off the snap but not much of an actual pass rush threat offered. His low impact game is reflected in the low numbers on the stat sheet with just 10 tackles and 1 sack in 2015.
Shaan Washington, Sr, LB, #33 – 6ft 3, 235 lbs
With 145 tackles over the past two seasons combined, Washington has been a very solid contributor on the Aggies D, and add in a good build that can hold up at the next level, he could perhaps earn a look in an NFL training camp with a bigger impact again as a senior. He’s rather slow moving around the field however, and to be honest a bit lacking in intensity and energy in his game that leaves him not quite passing the eye test on film to match up with the reasonable production. He looks very much a long shot to me.
OTHER JUNIORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Speedy Noil, Jr, WR, #2 – 5ft 11, 187 lbs
Noil had a big time impact as a true freshman in 2014 as a dynamic playmaker on both offense and special teams as a dangerous kick and punt returner, living up to the hype of being a 5-star recruit – at least initially. It’s been pretty much all downhill since then. The numbers took a drop in 2015 in all categories, including just the 21 catches on offense as he played in only 9 games, in part due to multiple suspensions which raises some character concerns. The suspension that saw him miss the season ending bowl game will continue for the 2016 season opener. Things didn’t get better this off-season with an arrest for a faulty brake light and driving without a licence. Christian Kirk is now the star receiver on this team in his place, and Noil really needs to bounce back both on and off the field his upcoming junior year.
Priest Willis, Jr, CB, #24 – 6ft 1, 185 lbs
Willis could be a real breakout player this season. A very high recruit out of high school, Willis spent his first two years with UCLA, before transferring to A&M which saw him sit out last season due to transfer rules. He flashed his ability in limited action for the Bruins and with the Aggies losing some veterans at the corner position, there’s a chance to play a big role. A tall corner, Willis’ deep speed is questionable, and given his very aggressive game and physical tackling, I could see him ultimately bulking up and having a future at safety rather than corner from an NFL perspective.
Keith Ford, Jr, RB, #21 – 5ft 11, 215 lbs
Another transfer who could have a significant impact, Ford joins from his previous stop at Oklahoma, where he’d had trouble that saw him suspended for academic and team rule violations. Now, this may not need to be read into too much, but I have to say I’m a little concerned that for someone who has had some character issues, the fact that he said that the more “laid back and casual attitude” he’d heard about at A&M was a reason for wanting to join them over what he’d experienced with the Sooners. Hmm… Makes me wonder whether he really likes to work hard at his craft. He certainly has plenty of natural talent to offer with athleticism to go with his prototype running back build, and the versatility to make plays out of the backfield as well. In limited touches, he produced well in Oklahoma, averaging over 5.5 yards per carry each of his two seasons.
Donovan Wilson, Jr, CB/S, #6 – 6ft 1, 192 lbs
A good sized defensive back who is expected to start at nickel this year, but arguably has the size and versatility to contribute across the secondary if needed, though some struggles when having to turn and run with receivers in that initial transition suggests his projected role is his best fit. His physicality and committed tackling is impressive that saw him pile up 63 stops last season, but it was his knack for the big impact plays that really made him stand out in a breakout year. Wilson picked off 5 interceptions in 2015, taking 1 of those back for a touchdown, and also forced 3 fumbles and made 8.5 tackles for loss as well.
Trevor Knight, rJr, QB, #8 – 6ft 0, 215 lbs
It seems such a long time ago now that Knight led the Oklahoma Sooners to a shock Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The expectations sky rocketed, were never matched, and Knight now finds himself in a new home after Baker Mayfield took over. He has a chance now though to reignite his college career, and has a great chance to excel in a system which should allow him to do well. Knight has a good arm and a quick release as a great starting point. It’s the mental side of the game which isn’t up to scratch right now though. While his ability to create with his legs is a very useful ability, he goes to it too often at the moment when his first read isn’t there, rarely finding a second option in a progression or a check down option. Staring down his targets with his eyes makes Knight too easy to read for good defensive backs to take advantage of. I can see him doing well in this second phase of his college career, but not expecting it to continue to a professional career without significant improvement.