A pair of highly active defenders are first up in this week’s choices of players who made a good impression during Week 12.
Shaquem Griffin, LB/EDGE, Central Florida
Head coach Scott Frost is an offensive-minded coach with great success on that side of the ball led by sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, but the defense has been a big part of the Knights’ success this season that has UCF unbeaten at the time of writing (they face a tough test against South Florida on Friday night of Week 13).
One of the key pieces on the unit, Shaquem Griffin is a versatile playmaker on every level as a pass rusher, run defender and in coverage, and that diverse skill set was on full show in Central Florida’s latest victory by 45-19 over the Temple Owls.
Griffin only totaled a modest three tackles on the day, but also had a tackle for loss (TFL), a pass breakup, an interception returned 22 yards and a forced fumble. A fantastic athlete with a background in track and field, Griffin is built more like a safety but has an explosive pass rush with his combination of first step and burst, great technique and well-developed rush moves, along with a relentless motor.
He put that to use early against the Owls in the first quarter, nearly forcing a fumble off an effective spin move to pressure the quarterback, with the initial fumble call ultimately being overturned. He got one that counted in the second quarter, working off a block to get into position to knock the ball from the quarterback’s hand. His pressure later before the half also led to an interception that didn’t show up in his own stat sheet.
Griffin recorded an interception of his own during the second half, making a superb play deep down the field in coverage, showing his athleticism and range before making a great play on the ball. Griffin’s story is quite well known by now, having had his left hand amputated when he was four years old; to record his second career pick is exceptional.
After an outstanding junior season in 2016 that included 92 tackles, 20 TFLs and 11.5 sacks, he’s having another strong year as a senior, even if the total numbers on the stat sheet are not quite at the level achieved last season. A high-character, hard-working player with versatility, athleticism and playmaking ability, Griffin should be a great roster addition in the mid-to-later rounds of the 2018 draft.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Despite having their issues coping with Kerryon Johnson and the Auburn offense a couple weeks ago, overall, this is a strong and talented Bulldogs defensive unit, in which junior linebacker Roquan Smith has been the standout this season. Leading the team in tackles, he is now just nine stops short of getting into triple digits on the year.
Georgia comfortably beat Kentucky 42-13, and Smith again impressed while contributing nine tackles and a sack. Some of the recognitions he made were outstanding, blowing up a quick throw to a receiver in motion during the second quarter, and a pair of stops on fake backfield handoffs that were not going to fool Smith.
Along with his superb awareness and reading of the game, he backed it up with his emphatic finishing when in position, making several forceful tackles but with efficient wrap-up technique, many of which were delivered around the line of scrimmage for little to no gain. His sack was made on a well-timed delayed blitz on third down to force a Wildcats punt.
Multiple reports suggest that the junior linebacker is strongly leaning toward leaving early for the draft. Size will likely be his biggest knock, expected to measure in at around 6’0” and thought to be playing in the 215lb range currently, even though he may choose to bulk up a bit before the Scouting Combine.
Even in this good performance versus Kentucky, there were multiple examples of Smith getting overpowered by offensive linemen, controlled on blocks and taken out of some plays. Still, he has the game at his build that ought to see comparisons to the likes of Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Darron Lee in recent years.
In a draft class that might not be the best overall, and with a lot of risky prospects among the top names, Smith should be a prospect who can be banked on as one of the most instinctive, natural players regardless of position, and one of the most reliable tacklers in the country.
His reading of the game, trust and decision-making combines with fantastic quickness and movement around the field with sideline to sideline range. His pursuit play and closing speed are outstanding that helps negate some of the issues dealing with traffic and blocks. While production numbers don’t fully reflect it, he has the desired traits for dropping back and working in coverage as an every-down linebacker, flashing that skill on film.
Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
It was built up as a battle of quarterback prospects, and despite your thoughts on that hyped narrative, Rosen arguably looked the better of the two, even if UCLA ultimately were defeated by the Darnold-led USC Trojans. There were plenty other draft prospects to enjoy in this game however, and junior receiver Lasley may have had the best day of the lot in this particular contest.
The Bruins scored three touchdowns on the day, all through the air, and all collected by Lasley, who exploded for a total of 10 receptions for 204 yards (over 20 yards per catch, obviously) and the three scores. That follows a 186-yard, one TD performance the week before against Arizona State, to mark an outstanding return following a three-week suspension.
Disciplinary issues have been a problem for Lasley in college with multiple incidents that have led to loss of playing time, and his habit of making poor decisions off the field will raise character questions when he’s being evaluated by scouts, either this next draft or in 2019. When he is on the field though, the well-built 6’1”, 207lb receiver is a dangerous athlete with big-play ability.
His versatility to impact the game was highlighted right from the first play by taking a backfield sweep handoff, even if only for a few yards. That was followed though by making plays from out wide, from the slot, taking short passes and slants for yards after the catch, collecting deep balls down the field, and as a red zone target.
Only one counted after the first was called back for an O-line infraction, but Lasley grabbed two deep throws from Rosen in the first half, getting a step on the covering defensive back and demonstrating his tracking of the ball, timing and hands to take them cleanly out of the air.
Later on, his concentration was tested as he made a ridiculous catch going to the ground after multiple deflections off a pair of Trojan defenders.
In previous games this season, Lasley has had a handful of poor drops, and despite his burst and athleticism, didn’t always sell his routes and breaks with some sloppy route running. Here though, he looked much more sharp and polished, including burning safety Marvell Tell to get wide open on his second touchdown catch.
I believe his only incomplete targets were on a difficult ball behind him, and an overthrown two-point conversion attempt late on. He’s had an up and down season, but if he continues to finish the season strong, with his head coach out and potentially his quarterback going, it’s possible he decides to add his name into the 2018 draft class.
Justin Reid, S, Stanford
Showing progress in each of his three seasons in college, Reid has developed into one of the better safety prospects in the country this year, although not without his inconsistencies and question marks to go with some intriguing traits and playmaking moments. That includes five interceptions on the season, even though all came in the first half of the season with none in the last five games.
His latest performance was strong and much-needed in a tight game that saw the Cardinal narrowly beat rivals Cal 17-14. Reid was the leading tackler on either team with 10 stops, including half a TFL recorded. His range to make plays on every level was highlighted through the game.
Reid made a good play at the line of scrimmage relatively early on, working through traffic well to meet Cal running back Patrick Laird first to help stuff a run on third down, even if the aggressive Bears went for it on fourth and converted. He later made a couple very nice open field tackles working the intermediate and surveying the field well from deep where he worked well laterally in coverage.
Injuries in the secondary resulted in being asked to fill in at cornerback to close out the first half and again during the fourth quarter. Though he wasn’t really challenged, the trust in his coverage skills, good movement and speed were evident, and though not targeted, tracked his assignments solidly for the brief period he was asked to.
Reid’s energy and motor are clear early on in watching his film, again so in last Saturday’s win. His hustle, closing speed and committing his body in the tackle are positives. That said, some of those situations arose from getting a little out of position, some false steps on misreads and creating some poor angles for himself to recover from.
That speaks to the inconsistency in his game as those moments are balanced out with good reads of the quarterback and quick reactions to position himself to make plays. Overall though, the 6’1”, 204lb defensive back has good measurables, and an all-round game that should allow him to fit most schemes and to move around the defense in offering some versatility and ability to disguise coverages.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
It was a memorable Senior Day for Jackson, as Northwestern shut out the Minnesota Golden Gophers 39-0, and the running back achieved a couple of significant milestones in the process. Jackson surpassed 5,000 career rushing yards during the first half, doing so in style as he broke through a running lane onto the second level to burst for a 41-yard gain.
Midway through the third quarter, he also passed 1,000 yards rushing on the season, becoming only the second back in Big Ten history to put together four straight seasons of over 1,000 rush yards, in a conference with a strong history of talented backs.
Those marks were not the reason for his inclusion here in terms of draft stock however, but the fact that it was one of his better performances in a hit-and-miss season overall was. The 5’11”, 200lb back ran for 166 yards at 5.35 per carry on a heavy workload of 31 rushes. He added a couple catches as well for eight yards and has a career-high 40 receptions on the season now.
What’s been arguably most impressive about Jackson’s career has been his durability despite his relatively smaller frame, and his tough running style was evident once again in his final home game for the Wildcats, grinding out some tough yards and taking hits with a lot of success running up the middle.
His yardage total and good average were overall positives on the day, but the accumulation was a result of some mixed results from his touches, including several runs stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage. A fumble that Northwestern managed to recover was also a negative moment on the day.
His timing, patience and vision were clear to see as well though, that led to some excellent long gains to balance out the results. It looks as though Jackson will set a career low as a senior in yards per carry, currently at 4.24 in 2017, but as often the focal point of the offense, he receives a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
With a well-rounded game, he shows balance, toughness, good vision and decision-making. Though not the most explosive, he has sufficient short-area quickness and some elusiveness that could translate to the next level. His workload of 1,211 career touches will be at least a concern, despite staying healthy during college.
Small School Watch: Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State
The UAB Blazers had some good talent on the 2014 roster prior to the team disbanding for a few years, most notably running back Jordan Howard who went on to Indiana before being drafted by the Bears. Another former Blazer, who went down a tier in pursuit of his next team, should get an NFL shot of his own in Bearkats quarterback Briscoe.
Some of the numbers have been ridiculous, as the 6’3”, 215lb QB has taken full advantage of a pass-friendly offense to pile up production, particularly the last couple years. As a junior in 2016, he threw for 57 touchdowns and 4,602 passing yards. The numbers haven’t been quite as spectacular this year, including a career-high 11 interceptions to 37 TD passes; still impressive none-the-less.
He put together one of the best performances of his senior season this past weekend in the win over Houston Baptist. Though the Huskies entered the game 1-9 on the year, they also had the Southland Conference’s third-best ranked defense.
He tore them apart though in the 53-33 win, throwing five touchdown passes to one pick (a tipped ball), completing 65.1% of his passes for 464 yards despite heavy wind making conditions difficult, and ran in a score for good measure.
Briscoe has a strong arm that generates a lot of zip on his passes, and has a quick, compact, fast-release throwing motion that reminds a lot of another small-school quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo at the same stage leaving Eastern Illinois.
A bit of a gunslinger type at times, a question on Briscoe can be whether he shows enough touch on his throws when required to take a little heat off his passes. He did so on a number of perfectly thrown fade and back-shoulder passes on the day, including on some of his touchdown completions.
There were a couple overthrown passes, but several of those were likely affected by the strong winds. Briscoe has a good chance of being a day three selection.
Another Badgers win, and another productive game on the ground by freshman back Jonathan Taylor and the offense against a talented Michigan D. Perhaps a little harsh therefore to include a Wisconsin offensive lineman here, but there were flaws in his performance individually.
Michael Deiter, OL, Wisconsin
The 24-10 Badgers win included another 132 rush yards for freshman Taylor, no easy task against this Wolverines unit. Their junior left tackle Deiter had some good moments in his run blocking, standing out for his quick movement up to the second level and charging around in space at 6’5”, 328lbs.
His best moment saw him crash inside to disrupt his side of the line, opening up a huge hole for Taylor to run through for a 52-yard gain. It was in his pass protection where Deiter had struggles, including some disappointing technique.
The left tackle looked to be at fault on a sack by Rashan Gary in the third quarter, who essentially went unaccounted for. He also had repeated issues defending his edge with multiple rushers, including Noah Furbush and Chase Winovich, who found success attacking the outside shoulder of Deiter, getting dangerously close to Alex Hornibrook on too many occasions.
Deiter has a big frame, heavy build and flashes strength, but his coordination and footwork can let him down, affecting his anchor that can see him inconsistent in his drive, and problems anchoring that can see him pushed back or knocked off balance. Perhaps most notable is his poor hand placement and lack of extension in his arms that allows defenders to work off his blocks too easily, too often.
Though playing outside in 2017, Deiter has previously spent his time on the interior, with 16 starts at center and 11 starts at left guard the past two seasons. A return to playing inside seems like the right fit for him in terms of the NFL where his film from last year arguably was better than this season on the edge.
His versatility and experience across the line is certainly a positive for his draft stock, regardless. Returning for his senior season and improving the consistency of his form and anchor would likely be beneficial. There’s unquestionably traits to like for the next level and continues to be an effective part of this unbeaten Wisconsin season so far, and the instant success of their young star at running back.
Who stood out to you this week? Discuss in the comments below!
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