The holiday season is almost upon us, and as a result, we are only being positive in this week’s draft stock watch! Here’s some of those who helped themselves over the final weekend of the regular season.
Jaleel Scott, WR, New Mexico State
It was arguably as good a list of conference championship games in recent history, so of course, the natural place to begin is with the 5-6 New Mexico State Aggies searching for bowl eligibility and the chance at a first bowl game in 57 years. They achieved the feat after a narrow 22-17 win over South Alabama that has earned them a spot in the Arizona Bowl, taking on Utah State later this month.
Their senior wide receiver Scott played a big role in the win despite not getting in the end zone, but contributing nine receptions for 134 yards at 14.89 yards per catch. That brought his season total over the 1,000-yard threshold to go with eight touchdowns on the year. The community college transfer put up modest numbers including 23 catches in 2016, his first year at the FBS level, but his breakout season has earned him an invitation to the upcoming Senior Bowl.
The intriguing potential with Scott begins with his frame at 6’5, 215lbs, including long arms that provide a sizable catch radius and the potential for mismatches against smaller defensive backs. More than just a big target, Scott has athletic ability and ball skills to match. He may not be overly dynamic in short areas, but accelerates well, runs smooth, and can adjust to the ball to bring in difficult catches.
While he may be a mismatch on jump balls out wide, Scott’s first couple catches against the Jaguars showed his ability to work underneath and across the middle of the field as well. Those were followed by a succession of highlight moments over the first half, beginning with a superb catch out wide, tapping both feet on the sideline as he fell to the ground; the body control and footwork was outstanding, but the play was called back for illegal touching, having initially gone out of bounds.
He made up for that shortly after in the second quarter however, again showing impressive focus and footwork to tap his feet in bounds and secure the ball to the ground for a 33-yard completion. Later, Scott beat double-coverage then made a diving catch that was initially called incomplete, but overturned on replay for a 24-yard gain. His success and size started to draw holds and interference by the secondary, emphasizing the difficulty of defending him.
His numbers could have been better still, coming close to bringing in a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone in the fourth quarter, another great effort. How he performs at the Senior Bowl will go a long way to determining his final grade, but Scott reminds a bit of Detroit Lions rookie Kenny Golladay, and has a chance to match Golladay as a Day 2 draft selection.
Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford
The Cardinal may have ultimately lost the PAC-12 title game 31-28 to USC on Friday night, but Phillips was everywhere on defense yet again. The Trojans’ star running back Ronald Jones also had a big night in rushing for 140 yards, but it was a case of both players emerging positively from a high-quality battle between two fantastic next-level talents.
The active performance resulted in 13 tackles and half a sack for Phillips. One of the biggest risers of the season as a whole for the 2018 draft class, he has dominated all year and is just one stop shy of hitting 100 tackles for the season, a remarkable number for an interior defensive lineman.
Though a senior academically, Phillips received a medical redshirt after tearing his ACL in the 2015 season opener, and while he could return, his huge season could well see him head to the pros instead.
Ronald Jones got the better of Phillips on the first play of the game, cutting inside of the defender for a good opening gain. Overall though, Jones was held to a relatively limited 4.67 yards per carry, in part thanks to several of his runs getting stuffed at or around the line of scrimmage.
Phillips was a significant factor in that, holding up at the point of attack against center Nico Falah and the two USC guards, working off their blocks and positioning himself to make plays on the ball carrier.
There were multiple times during the contest that saw Phillips destroy his opposing lineman with a brutal bull-rush, locking his arms and driving them back into the pocket, doing an effective job of lifting the offensive lineman’s anchor.
He regularly breaks out a useful swim move that can earn him early pressure in the backfield, with a great example midway through the third quarter that caused talented left guard Chris Brown to whiff badly on the block, placing Phillips immediately on top of Ronald Jones in the backfield to destroy a run play before it got going.
Playing with a tough, relentless mentality that is a frequent trait of Stanford defensive prospects, Phillips is a battler in the trenches, who plays with intensity and passion, with a motor that runs hot constantly. A dominant wrestler in high school, it translates to his play on the interior, with great use of hands to engage and punch, then to deflect, disengage and shed blocks to make a play on the ball carrier.
The 6’4”, 295lb lineman uses his length well, taking advantage at the point of attack. His ability to disrupt draws frequent double teams, yet has proven that he can beat and split such assignments.
There are some limitations when in space and in pursuit to the edges, but while there’s a chance he doesn’t test at an elite level in some categories, his ability to disrupt and make plays is unquestioned, and ought to see him taken somewhere in the first few rounds on draft weekend.
Jamarco Jones, OT/OG, Ohio State
Wisconsin entered the Big 10 title game with Ohio State averaging 6.9 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 3.2 sacks per game this season, but were held to just two TFLs and one sack against the Buckeyes’ offensive line. Individually, left tackle Jamarco Jones was effective all game long in handling his assignments against an array of talented and productive Badgers edge defenders.
A first-year starter in 2016, Jones was rather underwhelming in watching his film from a year ago, despite his prominent position on one of the top teams in the country resulting in being high on many offensive line ranking lists entering this season.
His ceiling still feels to be limited in terms of his upside, but there’s a very solid foundation to work with, and this was a positive performance to help his draft stock against quality opposition.
Jones held up well at the point of attack, proving tough to move off his spot, setting a strong base and wide stance as he anchored down. He battled well post-contact to maintain his blocks, looking in full control as a pass protector. Patient and composed, Jones showed good hand placement and a strong punch, extending to maximize his length, not allowing spin moves and other counters to unbalance him, adjusting well.
The 6’5”, 310lb senior played with an edge in his run blocking, driving defenders back and finishing; there was a lot to like in his aggression. Jones isn’t a standout athlete for the position but does a solid job working up onto the second level and in space. His execution contributed well to the 238 rushing that Ohio State totaled en route to winning the conference title.
There are times that Jones can look a little stiff in his movements and it seems his best fit for the pros could be a shift to the right side, or potentially even to guard, where he should be able to hold up well against defensive tackles.
Either way, there’s potential versatility to cover at multiple spots, with long arms for playing outside and strength for the interior. There may not be the elite upside, but there are also no major flaws in his game, and in what might prove a relatively weaker tackle class, that’s no bad thing.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
In a tense, low-scoring game, it was the Mountain West’s defensive player of the year who fittingly ended the conference title game, as Vander Esch secured a 17-14 win for Boise State over Fresno State with the decisive interception inside the final two minutes of the game. It had already been a dominant performance, with 16 tackles (including 10 solo stops) and a pass breakup to go with the late pick.
It’s the second time this season that Vander Esch has hit a season-high of 16 tackles, doing so earlier against top opposition in the PAC-12’s Washington State, and his seventh double-digit tackle game. It caps a fantastic junior campaign for the Broncos’ star linebacker that currently has resulted in 129 tackles (81 solo), 5.5 TFLs, three sacks, 3 pass breakups, three interceptions and three force fumbles, and still with a bowl game to go.
Vander Esch has all the physical measurables wanted in a top off-ball linebacker prospect at 6’4”, 240lbs and outstanding athletic ability and range to cover sideline to sideline, drop back into coverage and attack downhill in the run game.
His combination of size and the closing speed which just leaps out on film is highly reminiscent of last year’s Saints third-rounder Alex Anzalone, who would have gone much higher in the draft were it not for medical concerns.
Vander Esch was around the ball constantly with his non-stop motor and energy, and had a notable goal line series midway through the second quarter. Bursting through the B-gap between left tackle and guard to stuff a second down run play, he then chased down an end-around to the edge on a third down stop.
Unfortunately for he and Boise, Vander Esch took a knock and was unavailable when Fresno chose to go for it on fourth, this time finding the space without him on the field to find the end zone.
While he was around the ball constantly and putting himself in great positions to make plays, a relative negative on the day from a scouting perspective was multiple examples of poor tackling technique, some that he still made work, others that slipped through due to bad wrap-up technique. He’ll miss more tackles at the next level without a drastic step up in his tackling form, despite the huge production numbers.
There’s so much to work with though. Known as a workout warrior, the former walk-on has all the intangibles, work ethic and intelligence to succeed, which combined with his ideal measurables will see him drafted high, potentially in the first round. He could return for his senior season, in which he can look to refine his game more, but should not get out of the first two rounds if he declares.
Terry Swanson, RB, Toledo
There’s not been any significant drop-off in offensive production following the departure of Kareem Hunt to the NFL, and in fact the Rockets achieved success beyond what they managed with their former star running back in winning their first MAC title since 2004. Scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter, Akron salvaged a 45-28 final scoreline that was otherwise dominated by Jason Candle’s side.
Quarterback Logan Woodside has been their offensive star the last couple seasons, but senior running back Terry Swanson has been huge too in piling up 1,319 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. He contributed 180 yards on 21 carries (8.57 per rush) and two TDs in the championship victory, while adding one reception for a further six yards.
In a performance full a quality plays, his 35-yard run to begin the second half stood out, in which Swanson showed perfect timing to hit the hole, the burst to the second level and up the sideline, finishing with an angry stiff arm and drive while being tackled to the ground; it was the kind of effort to make any scout watching sit up and take notice.
Swanson is not a big back at around 5’10” and listed at 205lbs, but the intense physicality with which he plays is impressive. His performance against Akron included numerous examples of quality running up the middle and between the tackles. With patience, timing and great execution of one-cut running, Swanson made defenders miss, broke and bounced off tackles with good balance, and drove through contact.
As a relatively smaller back, Swanson shows the short-area quickness and shifty moves desired from a back with his build and skills. Likely to be looked at to contribute out of the backfield in his next-level role, he only has 17 receptions on the year, a career high, but it may be a case of not getting the opportunity, as he shows signs of solid routes and hands when asked to do so.
Despite having to play a complimentary role to Hunt and others in a crowded backfield, Swanson has been productive right from his freshman season in which he finished second on the team in yards in 2014, then fifth in the entire MAC conference as a sophomore in 2015 despite limited touches.
He’s taken advantage of a bigger role as a senior, and should get a chance to make an NFL roster, if not on Day 3 of the draft then as a free agent signing.
Small School Watch: DeVante Kincade, QB, Grambling State
A name gaining a lot of traction in recent weeks as a potential late round draft selection, Kincade has had a remarkable couple of seasons with Grambling after a disappointing time with Ole Miss prior. His exciting, dynamic style of play and elite arm strength is enticing for the NFL level, despite his slight build at under 6’0” tall and listed at 190lbs.
It’s difficult not to picture the 2017 version of a certain Seattle Seahawks quarterback when watching Kincade escape pressure outside the pocket and deliver strikes downfield. The velocity he generates on his throws is eye-opening and might be as good as any of the elite arms of the top prospects potentially a part of this 2018 quarterback draft class.
He began hot in the SWAC title game against Alcorn State last weekend, leading a seven-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that included a 46-yard bomb down the sideline to his receiver Quintin Guice, showing off that arm and the tight spiral of his throws. He finished off the drive himself with a 14-yard scoring run, a great response to an Alcorn blitz that left space open to exploit.
While he can hit on any throw, there’s also inconsistency in his ball placement, in particular on the deep ball. After the fast start, the Grambling offense stalled for a time afterward, including several misfires deep from their star quarterback.
Despite two performances in which he’s flashed the exciting skill set, his completion rates of 46.7% versus Southern and 58.3% against Alcorn have reflected some poor streaks as a passer in each contest.
He’s so safe with the ball however, throwing only three interceptions all season in 2017, and finished the first half of the title game impressively, so much so that he was allowed to sit late in the third quarter for the remainder of the game.
He finished with four total touchdowns, two passing and two rushing, with 223 yards through the air and 75 more on the ground. A couple good completions while facing pressure in the pocket stood out for his composure and decision making to find a play.
Kincade’s ability on the move is a fantastic asset that he makes full use of, buying time, evading pressure, working out to the edges, but keeping his eyes downfield and looking for the pass. He does have a tendency to leave the pocket too early and unnecessarily, however, a lot of times he's under early pressure allowed by his offensive line; it would be great to see him behind a more talented group up front.
He looks comfortable in the pocket in general with good footwork, well-executed drops, and steps into his throws. There is a concern with the often low angle at which he releases the ball, sometimes almost crouching into his throws, that combined with his lack of height is far from ideal. Still, there is a lot of potential, even with his smaller frame, that should see his name called on draft weekend.
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