It’s hard to argue against Bryce Love for the best performance of the week, after 301 rushing yards on 25 carries versus Arizona State. However, he featured in our Stock Watch earlier in the season, and would prefer not to repeat players, so let’s focus on some others who also helped themselves this week:
Austin Bryant, EDGE, Clemson
The outstanding defensive front of the Clemson Tigers have more than lived up to the hype in 2017. Big Dexter Lawrence in the middle isn’t yet draft eligible but might be the best of the group. Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins have been discussed as future first rounders since the preseason, with the former already featuring in our stock watch a couple weeks back. His partner off the opposite edge Austin Bryant is asking “what about me?” and very much emphatically answering his own question. His stock has risen since the start of the season and had perhaps his best performance so far in the 31-17 road win over Virginia Tech.
The junior edge defender came alive in the second half in particular. In the third quarter, the 6’5”, 265lb lineman set up out wide in coverage over a wide receiver on 4th and 3, proceeding to blow up the ensuing screen play to tackle the receiver for a loss out in space. That is a rare feat for a player of his position and size. That would have been impressive enough as a primary highlight for the day, but he topped that midway through the final quarter by making an incredible one-handed interception of the Hokies’ quarterback on a quick pass attempt, reading the play beautifully before making the athletic high pointing grab.
Even just a couple plays earlier, he nearly had a pick, tracking the running back to the sidelines and just failing to collect that one. Bryant finished his impressive performance with 5 tackles (4 as solo stops), with 2.5 tackles for loss and the interception. The actual refined, polish elements to his pass rush repertoire are still developing, but the fact that he is not yet the finished article is only encouraging, as he has the size and overall physical measurables, athleticism and versatility to give him exciting upside should he reach his ceiling. He’s not “the other guy” on this Clemson D-line, and scouts know it.
D’Cota Dixon, S, Wisconsin
The Badgers labored their way to victory over a talented Northwestern team, with their outstanding defense keeping them in the game as their offense struggled. Senior safety Dixon might be their best player and best draft prospect on that unit, and showed up big last Saturday, piling up 12 tackles, including 1.5 sacks.
After a breakout 2016 season that began with the game-winning interception to beat LSU in the opener, he finished the year with four picks as part of his active game and big-play contributions. He’s very much at it again in his final collegiate year and deserves Day 2 draft consideration in 2018. He punctuated his standout performance against the Wildcats by making another game-ending play with a tackle of quarterback Clayton Thorson in his own end zone for a safety.
The 5’10”, 205lb Dixon plays with fantastic energy, motor, physicality and a fiery, emotional demeanor. A highly active player who moves around the defense, he’ll take up position in the box and off the line of scrimmage as well as deeper down the field. His ability on the safety blitz was evident throughout this past game that saw him disrupting Thorson’s timing and the play design on several occasions. On the second and third levels, he made some crunching open field tackles, doing so with a combination of force and technique. Along with the energy and versatility, his quickness around the field adds to his range of coverage. Add in the ball skills he possesses and there’s little not to like about his game and potential for the next level.
Jamal Morrow, RB, Washington State
There were several standouts on the Cougars who contributed to one of the biggest wins of the week as Washington State took down the USC Trojans, and Morrow’s 138 total offensive yards on just 11 touches of the ball were critical to the win, as well as showcasing his dynamic skill set. He broke his six rush attempts for 91 yards at 15.17 yards per carry and a touchdown, while adding five receptions for another 47 yards and a second trip to the end zone. Right from the first Cougars’ drive of the game he made an impact with a long run that showed off his speed, and his hands with an early catch out of the backfield.
His rushing touchdown came in a short-yardage situation at the USC goal line, with Morrow adjusting to the lack of space in front of him, making a sharp cut change of direction to his right and walked in for the score. He book ended his performance in the fourth quarter by taking a shovel pass from Luke Falk 23 yards for a critical scoring play to open up at late 27-20 lead for Washington State, before going on to help set up the field goal that would decide the game with a long gain up the middle. Throughout the game, the 5’9”, 203lb back highlighted his shiftiness and burst of speed, but also, and just as importantly, he broke tackles, fought for extra yards and made good decisions on each of his touches.
Entering his senior season with 142 catches already to his name, Morrow has proven his value out of the backfield as a receiver, as well as having kick and punt return experience to go with his athletic ability and big play potential with the ball in his hands. His versatility is intriguing for the next level and is perhaps being under-rated as a prospect for the later rounds of the draft.
DeShon Elliott, S, Texas
All the way back last Thursday, Elliott continued his strong play this season in a win over Iowa State that again showed the progress this Longhorns defensive unit is making under Todd Orlando. Earlier in the season against USC, Elliott had a pair of interceptions in the narrow loss, and again had two picks against the Cyclones. In truth though, those were just stat-padding for his numbers (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup and the 2 INTs), with neither all that remarkable. Midway through the second quarter, he was in the right place to collect an overthrown ball by Iowa State QB Jacob Park, that was subsequently tipped. His second came at the end of the third quarter, again the lucky recipient of a poor play by Park that sailed into Elliott’s hands.
Where the junior safety did impress was with his all-round game elsewhere. He started strong right from the opening series, keeping in phase with athletic receiver Trever Ryen in man coverage, then getting into the backfield just after for a sack of Park. Just prior to his second interception, Elliott delivered a crunching hit on 6’6”, 219lb receiver Hakeem Butler on a throw to the end zone. It looked as though Butler would pull in the touchdown, but the clean shot to the body forced the ball out and left the receiver supine on the turf.
At 6’2, 210lbs, Elliott has a good build for the NFL, and has a complete game that sees him contribute on every level of the defense. He can play deep and cover in both zone and man situations, flows downfield well to support the run, can line up in the box and blitz off the edge into the backfield. His ball skills result in a number of big plays as he is proving this season for added value. With another year of eligibility remaining, it’ll be interesting to see if he decides to leave after this season, especially if he continues to put up the numbers he is to go with strong overall film.
Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Pettis made a ridiculous start to the season with a punt return touchdown in each of the first three games of 2017, an achievement that gives him eight in total for his career now as one of the most dangerous returners in college. He didn’t get any opportunities to add to that against Oregon State, but he had his best performance yet on offense to top the 100-yard mark receiving for the first time this year, finishing with 12 receptions for 105 yards and grabbing 3 touchdowns in the process. It didn’t look as though the day was headed that way for much of the first half, as Pettis and Washington overall were held to just a 7-0 half-time lead, and the senior receiver hobbling off during the second quarter for a few plays.
He broke out in the second half though, and what stood out most of all from a draft outlook, was the manner of his touchdown plays, particularly from a route running perspective. Pettis is a good athlete with football speed, but he wins so often through his polished moves to get open. He buys space early, that leads to covering corners often interfering with him in panic, which drew one flag for PI and should have had at least one other during the contest.
His first score during the third quarter saw Pettis sell the DB on a corner route to earn a yard advantage before high pointing the ball in the back of the end zone. The second was a longer scoring play, selling his route with a couple shakes on the run to gain a couple yards of separation before finding the ball with timing. He wrapped up his trio of TDs early in quarter four, taking advantage of some very generous off-man cushion by running a simple slant to take inside position for the easiest of scores.
Pettis isn’t the biggest, listed at just under 6’0” and around 192lbs, but is tough as heck and plays bigger and highly physical. He has the body control to bounce off tackles much like a good running back, part of his appeal and success as a punt returner, as well as why he is often targeted on short routes around the line of scrimmage to give him opportunities to run after the catch. His technically excellent game results in moving around the formation to line up at different spots, making him tougher to cover. His awareness, timing and great hands makes him a reliable target at the catch point, to go with the well-developed route running ability. He has the game to be an early contributor at the next level.
Small School Watch: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
In one of the most anticipated matchups of the season so far in the FCS, #4 South Dakota State took on #5 Youngstown State, with the Jackrabbits in particular featuring a number of NFL prospects on offense. Both Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke are not just late round speculative draft prospects, but are legitimate considerations for around the 2nd to 3rd rounds at least. Unfortunately, they didn’t get a great number of opportunities to showcase that in this marquee matchup that saw Youngstown State absolutely dominate time of possession in a methodical performance that saw the Penguins take the game by 19-7 after holding the ball for a ridiculous 45 minutes.
Star tight end Goedert still found enough time to grab three receptions for 58 yards on the day, highlighted by a fantastic catch down the middle of the field, securing the ball cleanly away from his body while under close coverage. Even when not targeted, his acceleration off the line and impressive routes were on show that remind that the 6’3”, 255 lb talent is essentially a big-bodied wide receiver. He started poorly though; on the opening drive of the game, Goedert had a big gain on a catch and run play before failing to protect the ball while being tackled, invitingly displaying the ball in one hand away from his body that was easily knocked out of his hand for a turnover. Perhaps without that, the Jackrabbits get on the board early and the game turns out different.
Goedert isn’t asked to block often, but will line up out wide, from the slot, inline and in the backfield, and there’s no doubting his abilities as a target in the pass game. The superb athlete had a monster 2016 season that resulted in 92 receptions for 1,293 yards and 12 total touchdowns (1 rushing). His numbers are a little down so far in his senior season, but it would not surprise to see him finish strong, then show off against a higher competition level at the Senior Bowl, where he ought to be invited after the season.
As good as the Cougars’ win was over the Trojans, the choice for stock down this week falls on one of their offensive prospects:
Cody O'Connell. OG, Washington State
An Outland Trophy finalist and a unanimous All-American selection a year ago, 2016 was an outstanding breakout season for O’Connell as a first-year starter in college, making his level of performance even more remarkable. The left guard, according to Pro Football Focus, gave up just one sack, one hit and three pressures on 591 snaps as a junior. Even with the often quick-passing nature of the Cougars offense, those numbers are impressive. At 6’7” and a listed 368lbs, he has size and length, and moves rather well for his frame.
This was not a great outing for him against USC however. Despite the good overall day for the offense, O’Connell had some struggles. In the first quarter, he was surprisingly overpowered by defensive tackle Josh Fatu, being forced back into the pocket and giving up a sack on his quarterback Luke Falk. Moving into the second quarter, and after engaging with pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu, the Trojan defender worked off his block to get pressure on Falk, even if the experienced QB managed to release the ball just in time for a completion. Nwosu also got the better of O’Connell after the half, again finding a way to counter after contact, disengage from O’Connell in order to meet running back James Williams to make a tackle for no gain.
With some fairly unconventional footwork and overall technique, O’Connell doesn’t always anchor effectively and has some refinements to make overall. His effectiveness as a pass protector from last season is a significant part of his appeal as a prospect and so he can’t really afford to be giving up pressures and sacks in year two as a starter. He did have to deal with a talented front, in particular Nwosu who is having an exceptional senior season, but needs to have better performances than the one he put in against USC.
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