Happy Saturday everyone!
We have a fantastic slate of match-ups today, featuring some of the biggest (and most fascinating) prospects in the 2018 draft.
There are several players who will be on the field today who the New York Giants absolutely will be watching closely as they prepare to make the second pick in the draft. And the action starts right away when Louisville and Mississippi State square off in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
So without further ado, let’s dive right in!
TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State (24)
ESPN - 12pm
There are several good prospects in this game, but let’s get this out of the way right now: This game is about Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been, arguably, the most electric player in college football for the last two years.
There is, and has been, a current of opinion that Jackson should change position to wide receiver at the next level, and in my opinion, that is just lazy analysis. Jackson is an athletic phenom who can make any defense that ignores him pay dearly, but for all his ability to run, he is also a talented passer who is developing quickly. There might be some concern about whether Jackson can handle an NFL offense, but that ignores how much Louisville’s offense actually puts on his plate.
*I’ll be getting in to that in my prospect profile for Jackson, but suffice to say that it is a lot, even if it doesn’t look like a Pro Style offense.
Jackson has improved as a passer each year, and despite his lean frame, he possesses incredible arm talent, throwing darts with barely a flick of the wrist. Each year he has grown more comfortable and improved as a pocket passer, and each year Jackson’s completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio has improved — which bodes well for his continued development at the next level.
Lamar Jackson is going to be a polarizing prospect moving forward, but he is also a lot of fun to watch.
Jackson’s left tackle, Geron Christian, should also garner some attention. Christian is inconsistent and might need to get stronger for the NFL, but he has the long, lean frame of an NFL OT, and is a smooth mover on the edge.
Unfortunately, Mississippi State will be without quarterback Nick Fitzgerald after requiring surgery for an ankle injury suffered in the rivalry game with Ole Miss. Absent Fitzgerald, left tackle Martinas Rankin will be the prospect to watch for Mississippi State. A Junior College transfer, Rankin is inexperienced, but has a long, strong frame and solid fundamentals. There are questions about his athleticism and he might not be able to stick at tackle going forward, but he could be a very good guard (a la Brandon Scherff, Justin Pugh, or Zack Martin)
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis (19)
ABC - 12:30pm
Most watching this game will want to concentrate on Memphis QB Riley Ferguson. Ferguson is an under-the-radar prospect who’s numbers suggest impressive efficiency. On the field he is somewhat erratic and teams having to project a smaller school quarterback into their own systems might hurt his draft stock. At this point he looks more like a developmental prospect at the next level.
Both teams have interesting wide receivers that could interest the Giants if they want to improve their depth behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
We’ll start Iowa State’s Allen Lazard. Lazard is a big bodied receiver, listed at 6’5”, 222 pounds, with long arms, strong hands, and an impressive catch radius. He isn’t shy about using his big frame to bully smaller defensive backs, but is also capable of winning with surprising quickness. He has been consistently productive for Iowa State, and had good games against Oklahoma and TCU this year.
At the other end of the spectrum is Memphis’ Anthony Miller. A small receiver at 5’11”, 190 pounds (listed), and likely destined to play the slot in the NFL, Miller wins with quick-twitch athleticism. That athleticism gives him the ability to turn missed tackles into big gains, or be a threat down the field, both of which are valued at the next level. Miller is also a solid route runner, which should get him on to the field sooner rather than later.
Fiesta Bowl: Washington (12) vs. Penn State (9)
ESPN - 4pm
The next game to feature a top prospect, the Fiesta Bowl has one of the top prospects in the entire draft in Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley isn’t the most accomplished running back in the draft, ranking 35th in the NCAA for rushing yards this year. However, simply looking at Barkley’s rushing production is just a fraction of what he brings to the field and gives an incomplete picture of the player as a whole.
For a more complete picture, consider that Barkley is second in the NCAA in total yardage as a rusher, receiver, and returner, (averaging 179.5 yards per game) and fifth in the nation in total touchdowns, with 22 this season. All of that as Penn State’s primary offensive threat, with little else to distract defenses.
It is a phrase that is bandied about far too widely in discussing draft prospects, but Barkley is a true athletic freak in the mold of Bo Jackson. Measuring at 5’11”, 230 pounds, he has been timed in the 4.3s in the 40 yard dash, a 4.00s short shuttle, has a 38” vertical leap, a 600lb squat, and a 405 power clean, breaking the school record set by 280 pound defensive end Anthony Zettel.
As you can probably tell from his total yardage, Barkley isn’t just a big, fast running back, but also a dangerous receiver and return man, with great vision and the ability to break tackles (or make them miss) and turn a sliver of daylight into a huge play.
He is also very highly respected around Penn State and both teammates and coaches, rave about him in pretty much every setting.
There are very few flaws to be found in Barkley’s game or (from what I can tell) character. NFL scouts compare him to Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott, “but better”. He is the second ranked player on my big board (as it stands now), behind only Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
If Barkley isn’t moving the chains for Penn State, the ball will probably be going to tight end Michael Gesicki. Gesicki is a well-rounded tight end with the balance of big frame and athleticism that the NFL looks for. However, considering the investment the Giants have made in the position recently, they are unlikely to look at the position so soon.
Now that we got Barkley out of the way, it’s time to turn to the Washington Huskies, who boast a bevy of NFL prospects.
First up is defensive tackle Vita Vea. Vea fits the mold of defensive tackles the Giants have drafted over the last decade, with the size and power to effectively dominate the interior, but also surprising quickness and agility. At 6’5”, 340, he draws comparisons to Haloti Ngata for his blend of power and athleticism. There is concern about Vea’s motor, with some commenting that he takes plays off, but that is a fairly common complaint when it comes to massive defensive tackles (similar concerns knocked Johnathan Hankins down to the second round).
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Keishawn Bierria should be of interest to the Giants. Bierria is slightly undersized at 6’1”, 230, but he shows solid athleticism and has a non-stop motor. He shows a good closing burst as a run stopper and should be able to play in space in pass coverage.
On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Dante Pettis could prove to be an attractive option if the value is right. The Giants have gone through a number of options for kick and punt returners this season, and Pettis is unquestionably the best option in the draft. He is the sole owner of the NCAA’s record for career punt returns for touchdowns, with 9. He is also a well-rounded receiver at 6’1”, 200 pounds with reliable hands, good route running, and solid long speed.
Orange Bowl: Miami (11) vs. Wisconsin (6)
ESPN - 8pm
Finally we come to the Orange Bowl between the Miami Hurricanes and Wisconsin Badgers.
Miami proved to be one of the most entertaining teams in college football this season, with their 5 pound “Turnover Chain” coming to symbolize the return of “The U’s” swagger and confidence.
Miami is a young team, and most of their best players are not yet draft eligible, but they are definitely fun to watch and it’s a good idea to start studying up on them now.
Miami defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh, a junior, has yet to make his decision with regards to April’s draft, but there are some who think that he is the most likely of Miami’s potential prospects to declare. He is undersized at 6’3”, 295 pounds, but athletic enough to disrupt in the backfield while also being a solid run defender. He has 49 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks on the season.
On the Wisconsin side of things, tight end Troy Fumagalli is an interesting prospect. As with Penn State’s Gesicki, the Giants are unlikely to look at a tight end, but Fumagalli has an NFL frame and has been very productive for Wisconsin. Some have ranked him as the top tight end in the draft, despite missing a finger as a result of a birth defect.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards has yet to declare for the draft, but he could be a three-down linebacker at the next level. He has solid size, listed at 6’1”, 244 pounds but also has the athleticism to play in space, notching 7 passes defensed and 4 interceptions this season. Edwards also has 75 tackles, and a pair of sacks this season — though both totals are down from his 2016 campaign (89 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, and 3 sacks).