Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope everyone had a happy, and safe, night last night and you’re all ready to settle in for a great day of football.
We have three games that look to be good to start the day, then we get the first round of the College Football Playoffs to cap off the first day of 2018. Every game features players that could, or should, interest the New York Giants, so today is fascinating from a draft perspective as well.
The down side of having such a potentially great slate of games is that we’re going to have to make a decision about which of the three early games to watch.
(of course, switching back and forth is always an option)
To break things up a bit we’re just going to look at the early games now, so let’s get to it!
Outback Bowl - South Carolina vs. Michigan
ESPN 2 - Noon
The Outback Bowl features a trio of prospects that could interest the Giants.
The top prospect is Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Hurst is undersized, listed at 6’2,” 292 pounds, and it took him a long time to finally realize his potential, but the wait has been well worth it. Hurst looks custom built to be a penetrating 3-technique in the NFL, using his athleticism and quick first step to be disruptive behind the line of scrimmage. He might not be in the same conversation as Aaron Donald, but when he is on, he is difficult to stop. Coming in to the game, Hurst has 58 tackles, 13.0 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks — all of which are career highs.
Next up on Michigan is offensive lineman Mason Cole. The Giants were reportedly very interested in Cole before he announced that he would return to school following the 2016 season. He will probably go through the draft process as a center, but at 6’5,” 305 pounds and experience at multiple positions, he is a player with starting upside at multiple positions. Cole is fundamentally sound as a blocker, with solid technique and a high football IQ, with plenty of experience blocking in a pro style offense.
South Carolina’s top prospect is tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst is a former walk-on who was stamped as a priority free agent to start the season, but worked his way into consideration as the top tight end in the draft. His combination of size, athletic ability, and receiving and blocking prowess would make him interesting if the Giants hadn’t invested so much in tight end last year.
On defense, however, is a prospect who definitely should interest the Giants — outside linebacker Skai Moore. At 6’2,” 220 pounds, Moore is a “new age” hybrid outside linebacker who excels at playing in space. He has plenty of athleticism to cover the middle of the field, while also being solid in pursuit and playing down-hill. Moore has also been very productive for the Gamecocks, averaging 7 tackles a game over his 49 games in South Carolina. He also has 20 tackles for a loss, 14 interceptions, and 5 sacks over that period. He does come with serious medical red flags after missing 2016 with a neck injury. If his medicals check out, Moore could be a mid-round steal.
Peach Bowl - Auburn (7) vs. UCF (10)
ESPN - 12:30 p.m.
UCF might not be the favorite to win this game, but they are the ones pretty much everyone will be rooting for. The Knights feature a fun, fast, high-octane offense brought by head coach Scott Frost from Oregon. Junior receiver Tre’Quan Smith is worth watching, and linebacker Shaquem Griffin’s path through the draft process will be fascinating. He is an athletic and talented coverage linebacker, but only having one hand will surely impact his evaluation, even if he has consistently been able to overcome it.
But from a draft perspective, most of the players to watch are on the Auburn roster.
First up is left tackle turned guard Braden Smith. Smith’s mid-season move to guard was fortuitous, because that is where he was almost certainly going to play in the NFL. He has solid size at 6’6,” 305 pounds and plays with solid leverage and tremendous upper body strength. A marginal athlete for a tackle, he has good feet for a guard and plays with a mauler’s mentality in Auburn’s run-oriented scheme.
Next is runningback Kerryon Johnson. Despite the attention that the running backs playing later in the day for LSU, Georgia, and Alabama will get, Johnson has been the best rusher in the SEC. He does benefit from Auburn’s unique offense and quarterback Jarrett Stidham — who can both run the ball and stretch the field with his arm -- Johnson is a talented, hard-running workhorse of a back. Johnson gets lost in the shuffle of a talented running back class, but when scouts sit down and watch his game, he draws comparisons to Le’Veon Bell as a big, powerful, but agile and smart running back.
Edge Rusher Jeff Holland is undersized for the Giants as currently constructed, but if the team moves to more of a 3-4 defense, he could be of interest as a rush linebacker. At 6’1,” 249 pounds he is quick into the backfield and disruptive once he gets there. Taking over for Carl Lawson he has tallied 43 total tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 8.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles.
Citrus Bowl - LSU (16) vs. Notre Dame (14)
ABC - 1 p.m.
We have a couple more top prospects to watch in this game.
The left side of the Notre Dame offensive line absolutely should interest the Giants. Left guard Quenton Nelson has been a consistent presence in our weekly top-10 and finished the season with the number 3 ranking. There are very few weaknesses in Nelson’s game, and he is a dominating run and pass blocker, with great power, agility, technique, awareness, and football IQ.
Next to him is left tackle Mike McGlinchey. McGlinchey moved to left tackle from right tackle following the departure of Ronnie Stanley to the NFL. He is a long, strong lineman with good technique and a solid understanding of angles and the benefit of playing in an offense that translates well to the NFL. Despite playing a more valuable position, McGlinchey isn’t as good of a prospect as Nelson and can occasionally struggle with smaller speed rushers off the edge.
The two will be blocking for running back Josh Adams. Adams is a big back, listed at 6’2,” 225 pounds, but looks bigger on the field. He runs with a physical edge as well as athleticism. He is coming off his best season by far, with 1,386 yards on 191 carries (7.3 ypc) and 9 touchdowns, all career highs. He also added 10 catches for 82 yards, after catching 21 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown last year.
Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is an interesting receiver for the Irish. He has a big frame at 6’4,” 205 pounds while also showing the speed to get down-field. St. Brown has had a disappointing season, but his combination of size and athleticism will intrigue — Especially considering that Dave Gettleman has a track record of drafting bigger receivers.
LSU features an intriguing running back of their own in Derrius Guice. Guice was considered by some to be the best running back prospect in the nation before the start of the season. However, a disappointing start to his season (thanks to an ankle injury) and a dominant start to the season by Saquon Barkley quelled those feelings. But as a pure runner, Guice remains impressive. He is a powerfully built running back at 5’11”, 220 (listed), and likes to finish his runs behind his pads. He also shows off suddenness in and out of his cuts — as well as through holes — as well as good vision.
LSU receiver D.J. Chark is also worth keeping an eye on. He is another big receiver who is also quick and fast (one of the NFL’s favorite combinations). Chark will likely be a riser throughout the draft process, as LSU’s offense limited him to just a couple touches per game. The much more pass-happy NFL will likely shine a light on him, and at this point he is a sleeper worth watching.
On the other side of ball is the enigma of Arden Key. Key isn’t playing today, but he is a player we should still probably discuss. He was one of the best pass rushers in the nation in 2016, but missed the spring with a shoulder injury, and reportedly has a “puzzling” personality. He has the tools to be a top-flight pass rusher with length, flexibility, and plenty of athleticism. However, he needs to prove his passion for the game and desire to hone his craft, as well as answer for his disappointing 2017 season.