Welcome to the first, of hopefully many, “Armchair Scout” football columns. The idea here is for me to tell you about things I see on tape with future NFL prospects and current NFL rookies, sounds fun I know. Hopefully, it’s entertaining enough to survive in a world full of football columns that are worth reading. I’ll try to avoid being purely cut and dry with statements like, “Sam Darnold’s elongated throwing motion is worrisome for a potential first overall pick,” and inject a little humor when I see fit. Maybe something like, “Patrick Mahomes II plays the quarterback position like he’s Blake Bortles and this is the CFL.” Each week I’ll aim at tackling a theme of sorts. This week I’ll be focussing on the top NFL rookie quarterbacks and running backs and how they’ve played so far this preseason. I’ll also take a look at some of the top QB and RB prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft class.

Tweets of the Week

Although Washington’s backfield is surrounded with questions Perine hasn’t separated himself thus far in the preseason. In three game Perine has 19 carries for 65 yards (3.4YPA) and one catch for 29 yards. With Chris Thompson being Washington’s designated scatback, Perine has been competing with “Fat” Rob Kelley and perennial let down candidate Matt Jones for carries. At Oklahoma, Perine’s tape showed a bruiser with some ability to bounce to the outside. I had a third-round grade on him, but he fell to the fourth-round due to the RB depth in the 2017 draft. To me, he’s more dynamic than Kelley and more consistent than Jones. It may take some time, but Perine should end up the lead back to Washington at some point this season.

Interviews are an important part of the process to gauge what kind of kid they’re dealing with, but with all the background info teams dig through they generally have a good idea anyway. A lot of the time interviews seem to be about how fast a prospect can think on their feet with both football questions and really any kind of question. Other than that college tape above all else. Combine numbers are important too, but different positions value different combine numbers. A 40-yard dash is far more important to a wide receiver than an offensive lineman. As for interview stories, there was that bizarre Jeff Ireland question to Dez Bryant a few years’ back, but I wouldn’t call that good. Former NFL defensive end Austen Lane tweeted he was asked, “If I had to murder someone would I use a gun or a knife?” Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told NFL Network, “Someone asked me if I wore a g-string or a jock strap when I played.” It’s safe to say it can get pretty weird in those interviews.

@MattMcCune93 asked, “With Derwin James returning does FSU beat Bama? How will Hurts/Francois game be impacted against each teams great secondaries?”

Even with the return of Derwin James to the Seminoles, I don’t think they can beat Alabama, their offense just isn’t good enough right now. These are probably the two best secondaries in the country and I think that’ll hurt Francois more than Hurts. Francois struggled with accuracy last year and plays behind a less experienced offensive line. Hurts is like a running back playing QB he often makes up for his lack of accuracy with phenomenal running ability. Hurts can also default to four quality RBs and one of the best receivers in the country in Calvin Ridley. Francois isn’t the same runner as Hurts and isn’t surrounded by the same talent, he’ll need to play the game of his life to pull FSU to a victory over the Tide.

In The News

One of the most fun parts of the evaluation process for future NFL prospects is the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Top senior college football players from around the country are invited to Mobile, Alabama each January to participate in a week of practice with NFL coaches leading up to a game between the squads. It’s broadcasted on NFL Network each year and hell of a lot of fun to watch. Never forget Aaron Donald eating the souls of the best senior offensive lineman in the country every rep. Anyway, long story short the Reese’s Senior Bowl released their watch list last week and it includes 400 of the best seniors from around country. Here are the top seniors at each position on the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list.

Position Player School
QB Luke Falk Washington State
RB Kalen Ballage Arizona State
FB Jaylen Samuels NC State
WR Dante Pettis Washington
TE Adam Breneman UMASS
OT Mike McGlinchey Notre Dame
OG Braden Smith Auburn
C Billy Price Ohio State
DE Bradley Chubb NC State
DT Da’Shawn Hand Alabama
OLB Harold Landry Boston College
ILB Matthew Thomas Florida State
CB Jordan Thomas Oklahoma
S Armani Watts Texas A&M
K Daniel Carlson Auburn
P JK Scott Alabama

 

Rookie Wire

(Grades through first three preseason games)

Quarterbacks:

Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Grade: A-

Stats: 34 for 48 (71%), 354 yards (7.4 YPA), 3 TDs, 4 carries for 47 yards

The most impressive rookie quarterback so far this preseason is stuck behind Mike Glennon on the Bears depth chart. Yes, that same Mike Glennon who has the same cap hit as Tom Brady and threw a pick six on the second pass of his Bears career. They’ve invested heavily in Glennon, which is a damn shame because Trubisky has shut up the naysayers this preseason. Those naysayers include me, I thought it was ridiculous that the Bears traded up to the second overall pick to draft Trubisky, yet here I am telling you he’s easily been the best rookie QB this preseason. Trubisky has consistently shown off his superior accuracy, which made him a lot of scouts QB1 in the first place. His completion percentage is over 70% not because he’s relying on check downs, but because he’s been a fantastic decision maker finding holes in zone and mismatches in man. One of the biggest traits Trubiksy has flashed so far is his mobility in the pocket. He’s been able to avoid pressure and climb the pocket to make big throws, and only tucks it and runs when there’s nothing else. What’s most impressive about Trubisky’s game is he’s played in the most real NFL offense of all the top rookie QBs. He’s consistently playing under center and taking three and five step drops, while the other rookies have played primarily in shotgun. Despite Glennon looking good in the third preseason game, this should become Trubisky’s show to run at some point this season. With a fantastic interior offensive line and a star running back to lean on in Jordan Howard, Trubisky has a chance to be the best rookie QB if given the starting job.

DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

Grade: B-

Stats: 25 for 49 (51%), 351 yards (7.2 YPA), 1 TD, 1 INT, 8 carries for 47 yards and 1 rushing TD

Cleveland hasn’t had a quarterback as talented as DeShone Kizer in decades. Kizer was my QB1 in the 2017 NFL Draft because of his arm talent and mobility, but he’s struggled with the same issues he did at Notre Dame that caused him to slide to the second-round. He often gets too comfortable in the pocket waiting for a play to develop and takes unnecessary sacks. His accuracy has been very up and down in the preseason. At times he’s thrown perfectly accurate deep balls and other times he’s missing intermediate throws that need to be made. Kizer has a habit of forcing throws into coverage because of the belief he has in his arm talent. Most of the mistakes he’s made come with being a rookie QB in the NFL and the positives have outweighed the negatives. Kizer has an extremely strong arm and can make every NFL throw. He is willing to take deep shots to create plays and with Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman on the outside, this deep passing game can be dangerous. He’s also shown great mobility in the pocket and the rush doesn’t bother him. Although, at times he’s too comfortable in the pocket, due to that he’s willing to wait and avoid pressure to make big plays. Kizer’s preseason playing style is reminiscent of early days Daunte Culpepper. Thank goodness the Browns made the right decision and named Kizer their starting QB.

Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs

Grade: C+

Stats: 25 for 38 (66%), 207 yards (5.4 YPA), 3 TDs, 5 carries for 31 yards

The Chiefs knew what Patrick Mahomes was when they traded up to the 10th overall pick to select him. He’s a raw QB prospect with one of the strongest arms to come out of college football in years, but he comes from the Texas Tech Air Raid and isn’t ready to start. Mechanically Mahomes was a mess in college and made slight improvements this preseason, specifically with his three and five step drops. He’s still unnatural under center and doesn’t look NFL ready. I had Mahomes with a second-round grade in the past draft due to his mechanical issues and the offense he was coming from. He’s flashed the arm strength in the preseason, but Andy Reid has done a great job of adjusting the offense to Mahomes. The Chiefs have been throwing a ton of screens to keep it simple for Mahomes and slowly adjusting him to the NFL. His mobility has been a big strength in the preseason and he’s been at his best when throwing on the run, similar to his knack for making plays while ad-libbing at Texas Tech. Reid is maybe the best coach in the league at adjusting an offense to his QBs strengths, but Mahomes still looks at least a year away from starting for the Chiefs.

Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Grade: C-

Stats: 29 for 56 (52%), 397 yards (7.1 YPA), 1 INT, 9 carries for 44 yards and 2 rushing TDs

To the surprise of most, Deshaun Watson has played poorly enough to lose the Texans QB battle to the uninspiring Tom Savage. The biggest knock on Watson’s game coming out of Clemson was his accuracy and boy has he been inaccurate in the preseason. He has struggled consistently on throws at every level, especially with seam routes. Watson hasn’t looked comfortable in the pocket and his best plays have come on the move. Houston’s offensive line hasn’t done Watson any favors with the group looking like one of the worst pass blocking lines in football. A positive has been Watson’s ability to make up for a lack of blocking with his legs while remaining a passer. The accuracy issues and forced throws are what lost him the job to Savage. Watson is too big a question mark right now to start on a potential playoff team leaving them to go with the safe option. He looks like a project right now, but if Savage continues to play too vanilla it may force Bill O’Brien to go to Watson at some point this season. 

Running Backs:

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: A-

Stats: 20 carries for 78 yards (3.9 YPA), 3 receptions for 32 yards

If the Bengals have any sense they’ll make Joe Mixon their starting running back. Mixon has shown throughout the preseason his fantastic patience and cutting ability. He has no issues waiting for a hole to develop and using his burst to hit it with authority. Mixon has some Le’Veon Bell to his game with the ability to wait and react instantly. He combines the power that Jeremy Hill has, but with far better vision, patience, and one-cut ability. The most exciting part of Mixon’s game is his natural ability as a pass catcher, he’s good enough to be an NFL wide receiver. He has fantastic hands and once the ball is in his hands his YAC ability is through the roof. With the rough shape, Cincinnati’s offensive line is in, Mixon should be named the starting RB over Hill due to his ability to somewhat transcend the O-line.

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Grade: B+

Stats: 17 carries for 87 yards (5.1 YPA) and 1 TD, 3 catches for 51 yards, 2 punt returns for 2 yards

The second running back off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft has flashed the most consistently from a statistical perspective thus far in the preseason. Christian McCaffrey has been splitting a lot of first-team reps with Jonathan Stewart and making for a nice combo. The addition of McCaffrey has only helped this offense giving them an explosive Mr. Outside runner to spell Stewart’s Mr. Inside style, I hope those nicknames catch on. Many people were worried during the process how McCaffrey would perform running between the tackles, but he has had no issues so far. His elite quickness has helped cover up his lack of power when running inside and he’s been very effective in doing so. The pass-catching ability is obvious on tape with McCaffrey being able to line up anywhere as a receiver, he’s added a new dynamic with his superb talent in the screen game. McCaffrey makes everyone on this offense better and he looks like a future NFL star.

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Grade: B+

Stats: 17 carries for 70 yards (4.1 YPA), 6 catches for 35 yards

It’s a joke to think that anybody at any point believed Latavius Murray would be competing with Dalvin Cook for the Vikings starting running back job. This job was Cook’s the minute he fell to Minnesota in the second-round. Let’s be clear Murray isn’t a starting quality running back and he has a Pro Bowl to his name because the Pro Bowl is a joke. Anyway, Cook has been incredible for the Vikings even without a good offensive line in front of him. Although, rookie center Pat Elflein looks like a future stud. Cook has incredible start stop ability and always keeps his feet moving looking for ground to gain. He’s also been showing off his quick cutting ability and opens field elusiveness. When the offensive line does create for him he uses his explosiveness to hit holes hard and break off chunk runs. He’s also helped Sam Bradford out as pass-catcher in both the screen game and as a check down the receiver with YAC ability. Cook is the ideal running back for the way Minnesota’s offense is currently built.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Grade: B

Stats: 9 carries for 96 yards (10.6 YPA) and 1 TD, 1 reception for 22 yards, 2 punt returns for 22 yards

Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram may be ahead of Kamara on the depth chart, but he brings a different dynamic to the offense. More of a scatback and less of a between the tackles bruiser, Kamara has flashed his outside burst on multiple occasions this preseason. The biggest knock on him so far is the awful number he’s wearing, come one Alvin 41 is no good to go with digits in the 20s they’re far more appealing. But other than that Kamara has been everything New Orleans could have hoped for, he’s playing like a bigger Darren Sproles. He will likely play a similar role in this offense to the one Sproles used to play, he’s the best receiving back on this roster.

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade: B-

Stats: 9 carries for 31 yards (3.4 YPA) and 1 TD

Even if Fournette claims the NFL is “really easy,” his preseason debut was less than spectacular and he hasn’t played in a game since. In his lone preseason game, Fournette was solid, but he had trouble breaking chunk runs and most his work came up the middle on short gains. He ran with a lot of power and tenacity, running through defenders and always falling forward. It would have been nice to see him do more damage on the outside and break bigger runs, but the offensive line didn’t do him many favors. He spent the majority of his time running out of I-formation, where he is most comfortable. Fournette should be the Jaguars lead back when the season begins with Chris Ivory playing on passing downs.

Prospect Spotlight

Star: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

If the 2018 NFL Draft were today, I’d bet my 2004 Saturn Vue Sam Darnold would be taken first overall. Darnold is just entering his redshirt sophomore season but has already emerged as the top QB in the 2018 class. Last year after taking over as the starter for a 1-2 Trojans team in week 4, Darnold saved head coach Clay Helton’s job. He led USC to a 9-1 record as their starter and a Rose Bowl victory. Darnold was dominant for USC throwing for 3,086 yards, 31 TDs to just 9 INTs, completing 67.2% of his passes, an astounding 8.43 yards per attempt. He checks the ever so important wins and stats column, but more importantly, his tape is terrific. Darnold has ideal size for the position at 6’4”, 225lbs with a good frame. He has enough arm strength to make every NFL throw, but more importantly, he has the best deep field accuracy in the draft class. What separates Darnold from Wyoming QB Josh Allen, my QB2 is his poise in the pocket. He is rarely rattled in the pocket and often makes up for a lack of pass protection by extending plays with his legs, but remaining a passer. He has the “it” factor coveted by NFL scouts. The “it” factor is hard to describe, but when you watch his tape you just know he can make a play at any moment and rarely makes mistakes that will cost his team. The biggest hole in his game is his wonky throwing motion. It’s elongated and often the type of problem that robs QBs of NFL success. Lately, we’ve seen more QB’s being accepted as first-round picks despite this type of problem (Mahomes, Wentz, Bortles). Despite his throwing motion, Darnold has a quick release that almost makes up for the issue, similar to Philip Rivers. With his ability to make big throws on the move and his ideal deep accuracy, Darnold has a similar skillset to former Cowboys QB Tony Romo. As long as Darnold stays healthy and continues to show his mechanics aren’t a problem he’ll stay atop the QB rankings for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Sleeper: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State

There may be no weirder prospect in the 2018 draft class than Kalen Ballage. He only ran for over 100 yards once last year when he scored eight touchdowns in the Sun Devils 68-55 win over Texas Tech. Arizona State ran one of the most, to put it nicely, “different” playbooks last year. They were running wide receiver reverses, running back passes, and more wildcat than the Darren McFadden Arkansas Razorbacks. Often, Ballage was carrying the ball out of Wildcat making him harder to evaluate as an NFL back. He has a surprisingly diverse skill set for a 6’3”, 230lb running back. In 2016 he ran for 536 yards and 14 touchdowns, caught 44 passes for 469 yards and one touchdown, returned 18 kicks for 409 yards, and threw for 30 yards and a TD. Ballage is unlike any running back in the 2018 group. He’s the only other back I’ve seen with the same consistent patience behind the line of scrimmage as Steelers All-Pro Le’Veon Bell, who happens to be his mentor. He has great vision and balance which are needed to succeed with the patience he plays with. Ballage is also one of the best-receiving backs in this class and has the ability to line up out wide. Hopefully, Arizona State uses him more frequently as a runner this year so we can get a better idea of how good a pure running back he is. But for now, I have a late first to early second-round grade on him.

Overrated: Jake Browning, QB, Washington

Do not let the gaudy number fool you Jake Browning is not an NFL starting caliber quarterback. As a sophomore in 2016, Browning helped lead Washington to the College Football Playoff behind 47 total touchdowns and over 3,000 passing yards. The numbers are fantastic, but the tape says otherwise. Browning has average arm strength at best and puts very little velocity on the ball. He was also bailed out all season by former Washington receiver turned first-round pick John Ross. Ross constantly made up for over and under thrown deep balls with fantastic speed and tracking ability. Browning has terrible deep accuracy and very little poise in the pocket when pass rushers begin to get to him. He has a very slight frame that will be questioned when it comes to taking NFL hits. At best Browning will be an NFL backup QB. I currently have a sixth-round grade on him and he reminds me a lot of another Chris Peterson quarterback, Kellen Moore. 

Game to Watch: #3 Florida State vs #1 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, GA)

This might be the best regular season college football game of the season. I’ll put LSU at Alabama, Ohio State at Michigan, and Florida State at Clemson in that conversation as well, I’m sure I missed 15 other games, college football is the best. Not only does this game christen the Falcons new stadium with meaningful football, but it’s two potential College Football Playoff teams going at it in the first week of the season. Both of these teams are littered with NFL prospects, giving it added value for reasons to watch. These two teams are stacked with first-round defenders, here are the names to watch:

Florida State Alabama
Josh Sweat, ED Calvin Ridley, WR
Derrick Nnadi, ID Robert Foster, WR
Demarcus Christmas, ID Bradley Bozeman, C
Matthew Thomas, LB Bo Scarbrough, RB
Tarvarus McFadden, CB Damien Harris, RB
Derwin James, S Da’Shawn Hand, ID
Trey Marshall, S Da’Ron Payne, ID
Jacob Pugh, LB Rashaan Evans, LB
Ro’Derick Hoskins, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB
Christian Miller, ED
Anthony Averett, CB
Tony Brown, CB
Ronnie Harrison, S
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S
JK Scott, P

 

Some Rankings

Top 5 QBs:

Rank QB School Pro Comparison 
1. Sam Darnold USC Tony Romo
2. Josh Allen Wyoming Andrew Luck
3. Josh Rosen UCLA Eli Manning
T-4. Lamar Jackson Louisville Michael Vick
T-4. Luke Falk Washington State Derek Carr
5. Mason Rudolph Oklahoma State Carson Palmer

 

Top 5 RBs:

Rank RB School Pro Comparison
1. Saquon Barkley Penn State Ezekiel Elliott
2. Derrius Guice LSU Devonta Freeman
3. Kalen Ballage Arizona State Le’Veon Bell
4. Bo Scarbrough Alabama Jordan Howard
5. Sony Michel Georgia Giovani Bernard

 

Underclassmen on the Radar

Frosh: Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

A high school quarterback turned number one running back prospect in the country there’s a ton of hype behind Akers name. At 5’11”, 213lbs, Akers has terrific size for a freshman running back. Currently, the number two back on the Seminoles depth chart heading into their opening game of the year vs Alabama it won’t be a surprise if Akers unseats starter Jacques Patrick at some point this season. Go ahead and throw on Akers high school tape and you’ll see an unstoppable force playing QB. He’s a violent runner with open field ability to make defenders miss and speed to burn. Florida State vs Alabama is Akers vs Najee Harris, the other top true freshman RB in the country, and it’ll be fun to see how these potential future NFL players affect the game.

Sophomore: Ed Oliver, ID, Houston

How often does a 5-star recruit pick a Group of 5 schools over a Power 5 school? Since 2012 Ed Oliver is the only one to do it. It couldn’t have worked out better for Oliver who had one of the greatest true freshman seasons ever in 2016. He earned First Team All-American honors by putting up mind boggling stats. Oliver had 65 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks for the Cougars. If he was draft eligible, Oliver would be a first-round pick, but the crazy thing is he’s just 19 years old and getting better. At 6’2”, 290lbs, Oliver has good size for a young 3-technique defensive tackle. He’s athletically gifted and shoots gaps with ease while also being able to hold the point of attack as a run defender. Oliver has a rare combo of strength and speed at defensive tackle allowing him to pressure the pocket with a mean bull rush and quick hands. If Oliver continues to develop he could be the next Aaron Donald in the NFL.

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Author Details
Vice President of Media | The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I’m Canadian as can be, other than the fact that I don’t care about hockey. I love football. The NFL is my life. I consider myself a football guy and I’d rather watch tape than anything else. I’m the Armchair NFL Draft analyst here. You can read my Armchair Scout columns and call me out for my draft misses. I’m also part of two podcasts at Armchair. Our NFL Draft podcast, 7 Rounds in Heaven, and the main NFL pod, Resting the Starters. I cheer for the Steelers, Raptors, Blue Jays, Oregon, and I guess the Leafs.
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Vice President of Media | The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I’m Canadian as can be, other than the fact that I don’t care about hockey. I love football. The NFL is my life. I consider myself a football guy and I’d rather watch tape than anything else. I’m the Armchair NFL Draft analyst here. You can read my Armchair Scout columns and call me out for my draft misses. I’m also part of two podcasts at Armchair. Our NFL Draft podcast, 7 Rounds in Heaven, and the main NFL pod, Resting the Starters. I cheer for the Steelers, Raptors, Blue Jays, Oregon, and I guess the Leafs.

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