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Move The Sticks notebook: Scouts question USC WR's billing

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks NFL.com
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes on prospects heading into Week 2 of the college football season, including:

» An evaluation of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield's pro potential.
» Buzz for a safety whose stock is soaring.
» Scouts' disappointment with the talent at a marquee position.

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' take on arguably the top WR in college football, who's had a rough start to the season.

USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was silenced against Alabama (1 catch for 9 yards) in Week 1, and he isn't universally viewed as the top player at the position by scouts I've had conversations with over the past few weeks.

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While most evaluators love his size/speed combination and "catch-and-run" skills, there are questions about his durability. He has yet to miss a game in his college career and showed toughness in playing through a broken hand last season, but an NFC scout I spoke to wondered if Smith-Schuster could last a full season at the next level with his tenacious playing style. In addition, he expressed some concerns about some of the struggles the Trojans' previous WR1s (Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Robert Woods) have experienced in the NFL.

Now, I'm not in complete agreement with that scout's assessment of Smith-Schuster. I still recognize his inexperience at the position (he played strong safety, running back and receiver at Long Beach Poly High) and appreciate his growth over two-plus years at wide receiver. He is vastly improved as a route runner and he shows strong hands as a pass-catcher. Despite a slow start against Alabama and his frustration boiling over in practice this week, Smith-Schuster remains the top pass-catcher on my list. -- Bucky Brooks

Mayfield's limitations exposed: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield is a good college player, but I don't view him as a top prospect at the position. Despite his impressive production against Big 12 competition, I have serious concerns about his size, athleticism and durability. Mayfield's stature (listed by Oklahoma as 6-foot-1, 209 pounds) could make it hard for him to find passing lanes against a big front line and he isn't quite explosive enough to run away from elite pass rushers. Most importantly, he isn't a disciplined playmaker from the pocket and his streaky ways will make it hard for NFL play caller to build a game plan around his skills. Against Houston, Mayfield's limitations were exposed when he took a battering at the hands of the Cougars' defense. Sure, he passed for 323 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he couldn't elude the pass rush and he appeared to wear down by the end of the game. In fact, Mayfield's struggles remind me of Johnny Manziel's on-field woes as a pro and I don't think Mayfield is nearly as dynamic or explosive as the Heisman Trophy winner. -- Bucky Brooks

First Look:
NFL Media analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at college football's top players for 2016.

Smashing debut for young QBs: The scouting community might be down on the QBs who could be in the 2017 draft, but they should be ecstatic about the young talent in the pipeline based on the debut performances of Florida State's Deondre Francois, Texas' Shane Buechele, Alabama's Jalen Hurts and Georgia's Jacob Eason. Each member of the quartet not only played well on a big stage against strong competition, but the young gunners displayed the core traits (arm talent, intelligence, leadership skills, poise and grit) needed to thrive at the next level. Francois and Buechele, in particular, showed impressive moxie leading their teams to stunning wins as the primary playmakers for their respective squads. Considering how hard it is to find a franchise quarterback, I'm sure a number of evaluators are already taking notice of the next wave at QB. -- Bucky Brooks

Chubb bouncing back in a big way: After going back and studying the Week 1 Georgia-North Carolina game, I was stunned by how well Nick Chubb played. Coming off of a significant knee injury, I thought I might see some tentative running or simple rustiness from him. Instead, I saw Chubb running through contact and displaying outstanding vision and balance. He was also very dependable in pass protection. This is bad news for the rest of the SEC. -- Daniel Jeremiah

TAMU safety has scouts buzzing: One player generating a lot of buzz in scouting circles is Texas A&M safety Justin Evans. While attending games last weekend, several NFL evaluators approached me and asked if I'd studied Evans. They each mentioned how much they loved his game. One executive told me he thinks Evans will be a top-20 pick in next year's draft. After watching the tape of his game against UCLA in Week 1, I was very impressed with his ball skills. He's a big hitter and he has outstanding instincts. I'm going to go out on a limb (albeit a very thick one) and predict he gets another interception against Prairie View A&M this weekend. -- Daniel Jeremiah

The next big thing: Florida State safety Derwin James will be the talk of the scouting community by the end of the season. The 6-3, 211-pound sophomore is a dynamic "three-tool" (hit, run and cover) defender with unique skills and prototypical dimensions. As the designated playmaker for the Seminoles, James makes his mark roaming the deep middle as a centerfielder or off the edges as a disruptive pass rusher on blitzes. He showed flashes of his immense talent and potential during an impressive freshman season (91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries), but his breakout performance against Ole Miss (8 tackles and an INT) will open the eyes of scouts searching for a versatile game-changer at the position. James not only has the physical attributes needed to make plays all over the field, but he shows the instincts, awareness and football aptitude to run the show in the back end. He won't eligible for the draft until 2018, at the earliest, but with teams desperately looking for a "traffic cop" who has playmaking skills and an enforcer's mentality, James' rare combination of skills could make him a star at the next level. -- Bucky Brooks

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Tennessee has two NFL-caliber running backs: Jalen Hurd gets the majority of the attention but NFL scouts really like Alvin Kamara as well. They are totally different backs. Hurd is a bigger, power runner while Kamara has more quickness and is very elusive. The one area where they are similar -- they can both contribute on third down. Hurd is an excellent pass protector and Kamara is a weapon out of the backfield. They didn't get cranked up in Week 1 against Appalachian State (As an App State alum, I'm still smarting from that loss) but I expect them to be more productive against Virginia Tech this week. -- Daniel Jeremiah

The trouble with the tackles: This is setting up to be the best running back year we've seen in college football for quite some time. However, there's another position that is lacking premier talent. Scouts around the league have been very disappointed with the current crop of offensive tackles. Alabama's Cam Robinson is viewed as the top prospect at the position but many believe his future is at guard. Some scouts question whether he's athletic enough to handle pass-protection duties at left tackle and compare him to D.J. Fluker, a former 'Bama player who was moved inside to guard by the Chargers. I like Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchy but he's not nearly as talented as his former teammate Ronnie Stanley, who went sixth overall in this year's draft. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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