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Move The Sticks notebook: Early look at draft's positional depth

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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 college-scouting notes heading into Week 8 of the college football season, including:

» The buzz on Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer as his cold streak continues.
» A small-school WR who could join the likes of Randy Moss and Antonio Brown.
» A matchup to watch in one of Saturday's biggest games.

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's early look at which positions could offer the most and least depth in next year's draft.

Where are the wide receivers?

That's a question I never fielded over the last three years, but it's popping up in conversations with scouts this season. The college game has produced a lot of high-caliber WRs over the last three drafts. However, this year the position is lacking in quality depth. There are a few studs around the country (Clemson's Mike Williams is even better than advertised and you'll read about a star WR from the MAC in this notebook), but we don't see the same depth at the position that we've grown accustomed to seeing in college football.

Now, we won't have a complete picture of the talent available in the 2017 draft until mid-January, when underclassmen face a deadline for declaring their intentions. However, we can take an early look at which positions are shaping up to be the deepest and shallowest.

So, which positions are deep with talent? In speaking with personnel executives around the league, the belief is there's tremendous depth at these positions: running back, safety, tight end and edge rusher. Even the casual college football fan is aware of the running back talent around the country. Senior TEs Jake Butt (Michigan) and O.J. Howard (Alabama) are both highly intriguing talents. This is shaping up to be the best crop of safeties and tight ends that we've seen in the past decade.

"If you need a safety, there's no excuse for you to leave this draft without one," said an NFC scout.

On the other hand, wide receiver isn't the only position limited when it comes to impact players. There is a very shallow pool of quarterbacks and offensive tackles. One personnel executive told me this is the worst group of offensive tackles he's seen in a long time. Maybe we'll see some prospects emerge at these positions over the second half of the college season. This is something to keep an eye on as we head toward the spring. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Kizer maintains appeal through cold streak: Despite a steady decline in production since his spectacular season-opening performance against Texas, the buzz is still building around Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer's potential as a franchise quarterback.

"He has all of the traits that you look for at the position: size, athleticism, IQ and arm talent," said an AFC personnel executive. "But you have to see if he is ready for the jump. Is he ready to be the guy?"

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound passer is coming off a pair of sub-par games (N.C. State and Stanford) that included a surprising benching (vs. Stanford) that appeared to rattle his confidence, but he's a prototypical quarterback prospect with everything that most NFL offensive coordinators covet in a QB1. Kizer can make every throw in the book with zip, velocity and touch from the pocket or on the run. In addition, he's an underrated runner who's capable of executing zone-read plays or designed quarterback runs as dual-threat playmaker. Although Kizer isn't as explosive or splashy as Louisville's Lamar Jackson, he flashes enough speed, burst and athleticism to create problems for defensive coordinators. Most importantly, he's a highly intelligent player with a strong work ethic and superb leadership skills.

Sure, he has struggled with turnovers and exhibited some questionable judgment as a passer, but he possesses an impressive set of physical tools and intangibles that will force scouts to keep an eye on him to see if he can rediscover his early season magic. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

The MAC's next potential NFL star: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis has already earned legendary status in the MAC as the conference's all-time receiving leader, and he could join the likes of Randy Moss, Antonio Brown and Greg Jennings -- each is a conference alum who made his mark in the NFL as a WR1.

The 6-foot-3, 213-pound senior is a polished pass-catcher with all of the requisite traits needed to blossom into a dominant playmaker at the next level. He's an exceptional route runner with a bag of tricks that will make him a nightmare to guard on the perimeter. Davis shows terrific timing, tempo, and savvy in setting defenders up throughout his routes. He also flashes the short-area quickness and burst to separate from coverage out of his break. As a result, he's an extraordinary "double-move specialist" (hitch-and-go, slant-and-go and post-corner) with a knack for delivering big plays or attracting penalties when he uses his stutter game. In addition, Davis is an outstanding pass-catcher with strong hands and natural ball skills. He snatches the ball out of the air and routinely comes down with 50-50 balls. While some scouts will question whether Davis can consistently get open or dominate a higher level of competition, the fact that he has totaled 617 receiving yards and four touchdowns in games against Big Ten opponents should silence the critics attempting to cast the Broncos' star receiver as simply a small-school standout.

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Looking ahead to how NFL teams could use Davis as a playmaker as he enters the league, I would envision him occupying a role as a WR2 on a team with an established No. 1 option. Davis' versatility (slot or outside), route-running ability and sure-handedness would make him a perfect fit as a possession receiver in an offense that features a full menu of routes in the game plan. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Keep eye on safety in weekend's marquee game: Saturday's Texas A&M-Alabama game features some of the top players in the country. Aggies DE Myles Garrett is widely regarded as the most talented player in college football, while Crimson Tide players like LB Reuben Foster and DL Jonathan Allen project as first-round picks. However, the player I'm anxious to watch on Saturday is Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. He's a converted cornerback who has really thrived at the deep safety position. He's not as gifted as former first-round 'Bama safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, but he has outstanding range, ball skills and playmaking ability. He has returned 4 interceptions for scores during his college career and is also a potent punt returner. He projects as a true high safety at the next level and his ability to contribute on special teams will boost his stock in draft rooms. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Matchup to watch: Scouts will pay close attention to the battle that will take place between Ole Miss TE Evan Engram and LSU S Jamal Adams in the middle of the field when the Rebels and Tigers square off on Saturday night. The showdown will provide scouts with a preview of how each player could impact a team at the next level. It will also give evaluators a better feel for their overall competitiveness and grit when facing an elite player.

The matchup will give scouts a chance to see how well Adams covers in space. Engram, on the other hand, gets to show scouts that he can make his mark against a stingy secondary that makes life miserable for pass-catchers. As a "move" tight end or H-Back prospect, Engram needs to show evaluators that he can get open over the middle against safeties and slot corners with superior quickness and agility. In addition, evaluators will pay close attention to his success in the red zone (12 career touchdowns) to see if he has the potential to develop into a "paydirt" specialist as a pro. Although this game won't make or break either player's evaluation, it will certainly be discussed extensively by NFL teams. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Don't sleep on small-school TE: As I mentioned earlier in this notebook, college football is flush with talent at the tight end position. Michigan's Jake Butt, Alabama's O.J. Howard and Ole Miss' Evan Engram are well-known commodities that have been productive at the highest level of college football. However, one under-the-radar player belongs in the conversation: South Alabama TE Gerald Everett. I've heard his name come up several times in conversations with Southeast area scouts, but I just recently had the opportunity to study his tape. He's impressive. He has excellent play speed and quickness. He can make plays down the seam and South Alabama does a nice job of getting him the ball on quick screens underneath. He put on a show in a season-opening win over Mississippi State, grabbing the game-winning TD, and caught his fourth TD pass of the season Thursday night in a loss to Troy. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl in January. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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