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Move The Sticks notes: Draft lessons from Cowboys' Elliott pick

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks
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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 10 of the college football season, including:

» A look at a WR who has hands like Larry Fitzgerald, according to a scout.
» Why Washington State's Luke Falk could change scouts' view of Air Raid QBs.
» A small-school QB you should get to know.

Here are three undisputed facts, according to every personnel person on the planet: 1) Ezekiel Elliott has already emerged as a top-five running back in the NFL. 2) The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL. 3) The 2017 NFL Draft will likely have the most talent-laden group of running backs we've seen in quite some time.

What does it all mean for next year's draft?

I've heard several media members proclaim that Elliott has definitively proven that running backs are once again worth taking with a top-five pick. However, in talking to veteran NFL personnel executives, it's not quite that simple. Prior to selecting Elliott fourth overall earlier this year, the Cowboys spent several drafts investing high picks in their offensive line. Some of these personnel men believe running backs (even elite ones) aren't worthy of a high first-round selection unless the offensive line that will be blocking for them has been adequately addressed. They point out the struggles of Todd Gurley (the 10th overall pick of the 2015 draft) this season as a prime example -- even though he has Pro Bowl skills, his impact is limited because of the Rams' lack of talent up front.

So, this upcoming draft is going to generate some interesting war-room discussions around the league when it comes to evaluating rushers. While the draft could be loaded with quality running backs, there is one potential entrant that has special abilities that you won't find in the other rushers. LSU's Leonard Fournette has been compared to Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. That is rare company. What do you do if you have a top pick, a need at the running back position and your offensive line is a mess? I posed this question to one executive and here was his response: "Normally, I'd say address other needs in the first round. You can find running backs anywhere and most teams rely on a rotation anyways. However, Fournette is a once-a-decade player. You don't pass on guys like that. Elliott is a great back. So is Gurley. However, I haven't seen anything like this kid since Adrian Peterson came out. Just take him."

I can't disagree with the executive's line of thinking. One more undisputed fact -- guys like Fournette don't come around very often. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

The best WR you've never heard of: Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp is arguably the best wide receiver prospect on the West Coast. Now, that might shock observers familiar with the talents of Washington's John Ross and USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster, but I've talked to several scouts who believe the 6-foot-2, 215-pound small-school standout is the most pro-ready receiver in the 2017 class. His skills should make him an immediate impact player at the next level.

"He's the real deal. If he had come out last year, he would've been the top receiver on the West Coast," said an NFC scout. "He has some of the best hands that I've ever seen. He catches everything within range. ... He has hands on the Larry Fitzgerald level."

That's lofty praise for a collegiate player, but the scout isn't alone in his effusive praise of Kupp. According to an NFC Pro Personnel Director, "(Kupp) has the potential to be a long-time pro because he is an A-1 kid with a relentless work ethic and competitive spirit. ... He just gets it and that will set him apart from others."

After studying the tape, I can't say that I disagree with the scouts' opinions. Kupp is an outstanding prospect with an ideal mix of size, length and athletic ability. Not to mention, he is a terrific pass-catcher with strong hands and excellent tracking skills. Kupp routinely snatches the ball away from defenders in traffic, exhibiting remarkable strength and concentration. As a runner, the big-bodied playmaker is a nightmare to bring down in the open field. Kupp runs through arm tackle and uses a vicious stiff arm to ward off defenders during runs. With the Eagles' standout also showing a knack for getting the ball into the end zone (67 career TDs), I'm not surprised scouts are salivating over his talent and potential despite his small-school status. In fact, Kupp's standout performances against top competition (see Washington State, Oregon, 2015 and Washington, 2014) suggests that he will not only crack a starting lineup as a WR2 but he could blossom into a star in the right system. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Breaking the mold? There haven't been many success stories when it comes to quarterbacks migrating to the NFL from Mike Leach's system, but Washington State's Luke Falk has a chance to change that narrative.

The 6-foot-4, 216-pound junior has created quite the buzz in the scouting community as a potential QB1 down the road. While some observers will dismiss his gaudy stats based on the Cougars' pass-happy system, there are plenty of evaluators intrigued by his arm talent, intangibles and production as the point guard of a fast-break offense. Sure, there have been others who have produced nice numbers in Leach's system, but Falk is viewed differently because he has been given more responsibility at the line of scrimmage.

According to several scouts familiar with Falk and the program, he's allowed to change plays based on the defensive front or coverage and he has consistently made the correct choice. Interestingly, Falk has impressed scouts and his coaches the most by opting for more runs in "check-with-me" situations. He has made sure the offense remains balanced and exploits vulnerable running lanes against defenses that load up in coverage. Considering how some spread quarterbacks struggle with at-the-line responsibilities, Falk's ability to manage the game has increased his value in the scouting community. If he can keep the Cougars winning while continuing to display superb leadership and management skills against a feisty Arizona squad on Saturday, Falk could enhance his chances of ranking as a top prospect around the league. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Keep eye on small-school QB: If NFL scouts are serious about finding the next great quarterback prospect, they should take a long, hard look at Grambling QB Devante Kincade. Now, I sure most observers haven't heard of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound passer, but the diminutive playmaker is the most efficient quarterback in the FCS with a 190.1 passer rating. Kincade, a junior, has completed 124 of 176 passes for 1,785 yards with 19 touchdowns and only one interception while guiding the No. 1 passing attack in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

On the surface, Kincade's success could be categorized as another small-school gunslinger running up big numbers against weak competition, but that would be too dismissive of his talents as an explosive playmaker. The former four-star recruit and Ole Miss transfer torches opponents as a "connect-the-dots" passer with a strong arm and nifty feet. As a dynamic quick-rhythm passer, Kincade is at his best working the short and intermediate areas of the field on a variety of "catch, rock and fire" passes but he also shows outstanding touch, timing and anticipation on deep throws. He can vary the trajectory of his throws to squeeze the ball into tight windows with line-drive tosses or float a teardrop over the top of the defender on a go route along the boundary.

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Early in the season, Kincade showed off his vast array of pitches in an impressive effort against Arizona (15 of 19 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work) that showed scouts he could thrive against big-time competition. Now, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who followed Kincade in high school as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2013 class. I watched the consensus four-star recruit walk away with MVP honors at the 2012 Dallas Elite 11 regional camp (I worked the event as a camp counselor). He exhibited terrific arm talent and leadership skills. He was described as a "thermostat leader" (player capable of changing the temperature in the room with his personality) by several coaches due to his energetic personality and spectacular talent.

"He was a really good player," said an Elite 11 official. "He has the talent and intangibles to be a guy at the next level."

Naturally, the official was talking Kincade's chances of succeeding as a collegian, but I believe he displays the combination of arm talent and athleticism to be an effective pro. He reminds me a little of Jeff Garcia (four-time CFL All-Star; four-time Pro Bowler) as an undersized QB1 with big-time potential. If he can continue to dominate small-school competition and flash in games against the big boys next season, Kincade could emerge as a legitimate option in the 2018 quarterback class. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Buzzworthy 'backers: College football is loaded with talented running backs, tight ends, pass rushers and safeties. While the linebacker position lacks depth, there are a couple star seniors that have NFL evaluators excited. Florida's Jarrad Davis and Alabama's Reuben Foster are both elite athletes and are playing at a very high level. Davis is smooth and fluid in space and he has tremendous range. Foster is a little more twitched up and he delivers some "wow" shots on the tape. I recently spoke with Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage and he placed Foster in the same company as Patrick Willis. That's high praise, and I can't say that I disagree with him. Some NFL personnel executives gave Davis a higher grade than Foster. It's going to be fun to sort these players out in the next few months. Both guys have ideal skill sets for the modern-day linebacker: speed, agility and instincts. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Matchup to watch: Saturday's Alabama-LSU features several marquee matchups between prospects, but I'm most looking forward to battle between Alabama TE O.J. Howard and LSU S Jamal Adams. Howard is coming off of a big game against Texas A&M (8-69-1) and he should be featured again this week. Adams is one of the most gifted safeties in the country, but he has yet to record an interception this fall. If LSU is going to pull the upset, they need their playmakers on defense to step up. Watch for Adams to be more involved as a blitzer in this game. Alabama's Jalen Hurts is a gifted quarterback, but he's still a freshman. Adams will do his best to disguise coverage and time up blitzes. Both of these players will play a key role for their teams on Saturday night. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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