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, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' look at why the search for the middle-round gem at running back could lead NFL teams to South Florida.
For years, we've heard plenty of general managers, scouts and coaches suggest that top runners could be found outside of Round 1 of the NFL draft. History certainly bears that out with perennial Pro Bowl runners like Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, and Jamaal Charles coming off the board in the second and third rounds. More recently, teams have found hidden gems like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson outside of the first round. The list of the top-10 rushing leaders last season featured only one first-round pick (Ezekiel Elliott) among the group.
With that in mind, teams should pay close attention to South Florida RB Marlon Mack as a middle-round possibility with star potential. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound runner is a three-time 1,000-yard rusher with a game tailor-made for the NFL. Mack is a nifty runner with outstanding vision, balance and body control. He shows terrific patience with the ball in his hands and is a "pick-and-stick" runner with sneaky wiggle and burst. Mack can make defenders miss in the hole with a jump cut or slip past multiple defenders with a slick stop-start move that's perfect for the pro game.
As an inside runner, Mack exhibits enough grit and toughness to grind out the tough yards between the tackles. He runs through arm tackles at the point of attack and flashes enough lower-body strength to drag tacklers at the end of the runs. On short yardage and goal-line attempts, in particular, Mack's combination of strength and power makes him an effective scorer despite his scat-back dimensions. Although he is certainly not a power back, he has the tools to be a solid runner between the tackles.
On the perimeter, Mack has enough speed and quickness to turn the corner. He outruns defenders on the second level, exhibiting better speed than his official 40-yard dash time (4.50 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine. Mack is capable of taking it the distance, but he's at his best working within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He shows a unique combination of stop-start quickness, wiggle and burst that makes him hard to hit in the open field.
As a receiver, Mack's strong open-field running skills complement his polished route-running skills and sticky hands. Although he hasn't been used extensively in the passing game, Mack is effective snagging balls on the perimeter on swings and isolation routes (hitches, go-routes, etc.) from an out-wide alignment. With more teams incorporating the running back in the passing game as a slot receiver or flanker in empty and spread formations, Mack's receiving skills could make him a three-down back in most offenses.
Overall, Mack's game lacks some of the sizzle and pizzazz to prompt evaluators to place him with the first tier of players at the position, but he could be the hidden gem that emerges as a star in this class.
"He's my sleeper," said a college running backs coach familiar with Mack's game. "He definitely has the talent to be a big-time guy."
We will soon see if evaluators have kept their eye on the South Florida star throughout the pre-draft process. Last season, the NFL slept on Jordan Howard and he emerged as the NFL's second-leading rusher. Mack could follow that blueprint as a productive runner with a game that's eerily similar to the Chicago Bears' star runner. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
WR continues to ascend: Penn State WR Chris Godwin enjoyed a solid regular season, but he really began to grab the attention of evaluators following a dominant performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. In that game, Godwin hauled in 9 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He then built on his momentum by running a much-faster-than-expected 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. I didn't think he played like a top-50 prospect earlier in the 2016 season, but he has really helped himself in the postseason portion of the evaluation process. I gave him a third-/fourth-round grade based on his early season play, but he has entered the discussion as a potential second-round selection. -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
Projecting an O-line run in draft: Much has been made about the lack of elite offensive linemen in this year's draft class. I don't believe we will see a lineman drafted in the top 10, which is a very rare occurrence. However, I do believe we will see four of them come off the board in the first round. Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp is clearly the top interior offensive line prospect and I have him as the best linemen overall as well. I expect him to go in the top 20. Here are the three offensive tackles likely to land in the first round: Garett Bolles (Utah), Cam Robinson (Alabama) and Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin). We've spent the past few months discussing these four prospects, but we haven't spent much time talking about the next tier of blockers.
I think we will see a run on cornerbacks, safeties and tight ends in the early portion of the second round. However, I also think we could see a run on offensive linemen in the late portion of Round 2, into the early portion of Round 3. Here are some of the names I expect to land in that area of the draft: Indiana OG Dan Feeney, Miami (Ohio) OT Collin Buchanan, Temple OT Dion Dawkins, Western Michigan OT Taylor Moton, Troy OT Antonio Garcia, Ohio State C Pat Elflein, LSU C Ethan Pocic and Pitt OG Dorian Johnson.
In a normal draft, I think you would see the majority of these players come off the board a round or two later. However, the lack of depth at the position could force some of these players up the board. Two players I really like just outside of this range: Kutztown OG Jordan Morgan and Utah OG Isaac Asiata. Both of these players are maulers and they get after it in the run game. Morgan played OT in college but he projects as a guard at the next level. Asiata collects more knockdowns than any other lineman I've studied this year. He can get out of control at times, but I love his demeanor. -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
The next potential stud LB from LSU: NFL scouts have watched a couple of LSU linebackers rise from relative obscurity to NFL stardom in recent years with Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones blossoming into studs with their respective teams. After watching the duo's rapid ascension to the top of the ranks at their positions, evaluators are taking a closer look to see if the Bayou Bengals have another star who's poised to break out when he gets his chance at the next level. While Kendell Beckwith was the LSU LB garnering most of the attention in the scouting community in the fall, now, evaluators are buzzing about LSU LB Duke Riley's potential as a difference maker on the second level.
The 6-foot, 232-pounder is a tackling machine with outstanding instincts and a non-stop motor. He tracks runners down as a sideline-to-sideline pursuer, exhibiting outstanding quickness and acceleration as a hunter. In addition, Riley flashes impressive instincts and athleticism shooting gaps to corral runners in the backfield. Most impressively, he is a consistent tackler with strong wrap-up skills.
Naturally, as a slightly undersized linebacker, Riley lacks the take-on skills to fend off blockers in the hole, but he has a knack for slipping into creases to get clean shots on runners. While he needs to clean up his hand skills and combat techniques, Riley's non-stop motor and relentless spirit make him tough to contain at the point of attack.
In coverage, Riley shows good instincts, ball skills and awareness as a pass defender. He has a nice feel for reading and anticipating routes in his area while maintaining vision on the quarterback. As a result, he has a knack for getting his hands on balls in his neighborhood, which is an impressive trait for an underneath defender.
Looking ahead to draft day, I believe Riley grades as a bottom-of-the-second-round player (eventual starter with the potential to crack the lineup by Year 2), but I could see him going at any point on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) to a team looking for a potential starter with special-teams ability. Considering how Alexander and Jones were also viewed in that light before emerging as difference makers on their respective teams, scouts would be wise to keep tabs on Riley during the process. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
Robinson on the rise? As mentioned above, it is a three-player race to be the first offensive tackle off the board. In talking to coaches and scouts around the league, the name generating the most buzz is Alabama's Cam Robinson. He's not without faults on tape (he overextends too much and his balance is an issue at times) but he has outstanding size, length and power. He had a combine workout that was better than people expected, and he was very impressive in his team interviews. I won't be surprised if he ends up being the first offensive tackle selected, landing between picks 15 and 20. -- Daniel Jeremiah
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.