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MTS Notes: Biggest NFL draft risers; Scouting Lamar Jackson

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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, including:

» Brooks' take on where Lamar Jackson belongs in the conversation of CFB's top QBs
» Why the buzz about Chip Kelly is warranted
» The scouting report for a RB who draws a comp to Le'Veon Bell

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's look at which prospects are the biggest risers of the season.

Believe it or not, this is the last weekend of college football before the conference championship games. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of the season's biggest risers heading into the final couple weekends of games before bowl season begins. Based on a combination of my own evaluation of these players along with what I hear from scouting sources, I believe these 5 players have helped themselves as much as any in the country in 2017.

1. Stanford RB Bryce Love: After taking over the position from Christian McCaffrey, Love has been outstanding. He has rushed for 1,723 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's averaging an absurd 8.8 yards per carry and he's fought through a high ankle sprain for the second half of the season.

2. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield: He has shown tremendous improvement in his ability to deal from the pocket this fall. He has racked up video-game numbers (3,816 yards, 34 touchdown passes and just 5 interceptions) and he's the clear front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy. He's made some immature decisions on the field, including one last week that has cost him his captaincy for his final home game at Oklahoma, but overall, this year has really boosted his draft stock. Mayfield was viewed as a middle-to-late-round pick prior to the start of the season, but I believe he has a chance to go in the first round, and I'd be surprised if he got out of the second round.

3. Virginia QB Kurt Benkert: I didn't know much about Benkert before the season started, and neither did many NFL evaluators. The transfer from ECU has enjoyed an excellent senior campaign, racking up 2,876 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. He nearly led an upset at Miami last week and he has drawn plenty of attention from scouts with his play this fall. His stock could soar even more once we get to the postseason all-star games.

4. Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson: Auburn's star rusher has quickly emerged as one of the most impressive backs in the country. He has exploded down the stretch for the Tigers and a big game against Alabama on Saturday would look great on his resume. He's generating a lot of buzz in scouting circles.

5. Iowa CB Joshua Jackson: I've heard Jackson's name come up quite a bit in talks with NFL scouts over the past few weeks. He currently leads the country in interceptions (7) and he's played his best ball against Iowa's toughest opponents. I love his instincts and his ball skills are exceptional. -- Daniel Jeremiah

LAMAR JACKSON NOT GETTING HIS DUE

It's uncommon for a returning Heisman Trophy winner to barely register a blip on the radar when it comes to discussions about the top prospects at his position, but that's the situation Lamar Jackson seems to find himself in. Despite having a better season in 2017 than he did in his award-winning 2016 campaign, the Louisville standout is routinely cited as an afterthought in the vaunted potential 2018 quarterback class.

Why?

Why isn't there more love for a spectacular athlete with 114 total touchdowns (65 passing; 49 rushing scores) and gradually improving completion rates as a passer?

I place UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold in the top tier of college QBs, but after those two, Jackson deserves to be in the mix with QBs who seem to be receiving more buzz than Jackson, like Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.

When I've discussed Jackson with scouting colleagues, I've heard him described as a "wow" athlete with intriguing talent. An AFC scout told me that he is a "create-a-player" playmaker with a set of skills that are typically associated with five-star players in video games. On the other hand, I've had plenty of scouts tell me that Jackson is more of a thrower than a passer and his sub-60 percent completion rate (59.8 percent this season) reflects his struggles with accuracy and ball placement.

In a league where passers are coveted at a premium, it's hard to sell an athletic quarterback with a run-first game to scouts and coaches looking for a polished pocket passer. That's why I wanted to check back in with Jackson to see if he has made enough progress as a passer to warrant consideration as a potential franchise quarterback at the next level.

After studying the All-22 coaches' footage, I believe Jackson is an exceptional athlete with a combination of speed, explosiveness and burst that is hard to find in a quarterback.

The 6-foot-3, 211-pound junior is a dynamic runner with a slippery running style that makes him nearly impossible to corral in the pocket. He excels on designed runs (QB draws, sweeps and zone-read plays) and is a defensive coordinator's nightmare as an improvisational playmaker. Jackson's average of 6.8 yards per carry this season is nearly a yard better than his average from his Heisman campaign. He has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a runner while scoring 28 rushing touchdowns.

Skeptics worry about his frame, but he is noticeably bigger and thicker than a season ago. That's helped him become a more physical and effective runner on the perimeter.

As a passer, Jackson displays outstanding arm strength and range. He can push the ball down the field as an effective vertical passer on post and go routes. Although he struggles a bit with his ball placement and accuracy on home-run balls due to his shoddy footwork and fundamentals, Jackson has the capacity to strike up the band as a long-ball tosser.

On short and intermediate throws, his struggles with inconsistency are also due to his unpolished mechanics. Jackson misses the mark on outside throws, particularly comebacks and deep outs beyond 12-15 yards. He frequently misses high and wide on those throws, which is largely due to his failure to properly step into his passes.

Jackson is at his best when throwing isolation routes (seams and skinny posts) or simple reads (slants-flats; stick-go and curl-flat). Offensive coordinators will feature those concepts prominently in spread offenses, but NFL coordinators typically opt for full-field reads or pure progression concepts that require the quarterback to tie his eyes to his feet in the pocket. Thus, Jackson still has a ways to go as a passer before convincing traditional play callers that he can fill the role as a high-end QB1.

That doesn't mean that Jackson shouldn't be considered a top prospect at his position. We've seen more NFL teams implement spread systems with simplistic reads if the quarterback flashes exceptional playmaking ability as a dual-threat (see Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson). With that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me to see a team place a solid grade on Jackson that reflects his potential to be a franchise QB. -- Bucky Brooks

CHIP KELLY WILL TURN A PROGRAM INTO A CONTENDER

Rumors about Chip Kelly potentially rejoining the college football ranks are swirling at full force heading into Thanksgiving weekend, with reports linking him to the Florida and UCLA jobs. I don't know where he'll eventually end up, but I do think he'll be successful wherever he lands in the college landscape.

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His offensive philosophy is going to produce points. He's proven he can develop college quarterbacks and get them to play at a very high level. One thing to keep in mind that goes overlooked: He has a good eye for recruiting and developing defensive players, as well. When he was at Oregon, he had some big-time talent on that side of the ball -- guys like Kiko Alonso, T.J. Ward, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Although he hasn't panned out, Dion Jordan was the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Of course, it will be crucial for Kelly to surround himself with the right assistant coaches, but if he's hired for one of these top college jobs, I think he could have a program knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff within four seasons. -- Daniel Jeremiah

PLAYER TO WATCH IN THE IRON BOWL

The Iron Bowl is clearly the game of the week in college football. Alabama and Auburn are both ranked in the top 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings and a berth in the SEC Championship Game is on the line.

As is the case every year, Alabama is loaded with NFL talent. However, Auburn has one of the best rosters in the country as well. After studying Auburn's offense this week, one player jumped off the screen: RB Kerryon Johnson.

Johnson is listed at 6-foot and 212 pounds, and as I mentioned above, he's one of this season's biggest risers. I came away very impressed with his combination of vision, lateral quickness and burst after I watched his tape. He has a running style that's reminiscent of Le'Veon Bell. He's patient and incorporates a slight skip before finding a crease and exploding through the line of scrimmage. He also shows the ability to drop his shoulder and power through contact. He's been reliable as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, including on an impressive one-handed snag against Georgia. I was pleasantly surprised at how well he held up in pass protection. He has displayed awareness to identify blitzing linebackers and he does a nice job staying square and settling down vs. power rushers.

Johnson is one of the most complete backs in the country and he could be set up for a big day against an Alabama defense that's been decimated by injuries. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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