MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- If Friday's Orange Bowl was the final game of Dalvin Cook's college career, he went out with a bang. He led Florida State to a 33-32 win over Michigan in one of the most entertaining college games of the season. He made an impact right away, as he racked up 40 rushing yards and a score on the opening drive.
He finished with 20 carries for 145 yards and 3 catches for 62 yards. It's tough to narrow down his impactful plays, but the biggest of the night was his 71-yard scamper on 3rd-and-22 from deep inside FSU territory. He took the ball, found a crease and exploded past the Michigan defense.
Cook, a junior, announced on Saturday that intends to apply for early entry into the 2017 NFL Draft. He doesn't possess a lot of power between the tackles, but he has outstanding vision, burst and elusiveness. His greatest asset might be his ability in the passing game. He runs clean routes and he tracks the ball naturally. He caught a deep ball down the sideline tonight and also showed his ability to take a check-down and create for himself.
I've long considered Leonard Fournette the top runner who could be available in the 2017 draft, but Cook's performance tonight has forced me to go back to the tape room. He was that impressive.
Here are my observations on some other prospects from the Orange Bowl:
» While on the field during warmups, I followed Michigan S/LB Jabrill Peppers around the field. He was limping and clutching his left hamstring. In talking to sources on the field, I was told he injured his hamstring at practice and it was doubtful he would play a big role in the game. He appeared to be upset, and I think he realized this was a big stage and opportunity for him to bolster his stock. Peppers, of course, ended up not playing at all.
I studied his tape from this season this week and I came away a little disappointed. He's a tremendous athlete, but you have to project where he will play at the next level. He gets swallowed up in the run game in his role at Michigan. He's likely to play as a box safety at the next level, but playing that role will require some development time for him. One thing is for sure -- he's an outstanding returner. If he does enter the 2017 draft, it will be fascinating to see where he lands. Scouts are all over the board on him. Some view him as a top-15 pick, while others don't believe he's worthy of a first-round pick. Underclassmen like Peppers have until Jan. 16 to apply for early draft eligibility.
» DeMarcus Walker was a dominant force on the defensive line for the Seminoles. He lined up in several different spots and generated consistent pressure on the quarterback. He has very quick hands and his effort is outstanding. Scouts in attendance compared him to former FSU DE Mario Edwards, Jr. They were both tweeners (DT/DE) in college, but project as valuable third-down pass rushers at the next level.
» DL Taco Charlton played extremely well for Michigan. I loved him when I studied him on tape and he lived up to my expectations with his play vs. FSU. He has an NFL body and he's a three-down difference maker.
He can win with speed or power off the edge and he's stout at the point of attack in the run game. I view him as a top-20 pick and scouts in attendance shared the same opinion.
» Michigan TE Jake Butt was having a solid game before suffering a knee injury in the second quarter following a nifty catch and run. He has an ideal NFL frame and understands how to settle in zones and provide his QB with a nice target. The knock on him from scouts is that he doesn't offer much after the catch, but he made some defenders miss vs FSU. I think he's positioned as a second-round prospect at this point in the process.
» Matthew Thomas made a couple splash plays for the Seminoles. He's an athletic linebacker and he produced a wow hit in the first half. He also did a nice job in coverage. There is some buzz about him potentially applying for early draft eligibility. He's still very raw, but his potential is sky high.
» Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis had a very up and down game. He had a miscommunication with safety Dymonte Thomas in the first half, which resulted in a long touchdown. He then rebounded, making some plays on the ball and positioning himself perfectly for the majority of the game. Unfortunately, he was late to get his head around and allowed the game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. I love his speed, toughness and ball skills, but his lack of premier size showed up on that crucial play.