NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein is constantly talking to NFL and college sources about players in the college game. In this space each week, Zierlein will share some of what NFL folks are discussing in their circles.
The scoop: "There is no doubt in my mind that Leonard Fournette is absolutely the real deal. He's as close as you will find to Adrian Peterson. He's so strong and so fast and you just don't find that combination very often for NFL backs. He's going to be a great pro if he stays healthy." -- Retired NFL RBs coach
The skinny: Fournette has missed three games in 2016 due to a nagging ankle injury, but is expected to return this week vs. Ole Miss and has played well in the games he's appeared in this season. Fournette first injured his ankle in fall camp and it appears he hasn't been fully healthy all season. This former coach recently reviewed Fournette's 2015 tape. While I see the comparison to Peterson due to his size, power and high-end speed, I'm not ready to make that type of projection for Fournette. It's obvious that this former coach believes Fournette will be a dominant pro, and I still view the RB as one of the best players in college football.
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The scoop: "He has a lot of talent. I think he could end up being a better player than DeForest Buckner but I'm not completely sold on his football character yet. I've studied him pretty closely this year and he's not afraid to tap himself out of a game when he's tired. He needs to be able to play through that fatigue sometimes." -- NFC scout on Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
The skinny: Buckner, of course, was the seventh overall pick of this year's draft. I think he's a good comp for McDowell. Indeed, the junior DL is very talented and he has a unique blend of length and ability to stop the run from an interior spot. The Spartans have lined McDowell up in just about every spot along the defensive line and that will be a tremendous selling point to NFL evaluators. While McDowell hasn't had the same success rushing the passer as he did last year, he's very capable of slipping around or between blockers and creating a menacing specter for quarterbacks. As for this scout's comment about McDowell taking himself out of games, the data suggests he's playing the same number of snaps (66 percent) as last season. However, McDowell (6-foot-6, 276 pounds, per school measurements) isn't a burly 310-pound nose tackle, so NFL teams will want to see him increase his snap total and fight through fatigue -- especially in crunch time against upper-echelon competition.
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The scoop: "I don't think a single (offensive) tackle will carry a first-round grade in our building based on what I've seen. Somebody always pops up late in the year and gets hot, but the top guys just aren't impressive to me." -- AFC executive
The skinny: From what I saw this summer in 2015 tape review combined with what I've seen on Saturdays this season, I would completely agree with this sentiment. A first-round "grade" in a scouting report is based on evaluation of talent and expected level of play at the next level. Now, it's likely that there will be more than one tackle who goes in the first round due to the importance of the position, but I just see too many holes in the play of the top-rated tackles to get worked up about their NFL potential at this point. Deep dives into their 2016 tape are right around the corner and perhaps that will yield a new opinion. We shall see.