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, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' look at why Leonard Fournette might not be the No. 1 RB on some teams' draft board.
The 2017 draft class is loaded at the running back position with LSU's Leonard Fournette sitting at the top of many lists. While the rugged runner from the Bayou certainly deserves a top grade based on his impressive set of tools (size, speed, power and vision) and ultra-physical running style, the dynamic playmaking potential of Florida State's Dalvin Cook could make him a better pro when it is all said and done. I know that might be considered blasphemy in some circles based on the Fournette's reputation as a game changer, but a close look at Cook's game reveals an electric multi-purpose runner with a knack for delivering explosive plays whenever he has the ball in his hands.
When I asked an NFC scout to compare the two runners, he told me that he favored Fournette over Cook at this point. He called the LSU standout "special" and raved about his "old school" game that features a mix of strength, power and explosiveness. He praised Fournette's balance and body control as a "grind it out" player between the tackles. The long-time scout suggested Fournette would be a perfect "dot" back in a power-based offense that features a host of runs between the tackles.
In Cook, the scout told me he saw a "DeAngelo Williams-type runner" with a finesse game built on speed, quickness and agility. The Florida State star posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons while exhibiting terrific burst and acceleration. He can go from zero to 60 in a hurry, yet rarely looks out of control with the ball in his hands. When pressed about Cook's weaknesses, the scout cited his questionable ball security and ability to "finish" (break tackles) runs in a physical fashion. He questioned whether Cook could "grind it out" in a power offense.
While I understand the hesitancy with Cook due to the questions about his ability to thrive in a power-based offense, I believe the Florida State standout is a superior pass-catcher and playmaker in the passing game. He shows exceptional patience on screens but is also a legitimate threat to win against linebackers on option routes. Considering how many teams are built around their passing games, I expect Cook to sit atop some draft boards despite Fournette's sterling evaluation. -- Bucky Brooks
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Michigan State DT Malik McDowell could be one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft despite his impressive physical attributes and athleticism. The 6-foot-5, 276-pound junior is a big, athletic defender with outstanding quickness and agility. He moves around like a dancing bear between the tackles, exhibiting nice balance and body control for an interior defender. While McDowell occasionally flashes strength and power attacking blockers, he is at his best when he uses finesse maneuvers to win at the point of attack.
Despite his moderate success as a playmaker, I have concerns about McDowell's ability to produce at the next level due to his inconsistent motor and high pad level. He plays upright and fails to consistently use his hands to disengage from blockers. Most importantly, McDowell fails to play with the kind of relentless effort that coaches expect from top prospects. He rarely gives maximum effort and his questionable motor prevents him from being a player that warrants a high grade based on his potential.
"He is the most frustrating prospect to evaluate," said an AFC scout. "He can look like a Pro Bowler on one play and an undrafted prospect on the next. I don't really know what to do with him because he's talented, but he doesn't play to his potential at all times."
At the end of the day, McDowell certainly merits consideration as a top prospect based on his impressive physical dimensions and disruptive flashes, but it's hard to fall in love with a player who fails to play hard consistently. The Michigan State star also exhibits shoddy technique and poor hand skills. -- Bucky Brooks
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The 2017 NFL Draft class is shaping up to be very deep at several positions, but the more tape I study, the more I'm amazed at the volume of quality cornerbacks in this class. I mentioned this to an NFC personnel executive this week and he agreed. In fact, he thought there were 15 cornerbacks worthy of going in the top 40 picks. Fifteen! Now, we won't see that many go off the board that early, but it speaks to the quality of the class and the value that should be there in the late second and even early third round. If you need some help in pass coverage, this is your draft. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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Utah's Garret Bolles has been a fast riser on draft boards due to his athleticism and movement skills, but some scouts question whether he's capable of developing into a franchise left tackle. An NFC scout recently told me that he worried about his Bolles' strength and power as a top-tier prospect.
"He doesn't have a great build and I don't see enough strength or power to be a top guy," said the scout. "He is athletic and moves around well, but I worry about his functional strength against big guys. ... I see him as more of a developmental prospect instead of a plug-and-play guy."
With a dearth of quality offensive linemen in the 2017 class, scouts are excited about any big-bodied edge blocker with nice feet and body control. The need to find a blindside pass protector will prompt teams to take a chance on a developmental player with potential early on draft day. While we still have plenty of time to see if Bolles can put on some weight and show impressive strength in workouts, it will be interesting to see if coaches value athleticism over power in the offensive tackle evaluation. -- Bucky Brooks
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With the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft just a few days away (Jan. 16), most players have already made their decision public. There were obvious choices to make for guys like Texas A&M Myles Garrett and LSU RB Leonard Fournette, but some other players probably had to agonize over their decisions. Two players that caught evaluators around the league off guard with their decisions -- Georgia RB Nick Chubb and Texas A&M WR Ricky Seals-Jones.
Chubb's decision to return to Georgia caught many NFL evaluators by surprise. Although he didn't have a special season, most running backs are in a hurry to jump to the next level. Chubb elected to return to school and get further removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered during the 2015 season. Hopefully he'll have a phenomenal senior campaign and will stand out in a 2018 running back class that won't quite have the same star power as the 2017 group.
Seals-Jones arrived at Texas A&M as a highly touted prospect, but he's failed to live up to those lofty expectations over the last three seasons. He has outstanding size, but he doesn't play fast and his hands have been very inconsistent. I thought he could've used another year in college and every evaluator I've talked to feels the same way. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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For some reason, I fall in love with an under the radar defensive tackle during every draft season. Last year, it was South Carolina State's Javon Hargrave. I loved the way he dominated at that level and he stepped up in the all-star games to show his value to NFL teams. He's enjoyed a very productive rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I still have a ton of players to watch but one of my early favorites in this draft class is UNC Charlotte DT Larry Ogunjobi. While he plays for a Conference USA program, Charlotte's program hasn't been around very long and certainly isn't viewed as a football power. However, scouts flocked to the school this fall to check out Ogunjobi. After studying him, I came away very impressed. He is very twitched up and he uses his hands very well. He can generate some power with his bull rush and his effort is solid. As of right now, I have a third-round grade on him and I think he has all of the tools to develop into an NFL starter. I can't wait to watch him at the Reese's Senior Bowl in a few weeks. -- Daniel Jeremiah