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 on the eve of the opening of bowl season, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' take on the potential 2017 quarterback class.
NFL scouts are strongly encouraged to make multiple visits to their assigned schools to see if top prospects have improved or regressed throughout the season. These re-checks allow scouts to tweak their opinions before submitting their final reports at draft meetings.
With that in mind, I thought it was the right time to look at an early season quote regarding the potential 2017 quarterback class to see if it still holds true. Early in the season, I had a high-ranking executive tell me that he didn't see a franchise quarterback in the class and that teams in need of a field general would have to cast their lot with a developmental QB.
I mentioned a few potential franchise-QB candidates in that post based on their size, arm talent, athleticism and playmaking ability. Naturally, Clemson's Deshaun Watson topped my list after a spectacular 2015 campaign that saw him lead his team to the national championship game. I also cited Miami's Brad Kaaya, Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Iowa's C.J. Beathard as possibilities based on their talent, potential and leadership skills.
Now that the season is done, I believe Watson, who intends to enter the 2017 draft, remains a viable candidate to develop into a front-line player, but he isn't necessarily ready to be a star from Day 1.
Despite a glowing resume that features countless individual honors, including the 2015 ACC Player of the Year award and back-to-back Heisman Trophy-finalist bids, he remains a work in progress at the position. Watson's extensive experience directing a spread offense with simple pass concepts could lead to a lengthy transition period as a pro. He still needs to work out some of the kinks as a pocket passer. Sure, he's a dynamic playmaker with a knack for stepping up his game in big moments, but franchise quarterbacks must have the ability to win in a variety of different ways to survive and thrive in the league. Until Watson delivers an efficient performance in a "win-or-go-home" game, the narrative about his streaky pocket skills will torpedo his chances of being valued as a slam-dunk franchise QB.
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky have emerged as potential QB1 options. Kizer, who announced earlier this week that he intends to enter the 2017 draft, has shown promise as a two-year starter for the Irish. He brings prototypical size, athleticism and arm talent. He's a heady playmaker with a strong grasp of how to decipher coverage at the line. However, skeptics will question his confidence and resiliency after he suffered through an extended slump that resulted in a brief benching against Stanford. Considering Kizer's disappointing completion rate (58.7 percent in 2016) and turnover woes, the conversation around him will be the classic potential-vs.-production debate.
Trubisky, a junior who has yet to announce his 2017 intentions, has enjoyed a magic-carpet ride to the top of the charts. He completed nearly 70 percent (68.9) of his passes for 3,468 yards and has a 28:4 touchdown to interception ratio. He is an Alex Smith-like playmaker capable of torching defenses with a flurry of precise passes and with an occasional scramble that showcases his underrated athleticism. Most impressively, Trubisky has shown flashes of clutch ability with a handful of late game winners (see Pittsburgh and Florida State) that showcased his poise and composure. On the flip side, his lack of experience (only 12 collegiate starts) and quiet demeanor could force evaluators to pause before anointing him as a potential star at the position. Without significant reps at the position, Trubisky could struggle acclimating to the pro game and his lack of "bark" could make it tough for him to lead a team of alpha dogs.
While each of the aforementioned underclassmen has been touted as a potential franchise QB, it's disappointing that there isn't a senior prospect in the mix. Considering how well fourth- and fifth-year players performed as a rookies (see Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, Cody Kessler and Jacoby Brissett), scouts are certain to scour the market for a "pro-ready" veteran with the potential to step in and play.
If I had to point to a veteran prospect with the potential to thrive as a rookie starter in the right environment, I would cite Cal's Davis Webb as a solid option. The graduate transfer will enter the league with 29 career starts and enough talent to develop into a quality starter with the right team. Although he has holes in his game and there are questions regarding his ability to assimilate into a pro system after playing extensively in the "Air Raid" offense, Webb is an intriguing option as a mid-round prospect.
With teams positioned at the top of the draft order like the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers looking for a legitimate option at QB1, the value-vs.-potential debate will ultimately determine whether a quarterback comes off the board at the start of the first round. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
There is an interesting debate in personnel circles about the top wide receiver in college football. The two names mentioned: John Ross (Washington) and Mike Williams (Clemson). I've had the opportunity to see both guys play live this fall and study their games on tape. Both guys have unique skill sets and project like future No. 1 receivers at the next level. Here's the case for each guy to be considered the best at the position.
John Ross: Ross is an extremely explosive and dynamic athlete. He has blow-the-doors-off speed in his release and he can find an extra gear when the ball is in the air. I'd heard about his play speed before studying him, but I came away even more impressed with his route-running ability. He knows how to set up defenders, create leverage and efficiently get off his breaks at the top of his route. He doesn't waste steps and he generates a lot of separation underneath. He has outstanding hands and he keeps the ball away from his body. He is elusive after the catch and he has the speed to go the distance from anywhere on the field. He reminds me a lot of Brandin Cooks, but I think he's a more polished route runner than Cooks was coming out of college.
Mike Williams: Williams has ideal size and strength for the position. He's built like Andre Johnson and he throws defensive backs around like rag dolls. He scored a touchdown against South Carolina after carrying a Gamecock defender on his back for seven yards. He isn't as nifty a route runner as Ross, but he knows how to use his big frame to wall off defenders on slants, posts and go routes. He plays above the rim and has a huge catch radius. I love his toughness and competitiveness. I've heard scouts compare him to Kelvin Benjamin and Alshon Jeffery. I think he's better than Benjamin coming out of college. I would give Jeffery the slight edge in the hands department, but Williams is much better after the catch.
At the end of the day, you can't really go wrong with either of these options. It just comes down to what you're looking for. Do you need an explosive deep threat? Ross is your guy. Do you need a third-down machine and red-zone matchup nightmare? Go with Williams. I think both guys are going to be very successful NFL players. -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
Much has been made about the lack of talent at offensive tackle in college football. The 2016 draft class featured several talented players at the position, including Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker. The collection of OTs in CFB lacks that kind of star power, but there are a few interesting underclassmen worth monitoring as the deadline to declare for the draft approaches. Garrett Bolles (Utah) and Cam Robinson (Alabama) are both strong, physical players that most scouts project as right tackles at the next level. There is some buzz starting to build around Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin. After studying him this week, I understand what has scouts excited.
Ramczyk has excellent size (6-6 314) and he moves really well. I watched him against LSU, Michigan and Ohio State. He faced some of the best edge rushers in college football and he more than held his own. He has the foot quickness to cut off speed rushers and he redirects smoothly vs. counter moves. He generates some real knock-back in the run game and can wash defensive tackles down the line of scrimmage on down blocks. He has excellent awareness and instincts. The one knock on him is that he can get a little too high on occasion and give ground vs. power rushers before eventually settling down and stopping their charge.
In my opinion, he has the tools to stay on the left side at the next level. I don't put him in the same class as the top tackles from the 2016 class, but he should be a quality starter in the NFL, whenever he elects to start his professional career. I'm anxious to find out if he will return to Madison for his senior campaign or declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. We'll find out soon (the deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 16). -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
The dearth of cover corners with the right combination of size, length, athleticism and ball skills in the NFL forces scouts to consider any "big corner" with decent production as a hot commodity in today's game. That's why scouts call San Diego State CB Damontae Kazee, who will play against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2017 class. Although the Aztecs' star corner measures 5-foot-11, 190 pounds with 16 career interceptions, evaluators question his potential to develop into a starter at the next level.
"He is a productive player with a knack for making plays on the ball, but I don't think he is explosive enough to play on the island as a pro," said an NFC scout. "He lacks the twitch and fluidity that you see in elite cover corners. Plus, he is a little too straight-line for my tastes."
The two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year is certainly a ballhawk with solid instincts and diagnostic skills. He has a keen understanding of route concepts, which allows him to anticipate throws in his area. Despite lacking exceptional top-end speed, he generally maintains "over-the-top" positioning on his assigned receivers and makes his picks on tips or overthrows. He is ideally suited to play in a zone-heavy defense that allows him to keep vision on the quarterback while "stealing" interceptions on accurate guesses. Kazee's playing style and attributes won't make him a top prospect in some systems, but it's hard to throw away a playmaker with his level of production against solid competition. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
Here's a player to remember as we head toward the postseason portion of the evaluation process: Tiffin University (Ohio) QB Antonio Pipkin. The Division II standout earned an invitation to the Reese's Senior Bowl and has Midwest area scouts scrambling for Tiffin game film. He wasn't really on the radar for most NFL teams heading into the season, but he had an outstanding season, and a few scouts started rolling into Tiffin to see what he looked like in person and on tape. He passed the eye test. While undersized, scouts measured him at 6-feet and 5/8 and he weighed 214 pounds. He has a live arm and outstanding mobility. I'm working on getting game tape for myself, but in the meantime, I stumbled upon his junior season highlights on Hudl.
A couple things stood out: 1) He is very sudden and elusive when he decides to take off and run. 2) He has enough arm strength to make every throw.
It's never a good idea to base an evaluation off a 12-minute highlight reel. However, you can eliminate players if they fail to peak your interest after watching their very best plays. That wasn't the case with Pipkin. His highlights left me wanting to know more about him and study his game tape. I'm on an Antonio Pipkin mission! -- Daniel Jeremiah