In his weekly Scout's Take notebook, former NFL scout Bucky Brooks takes a look at the biggest developments in college football and how the NFL community is reacting to them.
Last week's nationally televised game between Rutgers and Teddy Bridgewater's Louisville Cardinals captivated not only the college football landscape, but also NFL scouts searching for the next big thing at the quarterback position. While evaluating Bridgewater's performance, I was curious what those who witnessed the game in-person thought about what Bridgewater brings to the table as a potential top prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Here are some of the opinions I received:
College scouting director for NFC team: "Bridgewater was off his game but certainly has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback. He has the arm talent to make every throw in the book and is deadly accurate at every range. He didn't play his best game against Rutgers, but I tend to evaluate quarterbacks by how poor their worst throws are, and he only had four, by my calculations. Of course, I didn't have a lot of concerns about his arm talent and game because he was so consistent when I studied the tape. I wanted to see how he managed the game and situations at the line of scrimmage. He was outstanding making calls, changing protections and orchestrating things at the line of scrimmage. Bridgewater does everything that you expect from an elite quarterback from a mental standpoint."
Asked to cite a few concerns, the scouting director cited Bridgewater's "slender frame", but he wasn't overly concerned by his stature because Bridgewater has demonstrated the toughness to withstand a pounding in the pocket, such as in the 2013 Sugar Bowl vs. Florida. He also told me Bridgewater was a more talented and refined version of New York Jets QB Geno Smith.
National scout for AFC team: "The physical tools are there. He was a little inconsistent [against Rutgers], but he's legit. Bridgewater has very good intangibles, arm talent and athleticism. I was most impressed by the character that everyone raves about. The kid is going to graduate in three years because he took 19 hours in the summer and is currently taking 15 hours this fall. That's pretty impressive."
This scout also mentioned Bridgewater's slight frame, but he was so impressed with Bridgewater's character and arm that it didn't factor much into his evaluation. Although I couldn't get a direct player comparison from the scout, he didn't blink when I relayed my comparisons of Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers.
Former Elite 11 counselor: "The guy is a natural leader. He brought his high school team to Nike Headquarters for a 7-on-7 event a few years ago, and ran the show at the line of scrimmage. From changing routes to offering specific instructions to his receivers, Bridgewater was clearly in charge of the drill. He's not overly demonstrative or whatever, but he gets his point across and guys follow his lead."
I asked the former Elite 11 counselor about Bridgewater to get some perspective on his game and football character. I know the above evaluation comes from his high school years, but I think it is relevant to Bridgewater's scouting report because it provides a snapshot of how he has evolved as a leader. Given the importance of a franchise quarterback's intangibles and character, that Bridgewater has always excelled as a team leader shows that an NFL locker room will not be too big for him.
Things we learned
From Johnny Manziel's heroics in a thriller at Ole Miss to Marcus Mariota's dismantling of Washington, here are 37 things we learned from college football's seventh weekend. More ...
Wisconsin LB Borland the real deal
As a former scout, I've learned to pay close attention to guys who are generating substantial buzz in the NFL scouting community this time of year. Scouts are finishing their initial round of school visits in their respective areas, so they have a pretty good feel for the landscape and for guys who are exceeding preseason expectations. One name that keeps coming up is Wisconsin LB Chris Borland.
Hardcore college football fans are familiar with Borland after he snagged All-Big Ten honors in back-to-back seasons and walked away with Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors as a redshirt freshman in 2009. But many NFL scouts had reservations about his pro potential based on his size -- Borland is listed at 5-foot-11, 246 pounds in the Badgers' media guide -- and questionable speed. However, the tide is slowly turning, as scouts are beginning to appreciate his instinctive game and natural playmaking skills.
Speaking this past weekend with the college scouting director of an NFC team, he couldn't stop raving about Borland's instincts, awareness and "strong nose" for the ball. He compared Borland to former three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu and suggested that Borland would find a way to be an impact player as a pro. The scouting director told me Borland will shock people with his speed and quickness at the NFL combine. He expects Borland to run in the 4.6-range in the 40-yard dash and step onto the scale at a rock-solid 250 pounds.
If Borland meets those athletic expectations in the spring, it will be hard to keep him out of the Day 2 conversation.
Kentucky pass rushers gaining notice
Kentucky is respected as a top-notch basketball school, but NFL scouts are paying close attention to an emerging set of pass rushers on the Wildcats' defense. Junior defensive ends Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree have flown under the radar on the national scene, but several scouts I've spoken with have raved about the Wildcats' edge players.
Smith, a 6-foot-6, 254-pound junior, was regarded as one of the top JUCO prospects in the 2012 class after totaling 6.5 quarterback sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a sophomore at East Mississippi Community College. He possesses the size and length that NFL scouts covet in pass rushers and also has the athleticism and first-step quickness to be a disruptive player at the next level. In the Wildcats' first six games, Smith has tallied 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Although those numbers aren't eye-popping at first glance, they are impressive for a young player still adjusting to major college football.
Dupree, a 6-foot-4, 252-pound junior, has been just as impressive during the first half of the season. He has tallied 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in five games. As a long, rangy athlete with exceptional speed, quickness and burst, he is an ideal hybrid defender capable of playing from an upright or down position on the edge. In fact, Dupree totaled 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks as an outside linebacker in a different scheme a season ago. Although he missed the Alabama game with an injury, scouts have been impressed with his disruptive skills off the edge and view him as a possible difference maker at the next level.
Speaking to an NFC college scouting director familiar with both players, he told me the Wildcats' defensive end tandem was intriguing and worth investigating over the course of the season based on the buzz building around their play. With the Kentucky coaching staff quickly grooming and developing Smith and Dupree into standout defenders, it wouldn't surprise me to see their names begin to enter the national conversation as top prospects to watch in the 2015 draft class.
Good signs from Virginia Tech's Thomas
Don't pour dirt on Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas, yet.
After watching Thomas struggle through a miserable junior campaign following a media campaign touting him as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, several draft prognosticators have seemingly placed the Virginia Tech standout in the dumpster as a possible franchise quarterback. He is rarely mentioned as one of the top candidates in the 2014 draft class, and he has faded into oblivion despite possessing all of the physical tools that scouts covet in a quarterbacks.
To be fair, I snickered at the notion of Thomas emerging as a top prospect after studying his play in 2012 and getting a first-hand look at his season-opening performance against Alabama in August. He put on a dreadful performance that night, completing 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards and an interception, and he looked nothing like a guy capable of putting a franchise on his back. Thomas failed to string together completions and couldn't fit balls into tight windows. Additionally, he appeared confused by Alabama's disguised coverage, which led to a critical interception in the second quarter. Some of Thomas' woes could be attributed to an inexperienced receiving corps that struggled to get open for most of the night, but he didn't help either.
Over the past six weeks, however, Thomas has finally gotten on the same page with his young playmakers and shown flashes of the immense potential that had observers speculating wildly about his pro prospects. Since the Hokies started conference play (Week 5), Thomas has completed 65.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has added 87 rushing yards on 41 attempts with a score. Although the rushing totals are unimpressive, the fact that he has been able to threaten the defense with his legs has helped the Hokies get back on track offensively and keyed their resurgence as a Top 25 team.
From a scouting perspective, Thomas has shown better anticipation and awareness delivering the ball before receivers are completely out of their routes. Additionally, Thomas has shown improved ball placement by consistently hitting his intended targets within the strike zone (elite quarterbacks routinely place the ball on the receiver's numbers). He has also shown more command on the field and displayed the kind of leadership expected from a fifth-year senior.
When I discussed Thomas' development with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr., he told me that scouts would be wise to take another look at the Virginia Tech standout. He believes Thomas has settled into new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler's system and developed a better feel for his young receivers.
Whitfield, who has worked with Thomas in the offseason, told me the redshirt senior has physical tools that rival those of Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, but needs more seasoning as a quarterback after spending the majority of his high school career as a tight end/receiver. If Thomas can continue to make strides as a pocket passer, he could salvage his prospects as a franchise quarterback, albeit as a mid-round pick in 2014.