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.
I know five games into a collegiate career is too soon to make bold proclamations about a young player's long-term potential, but I believe Florida State's Jameis Winston is the future at the quarterback position.
Measuring 6-foot-4, 228 pounds with exceptional arm talent, Winston is the dynamic athlete with polished pocket passing skills NFL offensive coordinators have coveted for years at the position. As a top baseball prospect and current pitcher/right fielder on Florida State's nationally ranked squad, Winston is an A-plus arm talent capable of making every throw in the book with zip and velocity. He can rifle balls into tight windows with superb pace, yet also shows exceptional touch, accuracy and ball placement on intermediate and deep throws. Winston's ability to alter the tempo and trajectory on his passes is uncommon for a player with little major-college experience.
From an athletic standpoint, Winston displays the kind of movement, agility and quickness that allows him to make plays outside of the pocket as an effective runner/thrower on the edge. Although Winston certainly prefers to make plays with his arm, the fact that he is capable of extending plays with his feet makes him a nightmare to defend in coverage. Defensive coordinators are fearful of sending extra defenders on blitzes because he is so elusive in the pocket, yet allowing him to sit back in the pocket against static coverage leads to a string of completions that produces first downs and points for an explosive Seminoles offense.
Just look at the ridiculous numbers Winston has put up since stepping into the starting lineup as a 19-year-old red-shirt freshman. He has connected on more than 72 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Additionally, Winston has topped the 300-yard mark three times, and tallied at least four touchdown passes in three of the Seminoles' five games. Against Maryland, Winston continued to display his wizardry as a passer by connecting on 23 of 32 passes for 393 yards with five touchdowns in a little more than three quarters of work against a ranked opponent.
Now, the freshman sensation must show future opponents that he can decipher pre-snap disguises and find open receivers against late-moving coverage, but Winston has passed all of his tests this season with flying colors. With a looming date against the Clemson Tigers on the horizon, the college football world will soon find out more about the young, athletic playmaker who is already creating a buzz in NFL circles.
Teams will look closely at Buckeyes' Hyde
Ohio State's Carlos Hyde will force teams to conduct a risk-reward analysis on draft day. Every NFL executive will quickly tell you that character counts, but there is something about a talented prospect that will make scouts consider making an exception to the rule. Hyde is one of a handful of volatile prospects in the 2014 draft class that will lead to heated discussions in the draft rooms across the NFL.
Measuring 6-foot-0 and 242 pounds, Hyde is the big, physical back with the rugged running style power football proponents covet in a workhorse runner. He punishes opponents on downhill runs between the tackles, while also exhibiting surprising balance, body control and agility to elude tacklers in the hole. In addition, Hyde is a soft-handed pass catcher adept at snagging passes out of the backfield on swings, screens and check downs. The Buckeyes' star put those skills on display in a standout performance against Northwestern in which he totaled 206 yards from scrimmage, including 168 rushing yards on 26 carries. Most importantly, Hyde showed the NFL world that he could shoulder a heavy workload in a big-game environment with national championship implications.
While Hyde's fantastic display of production and performance will stir up the imagination of several NFL coaches, the explosive character incident on his profile will lead plenty of scouts, directors and general managers to pause before placing a high grade on the punishing runner. Most teams have certain character parameters that will result in a prospect being removed from the board, so Hyde will not make the cut on several draft boards across the NFL. Additionally, the fact that he was originally accused of slapping a woman will lead to serious concerns about his ability to handle the pro lifestyle and all of the dangers and temptations of nightlife in NFL cities. Though Hyde will have an opportunity to convince NFL executives that his missteps are a thing of the past, the dilemma between character and talent will make his final evaluation problematic for front offices around the league.
Cameron priming LSU prospects for NFL
Cam Cameron is molding LSU's top offensive players into elite NFL prospects. It seems like I highlight an LSU offensive player in my notebook every week, but the Tigers have a loaded lineup that features a number of NFL-ready playmakers at key skill positions. Although the level of offensive talent in Baton Rouge has always been up to NFL standards, the addition of Cameron as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has quickly transformed some of the Tigers' top skill-position talent into elite prospects in the minds of many NFL evaluators. From the starting quarterback (Zack Mettenberger) to the workhorse running back (Jeremy Hill) to a pair of dynamic pass catchers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr.), the Tigers trot out a star-studded lineup that is as pro-ready as they come.
Now, I know that there are several schools capable of making similar claims, but the presence of a former NFL head coach/offensive coordinator sets the Tigers apart. Cameron has installed a pro-style system that features NFL blocking schemes, protection calls and passing concepts, which allows scouts to see the Tigers' top players execute assignments that will be required on the next level. Moreover, scouts get an opportunity to see prospects perform against elite competition and assess how well they are able to assimilate into a system that taxes them mentally (sight adjustments, hot reads and changing protection calls) under pressure. Factor in the benefit of receiving a full season's worth of coaching under the guidance of a longtime NFL offensive mind, and the games of Mettenberger, Hill, Landry and Beckham have appeared far more polished and refined than a season ago. With scouts always looking for players on the ascent, the arrival of Cameron has undoubtedly boosted the draft stocks of the Tigers' talented offensive quartet.
Stanford WR emerging among elite
Stanford's Ty Montgomery is quietly becoming one of college football's most electrifying playmakers. Lost in the pregame buildup for the Stanford-Washington game was the explosive emergence of Montgomery as one of the top receivers in college football.
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The 6-foot-2, 215-pound speedster has finally returned to full health after seemingly laboring with his nagging knee injury for most of last season. In 2013, however, Montgomery has regained the speed, explosiveness and burst that made him an instant contributor as a freshman; those traits have enabled him to re-emerge as the Cardinal's top deep threat. Additionally, Montgomery has shown remarkable skills as a runner/return specialist by averaging 34 yards per return in the kicking game.
Against Washington, Montgomery displayed the full repertoire by totaling 290 all-purpose yards, including a pair of 70-plus-yard kick returns that paced Stanford on Saturday. Additionally, Montgomery added 30 rushing yards on a pair of reverses and finished the night with 56 receiving yards (on three catches), including a spectacular 39-yard score on a fade route that showcased his speed and acceleration on the perimeter. While those numbers are somewhat modest by today's college football standards, the fact that he accounted for the majority of the Cardinal's offensive production suggests that he can carry the offensive load as the team's primary option in the passing game.
With Stanford maintaining its standing as a viable BCS contender, Montgomery's offensive contributions will certainly raise his profile in the NFL scouting community.
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It has been widely assumed that Clowney will be the top selection in next spring's draft, if he elects to depart South Carolina following his junior season. But I would have a hard time taking the 6-foot-6, 270-pound standout with the first overall pick based on his performance, production and behavior this season. Clowney has been one of the bigger disappointments in college football, with only 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks through five games.
Although most evaluators didn't expect him to post spectacular numbers based on the fact that savvy offensive coordinators would find a way to minimize his impact by running away from him or using multiple blockers in pass protection to neutralize his effectiveness, it has been his questionable effort, conditioning and attitude that have raised red flags in my mind. Clowney simply hasn't shown the college football world his A-game this season; it's hard for NFL evaluators to completely give him a pass despite his immense talent and potential.
Players selected at the top of the draft are expected to become game changers, possible Hall of Fame-caliber playmakers at the next level, so it's imperative they display the necessary urgency and work ethic to handle the responsibility of being the No. 1 pick. More importantly, the top pick in the draft should display the leadership skills and intangibles to suggest that he is capable of taking on the responsibility of being a "franchise player" in a veteran-laden locker room. Given Clowney's sudden propensity to miss games and pull out of contests due to fatigue or other conditions, it's hard to get fired up about a player that is seemingly "shutting it down" to protect his future considerations.