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 scouting notes for Week One of the college football season, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's take on what each of the top QBs in college football needs to show to truly make 2017 the Year of the QB.
This has been dubbed the "Year of the QB" in college football due to the excitement about the talent at the position. Now that the season is upon us, it's finally time to see how these signal-callers have improved in the offseason. Here's what I'll be looking for from some of the top QBs this weekend and beyond.
USC's Sam Darnold: It's all about the release. Has he tightened up his throwing motion? That is about the only knock on Darnold.
UCLA's Josh Rosen: After missing half of his sophomore campaign, I'm anxious to see if Rosen has regained his velocity. Prior to getting hurt, he had a plus arm and I'm expecting to see the same "giddy-up" on his fastball when he faces Texas A&M on Sunday.
Wyoming's Josh Allen: If Allen can pull out a victory on the road against Iowa on Saturday, the hype train will take off. I'd like to see him be a little more cautious with the football and take what the defense gives him in this matchup.
Washington State's Luke Falk: I'm looking forward to seeing what Falk looks like physically. He's reportedly added some weight/strength in the offseason. I think he's one of the most underrated players in the country.
Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph: I didn't get a chance to watch Rudolph on Thursday night vs. Tulsa, but by all accounts, he was sharp. He completed 20-of-24 passes for 303 yards and 3 TDs in a 59-24 win. I'd like to see if he's improved his accuracy on drive throws.
Louisville's Lamar Jackson: Despite winning the Heisman Trophy, there hasn't been much offseason buzz about Jackson. I'm going to be focusing on one area this weekend -- accuracy. Has he improved his overall ball placement?
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield: The Sooners should handle UTEP with ease on Saturday, but I'll be keeping an eye on how Mayfield deals from the pocket. His ability to create and extend is well documented.
Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald has generated a lot of buzz in the scouting community. I haven't studied him much, but I can't wait to watch him this season. I'll be keeping an eye on how he works through progressions and want to see if he's improved his touch/accuracy.
Washington's Jake Browning: I love Browning's poise and ball placement, but he needs to get stronger. Has he improved his velocity? -- Daniel Jeremiah
QB IN THE SPOTLIGHT SATURDAY: FSU's Deondre Francois
I probably should've mentioned FSU's Deondre Francois when listing the quarterbacks above. He has some room to grow as a passer, but I love his skill set and his toughness. I visited FSU a few weeks ago and it was easy to notice how much muscle he's added in the offseason. He flashed some big-time throws and showed off his elusiveness as a runner during my visit. If he can lead the Seminoles to a win over Alabama on Saturday night, he will create momentum with Heisman voters as well as NFL evaluators. The challenge he's going to face on Saturday vs. the Tide starts up front -- the matchup in the trenches heavily favors Alabama. He has to get the ball out quickly and make great decisions. Alabama's defense has proven it will generate turnovers, and when it does, it's more than likely to score. --Daniel Jeremiah
OHIO STATE'S D-LINE: Yes, it might be better than some we've seen in NFL
When I initially heard the comment, I thought it was the classic case of a college coach hyping up his guys as part of a recruiting spiel. Coaches frequently tell media members and scouts that one of their current players is the best thing since sliced bread, but it's uncommon for a grizzled NFL coaching veteran to lavish that kind of praise on an entire group of players unless he really believes his guys are capable of making a significant impact at the next level.
While I'm not quite ready to suggest that the Buckeyes' crew has a perennial Pro Bowler in the group, I do believe the unit features three guys with the potential to earn top grades (Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa) by the end of the 2018 season. Not to mention, the Buckeyes have a long, rangy inside/outside defender in Jalyn Holmes with physical traits to warrant high Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) grades on most boards. Considering the rotation also features Dre'Mont Jones, Jonathan Cooper and a host of young lions anxiously awaiting their chance to get onto the field, Schiano is certainly not far off in his assessment, despite how outlandish it might sound.
After studying the tape from the 2016 season, I thought the Buckeyes' crew was loaded with blue-collar workers with non-stop motors and power-based games. Each of the starters played with outstanding energy and effort. They ran and chased from sideline to sideline with reckless abandon, while also exerting maximum effort from snap to whistle. Their collective "hardhat and lunch pail" approach will serve them well individually and as a unit when scouts pore over the tape this fall.
From a skill standpoint, I believe Hubbard has the most potential to develop into a dominant pass rusher at the next level. He displays exceptional athleticism and movement skills off the edge, and combines terrific hand skills with outstanding body control at the line of scrimmage. Although Hubbard's production hasn't caught up to his talent and potential, he checks off the boxes in so many categories that it will be hard for scouts to bypass his upside on draft day.
Lewis and Bosa aren't as flashy as Hubbard, but each is a rock-solid defender with intriguing skills as run stoppers and pass rushers. Lewis, the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, is a power player with a "bull in a china shop" mentality. He attacks blockers down the middle, exhibiting strong hands while executing a series of power-based maneuvers to shed blockers at the point of attack. With 16.5 career sacks in three seasons, Lewis' production suggests he could be a No. 1 rusher, but I see him as ideally suited to play opposite a dominant pass rusher.
Bosa is a versatile pass rusher capable of wreaking havoc from inside or off the edge in a four-man front. He is a skilled combat specialist with exceptional hand quickness and counter-punching skills. Bosa wins with an assortment of slick moves that will make him a nightmare to deal with as an inside rusher on nickel downs. He has stout run-stopping skills, too.
With that in mind, I believe Schiano is not stretching the truth when he touts his current set of defensive linemen as superior to his old troops. While he might not have a third overall pick (Gerald McCoy) among the group, he has a deeper and more talented collection of front-line defenders at his disposal. Considering the Buckeyes have at least four top prospects and a handful of five-star recruits with NFL-like bodies, the former NFL head coach is certainly not crazy for thinking his D-line crew is more talented than some pro front lines.
I watched the D-line again on Thursday night, in the Buckeyes' win over Indiana. The respect for the OSU defensive line could force teams to use more quick passes to neutralize their overall effectiveness. If more teams use the approach that Indiana utilized in the first half of Thursday's night's game, OSU's individual and collective sack production could go down even though each of the D-linemen showed improved skills and awareness in the season opener. -- Bucky Brooks
NEXT STUD FROM ALABAMA'S SECONDARY
Given Nick Saban's background as an NFL defensive coordinator/secondary coach, it's not a surprise that Alabama has become one college football's biggest factories when it comes to producing NFL defensive backs. The Crimson Tide has given the league the likes of Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in recent years, but Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the best defensive back that Saban has coached during his time at Tuscaloosa.
"He's the best pure safety in college football," said an AFC college scouting director. "He can do everything that you want to see at the position. From covering in the deep middle to playing in the slot or out wide, he gives you the versatile defender that every defense needs in the back end."
After studying Fitzpatrick on tape, I can say with confidence that he's absolutely the new-school safety every defensive coordinator wants in the defensive backfield. Measuring 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, he's an explosive centerfield safety with cornerback-like feet and movement skills. He's capable of covering from numbers to numbers as a deep-middle player and also displays the quickness, burst and acceleration to run stride for stride with elite receivers down the seam or boundary.
Fitzpatrick's athleticism, explosiveness and versatility allows coaches to plug him in at safety, cornerback or nickelback in any situation. He thrives in Alabama's system as a multi-faceted playmaker, which will enhance his value as a pro.
Speaking to his versatility, Fitzpatrick's contributions as a special-teams demon will also boost his value to teams looking for a two-phase contributor. He's a standout gunner on the Crimson Tide's punt-coverage team and is a legitimate threat as a "bullet" on the kickoff squad. With Fitzpatrick's energy and passion jumping off the tape when he pursues ball carriers or pass-catchers all over the field, the Crimson Tide standout is exactly what coaches want as a thermostat leader (changes the temperature of the team with his play or presence).
In surveying the potential 2018 class at the safety position, I see a handful of defenders capable of making impact in role-specific positions, but there isn't anyone with Fitzpatrick's combination of skills as a hybrid player. He reminds me of a young Eric Berry and I would expect him to receive very high grades if he continues to deliver splash plays from multiple positions. -- Bucky Brooks
DEFENDING CHAMPS RELOAD
The Clemson Tigers are the reigning champions of college football, but for some reason, there hasn't been much chatter about them in the offseason.
I'm sure the main reason for the lack of discussion has to do with the departure of so many key contributors, led by quarterback Deshaun Watson. Other guys like Mike Williams and Wayne Gallman will also be difficult to replace, but there are plenty of reasons for Clemson fans to be optimistic. The No. 1 reason to be excited: the defensive line. The Tigers return one of the most talented defensive fronts in the nation.
People forget about all of the talent Clemson lost following its loss to Alabama in the title game two years ago. They lost so many studs on defense, especially along the defensive line. It's not easy to replace guys like Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd and D.J. Reader. However, Clemson plugged in a bunch of young guys and they got better each and every week of the 2016 campaign. Now, those players are set to dominate for the Tigers.
Dexter Lawrence is only a sophomore but he could emerge as the top interior defender in the country. Christian Wilkins is an outstanding athlete and Clelin Ferrell is a matchup nightmare for opponents. We might see the offense take a small step backward but this defensive line could lead the Tigers right back into the College Football Playoff. --Daniel Jeremiah