NFL Draft

On the Road Again: Scouting College Football Week 2

Devin Leary

Editor’s note: Jim Nagy was an NFL scout for nearly two decades, having worked for the Green Bay, Washington, New England, Kansas City and Seattle.  In 2018, Nagy took over as executive director of the Senior Bowl. Each week, Nagy will shares his notes on players his scouts at the Senior Bowl are on the road scouting. This is his first installment.

 

After a loaded 16-game slate in Week 1, Reese’s Senior Bowl scouts are back on the road at 11 different college stadiums across the country looking for the best prospects for this year’s NFL draft. Here are Senior Bowl scouts’ thoughts on some of the players they’ll be looking at in each game (all times ET):

Friday

Louisville at UCF | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN2

Louisville CB Kei-Trel Clark: The former Liberty transfer is one of our highest-graded senior corners based on junior tape study. Clark led Louisville with nine pass breakups last year in only eight games before tearing his ACL in a loss at North Carolina State. 

One of our scouts saw Clark play live in last week’s road loss at Syracuse, and he looked good moving around, especially considering he’s only 10 months removed from ACL surgery. He’s a twitched-up athlete with good man coverage skills and one of the only knocks is that he can be overaggressive, at times. 

UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee: Plumlee played mostly wideout last year at Ole Miss after getting beat out by eventual third-rounder Matt Corral, so we were excited to watch last week’s game against South Carolina State to gauge whether we should be evaluating him as a quarterback or wide receiver. The consensus opinion of our staff is that Plumlee did enough good things to continue evaluating him as a QB rather than start thinking about him as an NFL slot projection.  

While Plumlee did make a bunch of athletic plays with his escape ability and open-field running skills, he also showed next-level transferable skills in terms of poise, touch and downfield accuracy in the 56-10 blowout against an overmatched MEAC opponent. Friday night’s game versus a solid ACC team will be a more accurate gauge of where Plumlee is truly at, but we like what we saw in the opener.

Saturday

Alabama at Texas | Noon | FOX

Alabama DS DeMarcco Hellams: Safety mate Jordan Battle gets the majority of the draft buzz, but the Tide’s other safety, Hellams, is also a draftable prospect. Hellams played his best ball down the stretch last year, particularly against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Georgia (SEC title game). He will need to be a physical downhill factor in run support on Saturday against Texas star RB Bijan Robinson, and talented backup Roschon Johnson (see below). 

Hellams was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Alabama staff four times last year, which is telling.

Texas RB Roschon Johnson: The media will be focused on likely first-round pick Bijan Robinson throughout the pre-draft process, but NFL scouts have already identified his backup, Roschon Johnson, as a guy they want on their team.

Johnson, who was recruited at QB and moved to RB during fall camp as a true freshman, is the big 220-plus pound runner that every NFL is looking for. He shows a legit breakaway gear when he gets in space too. Johnson is one of the Longhorns’ top special teams players, and we’ve already spoken to some special teams coaches around the NFL that have targeted him as one of the guys they’ll fight for next April

Missouri at Kansas State | Noon | ESPN2

Missouri OT Javon Foster: There aren’t many offensive line prospects in this year’s draft class that our staff is more excited to see than Foster, who jumps off the tape with his initial quickness and overall athleticism. Foster has the combination of feet and movement skills to be a starting NFL left tackle, and we expect a big jump from Foster in Year 2 as the starter.

Kansas State CB Julius Brents: The former Iowa transfer, who started five games as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes, will be one of the tallest corner (and longest) prospects in the 2023 draft at a shade under 6-foot-3-inches and almost 34-inch arms.  

He is an easy mover for someone his size and could ascend this fall with more production on the ball. Brents reminds us a little bit of 2021 Senior Bowl alum and current Washington Commanders starter Benjamin St. Juste at the same point in the evaluation process.

Kentucky at Florida | 7 p.m. | ESPN

Kentucky OG Tashawn Manning: This was a big offseason for the Wildcats in more ways than one. Anytime a college program loses two draftable offensive linemen like Luke Fortner (third round) and Darian Kinnard (fifth round), who both played in last year’s Senior Bowl, it should be cause for serious concern. So, getting a starter from Auburn to transfer in and plug one of those holes was huge.  

We were at a Kentucky practice in early August and Manning is an absolute giant human. NFL scouts measured him at 6-foot-3 ½-inches and 327 pounds with a more than 83-inch wingspan last spring, and his sheer size is overwhelming when you get up on him.

Manning is a power road-grader in the run game, and Kentucky’s coaching staff raves about the progress he’s made in pass pro since getting on campus. Saturday will be one of his biggest tests of the year against Florida’s talented junior defensive tackle Gervon Dexter.

Florida EDGE Brenton Cox Jr.: The former Georgia transfer has started all 26 games the past two seasons at Florida, and he’s coming off a big game last week against Utah where he was credited with 10 tackles. 

Cox is a former five-star recruit and consensus Top-25 player in his recruiting class, and the physical tools are apparent when you put on the tape. Our staff did some work on Cox last fall when we anticipated him coming out early as a junior, but he made the smart move by coming back and proving to NFL scouts he can be more consistent. 

Charleston Southern at N.C. State | 12:30 p.m. | ESPN3

 North Carolina State QB Devin Leary: Leary is the only QB in school history to throw 4 or more touchdowns against five ACC opponents in the same year. That is impressive considering the program has cranked out NFL guys like Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon and Jacoby Brissett during the past two decades. 

Seeing Leary against an FCS opponent isn’t ideal exposure, but we have a scout in Raleigh so this won’t be the last time we catch him in a game. The ball came off his hand great the last time we saw him at the Manning Passing Camp.

Iowa State at Iowa | 4 p.m., BTN

Iowa LB Jack Campbell: Campbell’s name appeared in a bunch of mock drafts and top LB lists this summer and for good reason.  Because there are simply not many guys 6-foot-4, 250 pounds with range like Campbell. There are also not many linebackers in this draft class with his leadership, instincts or production. 

Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald: The Cyclones got a huge boost when McDonald decided to return for the 2022 season. He is a skilled and highly productive pass rusher (29 career sacks most in school history), and he wins mostly with his hands.  

NFL scouts will appreciate McDonald’s discipline, toughness and feel against bigger people on run downs, although he’s known more as a pass rusher. McDonald is the type of disruptive player that Iowa’s offense must account for on every snap.

Old Dominion at East Carolina | 6 p.m. | ESPN+

ODU TE Zack Kuntz: The former Penn State transfer was the 110-meter HH champion in high school, and he was named to Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” this summer. He’ll undoubtedly be a star next March at the NFL Combine (40 VJ, 10-8 BJ) if he gets that invite. 

Kuntz was held to only 2 catches for 12 yards last week’s big win over Virginia Tech, and he’ll need to be more of a factor in the passing game against ECU to pull off back-to-back upsets.  Scouts also want to see him take the next step as a blocker this season.

ECU TE Ryan Jones: The sixth-year transfer from Oklahoma has one of the cooler playing backgrounds in this year’s draft. The former Sooners LB-turned-TE had a breakout year for the Pirates last season with 37 catches for 442 yards and 5 touchdowns. 

His shorter (just under 6-feet-2) and thicker frame make him more of an H-back or FB projection at the next level. Jones had only 4 catches for 22 yards last week in a tough 21-20 loss to a ranked N.C. State team, but he showed good quickness, route-running ability and RAC instincts on tape in those limited chances.

Alcorn at Tulane | 7 p.m. | ESPN+

Tulane LB Dorian Williams: Sometimes the best evaluations come when you aren’t even looking at a player. That happened two years ago when we were at a Tulane game scouting eventual Senior Bowler and current Cincinnati Bengals DL Cam Sample. In that game, we saw a linebacker flying around and hitting anything in his path. When we checked the roster it was a sophomore LB named Dorian Williams.  

When we watched last week’s game against UMass it was good to see Williams still playing with reckless abandon. While he only weighs around 230 pounds, Williams plays bigger because he is so naturally explosive on contact. He is a fun player to watch on tape, and we expect him to be more of a name the media starts talking about the closer we get to the draft.

Jackson St. vs. Tennessee St. | 7 p.m. 

Jackson St. LB Aubrey Miller Jr.: We got a chance to meet Miller on our visit to Jackson State practice a few weeks ago and came away impressed with his maturity and mindset. He just came across as a young guy who “gets it” and wants to make the most of his opportunities as a senior.  

The former Missouri transfer is an instinctive run-and-hit player, who led the SWC in tackles last season. This is also a neutral site game back in his hometown of Memphis, so we expect his motor to be running even hotter than it normally is.

Idaho St. at San Diego St. | 8 p.m.

SDSU DS Patrick McMorris: During the past three years, the Senior Bowl has had a nice SDSU pipeline with OL Keith Ismael, DB Darren Hall, TE Daniel Bellinger and DE Cam Thomas. McMorris could keep that Aztec streak alive in 2023.  

McMorris is an active safety with good size, and he was one of the top-graded MWC players on the Senior Bowl board heading into the season. His name came up consistently with West Coast scouts we talked to this summer.  

E. Washington at Oregon | 8:30 p.m. | PAC12

Oregon DE Brandon Dorlus: Our staff put a glass-half-full, Day 2 summer grade on Dorlus based on his disruptive inside pass-rush ability. However, our scouts were at the Georgia game last week, and the new staff played him almost exclusively on the edge.  

That move is something we will monitor more closely this Saturday in a “get right” game against an FCS opponent. PFF credited Dorlus with an impressive 42 total pressures last year, and he was far more disruptive on tape than his modest sack total (2.5 sacks) suggests.

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