Joe Marino’s Talent Watch: Week Two

Leonard Floyd put himself on the map with an outstanding performance in Georgia's season-opening win versus Clemson. (Photo: Dale Zanine — USA Today Sports)

Leonard Floyd put himself on the map with an outstanding performance in Georgia’s season-opening win versus Clemson. (Photo: Dale Zanine — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino

Prospects for the 2015 NFL draft have had their opportunities to make a first impression for the 2014 season. That said, the scouting process is a fluid one so putting too much stock into any single performance is foolish. Stacking consistent outings is vital and Week 1 is just the beginning of that process. As we dive into Week 2 of Talent Watch, let’s begin by looking back at the players who were most impressive in the inaugural week of the season.

Week One Standouts

No player in the nation was more dynamic in Week 1 than Georgia junior running back Todd Gurley. He led the Bulldogs to a Week 1 statement win over Clemson by rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns, while he also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, in Georgia’s 45-21 victory. Gurley has taken the early lead in the Heisman Trophy race.

Mississippi senior safety Cody Prewitt was everywhere last Thursday night in the Rebels’ 35-13 win against Boise State. Credited with eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and an interception, the 2013 SEC leader in interceptions has his senior season off to a great start.

Texas A&M’s offensive performance on the road in its 52-28 win against South Carolina was simply sensational. A big part of the Aggies’ ability to execute so effectively was the outstanding play of the offensive line led by senior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. He was smooth in his movement and compared to last season, he showed great progress with his power and hand placement.

Georgia redshirt sophomore edge defender Leonard Floyd lived in the Clemson backfield on Saturday as he racked up seven tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble. He was disruptive and looks like a player to watch under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Bailing out a shaky offensive performance from Florida State was senior wide receiver Rashad Greene. Nearly half (11 of 25) of defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s passes were completed to Greene on Saturday and Greene totaled 203 yards and a touchdown in the Seminoles’ 37-31 win against Oklahoma State.

Arizona wide receiver Austin Hill will be a player to watch when the Wildcats play UT-San Antonio on Thursday night. (Photo: Casey Sapio — USA Today Sports)

Arizona wide receiver Austin Hill will be a player to watch when the Wildcats play UT-San Antonio on Thursday night. (Photo: Casey Sapio — USA Today Sports)

Thursday Night Spotlight: Austin Hill, WR, Arizona, Sr.

Hill started his season with 110 receiving yards and a touchdown against UNLV in his first game back from a spring 2013 ACL tear that cost him the entire season. The big-play ability Hill displayed last week is exactly what the Wildcats offense got from him in 2012, when he tallied 81 receptions for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He will look to continue his comeback season with another big game against UT-San Antonio, who is fresh off a season opening win over Houston in which it intercepted the ball four times and held the Cougars to only 4.7 yards per attempt when passing.

Hill is an exciting receiver with an NFL skillset and, at listed measurables of 6’3″ and 212 pounds, terrific size. He is excellent at getting off the line with a clean release and getting into his routes. He runs intelligent patterns and knows how to get open and separate. Even when Hill is covered, he can still be a viable target for his quarterback as he excels at coming down with contested passes and is sure-handed when catching the ball. In the following clip from 2012, Hill is able to adjust to the football and make a difficult catch over former Nevada and current Buffalo Bills safety Duke Williams.

Hill won’t be identified as having top-end speed, but he is quick and has solid burst at the top of his routes while he understands how to position his body to come down with the ball. He can climb the ladder and high point the ball naturally. A physical player, Hill excels at blocking and picking up additional yards after the catch.

The biggest necessity for Hill is to prove that he is healthy after his knee injury. With 18 months to recover and a strong opening performance in the books, Hill has a chance to put together a productive senior season. Somewhat forgotten about, Hill should be back on draft analysts’ radar soon.

Cody Fajardo is likely to reach the 10,000-yard milestone on Friday. (Photo: Ron Chenoy — USA Today Sports)

Cody Fajardo is likely to reach the 10,000-yard milestone on Friday. (Photo: Ron Chenoy — USA Today Sports)

Friday Night Feature: Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada, Sr.

The spotlight will be on Fajardo on Friday night when the Wolfpack shows down against the Washington State Cougars. A dual-threat quarterback, Fajardo is just 32 total offensive yards shy of 10,000 for his career. Fajardo got his senior year off to a great start as he passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing) in a 28-19 win over Southern Utah.

Fajardo lacks polish but has an intriguing skillset and solid athleticism. With his gunslinger mentality, Farjardo loves to identify one-on-one matchups and give his receivers chances to make plays down the field.

Fajardo can make plays with his feet both as a passer and runner. He has eclipsed 600 yards rushing in all three of his college seasons to date and totaled 1,121 as a sophomore. He is a master at the zone read and executes it to perfection.

Despite a career completion percentage of 68, Fajardo is inconsistent with his ball placement and accuracy. He has a bad tendency to lock onto his first reads and struggles to go through his progressions before taking off with his feet. He has good arm strength and is the type of prospect who could be worth taking a chance on in the middle to late rounds of the draft as a developmental prospect.

Pirate Connection Takes on South Carolina

South Carolina was overwhelmed last Thursday night when taking on Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill in his first start, as Hill set a school record with 511 passing yards against the Gamecocks defense. It won’t get significantly easier for South Carolina in Week 2, as it faces a highly productive East Carolina offense led by the senior quarterback-receiver combination of Shane Carden and Justin Hardy.

Hardy set ECU records for catches and yards in 2013 with 114 grabs for 1,284 yards. He is in search of his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. The man responsible for delivering him the football has also been prolific. Fresh off a terrific junior season in which he compiled 4,139 passing yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 70.5 percent of his passes, Carden has developed evident chemistry with Hardy.

Both players’ skill sets complement each other to perfection. Hardy excels at getting clean releases off the line and creating separation on short to intermediate routes. He has great hands, body control and concentration. Carden is a decisive passer who reads defenses well and delivers a catchable football with good timing. Carden is fairly accurate and knows where to go with the football. He moves well within the pocket to create passing windows and avoid pressure. That said, he becomes uncomfortable when his initial reads are closed.

The biggest area of concern with Carden is his footwork and mechanics. Although he shows good arm strength, it would be much improved if he consistently stepped into throws. Carden loses velocity on the ball due to him regularly throwing flat-footed. As a result, he isn’t nearly as productive down the field as he is in the short to intermediate areas. Additionally, his throwing motion is far from desirable and could use an overhaul. The following GIF highlights the chemistry between Hardy and Carden as well as Carden’s tendency to throw flat-footed.

With decisive wins last season over North Carolina and North Carolina State, East Carolina has never backed down when playing bigger schools. If South Carolina cannot get their defensive scheme in order, an upset could be on the horizon and a productive outing for the impressive senior combination of Carden and Hardy.

Prospects In Focus

Ty Montgomery will be one of the senior prospects to watch when Stanford plays USC on Saturday. (Photo: Robert Stanton — USA Today Sports)

Ty Montgomery will be one of the senior prospects in focus when Stanford plays USC on Saturday. (Photo: Robert Stanton — USA Today Sports)

Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford, Sr. vs. USC

One of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers, Montgomery will be asked to make his share of plays in an early season Pac-12 showdown against USC. In last season’s matchup, USC was able to contain Montgomery and hold him to just 23 receiving yards.

Montgomery has high-level ability with the ball in his hands. Prioritizing touches for him must be a priority for the Stanford offense on Saturday. A physical and explosive player, Montgomery can work all levels of the field well, takes handoffs and is an exceptional return man. With a punt return for a touchdown in week one, Montgomery is now up to four career scores as a returner.

Improving his consistency at the catch point is the primary area in which Montgomery needs to improve this year. Montgomery reminds me of former Buffalo Bills receiver Eric Moulds with his size, physicality after the catch and explosive return ability.

Hayes Pullard, LB, USC, Sr. vs. Stanford

A four-year starter and two-time leading tackler for the Trojans, Pullard will be vital to USC’s effort to beat Stanford for a second consecutive season. A bit undersized, Pullard is a fit for 4-3 defenses in the NFL as a weakside or inside linebacker.

Pullard is a rangy player who flows well from sideline to sideline, tracking down the football and playing fast. He is aware and fluid in coverage, which makes him a reliable three-down player. He flashes the ability to take on and avoid blockers to make plays against the run.

The primary area of concern with Pullard will be exposed against Stanford and their physical running game. Pullard struggles to get downhill and make plays that are run right at him. He has a lack of functional strength, a hop step and wasted movement in pursuit. Saturday will be a good test for Stanford and Pullard as he aims to show he is a complete linebacker prospect as a senior.

Jordan Richards, S, Stanford, Sr. vs. USC

Richards is now in his third year as a Cardinal starting safety and has been a key component to solid Stanford defenses over the past couple seasons. As a senior, Richards is hoping to put together his best season yet as he aims to show NFL scouts he can play at the next level.

Regarded as an NFL prospect, I have numerous concerns about Richards and the ability he has shown on film. He lacks football instincts and polish. Against the run, Richards shows inconsistent tackling technique and hesitation when coming up to make tackles. His entire game lacks aggression and physicality. In pass coverage, Richards guesses too much and his lack of awareness and athletic ability gets exposed. He just seems to be consistently late to make proper reads.

Richards has flashed good ball skills over the past two seasons as he has accumulated six interceptions and 19 pass breakups. I will be watching Richards closely this season to see if his game has improved. A strong showing against a talented USC offense would be a good place to start.

Frank Clark, DE, Michigan, Sr. vs Notre Dame

An emerging talent at defensive end, Clark tallied 43 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and five sacks as a junior. Clark will be counted on to anchor the Wolverines defensive line in their first big test of the season against Notre Dame.

Clark is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end who is starting to become a playmaker on defense. He is a powerful player who can play the run and is developing as a pass rusher. Clark primarily wins as a power rusher and is ineffective when playing with finesse. Too often, Clark tries to juke out blockers to get by them and ends up going body to body with offensive tackles instead of attacking half of a man. But when he is explosive out of his stance and executing bull rushes and power moves, Clark can be dangerous.

It will be interesting to monitor Clark during his senior season and see if he develops consistency with his technique.

Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame, Sr. vs. Michigan

Notre Dame has been an NFL factory for tight ends and the next to emerge looks to be Koyack. After years playing behind 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert and 2014 second-round pick Troy Niklas, Koyack finally has the opportunity to be the top tight end as a senior.

While Koyack hasn’t had many opportunities to demonstrate his pass receiving skills, he has shown that he is an excellent blocker. With excellent technique and physicality, Koyack is able to drive his opponents away from the ball, create holes as a lead blocker and hold off pass rushers. He’s shown the versatility to lineup either in the backfield or outside the tackle.

Koyack only has 17 career receptions but he will be featured more frequently this season. In limited chances, Koyack has flashed the ability to contribute as a pass-catcher. In the following clip, Koyack wins a one-on-one matchup down the field, tracks the ball and makes a contested reception for a big gain, all while being interfered with.

The stage is set for Koyack to prove he is the next NFL tight end from Notre Dame.

Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon, Sr. vs. Michigan State

A two time all-Pac-12 and All-American selection with 40 consecutive starts, Grasu has built an impressive resume in his first three years at Oregon. Grasu is the leader among the Ducks offensive line and is playing like an early-round draft pick at center.

Grasu combines excellent technique and power as a run blocker. He is able to create significant movement and is a strong finisher. Consistently blocking through the whistle and playing with aggression are two areas where Grasu truly excels. Those abilities are evidenced in the clip below.

Not only can Grasu overwhelm opponents at the point of attack, he can also win with consistent technique. He consistently fights to have good inside hand placement and works his hips to seal off defenders and put himself between his man and the football. He does just that in following GIF to create a huge running lane and score a touchdown.

Grasu has excellent footspeed and is a solid athlete. He excels at pulling and become a lead blocker on the perimeter and getting to the second level to seal off linebackers. As a pass blocker, Grasu uses his foot speed, power and technique to mirror pass rushers while easily absorbing contact and anchoring.

There’s no doubt the Grasu will be relied up heavily to create running lanes and pass protect against a stout Michigan State defense. Satuday will be a good test for the Oregon offense and another opportunity for Grasu to continue impressing NFL scouts.

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Tags: Arizona, Austin Hill, Ben Koyack, Byron Jones, Cedric Ogbuehi, Cody Fajardo, Cody Prewitt, Damian Swann, Doran Grant, East Carolina, Frank Clark, Hayes Pullard, Hroniss Grasu, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jordan Richards, Josh Shaw, Justin Hardy, Kevin Johnson, Ladarius Gunter, Leonard Floyd, Michigan, Nevada, Notre Dame, Oregon, Quandre Diggs, Rashad Greene, Shane Carden, Stanford, Steven Nelson, Talent Watch, Tim Scott, Todd Gurley, Ty Montgomery, USC

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