Not much has gone well for the Jayhawks on the gridiron in recent years, but every now and then, they produce a legit NFL prospect destined for the early rounds. Armstrong is this year’s installment, and despite a dip in production so far this year from his impressive 2017 numbers (20 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks), the 6-4, 246-pounder has flashed the kind of versatility and explosiveness NFL scouts will love.
Bleacher Report’s draft analyst Matt Miller loves what he’s seen on tape of Armstrong. He called KU’s star defensive end, “one of my favorite athletes in the entire class. The dude is long-armed, extremely quick and has the moves to beat tackles off the edge…In his preseason Top 25 Big Board of draft-eligible players, Miller ranks Armstrong 18th overall — the fourth-highest defensive end.
From Luke Easterling at USA Today: “This 6-1, 195 pounder was tested early in the year, and opposing quarterbacks learned their lesson rather quickly. With 10 pass breakups and two interceptions through eight games in 2017, Oliver has shown off the length, physicality and athleticism NFL teams need from their top corners on the outside. He should be creeping into the first-round conversations slowly but surely.”
From Chris Trapasso at CBSSports.com, projecting Oliver to Pittsburgh with the 29th pick: “The Steelers like what they’ve gotten out of Joe Haden thus far in 2017 yet realize he’s not a long-term solution at the cornerback spot. Oliver can be. He’s a smooth athlete and has the track speed to stay with wideouts down the field. He has three interceptions and 22 pass breakups in his Colorado career.”
From Kyle Fredrickson in the Denver Post: “I don’t see all the other corners all over the country and the way that people evaluate them, but I definitely think (Oliver) is a special talent, no doubt,” MacIntyre said. “He’s extremely bright, a great family, a sharp young man. To me, he’s the full package.”
I love this player. And Ryan Pace, who looks for athleticism above all other things, will get a kick out of seeing Oliver compete in the decathlon. Kid is an athletic freak and one hell of a corner.
Why Watch This Week
Because Oliver is facing USC’s Sam Darnold. Darnold is turning the ball over way too much in 2017 (11 picks) but he’s also completing passes at a 63.6% clip, with nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns already. This is going to be a prime opportunity to evaluate Oliver against a solid professional prospect who gives defensive backs a chance to make plays on the football.
Washington has been one of the most consistent vertical talents in college football over the last three seasons with a career average of 19.2 yards per catch and 26 career touchdown receptions. He’s a long strider who can rip into cornerback cushions and climb on top of them quickly. Washington is a sensational ball tracker who is able to go up and come down with the deep ball with the best of them in college football. He also flashes runaway speed after the catch and can take a slant the distance if a safety makes a mistake. Washington tends to fight some underneath throws as a pass-catcher and will need additional work with the route tree once he gets to the league.
Through just five games in 2017, Washington has tied his freshman season in catches (28), is over halfway to 1,000 yards (647), and is already halfway there in tying his career-high in touchdowns with five. He is averaging 129 yards per game this season with a high of 153 against TCU and a low of 98 against South Alabama in a game that was over before halftime (and he still found the end zone).
His most impressive stat is that Washington’s season low in yards-per-reception is 16.3(!). The speedy deep threat averaged 16.3 yards on 28 receptions as a freshman, 20.5 on 53 as a sophomore, 19.4 on 71 as a junior, and is currently averaging 23.1 yards per catch on 28 catches this season. Needless to say, big things happen when you get the ball in 28’s hands.
Notre Dame junior WR Equanimeous St. Brown, a 6-foot-5, 204-pounder, exploded in first season with a significant workload a year ago. Hauling in 58 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns, Brown ranked No. 5 among returning Power 5 and Independent (FBS) wide receivers in yards per route run (2.69).
Dropping just three of his 61 catchable targets in 2016, St. Brown ranked No. 7 among that same group of wide receivers in drop rate.
St. Brown still needs to develop as a big-play threat on the outside to become a complete package at the next level. He ranked No. 42 and No. 46 in the 2018 draft class in deep pass yards and deep pass catch percentage last season, respectively.
Special talent. Truly special talent. But there’s no way to evaluate him in this Notre Dame offense that (a) runs for like 300 yards a week now and (b) starts a quarterback from my high school (P-R-E-P PREP! PREP! PREP!) who isn’t good at throwing passes.
One thing the Bears will like is watching him run block 20 times a game. Because if he’s drafted into this Bears offense that’s a seriously valuable skill set. (Right now it’s the most valuable.)
As always with wide receivers in the draft, nobody will know where he’s going to be taken until he runs. But ND lists this kid as 6-5, 203 lbs. That size with decent speed is lethal in this league.
Why Watch This Week
A good writer named Tom Shanahan cites commentary from a Raleigh radio host, Steve Logan, in a recent blog post:
But Logan thinks N.C. State can turn Notre Dame’s strong running game to its advantage. The Wolfpack have one of the top defensive lines in the nation, led by projected first-round draft pick Bradley Chubb at defensive end. The Wolfpack are ranked sixth, allowing only 91.3 yards a game.
“It can happen,” Logan said of an upset. “Notre Dame is generating 470 yards a game — 300 on the ground. That’s good news from this standpoint for Dave Huxtable, the defensive coordinator at N.C. State: He can bring his safeties in to stop the run. It’s easier to bring the safeties to stop the run and make somebody beat you throwing the ball as opposed to the other way around. This is where N.C. State has an advantage.”
Logan seems to believe this is a week Notre Dame may struggle to run the ball. If that’s the case, this is the week to tune in and watch their top receiving threat; a serious Bears prospect in the coming draft.
CBS’ Chris Trapasso on Oct. 10: “As usual, James was good against Miami, yet I’m not seeing the variety of game-altering plays this season he had in 2015. He was a true difference-maker as a freshman at all levels of the field. This year, not so much. James is a gargantuan safety prospect who runs like a slot cornerback, and when he’s rolling, he’s a tackling machine who also flies to the football in coverage.”
From USA Today: “I think he’s every bit as good as anybody we’ve ever played against,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said of the Seminoles safety, via the Orlando Sentinel. “This guy’s just a very aggressive player.”
Chad Reuter of NFL.com: “James in an enforcer, pure and simple. Everyone expected him to return to form after missing most of last season. James doesn’t appear to have lost any closing speed, and he’s certainly not afraid of contact. His length will help him play in the box on Sundays, likely in the hybrid linebacker/safety role that’s currently in vogue.”
…the Bears will win too many games to pick James at their actual draft position. With that kind of athleticism, one has to believe he’ll blow minds in Indianapolis and be gone by the fifth pick.
…I haven’t seen many defensive backs look as comfortable as James rushing from the edge. Then I see his coverage skills and wonder, “Is this kid going to change the safety position in the NFL?”
…the Bears should avoid drafting anybody who has an injury history.
Why Watch This Week
As Clemson QB Kelly Bryant struggles with injuries and FSU struggles to win enough games to get bowl eligible, there’s a good chance Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals will be the most explosive, multidimensional offense James faces the rest of this season. Against a run/pass threat like Jackson, safeties have to be at their most disciplined and their most aggressive. Over-pursuit can lead to big plays down the field and staying back on your heels can lead to the mobile quarterback sprinting by you down the sideline. With some believing Jackson will play on Sundays (not quite sure if I’m one of them) this is the right quarterback to evaluate James against.