In what will be the final scouting notebook before the Bowl season and one of the last of year, I'll take a look at how a past LSU cornerback (Patrick Peterson) compares with a current one (Morris Claiborne) and another current starter who we'll see next season (Tyrann Matthieu).
Also, with our WAC scouting this year being sub par (and for that I apologize), I scouted each team this past weekend, and I have some notes to share from this generally lesser-thought-of conference. And finally, I'll look at the Top 10 Non-BCS Matchups.
LSU Tigers Have Developed a Cornerback Pipeline
The LSU Tigers have put tons of players in the NFL, most of which are on the defensive side of the ball, and most of which that were selected in the top three rounds are current NFL starters. However, in the past 2 years now, the LSU Tigers have featured three of the best cornerbacks in college football, and all three may end up being not only first rounders, but high ones at that.
Patrick Peterson a year ago was a rare physical speciman. Peterson's combination of length, strength in his upper half to jostle with recevier, speed in his lower half to stay tight with faster receivers, and hip fluidity to quickly change direction to make a play on the ball made him maybe the best cornerback prospect since Champ Bailey. Peterson only fell to #5 in the draft this past year out of team needs ahead of him, and very well could have been the 2nd player selected. Regardless, his abilities in college as well as now in pros has been spectacular, showing why he was one of the elite prospects in the past 5 years out of college.
This year, the Tigers feature another potential Top 5 pick: Morris Claiborne. A lanky, fundamentally sound cornerback, he has the speed to get vertical and cloud his receiver from the ball. His hips are outstanding for a cornerback for his size, and rarely allows outside position from his man. He also uses his hands well down the field and his punch knocks receivers off their route down field. While he's not perfect within five yards and could be more aggresive in pursuing short, quick routes, he has all the makings for an NFL #1 cornerback. But the scary part is, in terms of college production, he's not even the best defensive back on his team.
Tyrann Matheiu, nicknamed the Honey Badger, got his nickname for his ability to play extremely tough against big opponents and his knack for making big plays. In just this year alone, his true sophomore season, he has 1.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 2 defensive touchdowns, and 71 tackles. While numbers aren't a major part of scouting (I harp on that quite a bit), his production on the field as a cornerback is unbeliveable. He is only about 5'9, 180, and his NFL prospects don't look great from that end. But he's physical at the line, has a great understanding for space and how he can make plays on the ball, has outstanding quickness and aggresiveness, and has two return touchdowns this year to go along with his production. So, while he won't be a Top 5 pick based purely on his lack of size, if we've learned ANYTHING from Tim Tebow, it's that players who make plays in college will continue to make plays in the NFL if given the opportunity. And Mattheiu can do just that.
A Look at the WAC Scouting
In short, our WAC scouting hasn't been where it should be for a scouting service. I won't go into detail for why that is, but just know that with our next rankings update tomorrow, the WAC will have been throughly updated. In an effort to preview that, I scouted each team twice this past weekend to catch-up, and I found five players that are likely to be selected, and seven more that have a very good shot at it as well.
Two of the top players are at the University of Nevada. The best player in the conference is receiver Rishard Matthews. At 6'2, around 220, he has outstanding power as an open field runner. He flips his hips quickly in his routes, and has some shiftiness after the catch. His ability to power through defensive backs and get to his 2nd and 3rd gear in the open field remind a bit of Terrell Owens at times. Also on the Wolfpack, inside linebacker James Michael Johnson has caught the eyes of many scouts this year, but I wasn't as impressed as some have been. He has outstanding size and build and sure looks the part of a future NFL inside linebacker. But he doesn't drive into the gap as well as I'd like, and doesn't come downhill into traffic as well as I'd like. He breaks down well in tackling form and has great balance and upper body strength, but his lack of consistent players outside the pocket and in the box worry me as far as being a playmaker. Also, Isaiah Frey at cornerback has a chance at getting drafted.
At Louisiana Tech, an inside linebacker very different from Johnson isn't too far behind on my board. Adrian Cole, a quicker, smaller linebacker has great range, cuts well, and has the hips to sink and scan as well as get to the sidelines. He delivers a great pop and rarely is out of tackling position when the ball is near. He does lead with his shoulder too much at times and bigger backs can bounce off if they're low enough. Also, for his size and style of play, he needs to really impress as a coverage linebacker. Also on this team, Matt Broha at defensive end and Lennon Creer, both of which have a very good shot at getting drafted. Broha plays with great leverage but needs to fight with his hands better and develop more rush moves. Creer is a Tennessee transfer with great feet and suddenness, but lacks great vision in the hole and looks for the big play too much.
Duke Ihenacho of San Jose State has been a favorite player of mine all year and was one of the few WAC guys I had seen extensive before this season. He came off of injury this year, but he's an aggressive safety who has ideal size and power in the mid-field. He's a great athlete and he'll find someplace to fit into at the next level, challenging Rishard Matthews for the top player in the conference.
Robert Turbin, junior running back from Utah State, is reportedly possibly coming out, and with the 5th most career carries of all junior runnings backs (over the 500 mark), he has some logic behind the move. However, outside of his outstanding upper body strength and power, he is a little sloppy in his build, doesn't have outstanding speed, hesitates and lowers his shoulder in the hole, and overall doesn't look developed enough as a runner to be drafted in the top five or six rounds. Also on Utah State, inside linebacker Bobby Wagner flashed at times, but was late in reacting to the ball at times, doesn't hold his ground as well as you'd like. But, he can slip inside on blitzes and attacks very well when rushing.
Also in the WAC, Devon Wylie (receiver) and Logan Harrell (defensive tackle) for Fresno State and Donyae Coleman (strong safety) for New Mexico State also have a shot after the draft to be signed as an undrafted free agent.
Top 10....Non-BCS Matchups to Watch
In a year where only a handful of the non-BCS match-ups have intriguing storylines, here are the events I'll be looking at closely, both from a scouting perspective and a college football fan perspective.
Georgia and Michigan State have been two underappreciated teams all year long, and both have outstanding college quarterbacks at the helm along with solid front fours on defense. Florida and Ohio State both struggled massively this season, but both have great talent on both sides and are now linked by an Urban Meyer connection. Baylor vs. Washington and Tulsa vs. BYU both should be very high scoring games, as each team features and impressive passing attack and all have strong-armed quarterbacks.
1. Georgia vs. Michigan State (Outback Bowl)
2. Arkansas vs. Kansas State (Cotton Bowl)
3. Nebraska vs. South Carolina (Capital One Bowl)
4. Florida vs. Ohio State (Gator Bowl)
5. Florida State vs. Notre Dame (Champs Sports Bowl)
6. Baylor vs. Washington (Alamo Bowl)
7. Tulsa vs. BYU (Armed Forces Bowl)
8. Houston vs. Penn State (TicketCity Bowl)
9. Nevada vs. Southern Miss (Hawaii Bowl)
10. Louisiana Tech vs. TCU (Poinsettia Bowl)