PredictionMachine.com’s NFL Draft Expert, Matt Richner, takes his weekly look at three of the most notable college prospects from the weekend as well as three NFL rookies standing out for reasons good or bad.
Three College Prospects Who Made Headlines this Weekend
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend my first game at Memorial Field House in Lincoln, Neb., to watch the Michigan Wolverines versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers. You can only do so much scouting based on game tape. Getting out on the road to watch some of the top players in the country is what this business is all about. There are few places that can rival the gameday experience in Lincoln. It was truly an honor and experience I will never forget. I will be back at the Prediction Machine Draft Headquarters next week, but until then here are my scouting notes on the game.
Denard Robinson (QB, Michigan): This dynamic playmaker for the Michigan Wolverines is an electric force with the football in his hands. On every play he can break open a momentum-turning play. He has the speed and the acceleration to get by defensive linemen and the cutback ability to break tackles from linebackers and defensive backs.
Despite all his playmaking, Robinson will not be a starting NFL quarterback next season. Most of his throws were erratic and completely off target. Denard was knocked out of the game with an injury right before halftime. This was unfortunate as he is a player with a notorious ability to break down defenses with his speed as the game wears on.
There is talk among the scouting community that Denard may be an effective wide receiver once he reaches the NFL. Some of the more recent players to play quarterback in college and then bust in the NFL after switching positions are Matt Jones (first round, Jacksonville) and Pat White (second round, Miami). Best case scenario, Denard will be a competitive slot/kick returner in the mold of a Josh Cribbs or an Antwaan Randle El, both former college quarterbacks who switched positions in the NFL. I don’t see how a team can select him before the fifth or sixth round, but then again, Matt Jones went in the first round, and he didn’t have the playmaking ability of a Denard Robinson.
Taylor Lewan (Left Tackle, Michigan): Taylor Lewan was the one player I was most excited to watch in this game. There is a lot of chatter in the scouting community about Lewan being the first left tackle selected next April. There is nothing better when scouting offensive linemen than watching them in person and seeing their individual adjustments on each play. Lewan is a powerful, strong left tackle who has incredibly nimble feet. Unofficially, I didn’t have him giving up a single QB pressure or sack in the game, and he was able to effectively shut down his opponent throughout the game. Michigan runs a lot of zone-read and power-read run plays which ask the linemen to get outside and block. Lewan showed tremendous power and strength on multiple occasions by road-grading his man into the second and third level, effectively opening up running lanes for his teammates.
In terms of pass blocking, Lewan shows a strong initial punch, along with the strength to deal with a full onslaught of power and speed rush moves by defenders. Once he was able to get his hands inside and get a hold of his defender, he was able to effectively shut them down.
Don’t be surprised to see some team trade up in the draft to select Lewan. He reminds me of current Cincinnati Bengals’ left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Daimion Stafford (Safety, Nebraska): To stop the high powered Michigan running attack, the Nebraska Cornhuskers needed to contain the outside run plays and limit the number of yards after contact. Daimion Stafford did a fantastic job the entire night, wrapping up ball carriers and being the tough physical presence the Cornhuskers needed in order to stop Denard Robinson and the Michigan rushing attack.
Known as a typical in the box safety, Stafford ended the night with six tackles, one tackle for loss, and an interception. His lone interception on the night was the final nail in the coffin for the Michigan Wolverines. Nebraska was up by only seven points when Michigan’s backup freshman quarterback underthrew his receiver in the middle of the field; Stafford made a break on the ball and a nice leaping interception.
Stafford is a quality safety who does the little things throughout a game to help put his team in position to win games. He could find a role as a special teams standout in the NFL for his first couple of seasons before he masters the team’s defensive playbook.
Three NFL Rookies Who Made Headlines this Weekend
Chris Givens (WR, St. Louis Rams): The St. Louis Rams have been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the play of their fourth-round selection, wideout Chris Givens. The former Wake Forest standout had three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown to go along with two kick returns for 48 yards, an all-purpose yards total on the game of 111 yards. On the season, he has 13 receptions for 333 receiving yards and 2 TD’s.
Over the past few months, Givens has improved his route-running ability and his understanding of the offense. Givens slipped on draft day due to lack of size, even though he achieved all the statistical marks needed for a quality wide receiver in the NFL based on my Wide Receiver Report.
Casey Hayward (DB, Green Bay Packers): Don’t be surprised to see Casey Hayward’s name mentioned among the top defense backs in the NFL in the next few years. This ball-hawking corner has made an immediate impact on the Packers secondary; he is currently tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions.
Hayward was the third best corner on my board last season. Paul Bessire had him as his top defensive back in the draft and projected him to have over six interceptions.
Dont’a Hightower (LB, New England Patriots): The hard-hitting middle linebacker has teamed up with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to create one of the league’s toughest, hardest hitting, and punishable linebacking cores in the NFL. Though he has been hurt and missed a few games this season, Hightower is playing his way back into shape and will likely have a productive season. Having recorded 25 tackles and two sacks, Hightower is providing the Patriots with a physical run presence that is capable of taking on offensive linemen, shedding blockers and making plays at the line of scrimmage.
Through the addition of quality and fundamentally sound draft picks, the Patriots have quickly transformed their weakest units over the past couple of seasons to now being a position of strength. Look for Hightower to make some big plays for the Patriots in the second half of the season.