The college football season is nearly upon us! HogsHaven resident draftniks, yours truly and Aaron Lesher, decided to give you a 'way-too-early' look at potential prospects for the Redskins in the 2017 Draft. Not everyone likes college ball, and I get it, but we figured putting some names and a little bit of background out there on our favorite players right now could potentially inform the community better when you're watching ESPN's 'Top 10' countdown. This post focuses on positions of need (determined by us) for the Redskins going into this year and next.
It wouldn't be a way too early post without a quick disclaimer about how right or wrong we could be. The college football season is a long one, and with it comes all sort of craziness that includes suspensions, dismissals, injuries, coaching meltdowns, external investigations into football programs, the Kardashians, and anything else that may have an affect on one's performance on the field. We hope that mid-season we can come back and revisit this list and revise and update as necessary.
Without further adieu, on to our prospects!
Aaron Lesher's Prospect List
Stud: Leonard Fournette, LSU
People that have followed LSU football for the past 50 or 60 years say that Fournette is the best running back to ever play for the school, a list that includes Kevin Faulk, Patriots Hall-of-Famer and 3x Super Bowl champion. If you were making an NCAA Create-a-Player, you would get something like Fournette, who at 6' 1", 230 lbs. has reported 4.35 speed and trucks would-be defenders like a bull in a china shop. His outstanding vision helped him compile 2206 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns last year as a true sophomore. Absolutely filthy.
Elég ijesztő hírek érkeztek az LSU futószörnyetegéről, Leonard Fournette-ről is: a játékos bokaficamot... https://t.co/6kBvh6OG6D— 120yard (@120_yard) August 16, 2016
Sleeper: James Conner, Pittsburgh
If you're not inspired by this guy's story, then you have no heart. Conner missed the 2015 season because he was diagnosed with leukemia. He fought it and was declared cancer-free this spring. After receiving his last chemotherapy treatment, he was back on the practice field in less than a day. THAT is dedication and passion. Did I mention he's built like Jerome Bettis at 6' 2", 250 lbs.? He moves deceptively smooth for a man of his size, but requires a team effort to bring him to the ground. Conner breaks tackles with ease and catches the ball pretty well, too. In a stacked 2017 draft class at running back, Conner is a lesser-known name and doesn't have the flashy plays, but is rock-solid tough and combines incredible size with movement skills.
Stud: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
A local kid who played high school football at Stone Bridge in Ashburn, Virginia, Allen has grown bigger, stronger, and better each year. In high school he was a 180-pound safety; going into his senior season at Alabama he weighs 294 pounds and benches 500. Oh yeah, he had 12 sacks in 2015 playing all over the defensive line. Allen has the speed, power, and violent hands that make him a potent disruptor at either DT or DE. I thought Allen was the best player on Alabama's defensive line last year that included second-rounders A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. He should be even better this year.
Jonathan Allen returns to Alabama next year. That isn't fair.https://t.co/SXTXiTdK4k— Dakota Moyer (@DakMoyer) May 22, 2016
Jonathan Allen is such a versatile and powerful player. I think he's the best NFL prospect on Alabama's DL. pic.twitter.com/lWVhkBVnwZ— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) January 7, 2016
Sleeper: Deatrich Wise Jr., Arkansas
More of a defensive end/edge rusher prospect, Wise has a lot of Preston Smith to his game as a very long athlete (6' 5", 278 lbs.) with strong hands and decent bend. Has the strength and power to drive offensive tackles into the quarterback's lap and the hands to disengage from blockers to disrupt the backfield. Wise is on a clear upward trend with his 8 sacks coming in the final 8 games of the 2015 season. He also added 31 tackles, 10.5 of which were for a loss, 3 passes batted and 3 forced fumbles. Wise has only started 3 games in 2 years, so his draft stock almost entirely hinges on his performance during 2016.
Deatrich Wise's reach is too much for the TE. Doesn't give up his chest, tosses him aside to get Coker pic.twitter.com/huMwlolbzo— Justen Gammel (@gamscout) August 23, 2016
Deatrich Wise does good job of keeping OL off his chest w/UOH + rip, & gets the pressure. https://t.co/NxRtdn0Vyv— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) August 3, 2016
Stud: Ethan Pocic, LSU
Pocic is one of the staples of the LSU offensive line that plowed open holes for superstar Leonard Fournette, helping him amass nearly 4,000 yards from scrimmage the past two years. He uses his extremely long body (6'7", 310 lbs.) to wall off defenders and create lanes for LSU's runners. He's also reliable in pass protection, with awareness and technique to pick up blitzes and create a clean pocket. Pocic's negatives mainly stem from his height; his base isn't stout enough to always handle the bull rush, allowing him to get pushed backwards, and he needs to work on keeping the pad level low to avoid getting stood up. He's not a mauler or exceptionally athletic, but moves well enough to get into the second level to secure additional blocks.
Here LSU C Ethan Pocic shows some lateral agility and short area bust peeling off to bail out LG who got be... https://t.co/OLY0daD9Gn— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) May 22, 2016
Sleeper: Jon Toth, Kentucky
Toth is quietly a very effective lineman against SEC-level competition. Kentucky frequently ran behind him for chunk yardage and Toth actively pursues additional blocking opportunities at the second level. He has a stout base which makes him hard to move off his assignments in run or pass protection. Against Auburn, Toth was a key player buying time for the quarterback and opening up running lanes for several big plays, which helped Kentucky nearly come from behind to win. As a Freshman in 2014, Toth won SEC offensive lineman of the week and was named to the Rimington Trophy Award Watch List and SEC All-Freshman team. In general he plays cleanly with rarely a penalty or missed assignment.
UK's Jon Toth showing how to combo and climb to LB. on this IZ run pic.twitter.com/FdyDXdiUwC— todd greenwell (@GreenwellTodd) July 6, 2016
Stud: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
What can't Peppers do? He plays safety, linebacker, running back, wide receiver, kick returner, and slot corner for the Wolverines. Coach Jim Harbaugh even said he could be the Willie Mays of football ... actually, if you want to read glowing praise about Peppers, your best bet is just read Harbaugh's near-hyperbolic statements on his man-crush. Watch Peppers' tape from 2015 and you see a player that has incredible discipline, athleticism, and instincts for the game of football. He's hungry for the next rep and opportunity to compete, whether that's taking a handoff, returning a kick, or going man-to-man against opposing wide receivers. His stat sheet isn't out-of-this-world: 45 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 10 PDs in his first full year of play time, but much of that is due to constantly playing different positions. As a true junior in 2016, I expect him to really take it to the next level and be one of the best overall players in Division I football.
Sleeper: Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech
Woods has good size as 6' 0", 219 lbs. and is an eager and willing tackler in the secondary. He has good timing and tenacity to deliver big pops to receivers over the middle, often dislodging the ball for incompletes or forced fumbles. As a junior in 2015, had 38 total tackles and 3 interceptions. Listed as a SS but lined up to cover both deep zones and in the box.
@CFD22 I was watching film of Veron Butler and LA Tech's FS Xavier woods stood out to me. A real head hunter in the back end of the defense.— Jake (@NarayanJake) March 5, 2016
Stud: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
The second best running back in college football is Dalvin Cook. Cook broke FSU's rushing record last year with 1,691 rushing yards. He had an unreal 7.4 YPC average which worked out to be almost 141 yards per game. Cook also set a school record with 1,935 all-purpose yards and almost broke the season record for rushing touchdowns scored landing one shy with 19. He didn't just take advantage of lowly SEC teams though, he hit the 100+ yard mark against Clemson, and Florida (both top 10 in total defense last season). He has size, speed, power, and crazy stop-start quickness. He's one to keep a tab on as he can run Florida State straight to the National Championship and run himself potentially into the 1st round with Leonard Fournette.
Sleeper(s): Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt and Joseph Yearby, Miami
I'm sort of cheating here listing two players but I have a good reason. Both of these guys have similar slasher-type running styles with good speed elusiveness and mainly operate out of the shotgun. Both could eclipse 1000 yards again and rise up draft boards.
Ralph Webb apparently has a collection of nationwide doubters. Some people attribute his success to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's "tailback-driven offense". Webb, in his freshman year, set the Vanderbilt single-season carries record with 212, in his sophomore year he rushed for the second most yards in Vanderbilt history (1,152). In a conference that will likely produce the top running back prospect in next year's draft, it's understandable why Webb hasn't gotten much attention. Webb had 4 games where he rushed for over 100 yards one of which was against Florida and he nearly broke the century mark twice (99 yards each) against Missouri and Houston. Webb will have to increase his production pretty much in all categories (especially TDs, he had 5 this past season) to rise up draft boards but he has found a way to produce despite being the focal point of opposing defenses.
Joseph Yearby only needs 465 yards this season to move into Miami's top ten rushing list. Yearby rushed for over 1,000 yards last season despite being in a timeshare with fellow RB Mark Walton. It would also be negligent of me if I didn't mention that Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook went to high school together and at the time they were widely regarded as the nation's top RB tandem coming out of Miami Central High School. The two are on completely different paths in regard to their production and stardom now both in their Junior seasons. What Yearby has lacked so far is the ability to gain meaningful production against top talent. He was not good against Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, or Virginia Tech mustering just 182 yards and 2 TD's against those top defenses. This is the perfect time to buck that trend so he can show his doubters he and Dalvin Cook deserve to be in conversation together once more.
Stud: Mike Williams, Clemson
Many think that if Mike Williams never got injured last year he could have been the top receiver in the draft. Just looking at the stats you'd probably wonder why people are so high on him. Stats aren't everything. He is dominant in his playing style. He has great size at 6'3'' 205 and can jump and catch the ball at its highest point, natural hands, good body control, and is not limited to only running a few routes. If I had to throw out a way to early player comparison it would probably be Dez Bryant.
Sleeper: Jehu Chesson, Michigan
The effect of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan is obvious. In one year, Michigan went from a 5-7 team to a 10-3 team under the former NFL head coach. One position where strides are evident is at WR. Michigan is returning two seniors with the ability to break out this year: Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Chesson is currently rehabbing from a leg injury he got in the Citrus Bowl but should be good to go for the opener. I like Chesson more than Darboh because of his ability to use his body to his advantage. He doesn't play soft and uses his 6'2' 207 lbs frame to create space from defenders. He started slow last season but turned in on in the back half torching two top defenses and two top corners in Eli Apple (Ohio State) and Vernon Hargraves (Florida).
Stud: Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Elflein has played center and guard and Ohio State and in 2016 it looks like he's going to be playing center full time. It should be music to Redskins fans ears to hear that Elflein's biggest strength is his power run blocking. It shouldn't come as a surprise as there were holes for first round pick Zeke Elliot to run through all day last year. Some think Elflein was Ohio State's best lineman in 2015 and that's taking into account 1st round pick Taylor Decker. Elflein's versatility will be coveted by many teams if he keeps up his level of production. Will the Redskins finally pull the trigger on a center in the early rounds?
Sleeper: Dan Voltz, Wisconsin
It's easy to forget that Dan Voltz was one of the top rated centers going into the season last year. Voltz tore his ACL midseason last year and broke his leg the season before. He is expected to start again for the Badgers in 2016 at center but has offered to play guard as well. Voltz is Wisconsin's most experienced lineman having played 32 games with 27 starts. The coaches at Wisconsin will likely keep the experienced senior making the calls. Pending an injury free year look for Voltz to bounce back in a big way.
Stud: Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Williams is a big man that clogs running lanes. He is set to start this year for Clemson and looks to impress. He has good vision into the backfield and active hands. Here is what I mean:
He's tough to move but is surprisingly active up and down the LOS. He also has a crazy amount of power that can be generated without a lot of momentum or explosion:
Carlos Watkins isn't super explosive, but he bullied Syracuse with his power https://t.co/cdZsRptt3z— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) May 13, 2016
As we saw in this years past draft defensive lineman without consistent and obvious can slide a little in the draft. I'm not ready to label Watkins just a run stuffing DT yet but he could present an excellent value for teams looking for a stout presence in the middle of their defensive line.
Sleeper: Caleb Brantley, Florida
I mainly watch two main teams when it comes to college football: Miami and Michigan. I may have to start paying attention to Florida because they are producing some real defensive line talent down there. Caleb Brantley is potentially the next big thing to come out of Florida so if I'm right you heard it here first! And if I'm wrong forget I said it. Brantley is an explosive DT playing in Florida's 4-3 defense. His get off is superb and it's clear he has talent rushing the passer. His size at roughly 6'2'' 314 makes him a versatile lineman that could play defensive end in a 3-4. Brantley naturally thinks he's the best defensive lineman in the country and if he gets home more often and ups his sack production he could be right.
Stud: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
Whether inside linebacker is a "need" is sure to cause some debate but I still think the Redskins could upgrade at the position. Kendell Beckwith just may prove to be the best inside linebacker in next year's draft. He not only has the instincts and leadership you look for at the inside linebacker position he has the speed, athleticism, and power to shoot the gaps and make plays in the backfield or get after the QB. Plus he destroys lives:
Sleeper: Taylor Young, Baylor
Young is a "short" linebacker (5'10'') but he still makes plays. He will look to set the tone this year for Baylor on defense. Young has good athleticism and can shoot gaps and get into the backfield in a hurry. Last year he has 13.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks so he can definitely rush the passer. I have not looked at a bunch if inside linebackers for this upcoming draft but I can already tell you Young is a sure tackler with excellent speed to power conversion. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on him.
Stud: Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Eddie Jackson may end up being the best free safety prospect in the country once the year is over. The senior returns after posting a career year in his junior season where he picked off 6 passes and scored two touchdowns. Turnovers are always nice but personally I tend to hold the passes defended statistic in slightly higher regard. Passes defended indicates to me that the defensive back is instinctive and in the right place at the right time to make a play on the ball. Jackson only had 2 passes defended last year so a bump in that number would bold well for him. He has good size at 6'0'' 195. Jackson will be tested immediately as Alabama's first game is against USC and he will be covering one of the best deep threats and one of the best receivers in the country in JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Sleeper: Quin Blanding, Virginia
Blanding has 238 tackles in two seasons as Virginia's starting strong safety. 238 is a lot. He was ACC Rookie of the Year in 2014. He always seems to be around the ball some way some how. To get into the conversation of top safeties he'll need to improve his production in coverage (pass breakups and interceptions). To get the type of production Blanding has in his first two years you have to play extremely aggressive and be decisive. Naturally, it can get him into trouble sometimes and he'll lose the angle battle. If he can improve in coverage he won't be a sleeper for long.