SCOUTING THE NATION: SEC SPOTLIGHT SHOWCASES NEXT WAVE OF NFL SIGNAL-CALLERS, PLUS LATEST DRAFT BUZZ

NCAA OPT OUTS ADD INTRIGUE WITH DECISIONS TO OPT BACK IN

To opt out or not to opt out, that is the question. The Big Ten received great news when Purdue redshirt sophomore wide out RONDALE MOORE [5090/180], a potential first round pick in the upcoming draft, announced that he would re-join the Boilermakers.

Meanwhile, Minnesota junior wide receiver RASHOD BATEMAN [6010/210] is hoping the NCAA will allow him to do the same, but since he signed with an agent (Blake Baratz), he’s able to practice but has not gained full clearance thus far.

One player staying the course is Northwestern senior offensive lineman RASHAWN SLATER [6025/314], who has opted out and signed with CAA, as he plans to train for the 2021 NFL Draft. A versatile lineman who has played both left and right tackle, Slater could also project as a highly coveted guard at the NFL level; he currently carries late 1st-to-2nd round grade.

We discussed the status of LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin in last week’s column but one player that the Tigers are happy to have opted back in a few weeks ago, is his fellow defensive lineman NEIL FARRELL JR. [6041/319]. Starring in part of a talented rotation, Farrell recorded one tackle and a pass knock down during the season opener. He currently carries a late round grade, as he’ll need to improve as a pass rusher and his conditioning has fluctuated at times based on his weight being between 295-to-320 pounds at various times during his college career.

GATORS TRASK UP TO THE TASK

You could not have scripted the season opener any better for Gators quarterback KYLE TRASK, who set a career-high with 416 passing yards, to go along with an SEC single-game record six touchdown passes, as Florida romped Mississippi. Trask showcased his ability to work all parts of the field, spraying the ball around to 11 different receivers, while his touchdown passes averaged 21.2 yards per pass! We’ve seen a slew of quarterbacks catapult themselves to the number one overall pick in recent years such as Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow, while others such as Dwayne Haskins and Mitchell Trubisky went from relatively unknowns to first round picks. Could Trask be the next in line? It shouldn’t be ruled out.

COSTELLO COOKS; MISSISSIPPI STATE SERVES UPSET TO DEFENDING CHAMPS

Not to be outdone in the SEC, quarterback KJ COSTELLO set a new single-game conference record with 623 passing yards (Eric Zier 544 in 1993), as Mississippi State upset the defending champion LSU Tigers. The transfer from Stanford overcame four turnovers to lead the Bulldogs to an impressive victory in his season debut, demonstrating the type of poise and leadership that could make for a match made in heaven with Bulldogs new head coach Mike Leach. We have seen plenty of Leach-coached signal callers make their way to the next level but Costello is by far the most cerebral quarterback that he has ever had to work with and the way NFL offenses are trending, Costello could become a value commodity come April with his command of the Air Raid attack.  

NAME YOU NEED TO KNOW: SPENCER BROWN

After battling injuries for much of the past two seasons, UAB power back SPENCER BROWN took it upon himself to get leaner and meaner heading into his final season, dropping nearly 20 pounds. Thus far, early indications are that it has paid handsome dividends, as Brown has looked more explosive and faster. This past week, he added to his touchdown total, scoring on runs of 15, 1 and 20 yards, setting a new school record with 36 career touchdowns. A noted workout warrior, Brown can squat 600-plus pounds without effort and is a notorious weight room hero with stories made up of folklore. He’s also the Blazers’ all-time leading rusher, as well as the nation’s second active career leading rusher with 3,323 yards, behind only Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Remember the name, as Spencer Brown has the makeup of a pro prospect.

A CAN’T MISS PROSPECT AS NFL AWATS THE NEXT BIG CATCH

Florida junior tight end KYLE PITTS [6052/239] showed once again why he has the ability to be taken in the Top 25 picks of either of the next two NFL Drafts. The big-bodied, athletic pass catcher hauled in eight passes for 170 receiving yards and four t catching, including a 71-yard score in their big win over the Rebels. It’s rare we use the term ‘can’t miss,’ but Pitts is as close as it gets. With incredible size, speed and athleticism, there are rumblings that he could time in the sub 4.60-range at the combine, which would only help cement his draft stock. While there is room for him to improve as an in-line blocker, his frame and projection could translate into a Darren Waller type role at the next level, as Pitts is the ultimate mismatch due to his long frame, vertical game and constant yards after catch ability.

PITT DEFENDER BOBBING AND WEAVING UP DRAFT BOARDS

Pittsburgh senior defensive end RASHAD WEAVER [6045/275] continues to create havoc in opposing backfields, as he now has three and a half sacks after helping limit the Louisville offense with four tackles, one and a half sacks and a forced fumble. Weaver has made an immediate impact returning to the field the past two weeks after missing all of the 2019 season due to a torn ACL that he suffered during fall drills last August. He owns very good quickness off the ball at his size and uses strong hands to get off and create space versus opposing linemen. If he continues to develop a few secondary pass rush moves to go with the power aspect of his game, there’s a chance that he improves upon his current 4th-5th round type grade.

JUSTUS SERVED IN BLACKSBURG

The long winding road that is the career of JUSTUS REED has led to Blacksburg, where the pass-rush specialist is making the most of his latest opportunity. After finishing with 19 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks a year ago, the sack master is off to a fast start once again, registering two sacks in the Hokies season-opener win over North Carolina State. His length, strength and quickness are three attributes that will warrant a look at the next level for the seventh-year senior. Reed spent his first three seasons at Florida before transferring to Youngstown State, where he spent the following three years and ultimately decided to transfer to Virginia Tech for a chance to play during the fall in 2020. If selected, Reed would become the oldest player chosen in the NFL Draft since Brandon Weeden (2012).

AGGIES BUDDY NOT A FRIEND OF BAMA

Texas A&M inside linebacker BUDDY JOHNSON [6016/238] had a team leading 11 total tackles in their 17-12 win over Vanderbilt and continues to grow into being a solid pro prospect. However, Johnson does need to make more impact plays, in order to move himself into being seen as more than a late round-to-PFA type prospect. He had 77 tackles a year ago but did so with just one sack and no interceptions. Johnson is the Aggies vocal leader, has good athletic ability after bulking up about ten pounds and should run well for his size too (4.6 range). One of his best games of 2019 came against then top-ranked Alabama where he had 11 tackles, so this weekend’s upcoming rematch with the Crimson Tide offers Johnson a chance to showcase himself to NFL scouts, as they face highly rated running back Najee Harris and wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.

BIG THINGS SOMETIMES COME IN SMALL PACKAGES

Georgia senior safety RICHARD LECOUNTE III [5100/190] decided to return to the Bulldogs for his final season and his ball-hawk skills were once again on display, as he produced a pair of interceptions, to go along with three tackles in their 37-10 victory over Arkansas. While his size is certain to come into question, LeCounte has been a stalwart the past three seasons in Athens, which led some to believe he may have looked to declare this past January. Rather, he stated that making one last run at an SEC and National Championship before moving onto the NFL was something he hoped to accomplish. Despite below average size, LeCounte grades out well in nearly every category and has shown the versatility to be used at several spots in the secondary, which will stand out to NFL secondary coaches. He possesses excellent range, makes most of the tackles that he’s in position to execute but will not be a thumper in the box and lacks the pure foot speed to play often in man-to-man coverage. He’s viewed as a Top-50-to-75 overall prospect but his forty times at the NFL Scouting Combine will decide how high he can go in the draft.

BEARCATS SAFETY HELPS TO REGALVANIZE HIS DRAFT STOCK

Cincinnati senior safety JAMES WIGGINS [5116/205] is proving to be 100% recovered from an ACL injury that cost him to miss 2019. A Florida native who was originally recruited to the University of Miami, Wiggins has helped the Bearcats jump out to a Top-15 ranking by recording 13 tackles and two passes defended in a pair of wins. He projects as a perfect fit for today’s NFL game with the ability to play either safety spot, in addition to added versatility based on his coverage skills. As a junior in 2018, Wiggins had an 86-yard interception for touchdown against SMU and helped seal their Military Bowl game victory with a fourth quarter interception, as well. He has a legitimate chance to elevate himself into 3rd-4th round consideration with a healthy campaign and standout effort at the NFL Combine, where he should post some eye-opening results, including 4.4 or better in the forty-yard dash, 38″ vertical, 11-foot broad jump and potentially 20-plus reps on the bench press. Keep an eye on #1 when they face SMU, Memphis and UCF later this season.

FUTIRE WATCH: ONE OF THE BIGGEST RECRUITS THIS PAST DECADE CLOSE TO DECISION

In other LSU news, the Tigers were without most of their home field audience against Mississippi State but one of the people in attendance could help future Tigers teams from losing these type games, as potential #1 overall defensive recruit KOREY FOREMAN [6044/256] and his family were back on-campus to watch the game as he begins his decision-making process. It seems like LSU is likely behind a few others, according to recruiting experts, with USC and Georgia listed as the favorites for one of the best defensive line prospects to come out of California in the past decade. Foreman is a pass rusher with big play ability who showcases both speed and power that draws an NFL comparison to Cameron Jordan.

ETC.: NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATORS PROVIDE LITTLE BANG FOR THEIR BUCK

Florida State, LSU, Texas and Oklahoma combined to give up 52, 44, 56 and 38 points respectively with 1,990 yards of total offense given up by those four defenses. Texas was able to sneak away with an over-time victory, the other three were not so fortunate. Currently, the defensive coordinators at these same programs are earning over $5.3 million dollars combined, so needless to say you’re hoping for significantly better results and for now “DB U” is looking for a new home.

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