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NFL draft winners and losers: Utah State QB Jordan Love struggles, but Round 1 still alive

Eric Edholm
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On Saturday, I made the trip to Baton Rouge to watch two quarterbacks I had just placed in Round 1 of my first 2020 mock draft a few days earlier. Several NFL teams, along with the Senior Bowl, also made the trip to watch the hyped matchup.

LSU’s Joe Burrow, who I placed at No. 30 to the New Orleans Saints, played lights out again after a slow start.

Utah State’s Jordan Love, who I slotted No. 20 to the Minnesota Vikings, made a few impressive throws early before fading quickly and falling hard.

It was a rough afternoon for Love, for sure, throwing three interceptions, taking two sacks and completing only 15 of 30 passes for 130 yards. It especially hurt that we saw at least one decision maker from a team that could consider drafting a quarterback high in 2020 — the Cincinnati Bengals’ Duke Tobin — in attendance for the game.

On Twitter, I saw a lot of folks questioning Love’s talent and that this game surely would knock him out of Round 1. Not so fast on that. Some perspective, if I may ...

Individual bad games typically don’t hurt prospects’ draft stocks, although multiple poor games can have that effect in some circumstances. After all, Love struggled the week prior against Colorado State, and now appears to be in a funk. In his two biggest non-conference tests of the season against Wake Forest and LSU, Love has thrown six interceptions. He has eight on the season, which is an alarming total considering he now has a negative TD-INT ratio (6-8).

I checked with the LSU staff after the game on Love. It was clear they respected his talent and had to use extra time to prepare for his diverse skills, which includes the ability to create and throw on the move. Having a bye week also helped, and an early kickoff (10 a.m. MT) likely did the visitors no favors.

“Good player,” one LSU source said of Love, “but it’s clear they don’t have much around him.”

This is true. It backs up what one NFL personnel man told us this summer when we asked about Love. The Aggies lost nine starters on offense a year ago, including their four highest-graded offensive linemen, per Pro Football Reference; RB Darwin Thompson, a sixth-rounder of the Kansas City Chiefs; plus three of their most experienced wide receivers.

“It’s going to be a lot more on [Love],” the personnel evaluator told us in July. “He’s got a pretty good tailback [Gerold Bright] and not much else that we know about. He’s going to have some games where the operation isn’t as smooth as it was a year ago.”

Utah State QB Jordan Love had a rough game in Baton Rouge, but Round 1 remains a possibility. (Getty Images)
Utah State QB Jordan Love had a rough game in Baton Rouge, but Round 1 remains a possibility. (Getty Images)

But Love’s struggles are similar to other quarterbacks who have landed in Round 1 in recent years.

Consider Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in 2018. Allen had rough games right out of the chute in his final season against Iowa (23-of-40 passing, two INTs) and Oregon (9-of-24, 64 yards, INT) and was said to be toast as a possible first-rounder. He clearly wasn’t. Allen was drafted because of his tools and upside. So far, the Bills look good for taking him. Allen has an NFL-most seven interceptions this season but also has completed 62.6 percent of his passes — much higher than he had in any college season — and is leading the way for a 4-1 team.

Duke’s Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick this year, has been up and down in his three starts. He’s another example of a player who had some forgettable games — Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, take your pick — and still went high. The same holds true for Paxton Lynch (even though we should have put more stock in his struggles vs. Auburn) and even Carson Wentz, who went No. 2 overall despite missing more than half his final season at North Dakota State.

Quarterbacks is a traits-based position. NFL teams typically will be more enamored with highly skilled players who struggle without much around them over a more successful but less talented college quarterback who is surrounded by better players. That should seem obvious but it’s sometimes difficult to look beyond the lack of production.

The fourth-year junior could be eligible for the Senior Bowl, which would give him the chance to bump his stock after the season. That game would take him in a heartbeat if he was open to it. And let’s not forget that Love and the Aggies still have seven remaining games to make strides offensively, and among those only Boise State (No. 25), Air Force (No. 28) and Fresno State (No. 50) rank inside the top 50 FBS defenses by yards allowed.

Don’t quash the Jordan Love first-round talk yet. The 6-4, 230-pound passer has indeed struggled at times this season. But there’s enough admiration for him, even in a deeper QB class, that he could make himself eligible after the season and still land in the first 32 selections.

Love also could return to school for his final season, although we’ve heard chatter in draft circles that Love is more likely to declare than not as things stand now.

An LSU linebacker on the rise

It was a good day all around for the Tigers’ defense in the 42-6 blowout on Saturday and one defender really opened our eyes in the game. He was credited with only six tackles in the contest, but LB Patrick Queen appeared to be everywhere. His tackles resulted in a loss of 5 yards, a gain of 1 yard, a loss of 2, a gain of 1, a gain of 3 and a loss of 6.

“I thought Patrick Queen had his best day,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said.

Added DL Breiden Fehoko: “It helps when you have a linebacker like [Queen] who can actually close in. It allows [the defensive line] to penetrate even more. When you have a linebacker like PQ ... who can actually close in and make tackles and help out the defensive line where we don’t have to hesitate a little bit or hold blocks longer, it helps out a bunch.”

Our source on staff at LSU says that Queen, a junior who turned 20 during camp in August, has “really come into his own” in recent games. Queen has played the “rover” spot in the Tigers’ defense, the one manned last season by future No. 10 overall pick Devin Bush, and has done a nice job in filling those big shoes.

LSU LB Patrick Queen was a force against Utah State. (Getty Images)
LSU LB Patrick Queen was a force against Utah State. (Getty Images)

Queen is a player to watch. Like Bush, he’s a converted prep running back who is still learning the ins and outs of linebacker. Watching Queen erase four pass plays — net yardage on those: minus-12 yards — and come downhill hard against the run makes us think that Queen could enjoy a similar rise that his predecessor did.

LSU has had a slew of underclassmen on defense declare early, and though he still has work to do, Queen could be in that mix with a strong finish to the season. After a tough early part of the season, including the Texas game where he struggled in coverage, Queen has come on.

Other highly regarded underclassmen on the defense who could consider declaring early include S Grant Delpit, EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, CB Kary Vincent and redshirt sophomore DL Tyler Shelvin.

One of the most impressive players on the field Saturday — and he’s been incredible all season long — is true freshman CB Derek Stingley Jr. He picked off Love on an underthrown fade pass at the LSU 1-yard line with an acrobatic play. But sorry to day, draftniks: We won’t be writing up Stingley much until the 2022 draft cycle, which is when he’s eligible.

The Tigers have had a slew of gifted DBs in recent years step right onto the field as true freshmen and compete at a high level, but Stingley might be the best of the bunch. He’s a special player in the making.

Penn State becoming Linebacker U. again?

Several NFL teams were on hand — including New England Patriots personnel general Nick Caserio — for Saturday’s Penn State-Purdue game, and there could be as many as a dozen players from that contest who end up in the 2020 NFL draft. One we wanted to spotlight was LB Cam Brown, who has put together a nice season for the Nittany Lions. He was active in this game against the beat-up Boilermakers despite making only three tackles, also registering three pressures as a blitzer via PFF and doing good work in coverage (allowing two receptions on three targets for a mere 4 yards).

Brown is sometimes overshadowed at his own position by sophomore Micah Parsons, who will be one of the top LB prospects for the 2021 draft, as well as senior Jan Johnson. Edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos logged another two sacks in this game, and his undersized running mate, Shaka Toney, added three sacks of his own.

But Brown should not be overlooked as a potential Day 2 draft pick. The redshirt junior is a bit tall and lean at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but he has put on a lot of quality weight in his time at PSU and has put out some good tape this season. There have been some ups and downs in his time in college, especially when it comes to hard hits that have drawn flags this season and last, but Brown is on the rise. He can cover a lot of ground in a hurry and should test fairly well after the season.

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The wild part is that he figures to be the first Penn State linebacker — the school once was well known as Linebacker U. — since Michael Mauti (Round 7 in 2013).

Cal safety makes our mock draft look good

One of the late substitutions I made on last week’s debut 2020 mock draft was Cal S Ashtyn Davis going in Round 1 to the Dallas Cowboys. We’re glad we made the swap out.

Davis made his presence felt in the Bears’ loss against Oregon and QB Justin Herbert with an impressive interception in the first quarter — the first thrown by Herbert this season.

The Bears’ defense certainly wasn’t the reason they lost this game. Backup QB Devon Modster led an early TD drive but was picked twice. Cal also missed two field-goal tries and had to punt seven times (all coming after three-and-outs) and turned it over a third time on downs at game’s end.

California's rangy safety, Ashtyn Davis, has been impressive this season. (Getty Images)
California's rangy safety, Ashtyn Davis, has been impressive this season. (Getty Images)

Davis was everywhere defensively, helping keep Herbert from attacking deep. Of Herbert’s 20 completions, only one went for more than 20 yards despite the Ducks getting much healthier at wide receiver for this game. Davis jumped Herbert’s third pass of the evening and ran it back 31 yards to help set up Cal’s only offensive TD of the game. He also was in on seven tackles and allowed only two receptions for 9 yards on four passes with him as the nearest defender, per PFF.

Davis is a highly athletic center fielder with a fascinating rise as a former track standout who walked onto the football team and has made himself into a Day 1 or 2 NFL draft prospect. We’ve seen him be overaggressive in trying to make plays on the ball, but Davis’ quick reaction skills, hard hitting and great stamina bode well for his NFL chances.

For the Ducks in this game, we were impressed again with LB Troy Dye, who is working his way into the top-50 discussion in 2020, as well as DL Jordon Scott, a 6-1, 322-pound nose tackle who made an early tackle for loss on a third-and-1 play and who continues to flash this season. The Ducks could have several players drafted this season on both sides of the ball.

Gators back steps up with huge run late

Florida RB Lamical Perine has been overlooked in the sea of talented backs who populate the college game. He was a crucial performer in crunch time as the Gators were clinging to a one-score lead with their new starting QB, Kyle Trask, suffering a leg injury earlier in the game.

Against a defense geared up to stop the run, Perine took a handoff at his own 12-yard line and housed it 88 yards down the right sideline for the score in the fourth quarter with just over nine minutes remaining. It was the kind of play the Gators needed to hang on against No. 7 Auburn in a tough matchup to move to 6-0 with a trip to LSU on tap for this coming weekend.

Florida RB Lamical Perine delivered a huge late TD against Auburn. (Getty Images)
Florida RB Lamical Perine delivered a huge late TD against Auburn. (Getty Images)

And it was exactly the kind of run Perine needed to show NFL scouts. There were some definite questions about the 5-11, 221-pound back’s breakaway speed and ability to make tacklers miss. After having only 17 broken tackles all of the 2018 season on 147 touches, Perine had six in this game alone on 18 touches.

There’s still a hot-and-cold nature to his game, as he had nine touches that resulted in 3 or fewer yards prior to the touchdown run and four more gaining 3 yards or fewer after it. Perine is a hard-charging back who cut weight prior to the season and who has shown an added gear.

A senior, Perine has had only three games (out of 43 in his career) with more than the 18 touches he received Saturday. For whatever questions there might be about whether Perine can be a workhorse at the next level, that might be a relatively good thing in the minds of NFL scouts. He likely will enter the draft with around 600 career touches, a light workload for a four-year back.

Another powerful runner who stood out this past week with a late long run was Cincinnati’s Michael Warren, who racked up 133 yards on the ground against previously unbeaten UCF, including 60 on a back-breaker that made three defenders whiff on him.

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel was at that game and wrote about Warren’s run from Friday night, and it’s clear that the Bearcats’ staff values his skills and approach to the game. Like Perine, Warren might not be a breakaway runner at the next level. But there’s always room for a hard-charging back — a la Chris Carson — on NFL rosters as a change-of-pace, defense-tenderizing runner.

Texas Tech linebacker has a monster game

We highlighted LB Jordyn Brooks a few weeks ago as a player to watch. And we’re glad you paid attention.

Brooks was all over the field for the Red Raiders against Oklahoma State on Saturday in one of the better performances you’ll see from a linebacker in college football this season. Check out the raw stats:

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The 6-1, 245-pound Brooks is stronger going forward than he is in reverse at this stage of his career, as these numbers would indicate. He’s a strong, wrap-up tackler and has some real skill as a blitzer. We also love Brooks’ strong hands to rip away the ball and he shows some real pop when taking on ball carriers.

The knock on him has been his coverage ability. But according to Pro Football Focus, Brooks has not allowed a single reception on 110 coverage snaps this season. That’s notable and will be an area NFL scouts will want to drill down on when they work up his final evaluation.

He’s playing very well right now, and Brooks is playing his way into solid NFL draft footing with each successive game.

Rough injury for Mizzou LB

We really feel for Cale Garrett, the heartbeat of Missouri’s impressive defense this season who had a standout game on Saturday vs. Troy with six tackles (three for loss), a sack, two QB hits and two interceptions — one that he ran back 33 yards for a touchdown and one Garrett returned to the Troy 1-yard line that set up another Mizzou TD.

The wild part about the 6-3, 230-pound senior linebacker’s performance in this game is that he appeared to record both of those interceptions after he suffered a torn pectoral injury.

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That injury is expected to end Garrett’s season and close out the senior’s brilliant career with the Tigers. It’s a brutal blow for a player who has been one of the unquestioned leaders of this team, especially through some rough defensive patches the previous two seasons. Mizzou’s improvement on that side of the ball — the Tigers currently rank fourth nationally in pass yards allowed, 12th in points per game allowed and have an FBS-best four defensive scores — has been for myriad reasons, but Garrett’s play certainly is high on the list.

Torn pectoral muscles often can take five to six months to heal and rehab. That puts Garrett’s participation in the NFL scouting combine in late February/early March in question and might require him to participate in private workouts and attend the combine’s medical recheck in mid-April for teams to sign off on him medically.

Coming into the season, Garrett was mostly receiving late draftable or priority free-agent grades. His play this season had helped boost his reputation nationally, and Garrett likely will score big for his toughness, football instincts and intelligence, although the injury complicates matters.

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