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We’re about to undercut something we wrote previously. As in, just last week.
If you read our story on how we made peace with up-and-down games from top quarterback prospects Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, you might be confused as we now suggest that Florida QB Kyle Trask — in a 474-yard passing game — showed his limitations as an NFL prospect on Saturday night.
Trask made several big-time throws in the game against LSU. There’s a reason why he is among the Heisman Trophy favorites, although Florida’s shocking loss likely hurts his chances.
But Trask has his shortcomings as an NFL prospect. When we included him in the first round of our first crack at a 2021 NFL mock draft, we sent it out to three scouting directors who gave feedback. Two of them said Trask shouldn’t be included.
Why? For one, Trask’s limited mobility squelches his appeal. He has converted short-yardage touchdowns as a runner with his bulky frame and has carried out his zone-read duties well enough this season in Dan Mullen’s system.
But Trask’s athleticism leaves something to be desired, which might limit the number of teams that will give him a high grade. Although he possesses some subtle pocket movement that allows him to shuffle amid pressure to make throws, Trask is not someone whom scouts believe can extend plays in the NFL and operate off-schedule.
Trask almost seems oblivious to pressure. This can be a double-edged sword. Operating freely in a muddied pocket gives evaluators belief that pressure doesn’t rattle Trask. That’s a very good thing, and perhaps an underrated trait.
Then again, he also has a tendency to hang onto the ball too long and wait for his dynamic receivers to uncover in the intermediate and deep parts of the field. That might work in the NFL with a quarterback who possesses elite athleticism and escapability. Trask can’t pull those same rabbits out of hats like Russell Wilson.
Trask has been one of the best deep-ball throwers in college football this season, right there with Lawrence, Wilson and Mac Jones. Under pressure, Trask has shown excellent calm amid the storm; it’s one of the traits that scouts are most excited about. And his play-action effectiveness has been off-the-charts good.
Overall, his good-not-great arm strength and athletic limitations are always going to be mitigating factors. He also makes some decisions — nearly every game — that makes observers scratch their heads.
One of those came Saturday on Trask’s first interception against LSU. He stared down his receiver on the slant and didn’t recognize the hook defender. Trask thought he was looking at man coverage, but the Tigers used a zone trap to bait him into throwing the slant. Cornerback Eli Ricks read it perfectly and ran it back for a pick six.
On Trask’s second INT of the game, it was a wild pass that went off two players’ hands and into those of LSU DB Jay Ward. Just a phenomenal play — and with a dash of luck.
It wasn’t so much the pass that was bothersome as it was how Trask showed his limitations creating on a broken play. When plays break down, Trask looks less comfortable and effective.
Operating Mullen’s excellent offensive system, with some of the best skill-position talent in the country, has immensely helped Trask. When the system is working, Trask can put the ball through a keyhole. His intermediate and downfield accuracy are downright exciting. But his ability to thrive off script feels limited.
Those are the plays that will keep most evaluators from loving him. Trask profiles as a high-floor NFL passer with a somewhat defined ceiling. He’s a game manager, not a creator. That’s why he falls somewhere on the Nick Foles-Mason Rudolph spectrum.
Trask has a great chance to boost his draft stock at the Senior Bowl, but Florida’s loss likely means the Gators are going to be missing out on a playoff spot and a potentially big stage for him to prove himself against a top-four team.
There’s an excellent chance he works himself into the top-50 mix once April rolls around, and the game-manager moniker is not all a bad thing. Many have thrived in the NFL as that type of passer. If Trask isn’t put into a system that’s geared toward him getting the ball out quickly to his first or second option, or if he’s not surrounded by great yards-after-the-catch receivers, we’re not sure how he’ll thrive in the NFL.
Now onto the other winners and losers from around college football in Week 15.
North Carolina RBs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter
Coming into the season, Carter was something of a household name in college football circles, having displayed some big-play ability in his first three years as a Tar Heel. Williams was a lesser-known prospect entering 2020 but was a fan favorite and was starting to bloom after only switching to running back his senior season of high school.
The most ballyhooed UNC prospect entering the season was QB Sam Howell, who was already being bandied about as the possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. After that, WRs Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown were maybe the next two buzzy players on the roster.
That has changed somewhat. No, Howell and his receivers have not truly regressed. But the ascension of Carter and Williams really has been the big story of the Heels’ season.
On Saturday, they traded blows against a Miami defense that entered the game allowing 139 rush yards per game — and one that allowed a mere 56 yards the week before to Duke. Both Carter and Williams crossed the 100-yard rushing mark by halftime, with a pair of TDs apiece.
At game’s end, Carter had run for 308 yards on 24 carries with two scores. Williams found the end zone three times, rushing 23 times for 236 yards. Each ripped off a long run of 65 yards. The highlight reel is something to behold.
Both profile as NFL backs. We could see both of them land on Day 2 of the draft.
Carter reminds us a bit of the Colts’ Nyheim Hines — perhaps a step slower. Others have suggested former UNC back Gio Bernard as a comp, and there is some similarity to their games. Carter is able to find daylight with his quick burst, can pinball off tackle attempts and has good vision to operate in traffic despite his limited frame.
Williams fits more of the Cam Akers-Josh Jacobs body type, and though he’s less of a natural receiver than either of them were in college, Williams’ burst, physicality, tackle-breaking ability and decisiveness are all first rate. He can be a bell-cow back in the league, even if Carter’s big-play potential might be considered a bit better.
Either way, each have boosted their stocks notably this season and both figure to be well-regarded NFL prospects.
Three undersized wide receivers
This weekend, three smaller wide receivers with 2020 NFL draft eligibility all shined — with two of them going head-to-head.
Ball State’s Justin Hall and Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge each had huge receiving games in a thriller on Saturday that ended on one of the wilder lateral parties you’ll ever see.
The 5-9, 184-pound Eskiridge, who is headed to the Senior Bowl, caught nine passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, bringing his season receiving totals to 34 catches for 784 yards (23.1-yard average) and eight scores. His game Saturday actually lowered his per-game average to 130.7. Although Eskridge didn’t match up against the Cardinals’ best cover man (Antonio Phillips) that often, it was an impressive performance nonetheless.
The 5-8, 190-pound Hall might actually have been better. He caught 10 passes for 175 yards with two game-tying scores, one at the end of the first half and a 55-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Hall also ripped off a 17-yard run in the victory that gave Ball State the MAC West division title and a spot in the MAC title game Friday night against undefeated Buffalo.
The third small receiver with big-play ability had the biggest statistical game of the three. North Texas’ Jaelon Darden put on a show Friday night, torching UTEP for four TDs on eight grabs for 173 yards in the 45-43 victory.
On Sunday, the 5-8, 173-pound Darden declared for the 2021 NFL draft. He holds just about every major Mean Green receiving record, and that’s now 19 touchdowns he’s scored in nine games this season. He’ll end his college career with a streak of 10 straight games with a touchdown.
Watch Darden pull away from four UTEP defenders for this fourth-quarter TD:
Of the three, Eskridge is the best-known. His Senior Bowl invite also indicates a strong level of interest from scouts. Entering the season, his outstanding speed and athleticism were his hallmarks, although his pro projection was muddled by his multiple switches back and forth in college from cornerback to receiver.
Keep an eye on Darden, though. He profiles similarly to the Chicago Bears 2020 fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney, who is seventh among rookies in receiving yards this season. Darden’s quality hands, excellent quickness and gear-changing ability make him an intriguing slot option.
Hall might be a priority free agent, but Eskridge and Darden appear to have excellent paths toward being drafted, perhaps each early on Day 3.
UAB EDGE Jordan Smith
The Florida transfer is the Blazers’ best NFL prospect, and he helped his cause with a 2.5-sack, seven-tackle performance in which his shorthanded team deliver a Conference USA West Division title in Saturday’s win over Rice.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound Smith came through with a big second half. His first full sack helped thwart an Owls drive late in the third quarter. His second full sack came in the final minute of the game with Rice needing a touchdown to tie or win after the Owls had crossed midfield. Two plays later, the Blazers sealed the game with a pick.
Smith will need to pass some character tests from NFL teams after his involvement in a credit card scheme while with the Gators. But after spending a year in junior college, followed by the past two seasons at UAB, Smith is said to have matured.
On pure talent and upside alone, he has top-50 pick potential. Will he land there? If he interviews and tests well, it’s very possible. The past two games Smith has looked virtually unblockable, and he was playing at a nice level prior to that.
LSU S JaCoby Stevens
Earlier in the season, we put Stevens in our “Losers” category following tough outings against South Carolina and Missouri. In both games, Stevens appeared to be too aggressive and out of control, leading to poor angles to the ball and missed tackles.
But Stevens’ play in recent weeks has been strong. In Saturday’s upset of Florida, he made several physically impressive plays. Stevens finished the game with eight tackles, half a sack, two passes defended and a QB hurry on a blitz. And in keeping with the theme of his season, Stevens has improved in coverage.
His toughness is unquestioned — in fact, sometimes Stevens can be physical to a fault, earning late-hit flags, missing his strike zone, taking himself out of plays and costing his team field position. But that part of his game has been toned down a bit this season, and Stevens has raised his game on a battered LSU team whose season started going south in the opener.
That won’t go overlooked. Stevens will carry a bulldog mentality into whatever NFL locker room he’s drafted into, and he’s improved enough in coverage to factor as a close-to-the-line of scrimmage defender and special teamer at the next level.
Miami defensive prospects
Anytime a defense allows 62 points and close to 800 yards of offense, there won’t be a whole lot of bouquets to go around. That would be the case for a Hurricanes defense that was solid most of the season and one that has several future NFL prospects on the roster.
But after a performance such as the loss to North Carolina, how do we assess them? It was bad all around.
Tackling was a huge issue, with UNC’s ballcarriers bouncing off of several Canes attempts. There had to be 20 of them in the game. EDGE Jaelen Phillips, and safeties Bubba Bolden and Amari Carter each were guilty of multiple missed tackles. Cornerback D.J. Ivey, Bolden and Carter each were dusted in coverage.
It was a bad weekend all around.
Phillips was gaining steam as a possible Day 2 pick. Bolden has been a beast on special teams all year and has had some standout games on defense, but his week-to-week consistency is quite concerning. At least he made some plays in this game and showed some life.
Possible Day 3 picks LB Zach McCloud and DT Jonathan Ford didn’t help their causes either. This is a game tape pretty much every Canes defender will want to throw in the incinerator.
Florida CB Marco Wilson
Every NFL team that wants to consider drafting Wilson — who has pro talent — is going to ask about the shoe incident.
It was a play that cost his team dearly. And while Wilson shouldn’t be the sole wearer of the crown of thorns, his braindead shoe toss against LSU will raise serious questions about his football intelligence.
Wilson has the ability to be an inside or outside corner at the next level, given his tackling skill and his nice length. But he was hit several times in coverage against the Tigers and also flagged earlier in the fourth quarter for a big pass-interference call that converted a third down.
Illinois LB Jake Hansen
Tough week for Hansen, whose Illini dropped to 2-5 with a loss to Northwestern and whose head coach, Lovie Smith, was let go after game’s end.
Smith believed in Hansen, and the linebacker became something of a takeaway artist with nine fumbles and three interceptions the past two years.
In Saturday’s loss, the 6-1, 227-pound Hansen struggled to hit the right gaps and was part of a defense that allowed two Wildcats runners to top the 140-yard mark. Hansen also was guilty of a rare missed tackle and was roasted a few times in coverage.
Smith moved Hansen to outside linebacker from the “Mike” spot after a few games this season, and the early results seemed to work. But the past two outings, Hansen was less effective in that spot, getting beat for a TD against Iowa two weeks ago and not having his best game Saturday.
Hansen still could be a late draft pick, given his knack for dislodging the ball and typically being a sound tackler. His role in the NFL could be viewed as a backup and special-teams standout, however, his physical limitations are concerning.
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