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NFL Draft

Reiding Between the Lines – What To Watch For This Weekend

  • The Draft Network
  • November 6, 2020
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After a week of what could be considered underwhelming matchups across the country, Week 10 of the college football season packs in plenty of action that started on Wednesday with the return of the MAC. A conference that never lacks intensity, it firmly lived up to the hype during the opening night of the season—from Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson’s stand out 20-carry, 137-yard, two-touchdown performance to the thrilling end of the matchup between Ball State and Miami, which ended in a 38-31 victory for the Redhawks.

From Zach Wilson being in the spotlight with another opportunity in front of a national TV audience to the Pac-12 returning, there are plenty of storylines to discuss in this week's edition of Reiding Between the Lines. 

How Scouts Are Coping With the Pandemic

When gauging the temperament of NFL scouts throughout the industry, there’s been a mixed bag of emotions with the hand that they have been dealt because of the pandemic. There are a few different issues that they have been dealing with, ranging from multiple-hour-long zoom calls with schools describing prospects to battling sports information departments to gather information about prospects. But the most interesting one was how scouts have been forced to become spectators while live scouting.

“I had to purchase a ticket, but there’s still no guarantee that I got the seat that I really wanted. There was one game that I went to where I had to sit in the end zone. That’s all good when they’re actually close to you, but when they were on the opposite end, that was a pain and it was hard to see the guys that I was there for.”

Scouts are coping with various degrees of difficulty when scouting prospects in 2020. This year, it has become extremely hard to get information from usual resources such as those who work in the facility of the prospects they are scouting. Instead, they have had to rely strictly on head and position coaches as well as pro liaisons for limited amounts of shared information. 

With the pandemic having a lasting effect on the pre-draft process already, we’ve seen multiple all-star games already cancelled, which limits opportunities for exposure for certain prospects. For example, with the East-West Shrine Game calling it quits for this draft cycle, that is a prime opportunity for teams to find depth fillers or mid-to-late round steals thrown out of the window. Last year's game included eventual NFL starters such as James Robinson, Kevin Dotson, and Michael Onwenu. 

Zach Wilson on the National Stage

Game: vs. Boise State (Friday, 9:45 p.m. EST, FS1)

The night cap to an intriguing slate of games on Friday, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson will once again be in the national spotlight. Across the board at any position, there arguably isn’t a prospect that helped himself more this season than Wilson. After being considered a late-round prospect entering his junior year, Wilson has skyrocketed up draft boards after throwing for 2,152 yards, 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions so far this season.

A quick snapshot scouting report for the talented BYU quarterback: Wilson has a live arm that enables him to release the ball to any spot on the field with a quick flick of the wrist. An outfielder type of release, he has the arm strength and consistency to test coverage in all three areas. No matter which hash he’s on, he has the velocity behind throws to get them there in a hurry and accurately that allows targets to experiment with yards after the catch opportunities. The junior thrower also has the ability to escape and create within or outside of structure. 

On the flip side, Wilson has a slight build that works against him when trying to break contain or when forced to fend off bodies within the pocket. While Wilson knows when to avoid pressure, there are some circumstances where he leaves you scratching your head. One habit that he has developed and will eventually need to get rid of is turning his back to the defense and attempting to circle out of the pocket. It’s seen more often in 2019, but he still has some cases where he tries to put the defense in a spin cycle in hopes of deterring them in wrong directions to break contain. This is very similar to a signature move that Russell Wilson has made as a staple of his game, but this Wilson isn’t nearly the athlete that the Seattle Seahawk is.

The BYU quarterback will need to continue to show progress climbing the pocket vertically and not displaying hesitation climbing into the eye of the storm in order to keep his eyes downfield prior to making throws. Wilson’s low interception numbers can also be a bit misleading as he had multiple occurrences of where passes should’ve been interceptions as a result of being overconfident in his arm to successfully win against tight windows

Facing off against Boise State, this will be a rare opportunity for him to compete against a ranked team, as he’s been prone to take advantage of porous defenses so far this year.

The Pac-12 Returns

With the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 in full swing, the last remaining conference to return to play was the Pac-12. Making its debut this weekend, there’s plenty of buzz about some of the players that will be strapping their cleats back on and gracing the field once again. In what’s considered a unique situation, the conference is experimenting with 9 a.m. PT kickoffs. In order to break into a new audience, the Pac-12 matchup between Arizona State and USC will take place at noon eastern time, but it's an early morning kickoff for everyone participating.

With that being said, there’s one prospect that I’m looking forward to seeing play this weekend. Oregon State edge rusher Hamilcar Rashed Jr. is a player that finished with 14 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles last season, but he saved his best for last down the back stretch of the season. Studying him this summer, I came away highly impressed with his blend of athleticism, hustle, and natural abilities as a pass-rusher. Here are some of my notes from his summer evaluation:

No matter where he’s located on the field in correlation to the ball, Rashed Jr. is always finding a way to chase it down in order to somehow get into the mix of plays. He’s adept at keeping his shoulders square and parallel to the line of scrimmage in order to keep his sightline clean. This is also seen on read-option plays, as he shows the skill level with remaining disciplined with QB-read responsibilities while still playing flat down the line to tackle the running back if handed off.

As is, his current package as a prospect entering the league is highly intriguing, but lacks many ingredients. The main substance is already present, but the complementary pieces are still needed, which potentially could come with proper coaching. Having only a swim move as a pass-rusher and run defender, his repertoire will need to be expanded in the future.

Operating mostly from a two-point stance, he often gets caught with attacking the middle of blockers. By doing this, he makes it easier for blockers to cover him up with simple techniques in order to cancel him out of plays. Rashed Jr. still remains puzzled about the concept of how to work moves. Instead, he wins up the field predominantly off of his natural athletic ability. This results in him often getting stuck at the point of attack.

Prospect Spotlight: Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg

Size: 6-foot-6, 302, Graduate Student

Notre Dame has been notorious for putting first-round offensive tackles into the NFL. Every year of Brian Kelly’s tenure has included one as Zach Martin, Ronnie Stanley, and Mike McGlinchey have manned the perimeter for the Irish offense. The next candidate is on the horizon as senior Liam Eichenberg has put together one of the strongest seasons of any offensive tackle in the country. 

Coming into the year, I had questions about his lower-half twitch, strength, and hand timing, but he has vastly improved in all three categories. His two most impressive games to date have been against Duke and Florida State, where he continuously imposed his will on the outside. 

Labeled as a potential top-100 pick coming into the season, Eichenberg has now possibly positioned himself to enter the first-round discussion and add another player to the program's impressive streak of first-round offensive tackles. Here are my summer notes from Eichenberg’s draft profile:

Extremely heady and aware with defensive structures that are presented to him and the dangers that can come from each. Twists/stunts are hardly ever effective against him and one area where his moderate tempo levels are used as an advantage. Has plenty of infatuation with climbing to the next level and sticking his body on second-level defenders. Angles are usually flat, clear, and precise on cut-off attempts.

Run blocking is easily the biggest strength to his game given how urgent and mean he moves as a run blocker—confident and immediate out of the blocks as soon as the ball is snapped. While he moves a bit below average as a pass protector, it is a completely different mindset in the running game. He flips a switch and turns into a people-mover with the way he moves around and shows off his strength. He's consistent with jolting out of his stance with plenty of excitement going forward. His vertical movements are natural and he shows to be an athletic blocker when forced to move outside of his normal tackle box. Momentum behind his force is used to garner movement to pave running lanes along the interior.

Eichenberg is more of a drifter than an actual pass setter. He fails to get any type of consistent amount of depth on his sets. As a result, his failure to gain ground leaves soft edges for edge rushers to run the hump against him on their way to the quarterback. He turns into a bit of a guesser and it leads to him having some bad over-extensions that leave him whiffing at the air. Also, leaving the inside underneath areas open for counters has been frequent.

When facing matchups whose games relies solely on upper-body strength, his lack thereof is apparent. An often faller to the ground when he’s overmatched, his need to add strength is very obvious. His strength levels are still mediocre and his game can be effected as a result. He's able to generate movement as a run blocker, but there is plenty of room for more in his frame. His towering and linear build leads to playing at high levels—bending and lowering his operation levels will need to become a point of emphasis. Lowering his body weight and shoulders is muscle memory that will need to be coached into him as he continues to develop. He bends well as a run blocker, but pass protection is where his high levels are shown.

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