Category Archives: Football

Henderson providing early returns for Tigers

Perhaps no running back has made a more indelible mark on college football's first month than Memphis' Darrell Henderson.  The former South Panola High School (Miss.) star has been a factor since his arrival on campus, but this could become a season to remember.

Through three games, he is averaging nearly 14.5 yards per carry while leading the nation in rushing yards (521).  He is also tied for second in the country with six rushing scores.  The added strength he put on this offseason could explain some of his early season success (https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/football/2018/08/04/memphis-tigers-football-darrell-henderson-mike-norvell-aac/858753002/).   Over the course of the last three seasons, DraftNasty has gotten the opportunity to see Henderson play live on three different occasions.  Here are some of the attributes which make him such a difficult player to get on the ground.

CONTACT BALANCE

Some of Henderson's best moves come in-between the hash marks setting up second and third-level defenders.  To get there with ease, he runs with a center of gravity low to the ground that allows him to bounce off would-be tacklers.  This becomes evident on the team's outside zone (stretch) run game principles versus force defenders.

Henderson (No. 8 pictured) ended 2017 with five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances.

The patience that he shows in allowing his offensive linemen to reach block defenders creates cutback lanes for him back into the middle of the field.  In the clip pictured to the left, he forces UCF free safety Tre Neal to overrun a tackling angle that results in a 30-yard touchdown scamper in the 2017 AAC Championship Game.  Neal weighs 215 pounds and Henderson -standing 5-foot-8- checks in around the 205-pound mark.

SPEED-to-POWER/YARDS AFTER CONTACT

Henderson gets to full speed in a hurry once he hits the accelerator button.  A combination of lower and upper body power allows him to run through tacklers.  Versus Georgia State last Friday, he buckled freshman safety Chris Bacon once he burst through the line of scrimmage.   Later in the first quarter, Bacon overran Henderson on a top-down angle as Henderson displayed his ability to stop-and-start with relative ease on an outside stretch play.  It resulted in a 54-yard touchdown scamper that showcased his game-breaking speed.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Since arriving on campus, Henderson has showcased capability on special teams.  Although Henderson has just four tackles in the course of his career, three came during his freshman campaign in 2016.  On his 18 career kickoff returns, he has averaged 22.5 yards per return with one score.  Overall, this is not an area (special teams) to expect to see him in much during the year, but he will show up as a kickoff returner and punt cover guy in big games (see 2017 AAC Championship Game).  As seen in the picture , he runs with passion as a kickoff returner.

HAND-EYE COORDINATION/VISION

Vision is one of the top characteristics many college recruiters identify at the running back position.  Aside from the outside zones, the Tigers used a combination of weakside one-back powers in 2017.  The team would pull its backside guard and tackle while blocking down with the center, guard, tackle and tight end on the front side of the formation.  When they did, it was Henderson's job to find a crease and get vertical quickly.  They also employ him at the Wildcat quarterback in the shotgun to add an insert blocker on outside runs.  His cutback ability shines on these types of schemes.

As a freshman in 2016, the team used him on wheel routes from the offset running back position.  In these instances, he's shown the ability to snag passes away from his frame (3rd and 6, Cincinnati '16, vs. 3-cloud defensive look).   They also occasionally use him in the screen game to the weakside of their formations away from speed motion (by the Z-WR) to the strong side.  Versus Georgia State last Friday night, he lined up at  the No. 2 slot position to run a quick out in the team's Empty Gun Spread Trips Left formation.

BALL SECURITY

Despite 319 touches in three seasons, the eighth-leading rusher in Mississippi high school history has fumbled just twice during his time in school.  He holds the ball high and tight to his frame and rarely allows it to swing loose from his frame.

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT

Despite the ball security, Henderson does have a tendency to run as a left-hand dominant runner.  Even when he is running to his right he is most comfortable with the ball in his left hand.  Take a look on the picture to the right.  Henderson is running a right kickoff return towards the right sidelines versus UCF in the 2017 AAC Championship Game with the ball high and tight in his left elbow.  While he is also able to jump cut and make defenders miss with sudden stops in momentum, he carries some tightness in the lower body.  As a tightly-wound athlete, he has to pay increased attention to flexibility moving forward.  He was unable to play in the 2017 Liberty Bowl versus Iowa State due to an undisclosed lower body injury.

Regardless, the former 2014 Mississippi Gatorade Football Player of the Year has increased his production at a time where the Tigers are transitioning from All-AAC quarterback Riley Ferguson to former Arizona State quarterback Brady White.  In three games, White has thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception.  In his own estimation, Henderson is a big reason the transition has been so smooth.

"I love it," White said, when asked about having Henderson lined up behind him. "It makes my job easy. You just hand the ball off and watch him run to the end zone. It's been a huge help to have that guy in your backfield." (--https://gotigersgo.com/news/2018/9/14/football-henderson-white-lead-tigers-past-georgia-state-59-22.aspx)

---By: Corey Chavous, DraftNasty Staff Reports

Alabama’s Miller making his mark

Alabama outside linebacker Christian Miller is blessed with NFL bloodlines.  His father, former NFL linebacker Corey Miller, enjoyed an eight-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants that included 72 starts, 14 sacks, seven interceptions and a host of tackles.

Miller hasn't been able to get his career on the same upward trek up to this point, but he has shown flashes in the past.  Before going down to a biceps injury versus Florida State in 2017, he had already run through the Seminoles offensive tackles on a couple of occasions when defending the run out of a two-point stance.  Well- balanced at 6-foot-4, 247 pounds, he has enough length to occasionally battle with offensive tackles on the edge (see picture vs. USC's Chad Wheeler in 2016).  He possesses the necessary bulk to create separation while deciphering the action.

So how has he grown mentally over the last year?

First of all, he didn't allow the biceps injury to end his 2017 campaign.  He rehabbed religiously to make a comeback in time for Alabama's national championship run.  His arduous journey draws high marks if for nothing more than its pure tenacity.  Miller put it best when he described the passage prior to the team's Sugar Bowl contest against Clemson in early January.

“I feel good. This is what we wanted,” Miller said. “This is the opportunity that we wanted. Obviously had a rough start to the season with getting injured in the first game. But I rehabbed and worked back, and now I’m back." (https://www.seccountry.com/alabama/christian-miller-describes-grueling-rehab-shit-not-easy).

And he didn't just come back, he contributed.  In the 2018 National Championship Game, he was seen lining up on the punt team at the left tackle spot.  In the same game, he used a right-handed post versus a tight end and just wouldn't quit on a down that resulted in a quarterback sack after he re-mapped his course.

Coming into this season, the true test would be to see if his pass rush variety would improve coming off the edge.  Last week vs. Ole Miss in Oxford, he put together arguably his best career performance to date (5 tackles, 2.5 QB sacks, 2.5 TFLs).   His first quarterback sack came on a play from the left defensive end spot.  He took a shoulder away and then surfed around the corner to wheel the edge and get the quarterback on the ground. On this play, he displayed an increased skill running the loop.   He later ran over a running back (in a one-on-one blitz pick-up) with a speed-to-power rush that resulted in his second quarterback sack.

These types of plays create a baseline to judge Miller on for the rest of the season.  As a competent complementary pass rusher alongside Dylan Moses, Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis, the former five-star recruit may give the Crimson Tide's defense even more room to blossom.

New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys, 9-16-18: In-game report

In a classic NFC East battle, the Dallas Cowboys (1-1) and the New York Giants (0-2) turned back the clock and played a style of football reminiscent of their 1990s encounters. The Cowboys prevailed 20-13.  DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:

Cowboys defense

Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 33-of-49 passes but averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt on Sunday night.

If it hasn’t already, the game ball should go to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.  The Cowboys harassed the Giants offense all game, holding their division rival to 35 rushing yards and sacking Eli Manning six times.  Marinelli utilized  his traditional single high safety looks with a few twists.  Throughout the game, the fifth-year Cowboys defensive coordinator threw in some slot blitzes and twisting stunts along the defensive line.  Manning was forced to run off his spot and settle for checkdowns. Even when he had time, he “hopped” in the pocket and didn't set his feet to throw.  A good example of this was in the second quarter on third down when Manning panicked and rushed a throw that went behind his intended receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.   The Giants addressed their skill positions in the offseason but Dallas took advantage of an offensive line and a quarterback that were out of sync.

Cowboys kicking game

Much to the dismay of Cowboys fans, Dan Bailey was released before the season. Bailey, who had an 88-percent field goal accuracy percentage over his seven-year career, was replaced with 28-year old rookie Brett Maher.  Maher missed his only field goal attempt from 47 yards against the Panthers in Week 1, but did go 2-of-2 against the Giants. The kicks were from 37 yards and 29 yards respectively.  Maher wasn’t tested in Week 2 with long range attempts but his progress over the season will be worth monitoring.  In a division which is so heavily balanced, special teams could decide who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.

Saquon Barkley

The Giants second overall draft pick has showed through two games that he can contribute in multiple ways.  Dallas looked to stack the box against the run while also avoiding the home run ball to receivers Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard.  Despite rushing for just 28 yards, Barkley caught 14 passes for 80 yards. The rookie from Penn State has transferred his open field deceptiveness from college to the NFL.  On one play in the second quarter, Barkley caught the ball in the flat by beating the Cowboys linebackers to the outside and then used a spin move to avoid safety Kavon Frazier to gain a few extra yards.  Look for head coach Pat Shurmur to continue to tailor the playbook to get Barkley more quick touches in the open field, whether that be in the running or passing game.

 

New Cleveland Browns placekicker Joseph looks to solve team’s woes

After a Sunday afternoon 21-18 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints (1-1), the Cleveland Browns (0-1-1) released former seventh-round draft pick Zane Gonzalez.  Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt blocked a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal by Gonzalez in an overtime season-opening tie versus the Browns.  He then missed a go-ahead extra point and potential game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter of Sunday's three-point loss to the Saints.  Gonzalez missed two extra points and two field goals in the Superdome.

The kicker that the Browns signed to replace the NCAA's all-time leader in field goals didn't leave college with the same resume', but his work in college was still impressive.  Former FAU kicker Greg Joseph had a knack for forcing teams to drive the length of the field versus the Owls 34th-ranked scoring defense in 2017.   Here's a quick snapshot of Joseph, our sixth-ranked kicker in the 2018 NFL Draft class.

Greg Joseph PK 6’1 214

School: FAU

DraftNasty's 2018 Grade: 4.05 (7th Round)

What makes this player Nasty....(Strengths): He’s a two-by-three-yard kicker who aligns right outside of the LT (left tackle).  2 ¼-step placekicker with ample leg strength.  Kicked a 54-yard FG with at least six yards to spare vs. Navy in 2017 (3-step). Rarely punches at the ball. Keeps his shoulders parallel during his motion.  Kicked the ball well in windy conditions vs. Western Kentucky in 2017.  Hit two 40-yard field goals from both hash marks (2nd FG-RT hash, 48-yd FG inside left uprights; 3rd FG-left hash, 42-yd FG).  Posted a 76-percent touchback rate on KOs in 2017.  Capable of kicking balls in the 75-to-77-yard range with 4-second plus hang times (77 yards, 4.06, Tulsa ’15;  77 yards, 4.03, Tulsa ’15).  Posted five touchbacks vs. North Texas in 2017 and three in the 74-to-77-yard range.   He’s capable of kicking directionally to his right on kickoffs.

Weaknesses: Inconsistent in 2015. When he drags his first step (plant foot), he’ll push kicks to his right from the collegiate left hash (missed 40-yd FG, Tulsa ’15).  Some of his kickoffs were held up in the wind vs. Western Kentucky in 2017 (4th KO-directional right, 60 yards, 4.03 hang).  He also had his fifth kickoff get held up in the wind (vs. WKU ’17).

Other Notes:

  • Born in Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Attended American Heritage-Delray HS (Fla.) and was a standout soccer and football star
  • Earned All-State honors as a senior
  • 2014: 14-of-20 FGs (Long-43), 5-of-7 (30-39 yards), 4-of-7 (40-49 yards), 34-of-35 XPs; 60 KOs, 23 TBs, 1 onside
  • 2015: 18-of-27 FGs (Long-48), 2-of-4 (30-39 yds),  5-of-10 (40-49 yds), 0-of-1 (50-99 yds); 28-of-28 XPs; 62 KOs, 33 TBs, OOB (out of bounds)
  • 2016 (Honorable mention All-C-USA): 10-of-14 FGs, 3-of-5 (30-39 yds), 3-of-3 (40-49 yds), 1-of-2 (50-99 yds); 39-of-39 XPs; 54 KOs, 41 TBs
  • 2017 (Honorable mention All-C-USA): 15-of-21 FGs (Long-54), 3-of-4 (30-39 yds), 4-of-7 (40-49 yds), 1-of-3 (50-99 yds), 64-of-68 XPs; 101 KOs, 77 TBs, OOB, 2 onside kicks
  • Career Stats: 57-of-82 FGs (Long-54), 165-of-170 XPs

Time to get Nasty...(Our Summary): Joseph’s ability to drive kickoffs through the end zone could help him vie for a roster spot alone.  He has been better in each of the last two seasons with accuracy but there are a number of pressure performances missing on his resume’.   A four-year starter with upside, the Johannesburg native will need to monitor the location of his plant foot moving forward.

DraftNasty's projection:  If there's a significant concern for the Browns, it is that Joseph -who hit on all three of his field goals for the Miami Dolphins in the 2018 preseason- simply didn't have an extreme amount of pressure-packed field goals at any time during his collegiate career.  In addition, he missed seven kicks in the all-important 30-to-39-yard range during his time in school.  This has relevance due to the NFL's 33-yard extra point attempts.  After playing in the relatively weather-friendly environments of Boca Raton, Florida in college and then Miami, Florida this preseason, will he adapt to the ever-changing conditions off the lake in Cleveland, Ohio?  This was somewhat of a concern for Gonzalez up until he handled it admirably as a rookie in 2017.  We were able to see Joseph kick twice in person during his time in school and he impressed on both occasions.  He handled a torrential downpour seamlessly versus Marshall in 2017 and even kicked a 31-yard field goal after three consecutive timeouts by Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday right before the end of the first half.  Joseph posted six touchbacks on 14 kickoffs in the preseason and matched his collegiate career-long with a 54-yard field goal versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 2. 

 

 

Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills, 9-9-18: In-game report

In an AFC showdown, the Baltimore Ravens completely dominated Buffalo and left the Bills searching for an answer at quarterback. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions of the Ravens 47-3 victory in this in-game report:

Ravens defense

The Ravens turned in a performance reminiscent of their defensive glory years of the early 2000s.  Cornerback Tavon Young recorded two sacks in the first quarter as defensive coordinator Don Martindale varied his blitzes and coverages early and often. In total, the Ravens held the Bills to 70 yards rushing and 83 yards passing. Even more impressive was the long list of names who contributed to the effort.  Safety Tony Jefferson had his second interception as a Raven when Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman sailed a pass high to his 6'6" wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.  Jefferson was one of seven Ravens to finish with a tackle for loss.

Buffalo Bills quarterback dilemma

The Bills are still deciding whether Nate Peterman, pictured, will remain the team's starting quarterback after the team's lopsided loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bills started the game with Nate Peterman at quarterback. The former University of Pittsburgh quarterback threw two touchdowns and five interceptions last season with a 49-percent completion percentage.  His propensity to miss receivers and throw the ball to the opposition showed itself again on Sunday.  Peterman completed 5-of-18 passes for 24 yards and two interceptions before being taken out of the game for rookie Josh Allen.  Allen didn’t fare much better either going 6-of-15 for 74 yards.  He did show an ability to escape the pocket.   In his first possession, he fled the pressure up the middle and from Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs on the outside.  Allen didn’t find an open man and ended up throwing the ball away but at least it wasn’t a turnover.  It must be noted that the Bills got behind so quickly that in order to attempt to keep pace, they went into a lot of obvious passing formations, which allowed the Ravens to unleash its  pass rush.  All things considered, look for head coach Sean McDermott to take a long look at the quarterback position.

New look Ravens receivers

Quarterback Joe Flacco has seen a steady dip in his production since the Ravens won the  Super Bowl in 2012.  General manager Ozzie Newsome’s remedy to his perceived quarterback's decline was bringing in some fresh blood at receiver in the form of a speedster John Brown and a move the chains-type in Willie Snead.  The Ravens also acquired a consistent veteran in former 49ers and Oakland Raiders standout Michael Crabtree.  It didn’t take long for the trio to stand out.   Brown worked his way back to the sticks and caught a laser from Flacco, after he extended a play with his legs on 2nd and 26.  Crabtree made an impressive toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone to give the Ravens a 27-0 lead before halftime and all but put the game out of reach.  Snead worked the middle of the field, catching four passes for 49 yards and one touchdown.

 

Houston vs. Arizona, 9-8-18: In-game report

The University of Arizona’s offense was supposed to be a challenge for Houston’s defense led by junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver (6’3 292).  In fact, the opposite happened as Houston routed the Wildcats 45-18.  DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:

10 Ed Oliver (6’3, 292) Houston DT-Junior

Oliver (No. 10 pictured) has posted four tackles for losses in two games thus far in 2018.

Pundits have Ed Oliver as a consensus Top 15 pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft and he didn’t disappoint against the Wildcats. The junior commanded double teams throughout the game, which allowed his defensive counterparts to capitalize with big plays. Oliver’s best series of the afternoon came on back-to-back plays, where he didn’t even record a stat.  On two separate short yardage situations (third down; fourth down) in the first half, Oliver was able to eat up two offensive linemen and still push the line of scrimmage in the backfield.  His push created tackles for losses for his teammates on both plays.  The junior has started every game of his career and wins with effort.  Arizona junior quarterback Khalil Tate (6’2, 215) was forced to move off of his spot in the pocket numerous times because of Oliver’s inside pressure.  What stood out to me was Oliver’s willingness to stay involved in plays and chase Tate from behind, which negated any potential cutback lanes.  Oliver finished with five tackles and a pass deflection.

Houston defense

Davis (No. 1 pictured) contributed 51 tackles, two tackles for losses and four interceptions for the Cougars in 2017.

The Cougar defenders around Oliver made the most of their opportunities as well.  The team totaled seven sacks and forced two interceptions.  Eight players were credited with at least half of a sack and senior defensive back Garrett Davis (6’2, 210) came down with two interceptions.  Davis now has six interceptions in his career. Most impressively, the Cougars defense managed to keep Khalil Tate corralled and turn him into a pocket passer rather than a runner. Houston excelled in gap integrity and leverage, forcing Tate to work through his reads and be patient rather than giving him alleys to run. Tate finished with just eight rushing yards.

Cougars up tempo offense

It was an all-around dominating performance for the Cougars offensively.  The offensive line, quarterback and skill position players all deserve credit. The Cougars had 254 passing yards and 297 rushing yards.  As the numbers would indicate, Houston did a good job of remaining balanced between run and pass; thus keeping the Wildcats defense guessing.   Early on, Kendal Briles, the Cougars offensive coordinator, showcased some of the RPO concepts which made his father’s Baylor Bears teams so successful.  Houston forced Arizona to cover the field horizontally and vertically and make tackles in space. The Cougars first touchdown of the game came on a passing touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Marquez Stevenson (6’0, 190), who took a swing pass and made the Arizona defensive backs miss in space while breaking a couple of tackles.  Quarterback D’Eriq King (5’11, 195) finished with 246 yards passing and four touchdowns.

6 Shun Brown  (5’10, 188) Arizona WR- Senior

Brown has “wiggle” in his game.  The Wildcats used Brown on a couple of quick screens to get him one-on-one in open space.  Brown is a matchup nightmare when he gets a slot corner or a linebacker in the open field.  He finished with 73 receiving yards on nine catches. The senior wide receiver from Shreveport, Louisiana, is also a force in the return game.   He had a 15-yard punt return on Saturday and for his career has two punt return touchdowns.

 

West Virginia vs. Tennessee, 9-1-18: In-game report

In a heavily anticipated non-conference battle in Charlotte, North Carolina, West Virginia strong-armed Tennessee in the trenches, en route to a 40-14 victory.  DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:

7 Will Grier (6'2, 223) West Virginia QB-Senior

Grier, pictured, went over the 300-yard passing mark for the 10th time as a Mountaineer.

Will Grier, West Virginia’s Heisman candidate, didn’t disappoint. The senior completed 25-of-34 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns.  Grier (6’2, 223) showed a natural feel in the pocket and looked like a quarterback who knew what he wanted to do snap-to-snap.  His patience shined throughout the game.  Perhaps his best throw of the afternoon came on a fade to senior wide receiver Gary Jennings Jr. (6’2, 215), pictured left, where he placed the ball perfectly to the receiver's outside shoulder for a touchdown.  The senior enjoyed strong pass protection and only helped himself by being able to avoid the rush with his quick feet.  However, Grier would be better served at the next level if he’s able to develop the ability “to climb” in the pocket rather than shuffle from side-to-side, like he did on too many occasions against the Volunteers.  All things considered, he put together a performance worthy of a player who many pundits believe will be one of the better quarterbacks in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft.

18 David Sills V (6'4, 210) West Virginia WR-Senior

For the eighth time over the course of the last two seasons, Sills V registered at least two receiving touchdowns in a game.

All good quarterbacks need a receiver who can make plays. For Grier, that receiver is Sills V.  Sills V used his size “to box out corners", making it hard for the Volunteers secondary to work against him. The senior wide receiver also showed he can run the complete route tree and bend his knees/ upper body to get in-and-out of his breaks. The former Mountaineers signal-caller finished the afternoon with seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

9 Tim Jordan (5’11, 230) Tennessee RB-Sophomore

Jordan was one of the lone bright spots for the Volunteers, who looked inept on offense.  Jordan, only a sophomore, was able to use outside carries off tackle to rack up 118 rushing yards on 20 carries. He broke a run outside to score a touchdown in the third quarter. Jordan had a good game but the Tennessee offensive line will have to improve in both the pass and run blocking departments to compete in the SEC.

Mountaineers defense

West Virginia’s defense was aggressive from the jump.  Senior defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow (6’4 307), a former USC Trojan, started off the game with a quick rip move to derail a run up the middle on the first play of the contest.  On the next drive, Bigelow once again beat a Volunteers interior lineman off the snap to record a tackle for loss. He finished the contest with two tackles for loss and one forced fumble.  The Mountaineers defense went about 20 players deep and used various defensive packages to stifle the Volunteers, especially on third downs.  On the outside, West Virginia used a lot of man coverage and did it quite effectively.  The Mountaineers allowed Tennessee to convert on just 35-percent of its third down attempts (5-of-14), while allowing a paltry 301 yards of total offense (172 passing yards, 129 rushing yards). 

Western Michigan vs. Syracuse, 8-31-18: In-game report

The Western Michigan Broncos and the Syracuse Orange engaged in a high scoring back and forth battle on Friday night.  However, the Orange used an overpowering first half to defeat the Broncos, winning by a final score of 55-42.  DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:

17 Jamal Custis 6’5, 224 Syracuse WR- Senior

Custis' 168-yard receiving performance exceeded his career total entering 2018 (142 yards).

Former Syracuse wide receivers Amba Etta-Tawo and Steve Ishmael were workhorse wide receivers who could be depended on to carry Syracuse’s offense at times.  Custis’ performance on Friday night indicates that he is capable of similar production.  The senior wide receiver put the team on his back in the first half, making two spectacular over the shoulder grabs, one of which resulted in a touchdown.  He finished the night with six catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.  His best grab may have come in the second half when after running towards the sideline at full speed, he reached back with his left hand for an impressive one-handed grab.  He then used his size to bull his way into the end zone after making a defender miss in the open field.  What really stood out from Custis was his willingness to use his 6-foot-5-inch frame to block on the outside for running backs.

Syracuse linebackers

The high scoring affair underscored a largely disappointing night defensively for both teams.  But a few Orange linebackers did stand out.  Senior inside linebacker Ryan Guthrie (6’2, 224) flashed sideline-to-sideline speed and finished with four tackles, one of which was for a loss.  The sideline-to-sideline speed did get Guthrie in trouble when he ran himself out of a play that resulted in a Western Michigan 64-yard rushing touchdown.  Senior outside linebacker Kielan Whitner (6’0, 215) showed a willingness to play with discipline.  In the first quarter, on a run play to the opposite side of the field, Whitner stayed even with the right tackle in order to maintain his gap control in the event of a cut back and then chased down Western Michigan’s running back from behind for a tackle for loss.  The former strong safety finished with six tackles, an interception and a pass deflection.

Syracuse offensive production

Senior quarterback Eric Dungey (6’4, 226) is the commander of the offense and sort of a Swiss Army knife, when it comes to his ability to run and pass.  Dungey ran for 200 yards (13.3 yards per carry) and passed for 184 yards while accounting for three total touchdowns. The senior will have to work on his accuracy, as he completed just seven of his 17 pass attempts and routinely missed receivers in stride.  Head coach Dino Babers did a great job of mixing up the team's play calls and formations.  Look for Syracuse to continue to run a heavy dose of read option, shotgun and traditional multiple tight end and fullback sets going forward.  In total, the offense scored 55 points and racked up 560 yards.

7 D’Wayne Eskridge (5’9, 190) Western Michigan WR- Junior

Eskridge, a former state champion 100-meter and 200-meter state champion at Bluffton HS (Ind.), went over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career versus the Orange.

Eskridge plays an aggressive game at wide receiver. The junior wide receiver makes all of his routes look the same because of his explosiveness off the line.  In the first quarter, Eskridge attacked the backpedaling cornerback before stopping on a dime for a 15-yard gain. Eskridge is skilled at using minimal steps to get in and out of his breaks.  He finished with eight catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns. The wide receiver could improve his route running a bit.  In the first half near the goal line, Eskridge rounded his slant route and allowed Syracuse junior cornerback Scoop Bradshaw (6'0, 176) to come underneath him, deflect and nearly intercept a pass.

 

2018 Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Season outlook

Wisconsin was a touchdown away from representing the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff a season ago.  With sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor and junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook (6'4, 218) back in the fold, there's reason for optimism in Madison.  With roster turnover and coaching changes in the conference, Wisconsin is a safe pick to win the Big Ten in 2018.  On defense, the Badgers have to replace seven starters from a season ago but will return linebacker T.J. Edwards (6'1, 244) for his senior season.  Edwards was a first- team All-American a season ago and recorded four interceptions.  On the back end, safety D'Cota Dixon (5'10, 198) has started 23 games and will be the elder statesman in a secondary which welcomes three new starters around him. If Wisconsin has a spot of concern it could be the inexperience at defensive back. However, the Badgers had the nation's second-best total defense last season and with its offensive playmakers having another year of experience under their belts, look for Wisconsin to compete again for a College Football Playoff spot.

Troy's player to watch

23 Jonathan Taylor 5'11 214 RB-Sophomore
Taylor, a former state champion in track and field with 10.49 100-meter speed, burst onto the college football scene last season, rushing for 1,997 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Wisconsin running back will enter 2018 as one of the best players in the nation and a Heisman candidate.  Head coach Paul Chryst has prided himself on running the football early and often.  He will once again rely on Taylor to shoulder the load.  Expect Taylor to get anywhere from 275- to-300 touches in 2018 and to lead the conference in rushing yards.

Game of the season

October 13th at Michigan
The Badgers will get their first test of the season when they go on the road to the Big House.  Wisconsin won't have to play Michigan State and Ohio State until a potential conference championship game. The Badgers defeated the Wolverines last year, 24-10, in Madison.  It's a good chance the only two ranked teams Wisconsin will face during the regular season are Michigan and Penn State, which means they could run the table to an undefeated season.

DraftNasty's Prospect Watch

63 Michael Dieter 6'6 329 OC-Senior

Where will Dieter line up this fall?  After all, he's earned starts at center, left guard and left tackle.  The position he may be best suited to play on a regular basis is left guard.  As a left tackle, there could be next level question marks regarding his foot speed.  While at that position, however, he takes the correct hinge steps on the backside and locks out his arms favorably in pass pro.  His tenacity as a run blocker is most evident on trap blocks.  In these instances, he has shown the ability to throw defensive linemen around (see Nebraska '16).  Perhaps even more exciting for NFL scouts is the fact that he's displayed an adequate ability to snap and pull from the center position.  Dieter's value for the NFL-level is his positional flexibility.

Prediction:  11-1 overall

The Wisconsin Badgers will win the Big Ten West division but will not go undefeated. Draftnasty's Troy Jefferson is predicting a road loss in November to Penn State. 

2018 Preview: Boise State Broncos

Season outlook 

 

Over the course of his first four seasons, head coach Bryan Harsin has cemented Boise State as one of the premiere programs on the West Coast and in the nation. Last season, the Broncos finished 11-3 overall and 7-1 in the Mountain West. This season, the Broncos will be led by a senior quarterback on offense and a talented secondary and defensive line on the other side of the ball. Senior cornerback Tyler Horton (5'11, 190) and junior safety Kekoa Nawahine (6'2, 207) are the undisputed playmakers in the secondary.

Nawahine posted four double-digit tackle games for the Broncos in 2017.

Nawahine finished last season with three interceptions and six pass deflections while Horton had 11 pass deflections to go along with two picks. Both players have played more than 25 games apiece and bring a wealth of experience to the Broncos defense which projects to be one of -if not the best- in the Mountain West. Along the front seven, senior defensive tackle David Moa and sophomore Curtis Weaver (6'3, 256) combine to stop the run and get after the quarterback. Moa is the run-stuffer and Weaver, who finished with 11 sacks as a freshman, is the pass rusher. On offense, senior quarterback Brett Rypien (6'2, 202), the nephew of former Redskins Super Bowl-winning quarterback Mark Rypien, will be asked to continue his steady play.

Brett Rypien shared snaps in 2017 with former Broncos quarterback Montell Cozart.

Rypien, a three-year starter, has amassed 9,876 passing yards, 60 touchdowns and 22 interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes. Harsin once again has a team capable of winning 10-plus games and can even dream of a darkhorse chance at the College Football Playoff if his team goes undefeated, thanks to a tough non-conference schedule.

Troy's Player to watch

55 David Moa 6'3 275 DL-Senior
Moa is the prototypical run-stuffer and the anchor of the Broncos defense. The senior defensive tackle opens lanes for the other members of the front seven to make plays. Last season, Moa finished with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss while being named a second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection. He hopes to return to his junior year form after an up-and-down junior campaign (https://www.idahostatesman.com/sports/college/mountain-west/boise-state-university/boise-state-football/article216096480.html).   In 2016, he recorded 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Look for Moa to continue making waves in the Mountain West and, with another strong season, he could get looks from the NFL.

Game of the season

September 29th vs. Wyoming
The  Broncos have a Week 3 matchup on the road against Oklahoma State, which figures to be their most challenging non- conference game. However, two weeks later against Wyoming in Laramie, they will play the Cowboys in a game that will have conference championship implications. Last season, the Broncos defeated Wyoming, 24-14. The Cowboys are projected to be the Broncos stiffest competition in the Mountain West mountain division. Wyoming lost star quarterback Josh Allen (2018 NFL Draft, 1st Round, 7th overall, Buffalo Bills) but return several defensive playmakers and will be poised to test Boise State at home. 

DraftNasty's Prospect Watch

8 Jabril Frazier 6'4 243 OLB-Senior

Frazier heads into his senior year with 12.5 quarterback sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses.

Frazier often has been employed at the outside linebacker/STUD position for the Broncos.  He can put his hand in the dirt or rush from a two-point stance.  An athletic defender with range, he hasn't yet established himself as a consistent force setting the edge versus offensive tackles. In addition, his pass rush variety when working from either position leaves room for improvement.  Aside from putting on added weight, he needs to finish on the quarterback with more regularity to truly get looks from NFL scouts as a potential 30-front Rush OLB prospect.

Prediction: 11-1

Boise State will handle road contests against Troy and Wyoming but  fall to Oklahoma State in Stillwater.  Other than a Week 3 loss against OSU,  Draftnasty's Troy Jefferson is predicting an 11-win season and a Mountain West Conference championship.