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2021 CSJ Bahamas Bowl Preview: Shafer’s Three-fers

The 2021 CSJ Bahamas Bowl features a number of healthy individual storylines, but perhaps none more so than a three-fers approach for one of the nation’s top defenses. Injuries and improved play have been a theme for both teams heading into the contest. Toledo (7-5), led by first-year starting quarterback DeQuan Finn, reeled off victories in four of its last five games. Middle Tennessee (6-6) rebounded from a 2-4 start by winning four of its final six contests to achieve bowl eligibility. The Blue Raiders eventually settled on freshman quarterback Nicholas Vattiato, a Plantation, Florida native, in its last four games. Today, however, we spotlight one of the game’s top defensive minds and a philosophy that has led to eye-popping results.

MTSU Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer’s three-fers

Shafer, the former Syracuse head coach, is one of the more creative defensive minds in all of college football. Shafer-led defenses are known for producing turnovers and touchdowns, and they do so on a regular basis. In 2021, his unit has forced a whopping 18 fumbles (T-2nd nationally), recovered 15 fumbles (T-1st nationally) and picked off 16 passes (314 yards, 3 TDs). For good measure, the team has also returned three fumbles for scores. Their six defensive touchdowns are tied for first in all of FBS football with Nevada and Ohio State. One of the reasons? Shafer’s recruiting philosophy. He talks about recruiting three-fers. Three-fers are high school athletes who play three different positions (in football) and three different sports.

So which players on MTSU’s explosive defense have contributed to his unique philosophy?

12 Reed Blankenship 6’1 200 FS-Senior MTSU

The first-team All-C-USA safety was a star quarterback at West Limestone High School (Ala.), where he rushed for over 3,000 yards, passed for over 1,000 yards and tallied 1,004 receiving yards. The former state championship basketball player is the unquestioned leader of the defense, combining a coach’s intelligence with positive movement skills. After back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, Blankenship has largely returned to his 2018 form, when he picked off four passes and returned one of the interceptions 100 yards for a score. His angles have been hit-or-miss at times as a tackler, but he typically posts at least one highlight film play per game. Blankenship was forced to miss over 40 days of summer workouts in 2020 due to quarantine for COVID-19, but never tested positive. That absence gave him an even stronger appetite to be around both teammates and coaches, whom he steadily gives credit to both on and off the field.

“It starts off just listening to the coaches,” Blankenship said when asked about his long run of big plays at the school. “It’s all about your teammates on the plays you make.”

Reed Blankenship S-MTSU 2022 NFL Draft
Blankenship was named an all-conference performer in 2021 after notching a career-high 10 tackles for loss.

He finished third on the team in 2021 with 10 tackles for loss, returned a fumble 90 yards for a score and forced two fumbles. The respect he has for those around him is definitely reciprocal.

“He has a high football IQ. Good vision. Patience. Very good football player,” Shafer said of Blankenship. “There’s a comfort factor there.”

Blankenship recently received an invite to the 2022 East-West Shrine All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada.

3 Quincy Riley 6’0 181 CB-R-Freshman MTSU

The next of Shafer’s three-fers who stood out in 2021 was Riley, a former A.C. Flora High School (S.C.) product with blazing recovery speed.

Want proof?

Riley won the South Carolina Class 4A state track and field championship with a blazing 10.48 100-meter time back in 2019. His confidence on the field allows for him to jump routes early in the down, as UTSA quarterback Frank Harris discovered early in 2021 when trying to throw an out pattern to Riley’s side that he picked and nearly took back the distance.

Injuries have been a bit of a hiccup for Riley, who missed four games in 2021. Technically, he is eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft after having played in three games back in 2019, his first year on campus. During that season, a season-ending injury also thwarted his charge. In fact, the first-team All-C-USA freshman corner posted five interceptions for 153 yards (TD) in just eight games this season. In 2020, prior to injury, he picked off two passes (77 yards) in an All-C-USA freshman campaign.

First-team All-C-USA CB Quincy Riley (pictured in press) finished tied for second in the nation with five interceptions (153 yds, TD).

So what other sport made him one of the three-fers?

“He was a great basketball player in high school,” Shafer said.

Yes. Another player who fits the bill. And in football, he stood out playing wide receiver at the prep level, notching over 300 yards receiving as a senior with six special teams scores.

91 Jordan Ferguson 6’2 262 DL-Junior MTSU

The permanent team captain rounds out our list on Shafer’s philosophy, although the defense is littered with players who fit the bill. Ferguson is actually tied with another of the three-fers, safety Gregory Grate (5’11, 197, JR), for the team lead in forced fumbles (three). The Cartersville High School (Ga.) product plays a variety of roles for the team, as he aligns at defensive tackle, defensive end and rush outside linebacker. In fact, he has seen time as a personal protector on the punt team.

In high school he was a star tight end, racking up 15 touchdowns as a junior alone. Shafer found him somewhere else.

“He played high school basketball as a kid,” Shafer said. “Great leader. He is capable of playing inside or outside (on the defensive line). Ran practices for the team when we weren’t there.”

The second-team All-C-USA performer certainly was there for the team in 2021, when he notched career-highs in sacks (eight), tackles for loss (16.5), forced fumbles (three) and quarterback hurries (14). In the team’s bowl-clinching win versus Florida Atlantic, he took a fumble return back 71 yards for a score.

The three-fers don’t stop with those three, no pun intended, as second-team All-C-USA linebacker DQ Thomas (80 tackles, 5 QB sacks, 14.5 TFLs, FF, 2 INTs (43 yds, TD), 2 PBUs) was a powerlifter at the prep level. Versus Virginia Tech, he ran down quarterback Braxton Burmeister for a sack and was in on several pressures. The Oxford, Mississippi native is the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss (51.5) heading into his final career game.

But it all goes back to the former collegiate quarterback drawing up the defenses and his own unique recruiting philosophy. Shafer’s mix of pre-snap defensive movement (involving safeties and linebackers), zone blitzes, six-man pressures, five-man fire zones and multiple looks leads to confusion for opposing offenses.

MTSU defensive coordinator Scott Shafer gives Marshall a unique defensive pre-snap look back in 2019.

He credits MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill for being open to his various suggestions during games.

“He’s open to thoughts before, during and after games,” the longtime defensive coordinator said.

And with three head coaches on one coaching staff (Stockstill, Shafer and former Clemson HC Tommy West), perhaps they meet the three-fers philosophy on their own.

After all, as Shafer put it, “there’s nothing we’re afraid to communicate.”

Ryan Bowman DL-Senior Washington Huskies

Over the course of Washington Huskies defensive lineman Ryan Bowman’s career, he’s been a versatile, intense playmaker. As his play has proven, average size is only part of his story. The unique combination of savvy and power often allowed him to out-muscle the competition, if you will. We look inside his game in our breakdown on the former Husky and give a sneak preview of our scouting report.

Washington Huskies DL Ryan Bowman (No. 55 pictured on the tackle) often out-worked opponents in school. Some of his opponents in practice were NFL-caliber.

What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Football player! Former walk-on who made himself a factor in the Pac-12. Has played LB, DE and OLB. Sudden on line spikes to beat OGs from the RDE spot (four-technique, QBH, 2nd QTR, BYU ’19). Wins on these types of spikes from the stand-up two-point LOLB spot due to quickness (tackle vs. Holani, 4th QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’19). Sinks his hips and got around the OG vs. BYU in 2019 to force a QB sack (FF, FR-TD). Times snap counts and will crease the backfield (TFL, Colorado ’18). From the OLB spot, he displays some LB-like ability to capture contain vs. speed sweeps to force the ball back inside (2nd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’19). Uses spin/roll moves when OTs set high against him to his outside hip (Oregon State ’19). As an interior DL, he spins out of blocks to make tackles inside (UCLA ’18). In these moments, he extends his inside hand as he makes the move. Deft roll moves elude OTs (tackle, third down, 3rd QTR, USC ’19).

Nevada Wolf Pack 2022 NFL Draft: Pros and cons

The Nevada Wolf Pack have a host of NFL prospects in this year’s draft class. Prior to its 2021 Quick Lane Bowl matchup versus the Western Michigan Broncos, we dive into the team’s prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft.

12 Carson Strong 6’4 220 (E) QB-Junior

Nevada junior QB Carson Strong, pictured, completed 70% of his nearly 44 passing attempts per game in 2021.


* Football IQ/Howitzer/Toughness
* Attacks all 53 1/2 yards of the field
* Carson Palmer-type
* Creativity?

7 Romeo Doubs 6’2 200 WR-Senior

* Carries pads/Creates panic for the DB
* Positive deep ball tracker
* Aligns at multiple spots/North-south punt returner
* Concentration lapses


35 Toa Taua 5’10 210 RB-Senior

* Low center of gravity
* Excellent hand-eye coordination (catch vs. Purdue, 4th QTR, 2019)
* Bounces off tacklers
* Ball security (left too many footballs on the turf)

19 Cole Turner 6’6 240 TE/H-back-Senior

* Comfortable working in-between hash marks
* Catch radius/Red Zone threat
* Mike Gesicki-type/Positive space blocker
* In-line blocking question marks/Bulk?

99 Dom Peterson 6’0 295 DL-Senior

Nevada DL Dom Peterson (No. 99 pictured) heads into the team’s bowl game with 42.5 career tackles for losses.

  • Leverage/lateral quickness/productivity (21 career QB sacks)
  • Moves around the front
  • Length? Where will he play?

Frost is one of the better run blocking tackles in the Mountain West Conference.

65 Aaron Frost 6’4 305 RT-Senior

* Nasty/Finish/Tone-setter
* Run blocking prowess
* Can he play center?

95 Tristan Nichols 6’4 245 DE-Junior

* Wheels arm to turn corner/Long-arms opponents
* Special teams upside on the FG block unit
* One-year wonder

11 Daiyan Henley 6’2 225 LB-Senior

* Coverage upside/Ball skills (4 INTs, TD in 2021)
* Improving mirroring in-between the C-gaps
* Inconsistent block destroyer

6 Tyson Williams 5’9 200 S-Senior

* Experienced/Attacks the action/Instinctive
* Takes some gambles in coverage (KSU ’21)
* Size question marks

2018 Recruiting Recap: Quarterbacks

The 2018 recruiting class at quarterback was a star-studded group that has already had two of its quarterbacks, Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2021 NFL Draft, 1st Round, 1st overall) and Justin Fields (Chicago Bears, 2021 NFL Draft, 1st Round, 11th overall), hear their names called in the NFL Draft. Today, we take a look at the trajectory of the rest of the group. For the purposes of being fair in compiling our Top 10 lists by position group, we continue to use aggregate rankings from three of the top recruiting services (Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN). We also used the most prevalent designation for each quarterback (pro-style or dual-threat) when they came out of high school.

Trevor Lawrence (Pro) Clemson: Ranked #1 by 247Sports, Rivals, & ESPN
Consensus No. 1 recruit coming out of high school who exceeded the many expectations that were placed upon him. Lawrence showed ultimate poise as a true freshman going undefeated and winning the national championship with 347 yards passing and three touchdowns. He won various awards during his time at Clemson, finishing his career with a 34-2 record. Lawrence was taken first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft (Jacksonville Jaguars) and he was widely regarded as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012 (Indianapolis Colts).

Justin Fields (Dual) Ohio State: Ranked #1 by 247Sports, Rivals, & ESPN
Fields committed to the Bulldogs and played in 12 of 14 games as a freshman. However, with Jake Fromm being set as the starter, he decided to transfer to Columbus. Fields became the third Buckeye QB in the last 50 seasons to win his first 13 starts. He threw for over 3,000 yards in his first season as a full-time starter with a 41-to-3 touchdown-to- interception ratio. He added over 1,000 rushing yards with 19 touchdowns in his career. Consistency was a concern for many when it came to Fields at the next level, and he ended up going 11th overall in the first round to the Chicago Bears. Many seem to have forgotten when he was a supposed 1A to Trevor Lawrence. I haven’t.

JT Daniels (Pro) USC Trojans: Ranked #2 by 247Sports & Rivals, #3 by ESPN
Daniels enrolled at USC in 2018 and started every game he played. He showed some promise, however a knee injury in the 2019 season opener ended his campaign prematurely. Kedon Slovis took over and played exceptionally well, causing Daniels to transfer to Georgia. He finally got his opportunity late in the year, starting the final four games, all wins for the Bulldogs. In those contests, he threw for over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Daniels returned to Georgia for the 2021 season and, if he can build on last year’s momentum, may very well set up his pathway into the NFL.

Tanner McKee (Pro) Stanford: Ranked #3 by 247Sports, #4 by Rivals, & #5 by ESPN
McKee spent most of the last two years in Brazil as a missionary. He made his collegiate debut in 2020, but appeared in just one game. The highly-touted 6-foot-6, 228-pounder will look to solidify his collegiate career in 2021 as a first-time starter. To do so, he will have to fend off senior Jack West.

Justin Rogers QB UNLV
Rogers, pictured, completed 14-of-22 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown for UNLV in 2020. Most of those yards came against an impressive San Jose State defense.

Justin Rogers (Dual) TCU: Ranked #2 by 247Sports & Rivals, #4 by ESPN
Rogers entered the Horned Frogs program as the highest rated recruit of the Gary Patterson-era. However, a devastating injury suffered as a senior in high school never really opened an opportunity at TCU. He threw just one pass for Texas Christian and -after seeing no game action in 2019- Rogers transferred to UNLV. He appeared in two games last season and will look to compete for the starting job in 2021. Standing in Rogers’ way is left-handed 6-foot-5 sophomore Doug Brumfield.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson QB UCLA
Thompson-Robinson -a three-year starter- has already accounted for 47 total touchdowns heading into 2021.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Dual) UCLA: Ranked #3 by 247Sports, #2 by Rivals & ESPN
Thompson-Robinson has seen consistent action in all three seasons for the Bruins. In 2020, he was named second-team All-Pac-12 after completing 65% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in five contests. DTR also displayed his dual-threat rushing capability by accounting for over 300 yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts. Facing a brutal schedule in 2021, the strong-armed veteran has a legitimate chance to become the high-riser of the 2022 NFL Draft’s quarterback class. Thompson-Robinson has first-round talent.


Jarren Williams QB-USF
Williams, pictured, was more than capable in 2019 for the Hurricanes but is now entrenched in a quarterback battle at USF.

Jarren Williams (Dual) Miami: Ranked #4 by 247Sports, #8 by Rivals, & #6 by ESPN
Williams saw brief action as a freshman, with most of his playing time coming in 2019. He completed 61% of his passes with 19 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. However, Miami finished the year 6-7 and put out a futile effort in their bowl game (2019 Independence Bowl). Williams transferred to Garden City CC following the year and their season was cancelled due to COVID-19. He then enrolled at USF, where the former U.S. Army All-American is entrenched in a four-way battle for playing time amongst four contenders. The list includes former UNC quarterback Cade Fortin.

Matt Corral (Pro) Ole Miss: Ranked #5 by 247Sports, #3 by Rivals, & #6 by ESPN
Corral took over as the Rebels starting QB last season following limited action in his first two years. He finished the year completing nearly 71% of his passes with 29 touchdowns, while also adding over 500 rushing yards and four more scores to his season totals. Corral displayed his ability as a big-time thrower of the football in 2020. He passed for at least 300 yards in seven of 10 games, but he needs to cut down the turnovers (14 INTs, 4 fumbles-3 lost).

Tyler Shough QB-Texas Tech
Shough transferred to Texas Tech for the 2021 campaign despite compiling a 13:6 TD/INT ratio for the Ducks in 2020. Shough also had two games with over 80 yards on the ground.

Tyler Shough (Pro) Oregon: Ranked #6 by 247Sports & Rivals, #15 by ESPN
Shough appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2019. In 2020, he took over as the team’s full-time starter, completing nearly 65% of his passes with 13 touchdowns in seven games. Following a disappointing end to the season, Shough decided to transfer to Texas Tech, where he’ll look to help turn a program around and build his draft stock over the next few years.

Phil Jurkovec (Dual) Notre Dame: Ranked #5 by 247Sports & Rivals, #9 by ESPN
Jurkovec saw minimal snaps during his first two seasons with the Fighting Irish due to a depth chart that included 30-game winner Ian Book. He transferred to Boston College and became the team’ starting QB in 2020. He threw for over 2,500 yards with 17 passing touchdowns and added another three rushing scores on the ground. Another impressive campaign in 2021 could land him as a mid-round selection in next year’s draft. He has certain characteristics that attract evaluators at the next level, including an ability to fit the ball into tight windows.

“Climbing the Hill”: A Justin Hilliard story

How do you define impressive?

Is it recovering from an Achilles injury and multiple bicep tears to make it on the doorstep of professional football? Using your offseason to travel to Costa Rica and spend time with local youth imparting knowledge on sports and other life skills? Earning two degrees in six years?

All of the above. Most impressively, this is the resume of one person, Ohio State’s Justin Hilliard.

The beginning of the climb wasn’t as arduous for the Cincinnati native, who was a five-star recruit out of St. Xavier High School. ESPN ranked him the number one outside linebacker. He was also an Associated Press all-state selection and the publication’s Division I defensive player of the year in 2014.

However, a meniscus injury forced him to miss the 2015 U.S. Army All-American game and from there, the hits kept on coming.

During his first three seasons in Columbus, Hilliard suffered consecutive injuries to his bicep.

“I’ve had so many times where, like you said, I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to push through,” Hilliard told Spectrum News before the 2021 National Championship against Alabama. “The first three years here at Ohio State were probably the toughest because year after year I had a bicep tear in my left, a bicep tear in my right and then a bicep tear in my left again.”

During his first three seasons, Hilliard only played in 17 games total and compiled 18 tackles.

Justin Hilliard on the kickoff team versus Indiana in 2017
Former Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard (No. 47 pictured on the kickoff team vs. Indiana in 2017) was a significant factor on the Buckeyes kickoff team from the time he arrived on campus.

Long road back

Things started to look up in 2018 when he recovered from the biceps injuries and began to contribute as a backup and a special teamer. But like his fortunes up to that point, he dealt with another tough blow.

During spring practices in 2019, the former five-star recruit suffered another blow to morale when he tore his Achilles.

“The first thing that went through my head is that was probably my last practice and the last rep I’ll ever play football,” said Hilliard, when he reminisced about the injury.

“Climbing the hill”

If not for his father and a conversation with head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Hilliard would’ve put away his cleats… but he pressed on and as fate would have it, he would get another chance.

“It was some hard times, but we made it, we made it. There was times where Justin had to lift me up. There was a lot of times when I had to lift Justin up,” Carl Hilliard, Justin’s father said according to an article in Cleveland.com. “But when we look back at it overall — only thing I can say is, ‘God is Good.’ No weapon formed shall prosper.”

Despite the grueling rehab, Hilliard returned six months later and played 12 games in the 2019 season.

After the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility to Hilliard, it looked like he would be relegated to being a backup and a special teamer because the starting linebacker corps was manned by fellow NFL prospects Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and Baron Browning.

But once again, life had other plans. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Browning and Borland to miss time and Hilliard turned in career performances with his newfound opportunity.

Against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game, he had nine total tackles, two for loss, one interception and a fumble recovery. His interception stopped the Wildcats from taking a double digit lead in the third quarter and showed off the athleticism that helped him as a youth baseball player.

Justin Hilliard LB Ohio State
Hilliard finished with 25 tackles, five tackles for losses and an interception in his final three career games.

Ending strong

The storybook ending would not conclude there. Hilliard had back-to-back eight tackle games in the College Football Playoff semifinal and final, against Alabama and Ohio State.

“A lot of people hit me up, almost surprised that I can still play at that level,” He said. “I promised myself after I tore my Achilles that if I wasn’t feeling like I can still play at the level I wanted and achieve those high expectations (I set) for myself, I wasn’t going to keep playing.”

In the two combined contests, he finished with 16 tackles, three for loss and a fumble recovery.

And a month later, he put an exclamation point on his collegiate career. Hilliard had a standout performance during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama.

On the field, Hilliard catches the attention of scouts with his ability to contribute on special teams. They will also like that he played snaps at each linebacker position in college.

But the real value of Hilliard will be his ability to climb the hill and conquer adversity head on. A hill can have bumps and be rocky, but the former Buckeye is a walking testimony that reaching the top comes with appreciation and gratification.

“This whole journey, man, it’s been tough but it’s been such a blessing at the same time,” said Hilliard.

— Troy Jefferson, DraftNasty staff reports

Running with the Bull: Jaret Patterson- Buffalo RB

26 Jaret Patterson

5’6 1/2″ 195 RB- Junior

Running with the Bull: Jaret Patterson Buffalo RB

The junior Buffalo Bull running back has made a mark with his elusive yet powerful running style. He currently ranks as the 212th best player on our Big Board.

What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Built well. Outstanding boxer-like feet.  Can tap dance in the hole and make safeties miss (Wade, 1st QTR/14:48, Penn State ’19). Sticks his foot on inside spins to find room on the edges and will look to not go out of bounds.  Spins on first contact instinctively (3rd QTR, Bahamas ’19).  Four-or-five-yard runs turn into highlight film runs.  Shifty stop-and-start quickness is aided by acceleration (42-yd TD, Rutgers ’18).  Sticks his right foot in the ground, drops his right shoulder into tackler and leans forward for three or four yards (1st QTR, Penn State ’19).  Displays energy on his stiff-arms when bouncing runs (EMU ’18).  On gap-schemed runs to the right, he flashes quick burst.  On goal line runs, he lowers his pad level and runs through LBs with a low center of gravity (TD, Bahamas ’19).  Takes a hip away from LBs in the open field.  Lead blocks for fellow RBs with vengeance.  Translates speed-to-power along the sidelines vs. CBs who come up to tackle (runs over Castro-Fields, 2nd QTR, Penn State ’19).  He’s an instinctive open field runner in the screen game. 

Weaknesses:  Lacks a true home run gear once he gets into the open field.  Eighth men in the box surprise him at times and his reactions have been less than stellar (3rd QTR/8:01, Liberty ’19).   Can he get himself out of a mess (3rd QTR/6:33, big hit along sidelines, Liberty ’19)? Speed begins to die out at the 25-yard mark.  Struggled with injuries down the final back half of his junior campaign.  Injured his right leg in the 2020 MAC Championship game, left the game and came back with a brace on the leg.  Struggled in that game and did not play in the team’s bowl game.  Zero receptions in 2020. 

Other Notes: Attended Saint-Vincent Pallotti HS (Md.) and rushed for 2,045 yards and 23 TDs as a senior •  Accounted for 558 all-purpose yards in one high school contest (Riverdale Baptist) •  Twin brother, James, plays football for Buffalo • 2018 (14 gms, 6 sts, 2nd Team All-MAC, MAC Freshman of the Year): 183 carries for 1,013 yards (5.5 YPC) and 14 TDs; 7 receptions for 62 yards • 2018: Started 11 games at RT • Rushed for 298 yards and 6 TDs vs. Bowling Green on 11/29/19 •  2019 (1st Team All-MAC): 312 carries for 1,799 yards (5.8 YPC) and 19 TDs; 13 receptions for 209 yards (16.1 YPR) and TD •  31 carries for 301 yards and 4 TDs vs. Bowling Green on 11/17/20 • 36 carries for 409 yards and 8 TDs vs. Kent State on 11/28/20 • 2020 (6 gms, 1st Team All-MAC): 141 carries for 1,072 yards (7.6 YPC) and 19 TDs • Career Stats: 636 rushes for 3,884 yards (6.1 YPC) and 52 TDs; 20 receptions for 271 yards (13.6 YPR) and one TD • 2021 Buffalo Pro Day: 9 1/4″ hands, 28 3/4″ arms, 68 3/4″ wingspan, 19 reps-25 lbs, 4.57 40-yd, 30″ VJ, 9’9″ BJ, 7.03 3-cone, 4.35 20-yd SS

Time to get NASTY (Our Summary):  One of the big things that Patterson has improved on is ball security.  After fumbling the football four times in 2018, he has put the ball on the ground just once the last two seasons.  He didn’t finish the 2020 season as strong as he did in 2019, when he finished the season with six straight 100-yard rushing games. He plays low, balanced and contains excellent vision to find cutback lanes.  While he doesn’t have blinding speed, Patterson gets to his top speed in a hurry and surprises opponents with his low center of gravity.  On top of that, he actually shows better receiving skills than one would imagine from a running back with zero receptions in 2020.  Much like former Buffalo running back Branden Oliver (Chargers), the wear-and-tear of so many carries began to add up for Patterson.  Backup running back Kevin Marks, arguably as good of an NFL prospect, carried the load for the Bulls much of the postseason in 2020.

Running with the Bull: Jaret Patterson Buffalo RB

Grade:                                                                                           5.33 (4th Round)

DraftNasty Big Board Rank:                                            212

FIU OL Shane McGough: Centered in his approach

Former FIU center Shane McGough traveled from Tampa’s Gaither High School down the road to Miami, Florida following in the footsteps of his brother Alex, currently a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. McGough learned some tips from his brother, quarterbacked the Panthers offensive line and found time to start at all three interior line positions in school. We sat down with McGough this offseason to talk about some of his goals as he embarks on a potential NFL career.

DN: In terms of the workout process for the draft, where are you training for the draft?

McGough: I’m actually in my hometown of Tampa, Florida training with The Trench Academy, trying to get all these times ready for Pro Day. And I think it’s going really well.

DN: What are some of your goals, ‘let’s just say it might be the 20-yard short shuttle or maybe the 3-cone or maybe the bench press?’ Any specific goals that you’ve earmarked with your trainer?

McGough: Yeah, we’ve all got some times that we’re really trying to hit. In my short shuttle, I put down a time the other day that I’m really trying to stay around. I ran a 4.56 in the short shuttle (did 4.58 on Pro Day), so that’s pretty fast for an offensive lineman. So if I can keep it right there, then that’s a good number. The 10-yard split is really important for an offensive lineman, showing explosiveness off the line. If I can keep that under a 1.7, that’s what we’re shooting for (On McGough’s Pro Day in late March, he ran in the 5.1-to-5.2 range in the 40-yard dash).

DN: You were at the College Gridiron Showcase and also at the Tropical Bowl. You weighed in at 304 pounds right at 6-foot-2, and you pretty good hand size at 9 3/8”. Those measurements are favorable for you, projecting to the center spot, correct?

McGough: Yes sir.

DN: Who were some of the guys that were there before you (at FIU) that kind of paved the way for you?

McGough: Neal (Mars) was a guy that I played under, as I was his backup. He was always there to teach me and we competed for the spot. Having a guy like that who was willing to help you and show you the ropes, knowing that I was competing against him was really good. Jordan Budwig was an older guy that was actually there when my brother was there. Missed a couple of years due to injury but him being an older guy and having a lot of experience; he was able to teach me the game as a younger player. Understanding different defenses and being able to pick things up.

DN: Rich Skrosky (offensive coordinator) kind of brought NFL-type principles to the program. In terms of line calls, talk about how being in somewhat of a pro-style scheme the last couple of years can help your progression.

McGough: It helps a lot with the way we did our stuff with Skrosky. In the NFL, a lot of it is put on the center to make a lot of those calls, protection calls and stuff like that. That’s exactly how we did it. We did get help from the quarterback but they did rely on the center a lot to make adjustments right there on the line. Tell the quarterback what you see and let him change it. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Skrosky always said, ‘As long as all five of us are wrong together, you’re still right.’ Being able to be in the middle as the quarterback of the offenslve line, make all the line calls, get the protection, get the slide where we need to be and pick up all the different blitzes is really going to show out on my film. Maybe some of those NFL scouts that are looking for those centers who are able to slide over, pass off twists and pass all the way off to an edge blitzer.

DN: We regarded you as the best bender on your offensive line in some of the matchups viewed. Talk about the guys that you went against from Western Kentucky, as that was a multiple defensive front. How did that contest challenge you intellectually?

McGough: Their defensive line was an experienced defensive line, they had a lot of older guys. Their nose guard and shades that I was going against I had played multiple times. We’ve seen each other, kind of got a few tricks under our sleeves. They ran a few different formations and just competing against those guys was fun. It gets boring if you’re not playing against good competition.

DN: You used some different techniques after you’ve snapped the ball. You used some of these against FAU, the game in which you guided and mirrored their nose guard on the inside zone touchdown. Talk a little about some of your run blocking techniques, particularly when you wall-and-steer defenders to turn them out.

McGough: It’s something that you kind of read the defender on that, depending on how he plays the flow in the backfield. It kind of changes how you react to what he does. On a lot of the ones you’re talking about when I’m walling off and mirroring him, he’s not really giving me a defined read I’m just trying to stay in front of them. And don’t let the running back see color (defender), because if he sees color he’s gotta cutback. You’re not making the decision for the running back. When I tear him over, ‘you called it a hip toss,’ it’s a lot of times on an A-gap zone where they’re coming right off my butt. And being able to tear them (DL) past the read spot of the ball opens up that lane. It’s usually when I feel the defender going that way, I just use his momentum against him and take him where he wants to go and run him past the ball.

DN: You started nine games at guard in 2018 (right guard) and started three games at guard (left) in 2019. The ability to play all three interior line positions after measuring in at 6’2, 304. You put NFL offensive line coaches in a better spot there, right?

McGough: Yeah, that’s one thing that’s super important. Especially nowadays in the NFL is being able to swing. All it does is put more stuff on your resume’. You can’t really say I only play one position unless you’re that veteran in the league. A rookie coming in you’ve got to have multiple positional abilities. I can say I only play center but there’s a guy behind me who plays right guard but also plays center. Well that opens up another spot on the roster if I’m not on it.

DN: The toughest opponent you went against in school?

McGough: I’d have to say the University of Miami (Fla.).

DN: Best football player you’ve played with?

McGough: Laughs..

DN: Come on Shane we’ve got to give you some tough questions…

McGough: It’s probably messed up if I didn’t say it was my brother (Alex).

DN: What’s the best thing you learned from him?

McGough: He’s shown me a lot about defenses. How to pick up or read if its four-down, three-down (defensive fronts). In high school, that was a little complicated to me.

DN: The number one center you’ve studied in the NFL.

McGough: I’ve watched a lot of Jason Kelce (Eagles) film. Cause he’s kind of got the same measurables as I do.

DN: What about A.Q. Shipley?

McGough: Yeah, I’ve watched him. We talk about him a lot with my agent and trainer. He’s another guy whose kind of got the same measurables. It’s always good to watch a guy tat’s similar to you because he uses similar technique you need to use to do your job effectively.

DN: Your number one goal a year from now, what would it be?

McGough: Just to get an opportunity to play. That’s all I can ask for. You want to shoot high but at the end of the day it only takes one team to take a chance on you, whether that’s getting drafted, getting an invite or signing free agency. Just to be on a team and getting the opportunity to play again.

DN: Really enjoyed getting a chance to catch up with you.

McGough: Absolutely. Appreciate it.

DN: Have a safe rest of the year and good luck in the 2021 NFL Draft.

McGough: Thanks, you too.

Avery Williams: Walking on to the Blue Turf

Boise State return man Avery Williams went from a walk-on to an indispensable force for the Broncos. In 2019, he was voted the Mountain West Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise after notching weekly honors five times during his career. He also set the NCAA all-time record for punt and kickoff return touchdowns (nine).

Williams averaged 11.6 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kick return in his career.

But that’s not all…

Williams can make plays at cornerback. For his career, he had 152 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, four interceptions and 22 pass breakups. At cornerback, he is quick-footed and can mirror opposing receivers. How does he do it as a return man? The Pasadena, California native possesses the ability to dart, slide and break tackles on a regular basis. The former high school running back impresses on film with his balance.

For a full scouting report on Williams, purchase Corey Chavous’ 2021 NFL Draft Guide this spring.

Tutu Atwell WR-Louisville: 2021 NFL Draft Preview

Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell had already left his mark with the Cardinals in just two seasons on campus. The speedy 5-foot-9 wideout is perhaps the ACC’s toughest one-on-one tackle in the open field. The former Miami Northwestern High School (Fla.) Miami-Dade County Player of the Year starred as a quarterback at the prep level. His on-field savvy is present when diagnosing either zone or man coverage. Atwell led the ACC in receiving yards in 2019 (1,276) and finished second in receiving touchdowns (12). While he didn’t repeat the success in 2020, he stills ranks as one of the more electrifying players in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Not Your Average Joe, Tryon

Three-sport athletes that stand 6’5″ 260-plus pounds aren’t your “average Joes.” Washington Huskies edge rusher Joe Tryon looks the part and has a strong build. He matches the physical gifts with an ability to line up as both a defensive end and as an outside linebacker in a two-point stance.

Tryon (pictured) had 8 sacks in 2019.

Despite the athletic gifts, he still has room to work on his technique. He only had one year of high-level production in 2019, and it came after he posted one quarterback sack and 4.5 tackles for losses in 2018. Tryon opted out of the 2020 season but still projects as a prospect with the chops to get after the quarterback. Scheme-fit may determine if the former baseball, basketball and football standout out of Washington state’s Hazen High School translates seamlessly to the NFL.

Is he extraordinary or just an average “Joe”?