We talked about Blankenship’s ability to disguise last season after he earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors following a two-interception performance against Tennessee State (see below). After a strong start to the 2019 campaign, the senior defensive back went down to an ankle injury in mid-October. Blankenship enters 2020 with over 200 tackles (233), 15.5 tackles for losses, eight interceptions, 18 passed defensed and two blocked kicks. The former West Limestone HS (Ala.) star has a chance to hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft.We break down his diverse, well-rounded game in our video feature.
It didn’t take long for Graham, Jr. to make an impact on Oregon’s campus. The preseason 2020 All-Pac-12 corner has now made 39 consecutive starts due to a combination of agility, football smarts and toughness. We go inside the game of one of college football’s best perimeter defenders in our video spotlight. Heading into 2020, Graham is the active FBS leader in passes defensed (40) and has eight career interceptions.
Lenoir, a former four-star recruit as an athlete coming out of Salesian HS (Calif.), brings a fast aggressive approach to the cornerback spot. Not only does he support the run with an element of pizzazz, he works to disrupt the wide receiver’s release at the line of scrimmage. After making the numerical switch from No. 15 to No. 6 in 2019, the AP second-team All-Pac-12 corner finished with 47 tackles and nine passes defensed. In a conference loaded with solid players on the edges, the senior will look to take the next step in 2020 along with running mate Thomas Graham, Jr.
Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell has 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).
Washington’s Elijah Molden takes his footwork as seriously as his father, Alex, did at Oregon before becoming a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1996 NFL Draft. Molden is frequently tasked with the tough assignments in the litany of man coverage used by Washington current head coach and former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. The former West Lin High School (Ore.) product earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019 after finishing with 79 tackles, four interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.
Holland heads into the 2020 campaign as arguably the best playmaking safety in the Pac-12. Over the last two seasons, the hybrid DB/PR has posted nine interceptions in his 19 passes defensed. For good measure, he found time to average over 15 yards per punt return in 2019. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Bishop O’Dowd HS (Calif.) was once a star wide receiver at the prep level, eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark on just 35 receptions as a senior. Our film review found a player with natural ball skills and an offensive approach to the defensive side of the ball.
Tulsa defensive end Trevis Gipson totaled 13 quarterback sacks in college and in 2019 doubled his sack production from four to eight. DraftNasty’s Corey Chavous caught up with Gipson (6’3, 259) during the 2020 Senior Bowl media day to discuss his favorite pass rush moves and the chances of improving his draft stock.
Chavous: You worked so much at the four-technique (DL) and oftentimes you play bigger than your size, what do you feel like this week offers in terms of showing you can be as an edge rusher?
Gipson: I feel like that will show my versatility to scouts and general managers that will be observing our practice. Like you said, I came in sometimes four-I (inside shade of tackle), four (head-up versus offensive tackle) or sometimes even five (outside shoulder of offensive tackle), but just being on that edge showing I can bull rush or speed rush, speed-to-power, just showing a lot of versatility in my pass rush. I feel like that will help my overall draft stock at the end of the day.
Chavous: Some of our notes on you include the right-hand post from the left defensive end spot and then using that same arm to dip and make the 90-degree turn against Cincinnati this year. When you go against bigger tackles, like the guys you’ll face this week, do you feel like your long arms will allow you to get some extension away from these big tackles?
Gipson: I feel like it will. I have certain moves for certain tackles. Taller tackles I like to dip the corner or use my speed because they are longer than me. It all depends on what type of tackle I’m going against and just being able to turn that corner…wearing that down. That will open my opportunities to do the bull rush or power pass rushes overall.
Chavous: Do you think if you show here what you showed against other Power 5 teams that you could move up into the first round discussion?
Gipson: Most definitely, my confidence in myself is out of this roof. I feel like once I show them my pass rush is unstoppable in my opinion then it will help my draft stock. Overall, run-stopping, also, I feel like that will help me. Just dominating in all aspects man, that’s a part of my game plan. Of course everyone wants their draft stock to rise, but you’ve got put in the work to do it. That’s my first milestone and I’ll cross that coming this afternoon (here at the Senior Bowl).
Chavous: You kind of touched upon it, you’re a good run defender. That separates you from potentially some of the other players. Why is it such a commitment to you in terms of holding the point or being able to two-gap?
Gipson: In order to get to third down, you have to stop first and second.
Gipson: I feel like I have more fun rushing the passer but I can’t do that unless I stop the run first. Of course delivering big hits….just enjoying the physicality of the game, that’s part of the reason I do it man. I love the game. You can’t take physicality or you can’t take running away from the game. Everybody is gonna run the ball. Some teams more than others…like Navy.
Chavous: Right, right.
Gipson: I didn’t get many pass rushes versus them (Navy).
Chavous: Protect your legs….(laughs).
Gipson: Ah man, I had blood coming down my shins and everything. It was crazy man. But stopping the run is a big part of getting to that third down and that’s what comes first. So I take that more serious.
Chavous: You kind of remind me of those guys who are multi-dimensional, like Za’Darius Smith or Preston Smith, the guys that play up in Green Bay. Guys who can play the run and rush the passer. Who do you pattern your game after at the next level? Maybe a guy where you say that kind of reminds me of myself a little bit. I can work on developing some of what he already has in his arsenal.
Gipson: I like to compare myself to Marcus Davenport (New Orleans Saints), he’s 6-foot-7 (6’6″). But just his story, coming out of UTSA, a small school, he was underlooked.
Chavous: He kind of rose up during this week (Senior Bowl) too, right?
Gibson: Yeah, he did and that’s my plan. Seeing him become the 14th overall pick, it just gave me nothing but hope and pride. I’m going to try and kill this week and show scouts what I can do. Overall, perform at a high level.
Chavous: Thanks a lot man, we enjoyed watching you play. Best of luck.
Gibson: Thanks a lot.
If it looks like Antoine Brooks, Jr. is anticipating the play before it happens, as if he is a quarterback, it is because he was one.
Brooks, Jr. excelled at Duval High School in Bowie, Maryland, where he was a quarterback and a defensive back. As a quarterback, he took home the Prince George’s Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 despite playing in just six games after suffering a broken wrist and leg.
Almost five years later, Brooks, Jr. sees how his experiences in high school have shaped him into a versatile defensive prospect.
“Honestly (playing quarterback) helped me a lot with the transition of being on defense,” Brooks, Jr. said during media day at the Senior Bowl. “Even with being a leader. It just shows I can communicate and get the right play down.”
The three-year starter was asked to digest a bevy of tasks within the team’s system. This allowed him to play a variety of roles from week-to-week.
At the University of Maryland, Brooks, Jr. played nickel back, safety and outside linebacker.
While he is known in College Park for his diving interceptions or hard sideline hits, the cerebral part of the game is not lost on Brooks, Jr.
Unprompted, Brooks, Jr. recalled a moment from this past year’s AFC Championship game when his favorite player to watch, Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, correctly diagnosed a read-option pass to Titans receiver Corey Davis over the middle of the field.
Mathieu knocked Davis two yards behind the line of scrimmage for a loss but this was after he saw the Patriots run the same play for N’Keal Harry, who broke Mathieu’s tackle and got a first down in the red zone in Week 14 of the regular season.
Mathieu then took to Twitter after the game and said film preparation helped him identify the play and correct his previous error.
“It just shows watching film is so important,” Brooks Jr. said. “Those are the little things that help me succeed.”
His film study made a huge difference for the Terps defense, who used him as a Swiss Army knife.
Brooks, Jr. broke out during his sophomore season when he transitioned from linebacker to defensive back in the offseason.
In 2017, he had 9.5 tackles for loss, which were the most by a Big Ten defensive back in the regular season. He also led the Terps with 53 solo tackles, while also contributing a quarterback sack and two interceptions.
The success he had as a nickel back hasn’t pigeonholed Brooks, Jr. During interviews with NFL personnel at the 2020 Senior Bowl, he admitted that his preferred position is strong safety.
Like a terrapin, Brooks, Jr. is undersized but can adjust to different surroundings.
“You just have to ask me (where to play),” Brooks, Jr. said of the prospects of being asked to play multiple positions. “I’m going 100 percent and I win most of my battles.”
The numbers at the University of Maryland speak volumes. In his career, Brooks, Jr. had nine pass deflections, four interceptions, 27.5 tackles for loss and three-and-a half quarterback sacks.
Brooks Jr. knows his speed will be a question mark if he is asked to play in the secondary, but he trusts his 40-yard dash time will calm any doubts.
“I’m hoping to run in the low 4.4s,” said Brooks Jr., who ran a 4.5 going into college. Worth noting, he ran a 4.64 at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Confidence wasn’t something that was lacking for Brooks, Jr. during Senior Bowl week. The former Terp could be seen on the practice field communicating demonstrably during the on-field drills and asking questions from the Cincinnati Bengals coaches, who led the South roster.
However, the three-time All-Big Ten performer is ready to put the questions and talking aside and get to what really matters.
“I’m just ready to play football,” Brooks, Jr. said.
Former Utah State kicker Dominick Eberle set a new Mountain West Conference all-time mark for field goals when he hit four goals versus Wyoming in 2019. He also aced a game-winning field goal against Fresno State in 2019. Despite being a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2017, he dealt with a career-defining low point in the 2017 Arizona Bowl. DraftNasty’s Corey Chavous caught up with Eberle during the week of the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl to talk about redemption, technique and confidence.
Corey: I want to take you to a game a couple years back. The Arizona Bowl (2017). That game. What did you feel like it did for you….the learning experience? Talk about that moment and how you built from that.
Eberle: That moment is something where I truly felt like I let my teammates down. I felt like I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities and it wasn’t gonna be something that I was gonna be remembered for. That was gonna be something where it has happened, but the learning experience from that, really challenging myself to whatever accolades came before that didn’t matter, because that was the last game I had played in. So I really wanted to make sure that that bitter taste out of my mouth kinda came out of that. Because just through hard work, really focusing on what I can do better and what I can control, that was something that I learned a lot from it and wanted to just consistently improve on every single day. And those are the lessons that you need as a kicker. You need to be mentally tough, you need to be able to just focus on the next kick because what happened doesn’t matter anymore. It shapes who you are but it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s always about the next kick. And that’s kind of the mentality that I took this year as well. It doesn’t matter if I made three field goals already, the fourth one, the next one is really the one I focused on. Just taking it one kick at a time.
Corey: I think you were like 18-of-22 (16-of-18) going into that game (2017 Arizona Bowl) or something like that. It was kind of crazy just how efficient you had been. Big reason the team was even in the bowl game, right? But did you find yourself punching at the ball in that game? What was it technically that you learned from it?
Eberle: From that game, I was wrapping around the ball a lot. If you look at the seam, I was hitting so far on the right seam where even though I had distance on it, it was just kind of shoot off your foot with a weird left rotation and spin out to the left of the upright. And that’s what I did on three of the field goals that game. And the very last one, I really just punched at it, it went right, hit the upright. That’s something where I looked at it where it was sometimes just trusting your technique isn’t enough. Sometimes you’ve gotta be really able to not revamp it, but add certain things that can help you. So what I did going into the next season (2018) was really following through straight and using my momentum, similar to Justin Tucker’s, to carry myself through the ball straight and have my hips pointing right at my target. That’s something that I worked with cone drills, just kicking the ball into the net. And that’s something where every single day I’m kinda working at that getting that consistency right through my target.
Corey: And talk a little bit about that. For placekickers, the target line is a big deal. That target line is really where you’re trying to get the ball to and in that sense, that’s really what you’re talking about from an explanation standpoint, right?
Eberle: Exactly. For us, when we’re facing our building side right between the S and T or the K and the S for Maverik Stadium (Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, Utah State’s home field), small little gap. That’s something we’re always aiming at. It’s high up and everybody can see it and that’s my target line. So whenever I hit in that Allstate Hands (kicking net) or something, right down my target line. That’s something I always focus on in practice, whether it’s here (Tropicana Field, East-West Shrine Bowl), when I’m looking above you can kinda see the Tropicana Field. That’s something where I’m aiming at and really know if my ball is truly where I was gonna hit it.
Corey: One of the best kickers in Mountain West history. If there is one thing you feel good about translating the next level what would it be? In terms of moving forward to the next level. You’ve kicked off, are you going to be a touchback kicker in the NFL?
Eberle: I can certainly improve on kickoffs. The scheme was different this year (2019) than it was last year (2018: 64-percent touchback percentage). We tried to play the ball around a little bit more, steal a possession here or there, so my touchback percentages might of not have been near as similar…
Corey: Sky kicks.
Eberle: Exactly. Sky kicks, little pooch kicks.
Corey: Hang times to sometimes get a fair catch?
Eberle: Exactly. So that was kinda what we were working with this year rather than just telling me to boot the ball out of the end zone. I know I can do that but I’m more of a team player. Realizing against LSU we had a little pooch kick over to about the 30-yard line where we knew the guy wasn’t experienced catching the ball and maybe steal a fumble. So we pooched the ball over and he fumbled it but he recovered it rather than us. That is where I realized that can just as much of a weapon as just kicking the ball out of the end zone.
Corey: You talked about Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens) earlier, who were some of the other kickers that you study at the NFL level with some of those technique we were talking about?
Eberle: Shayne Graham (15-year NFL veteran with 14 teams) would be one as well. He was really consistent. He was someone that when I first was learning to become a kicker was still playing in the league. He was with the Bengals at the time, bounced around with the Saints and everything. I was watching him and how smooth he sometimes appeared where it looked effortless. Will Lutz (New Orleans Saints) as well, he has incredible ball-striking ability. That’s something I want to learn from him. And just Adam Vinatieri (Patriots, Colts). The more you read about him or hear stories about him, he had that killer instinct in the fourth quarter. He was so in the zone that you knew he wasn’t going to miss.
Corey: Thanks a lot for your time and best of luck in the draft.
Eberle: Thanks a lot.
Former Miami (Fla.) linebacker Shaquille Quarterman -a four-time All-ACC selection at linebacker- finished his storied career with 356 tackles, ninth all-time in school history. In 2019, Quarterman became the only Hurricane to start 52 consecutive games without missing a start. DraftNasty editor-in-chief Corey Chavous caught up with Quarterman during the week of the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl. They talked about why finishing was an important part of his legacy. Quaterman modeled his game after his idol, a former Hurricanes linebacker and NFL first round pick who currently serves as his mentor.
Corey: First, I’d like to ask how do you think the week has gone for you so far?
Quarterman: I think the week has progressed for me very well. First day of pads, I already knew it was knocking off the dust. Not for just me, but everybody out here. As it gets better, people get more comfortable, you get to see who really can play. So today I felt like it was night and day from my first day. I just feel like as the week keeps going I’m going to get even better.
Corey: We actually shot your last bowl game (2019 Independence Bowl). A lot of your teammates made the decision not to play in that game. For you, as a team captain, one of the things that you talked about was just how important that last game was to you. Ended that game with 11 tackles. Even though it was a little bit of a debilitating loss, your defense played well. Talk about how you felt about finishing the right way.
Quarterman: I’m a man of principle. I really stick to my principles and morals. I could not have my team out there and feel like they’re better off without me because I wanted to go train just a couple of days early. That’s not the way I want to set a standard. That’s all I’ve ever talked about was the standard. It’s not bailing on your team, because I love my guys and they made their decisions for why they made their decisions. But I’m a team guy, that’s all it is. I couldn’t be on the sidelines and then I was thinking about going but that makes it worse. I’m going to play with my team.
Quarterman: 55 is going to lead his team out there. I never folded. I never did that.
Corey: Our notes on you surround the ability to stack-and-shed. That is one of the things that is a little bit underrated in your game. Talk about why that is important to you…using your hands as a linebacker.
Quarterman: Because that’s how you’ve got to survive in the league (NFL). In college, you can still get away with being more athletic than a lot of guys. But at the next level, that margin of error is cut drastically shorter. You have to be able to do a lot of things to survive. It’s about longevity. The standard career time is already like 2.3 years, so if I can’t use my hands as a linebacker I don’t see how I’m going to see the field. And that’s just being honest. Because it’s a business, it’s about producing. I undertand that. That was one of my critiques last year, so this year I knew I had to work on that. I knew I had to put it on tape multiple times. Like you said, I put it on tape, but it’s very underrated. So I’ve got to change something about me to make it not underrated.
Corey: Now if there’s a question the scouts are asking you when you talk to them. What’s the biggest question they have for you the rest of the postseason? Certainly you’re coming down here this week dispelling any questions they may have. What do you hear the most?
Quarterman: It’s always about my ability to play in space. I’ve been in the box so long at Miami, so good at playing the run, that my coaches didn’t have to worry about that. So if you don’t have to worry about one spot, you can find pieces around him that could play the pass.
Quarterman: So I was never groomed for my pass coverage basically. That’s why those question marks exist.
Corey: And they had you coming forward a lot.
Corey: The tackles for loss weren’t just this year, they were a year ago as well.
Corey: Run blitzes, timing run blitzes.
Quarterman: They just let me do what I do best. And I understand that. But now I’m in a position where I’ve got to show people that I can do the other side of the spectrum.
Corey: And how have you felt that has gone out here (East-West Shrine week)?
Quarterman: The first day was rusty. Today, a whole 180. I didn’t win a single one-on-one yesterday, and I didn’t lose one today.
Corey: That’s awesome man.
Quarterman: Yes sir.
Corey: The tradition at your school is pretty deep at the linebacker position. But if there is a player, even beyond Miami (Fla.), that you’ve looked up to from the NFL perspective -either presently or in the past- who would that be? .
Quarterman: Jon Beason (10-year NFL veteran, former Miami (Fla.) linebacker-2007 NFL Draft, 1st Round, 25th overall, Carolina Panthers). That’s my mentor, man.
Corey: Wow. Really good player.
Quarterman: That’s my mentor. I want to play like him. I still watch his tapes. He let me get a hold of his tapes, so I still watch him. We’re almost built the same. I’m a little taller than him, but as soon as I stepped on campus they talked about our neck sizes and stuff like that. I just love the way he plays the game. I try to do everything that he would do and beyond. Because he did everything the right way. He played through injuries and all that. To have a chance to go to Miami (Fla.) and meet your idol and have him mentor you. And take you underneath his wing and see that he sees it in you. It’s something different. It’s a lot of weight on that.
Corey: Four-year starter at Miami from your true freshman year on. The meaning of that?
Quarterman: It’s different. It’s hard. Very difficult. I just really thank Coach Richt and Coach Diaz for trusting in me. It takes a lot to put a true freshman out there…at any position in college football. I really appreciate that. I tried to uphold it as long as I could.
Corey: Well, man, good luck and continue the tradition. I know you gotta get outta here. Nice to meet you. Enjoyed watching you throughout your career.
Quarterman: I appreciate that.