It's almost here...no, not the Tony Softli Cone of Silence. Football.
On Thursday, Aug. 29, as the Rams are taking on the Ravens in their fourth and final preseason outing, 17 games involving at least one FBS college football team will either be underway or kickoff soon thereafter. At 6pm, you've got the first NFL Draft-worthy game of the year in North Carolina v. South Carolina on ESPN (Jadeveon Clowney might sack you if you don't at least tune in). Later that evening, SEC play gets underway (technically) with Ole Miss and Vandy. The two late games feature Rutgers, Fresno St., Hawaii and USC...plenty of draftable material in play.
So to usher in the college season, and from an NFL perspective the draft calendar, let's start with my preseason QB Big Board:
Teddy Bridgewater (scouting report)
|2||Aaron Murray||Georgia||RS Sr.|
|3||Tajh Boyd||Clemson||RS Sr.|
|4||Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||RS Soph.|
|5||Bryn Renner||North Carolina||RS Sr.|
|6||Brett Hundley||UCLA||RS Soph.|
|8||Marcus Mariota||Oregon||RS Soph.|
|9||Cody Fajardo||Nevada||RS Jr.|
David Fales (scouting report)
||San Jose St.||Sr.|
|11||Kevin Hogan||Stanford||RS Soph.|
Derek Carr (scouting report)
||Fresno St.||RS Sr.|
|13||A.J. McCarron||Alabama||RS Sr.|
|14||Keith Price||Washington||RS Sr.|
Logan Thomas (scouting report, 2012)
||Virginia Tech||RS Sr.|
|17||J.W. Walsh||Oklahoma St.||RS Soph.|
|18||Pete Thomas||NC State||RS Jr.|
|19||Devin Gardner||Michigan||RS Jr.|
|20||Taylor Kelly||Arizona St.||RS Jr.|
I tried to treat this as a mid-July board. Not my attempt to gauge where I think they'll be by season's end, as in what I tried to do with my 2014 mock 1.0. There, I've got Murray going #1 overall, but going off of the 2012 season and that Sugar Bowl performance against Florida...I can't not have Bridgewater tops overall. In any case, some notes:
- Ok, so Bridgewater one. But Murray's my horse to ride this year largely because he has the physical tools: arm, motion, accuracy. Working against him? Decision making, pocket presence and size. I think we're seeing an era developing in the NFL where the latter of those three can be offset if you're strong enough at the former two. And now that Murray has a running duo in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to give him the support Knowshon Moreno gave Matt Stafford along with an impressive WR duo in Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, I see Murray solidifying himself as an early round 1 pick next April...unless he doesn't. Shut up.
- Johnny Football's tough to gauge as an NFL prospect. I hope I'm not the first to have relayed that to you. As many eccentricities as his skill set, and yes lifestyle, presents, his brilliance was unavoidable last year. As a freshman. His crackhead impressions as a scrambler were unrivaled in anything I've ever seen. That's largely because it was natural. With experience and coaching (and Kevin Sumlin can coach), and a tackle like Jake Matthews, he's got plenty ammunition to avoid a sophomore slump.
- This list is peppered with prospects I buck conventional wisdom for. Renner, Pachall, Fajardo -- I'm higher than most on them. I'm cool with that.
- Mariota's tough to decipher. This year should help tell us a bit more with Chip Kelly coaching the Eagles instead of the Ducks...though new HC Mark Helfrich's been the OC at Oregon for four years, so it's not as if his system is going to be radically different...
- I'm really excited about Hogan this year. The O-line's better, and he doesn't have the pressure he did a year ago with so many pieces in place to get the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl since 1999. That is unless you think they're in line to not only compete for the Pac-12 championship but are looking the BCS square in the eye again. I do.
- Another CW pick I bristle with is Stephen Morris. But unlike the trio above that I rate higher, I'm much lower on Morris. He's got a strong skill set, I'll admit. I can't, though, get that mid-season stretch out of my head that included three successive losses against Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida St. Watching those games, I saw physical tools that could not overcome the managerial deficiencies, unlike Murray. I could be as wrong with Morris as we all are with so many guys. But as of right now, he's my most overrated QB prospect for this season.
- Pete Thomas is a wild card. He stood out as a talented freshman at Colorado St. who had tools beyond that program. I didn't expect him to leave, but he's found a new home in the wake of Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon. That's a good thing. Go ahead and mark down Thursday, Sept. 19, now as must-see viewing when the Pack take on Clemson.
So there you go. And there we go. On our way to another countdown to another NFL Draft. Any names you put on your board I omitted? Bryce Petty is picking up a ton of love at Baylor, but we haven't seen him yet so I had to leave him off for a lack of playing time. And I struggled with a lot of the 2015 class - Braxton Miller, Blake Bell, Jeff Driskel, Bo Wallace and Clint Trickett (who I really like) all missed the cut. For now.
As always, stay tuned to the gentlemen over at Mocking the Draft for the finest draft coverage around. They've got about two dozen preseason scouting reports up at their top 64 overall big board to check out too.