Junior quarterback Blake Bortles has gotten a lot of attention here at Optimum Scouting and with good reason. Bortles has everything NFL teams want in a quarterback with good size, arm strength and mobility to break the pocket. Bortles recently said he wasn’t thinking about the NFL after this season and while there were certainly scouts on hand to watch his performance against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina, they would probably agree that he shouldn’t be thinking about the NFL until the 2015 draft.
(JR) Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (#5), 6’4, 230
In an attempt to neutralize the pass rush of Clowney and Chaz Sutton, Central Florida ran a lot of quick passes designed to get the ball out of Bortles’ hands before the rush could get to him. Bortles showed the ability to stay in rhythm with the quick passing game and when he was pressured, Bortles stood in nicely to get the ball to his receivers in good spots. He threw a pass well short late in the game with pressure in his face that likely would have been a touchdown if he had time to step into his throw and lead the ball further downfield. Bortles turned the ball over three times on the day, adding an early interception and a late fumble where he simply ran into his own lineman and lost control.
Bortles moves well outside the pocket and makes strong, accurate throws on the move both down the field and to the sideline, even when moving to his left. While Bortles showed the ability to hit his receivers in stride and create run-after-catch opportunities, he was erratic at times with his footwork and accuracy. Occasionally Bortles steps into his throws too far to the left and flies open on the front side, throwing all arm and sailing passes high or wide. He sensed pressure well in the pocket and was constantly rushed when the ball wasn’t out of his hands quickly. Bortles’ talent was on display in this game but he also showed room for improvement.
(JR) Storm Johnson, RB, UCF (#8), 6’0, 215
Despite solid size, Johnson has the skills of a running back 10-15 pounds lighter. A junior transfer from Miami, Johnson has explosive ability out of the backfield and a smooth gait. He’s not an overly powerful runner but cuts on a dime and show the skills to string together multiple moves on one play, winning with quick burst through the hole and impressive lateral quickness. Johnson avoided penetration on multiple plays with his quick feet and speed to the corner, turning potential losses into no gains or positive yardage. Johnson displays solid patience and vision as well, allowing time for his blocks to develop on the inside. Once he spots a hole, Johnson shows the explosiveness to hit it quickly but is sometimes too fast for his own good, losing his footing on multiple occasions when trying to cut upfield. Some of that may have been the rainy conditions on Saturday afternoon but Johnson is quick enough that he doesn’t need to rush his moves. Taking an extra split-second to gather his feet before cutting into the hole will allow him to stay up and produce more yardage.
E.J. Dunston, DT, UCF (#95), 6’2, 302
Dunston is an impressive athlete and looks like a solid three-technique prospect at the NFL level. The senior’s awareness and play recognition ability was impressive as he immediately reads screens and short passes and has the speed and quickness to react. Seeing a receiver screen from the moment it began, Dunston peeled back and nailed the South Carolina receiver right when the ball arrived and caused an incompletion. He also recognized a short pass to Mike Davis and showed the pursuit ability to catch Davis from behind. Dunston rushes with his head up and has good extension, allowing him to shed blocks to make plays beyond the line of scrimmage. He showed the ability to penetrate the backfield as well, wrapping up Mike Davis on one occasion and refusing to let him break loose. Dunston’s quickness makes him a difficult matchup on the inside, whether he’s shooting gaps or chasing down plays lateral to the line of scrimmage. He won’t be an early draft pick, but has the talent to make an impact as at least a rotational player in the NFL.
(JR) A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina - #50, 6’4, 314
Playing in all 80 offensive snaps and grading out at 86% per the South Carolina coaching staff, junior left guard A.J. Cann earned SEC Offensive Linemen of the Week” honors for his play versus UCF. Cann is a talented blocker on SC’s offensive line unit, having explosive hips to roll up and through defenders at the point of attack; moreover, Cann possesses the length to lockout and flatback with effectiveness after initial contact. On pass sets, Cann anchored down and maintained inside hand placement to control the point of attack, and also picked up DT twists as they presented themselves.
Ronald Patrick, OG, South Carolina - #67, 6’2, 315
Senior guard Ronald Patrick played a pivotal role in South Carolina’s run gam success on the road versus a tough Central Florida team. Quick and aggressive to his targets when stepping down on nose tackles or reaching 3-techniques, Patrick secured and turned open multiple holes as the playside blocker. On other occasions, Patrick also showed mobility and blocking skills on the move. Pulling, locating and securing targets downfield, Patrick was sound with his angles, balanced downfield and decisive in attacking defenders. All in all it was an excellent performance for a player that is working towards securing a late round draft selection.
(JR) Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina, #23, 5’9, 196
Short but not small, Bruce Ellington continues to make a positive impression on talent evaluators with his shifty, explosive movement skills out of the slot. Aside from one dropped pass, there wasn’t much to nitpick here, as Ellington created separation throughout an extensive route tree from the slot position. Ellington’s athleticism and ball skills as a former two-sport scholarship player for South Carolina jump off the tape, with high point receptions, easy redirect ability at the top of the route and elusiveness with the ball in his hands. Ellington’s balance in the open field and ability to create yards for himself make for an easy projection to the NFL level, but more importantly you see the ability to win off the line of scrimmage on the perimeter, as well as from the slot. Don’t be surprised if Ellington follows Ace Sanders as the next Gamecocks underclassman wideout to declare for the draft.
(JR) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - #7, 6’6, 274
Despite playing with bone spurs in his foot, Clowney still brings a tremendously explosive skill set to the table. You can tell he’s picking and choosing his spots in giving complete effort from the backside, as he flashed elite backside pursuit skills on a few instances and ran down ball carriers 10-15 yards downfield. Clowney relies heavily on an inside swim move and can be neutralized by sliding protection his way, with the neighboring guard landing a firm punch to his exposed midsection. As the game progressed, there were promising signs of effort and competitiveness from Clowney, however, as he began to convert speed to power, getting his hands inside and explosively driving through the center of his opponent. On inside twists and stunts, Clowney moreover used his length to cover passing lanes and disrupt the quarterback’s vision. Yes, Clowney did not finish with a sack on multiple occasions, but he still performed at a high level with disruptive backfield play.
RELATED LINK: Our 2014 NFL Draft Board, Including Top 20 Juniors
(JR) Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina - #27, 5’10, 202
Called out by former teammate and current NFLer Ace Sanders, Vic Hampton still hasn’t shown the field awareness or instincts necessary to convert his elite quick twitch traits into production at punt returner. Nevertheless, as a defensive back, there were a number of positive signs that showcased development since the beginning of the season. Trusting his pedal technique and holding low pad height, Hampton made an outstanding play where he recognized the receiver’s deep-in route landmark, drove through the inside shoulder and beat the receiver to the catch point for an interception. Too often, cornerbacks with Hampton’s movement skills and explosive qualities are late in reading the footwork of the receiver and consistently a half-tick away from making a play. In this game, Hampton excelled in off-man coverage and also made multiple open field stops, working off the block of a receiver and coming to balance in space.
-Just as senior quarterback Connor Shaw appeared to be fringe draftable, he suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out after one offensive series. Shaw is a gritty, tough ball carrier with underrated athleticism. He’s developed into a sound decision maker in Steve Spurrier’s offense, understanding his limitations, excelling at a handful of throws and making the correct reads in the running game. Beyond simply lacking ideal height for the position, durability has become a legitimate concern, as Shaw re-aggravated a right throwing shoulder sprain that limited him in 2012. As a dual threat quarterback that makes his dollar in the read option game, Shaw needs to slide more frequently and protect his body.
-Receiver Damiere Byrd had an excellent game in his own right, threatening and forcing the opposition to turn open early off the snap. By pressing a vertical release and having the top end speed to scare defensive backs, Byrd created a great deal of separation for himself on comeback and bench patterns, where he showcased fluid hips and plus change of direction skills at the route break. Byrd is only a junior but may be looking at the 2014 draft.
-Junior safety Brison Williams continually impressed with his physicality in coverage, balanced tackling skills in the open field and overall playing range. Williams also made a stellar play from an over the top alignment, unleashing a powerful hit to separate the wide receiver from the football; although he was initially called for targeting and ejected, the ejection was reversed after instant replay review.
-Senior cornerback Jimmy Legree made a handful of plays, and allowed a handful of plays in this game. He’s a long, slender athlete with good makeup speed and natural ball skills, but operates too loosely in off-man coverage, dropping back with lazy tilt or shuffle technique. Not landing his hands to direct routes and still lacking refined drive footwork to gain consistently quick breaks on the throw, he’ll be picked up after the draft as an undrafted free agent. Still, Legree presents the measurables and competitiveness to be developed into a rotation role at the next level. Legree has talent but still hasn’t rounded out his footwork concerns.
-Another concerning evaluation is the lack of development from senior defensive end Chaz Sutton. Although he looks the part and has plus lateral quickness for his size, Sutton lacks both the hand usage to consistently to set and contain the edge, as well as the refined counter moves to setup and defeat deep setting pass blockers. Sutton has struggled to turn the corner in one-on-one situations this season, unable to convert speed to power and has not shown a go-to counter move to win to the inside from his defensive end alignment. Sutton remains a situational pass rusher that wins primarily as a 3-technique versus slower footed interior players. Given there are many games left to be played and given that Sutton is fighting through a foot sprain, there still is reason to hope he can get back to full health and put out better tape at defensive end.
-Playing against elite prospects like Clowney has its advantages for lesser-known prospects, but junior Torrian Wilson struggled when matched up across from Clowney. He was beat multiple times, both inside and outside, by Clowney and Chaz Sutton and his size (6’3, 308) and slow feet make him more of a guard prospect in the later rounds than a tackle prospect. He was effective in motion, pulling multiple times into the hole to create room for Storm Johnson, which will suit him well when he’s asked to move inside.
-Senior right tackle Chris Martin (6’5, 303) was more impressive than Wilson in limited exposure against Clowney, who played the majority of his snaps at right defensive end. He displayed a better kick slide to set the edge and the wide base and hand extension to handle edge rushers. Sutton did beat him once to the inside but overall, Martin played a better tackle than Wilson did and has a better chance to stick there if he gets a shot at the NFL level.
-Junior receiver Rannell Hall (6’1, 196) had 8 receptions for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns, showing off his quickness and long speed to gain extra yardage and create big plays. He showed good sideline awareness, hands and the toughness to make plays in traffic as well. Hall has been Bortles’ favorite target all season and he showed no signs of slowing down against the Gamecocks.
@christripodi opening up front half is my biggest pet peeve with AJ McCarron -retreats/pedals from rush and falls out of his throwing base
@OS_AlexBrown Wouldn't be the first QB that happened to though. His arm disguises the issue better than McCarron's does
@OS_AlexBrown Thanks, there were a few times I think he anticipated the rush before it got there. Clowney may have gotten in his head
@christripodi yeah, McCarron to me is Matt Schaub with better feet, less arm. Think he can make slight footwork improvements to fix that
@OS_AlexBrown Very much so. Seems likely a team with a good defense and run game will be more inclined to take him high than a bad team
@christripodi exactly, good discussion though. His draft slot may be indicative of where NFL teams gauge that work ethic
@OS_AlexBrown Huge projection. AJ seems like a guy who works but we don't get to bring him in for workouts/interviews so it's tough to judge
@christripodi that's crossed my mind before, but its a really big projection. not many people, let alone QBs have Brady's work ethic & drive
@OS_AlexBrown It's possible scouts are using that projection for McCarron if they rate him as a 1st, but Brady is the exception not the rule
@OS_AlexBrown Brady had an average arm at Michigan; I've never seen anybody gain as much arm strength once reaching the NFL as he did
@OS_AlexBrown Agreed it's too much physical projection but it seems NFL scouts may disagree with us. Maybe they see the next Tom Brady
@christripodi but there are too many "could" statements for him to be considered a day 1 or day 2 pick IMO
@christripodi more than likely a solid #2 for many years; could see him developing into something more if he strengthens his arm
@christripodi McCarron's makeup, football knowledge and resume will have him drafted higher than maybe he should. Could be mid tier starter
@christripodi absolutely, and McCarron's a limited downfield passer -risk averse, generally won't lose it and generally won't win it for you
@OS_AlexBrown Definitely can altho we've seen Schaub's limitations magnified so far this season, even with a legit #2 now. Fear same for AJ