In a somewhat lackluster weekend (College Gameday went to North Dakota) of top college football match-ups, there was still much to gain from the previous weekend, including the continuation of Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas struggles and the wowing performance of North Carolina’s Eric Ebron.
Even Logan Thomas Apologist Can’t Defend 3 OT Win vs. Marshall
The Marshall football team is a solid C-USA team. They have some nice young defensive talent, and a quarterback that should guide them to a winning record the next two seasons if their offense can grow around him. But their team, in this particular case their defense, should not give Logan Thomas, a 1st round talent who rarely plays like it, as much trouble as they did.
I’ve been an advocate that Logan Thomas likely will go in the top three rounds, simply because quarterbacks with his size, arm strength, running ability, and upside don’t come around often. Physically, he’s often compared to Cam Newton, and for good reason talent-wise. But when it comes to performing consistently in game situations, Thomas has consistently given less and less reasons why NFL teams should invest a “developmental franchise quarterback “ pick in him.
After his sophomore season, the expectations were remarkably high for Thomas, something that a person close to the Virginia Tech program said was very taxing on Thomas and affected his play. With the pressure off this season (seemingly) and Thomas confident that he’ll drop his interception totals, he seemed poised to make strides as a quarterback and sneakily guide this team to an ACC title if his young offense grew up around him.
However, Thomas still has the same bad habits he’s had since last season: He’s still slow in his progressions from the pocket, hesitating just a second or two too long far too often. He held the ball too low as he adjusts his footwork, causing his release to be longer at times and also giving defenses a chance to attack and stripe the football. He still makes questionable, first read decisions, forcing passes without checking under/over coverage from defensive backs. He rarely threw a clean, easily catchable ball for his receivers that allowed them to get yards after the catch. And he didn’t seem to have a good feel for his velocity control, overthrowing shorter passes at times and putting too much air vertically.
Many of the issues Thomas/the offense has may stem from Virginia Tech having a turnstile of receivers the past two seasons, but it seems to go much deeper than that. Thomas still seems uncomfortable in far too many areas, from his own talents to where his progressions go. It’s unclear if he can continue to improve or if he’ll always appear to be an unsure, indecisive passer as he’s shown the past two seasons.
Junior Eric Ebron Stands Out for North Carolina and Among Tight End Prospects
To be honest, I’ve never focused on Eric Ebron last season or earlier this year, simply because we don’t put a priority on underclassmen in season, waiting until they officially declare for the draft. However, as I watched the North Carolina/Georgia Tech game for a variety of prosepcts (most notably for me James Hurst vs. Jeremiah Attaochu), Ebron consistently impressed enough for me to focus on him as well.
Ebron lines up in a variety of positions for the Tar Heels, which is impressive enough. But no matter which location he’s at on the field, whether it’s inline tight end, slot receiver, X-receiver, or H-Back, he showcased both developed routes and block willingness/IQ. In this offense, he’s asked to run multiple positional routes, not an easy task for a full time receiver nonetheless a full time tight end.
While he could improve his ability to attack and get his hands on his inline blocking responsibilities, he does a great job of being proactive on the edge to seal his block, engaging with his hands and consistently adjusting his body position to secure his block. Finding pass catchers like Ebron who are willing and developed fundamental blockers is very rare, and that alone is why teams will be in a rush to draft him.
But where he most notably wins and impresses is his elite ball skills for the position. While his routes set up his separation vertically, understanding to work back to/along with his quarterback, and his vision of finding gaps against zone may be more NFL ready skill sets, Ebron has a knack for finishing circus/off balance catches that he’ll quickly be most known for.
Below is an example of a play, in the redzone, that somewhat encompasses all of his pass catching ability. Lined up below, Ebron is lined up as the middle receiver in the trips left. The Georgia Tech defense matches up with just four down rushers, trying to beat them with a Cover 2 defense, focused on stopping the short pass.
After the quarterback reaches his drops, it’s apparent that Georgia Tech’s Cover 2 has worked well so far. The outside receiver isn’t vertically stretching the deep left safety, and the linebacker/safety combo in the middle of the field collapses the perceived Eric Ebron inside routes. However, notice the safety begin to cheat up on the Ebron route, already leaning forward despite the quarterback not even looking that direction nor set up to throw thanks to a lack of pressure.
Whether or not Ebron had an option route call or not, he decided to adjust his initial break and attack the cheating safety vertically. Ebron cuts off his inside route, and thanks to no safety over the top, he simply just needs to subtly get his hands on the cheating safety and get vertical past him. Again, regardless of whether it was a called option-route or not, it shows Ebron’s route IQ to adjust his initial break to attack vertically in the red zone.
And finally, below, is the circus catch Ebron makes to finish the play for a touchdown. After beating the safety deep, quarterback Bryn Renner throws it a bit high, but Ebron has no problem in tipping it to himself and finishing the grab for a touchdown (check this video at the 2:35 mark)
Eric Ebron is the complete package as a tight end, showcasing ball skills, position versatility, development and willingness as a blocker, and high route/football IQ. He instantly reminds of Zach Ertz, last year’s 2nd round pick out of Stanford, except with more vertical ability and a more athletic receiver. If that’s the case, Ebron could make a strong case for the Top 20 by season’s end.
Top 10…Non-FBS Senior Stat Performers This Season
These prospects aren’t ranked by their on the field ability (though many are legit NFL prospects), but ranked by how they’ve performed statistically. For example, no North Dakota State prospects made the cut despite how well their players have performed in terms of winning games.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois (430 YPG, 20 TDs in 4 games)
2. Franklin Quiteh, RB, Bloomsburg (194.3 YPG, 8 TDs, 7.7 YPC in 3 games)
3. Erik Lora, WR, Eastern Illinois (151.8 YPG, 9 TD)
4. Dustin Vaughn, QB, West Texas A&M (442.0 YPG, 11 TDs in 3 games)
5. David Van Dyke, CB, Tennessee State (4 Interceptions in 4 games)
6. Brad Day, DE, Montana State (8 sacks, 11 TFL in 4 games)
7. Tim Flanders, RB, Sam Houston State (121.5 YPG, 7 TDs in 4 games)
8. Lee Kurfis, WR, Lehigh (195.4 YPG, 4 TDs in 3 games)
9. Jer-Ryan Harris, ILB, Arkansas Pine-Bluff (12.8 tackles per game in 4 games)
10. Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg (5 sacks in 3 games)