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Nickel Package: Five rising juniors
October, 17, 2012
12:20 PM ET
By Todd McShay
Each year during our preseason evaluation process we at Scouts Inc. target 30-40 draft-eligible non-seniors for full evaluations based on reputation, what we see in weekly game action and those who stand out during film study on other prospects.
These are players we feel have the potential to be early-round draft picks, and while that sometimes doesn't come to fruition the process of elimination is useful as we shape our overall draft board.
Conversely, as the season progresses there are non-seniors who make noise and stand out in a big way, so rather than wait until the January deadline for non-seniors to declare we go to the tape early and put grades on those prospects. Players like Florida S Matt Elam and Florida State DE Cornellius Carradine are examples of players we've written up fully already this season.
So with that process in mind, this week's Nickel Package looks at five other underclassmen who are on the rise and undergoing the beginning stages of in-depth film study. These are players NFL scouts are not officially evaluating at this point, but all five are getting on the radar as potential early-rounders.
Over the next few weeks we'll watch a minimum of four games worth of coach-copy tape on these players -- a game or two from 2011 and at least two from this season -- and also talk to coaches and other scouts to gain background information.
None have initial draft grades at this point, but here's what I've seen from these five possible early-rounders so far and what I'll be studying closely as I get into the film.Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) came from the juco ranks and stepped right in alongside first-round prospect Justin Hunter as the Vols' No. 2 receiver. Patterson is clearly physically gifted, and while he doesn't have jitterbug quickness Patterson is a fluid athlete who shows very good build-up speed for his size and the ability to threaten defenses vertically.
What's been most impressive so far, though, is his ability to create with the ball in his hands. Patterson can make things happen after the catch, as a kickoff returner and on running plays. He has a kickoff return for a score and is averaging 19.5 yards per carry with two touchdowns on 11 rushing attempts. Throw in 23 catches for 315 yards and three scores and Patterson is a huge part of the Tennessee offense.
He clearly has the tools to come off the board in the first couple of rounds, but I'm interested to see how the juco transfer is picking up the finer points of the game. We need to know whether his understanding of coverages and adjusting routes, and his route-running skills as a whole, match up with his physical ability.Oklahoma DB Tony Jefferson
Jefferson (5-11, 212) played a hybrid linebacker/safety position a year ago, but this season he's back at free safety and also showing range in zone coverage and the ability to match up with slot receivers at times. With today's NFL offenses spreading defenses out and looking for any kind of mismatch in the passing game, players with that ability have a lot of value.
Jefferson has stepped up recently in big games against Texas Tech and Texas, and he's turning the corner in terms of instincts. As I go to the tape, I'll be looking to see just how fluid Jefferson is, and what kind of players he will be able to match up with at the next level.Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
He doesn't have the name recognition of former Crimson Tide LBs DeMeco Ryans, Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower, but Mosley is on the verge of becoming the same kind of alpha dog those players were for Nick Saban's defense in the past.
Like Hightower, Mosley (6-2, 232) is being helped by his ability to play multiple roles. He can rush the quarterback and is good in coverage, and while Mosley isn't at big or strong as the players mentioned above, but is has a bit more range and is more athletic in coverage. In addition, he's showing better instincts and closing burst as pass-rusher this season.
His productivity has been impressive (team-high 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks, to go with an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery), and I'll be looking at whether Mosley can fully take that next step and be a truly dominant force for an Alabama defense that has been surprisingly strong this season.Texas A&M OLB Damontre Moore
When I studied former Aggies standout Von Miller as an underclassman he was much better than I anticipated, while Moore's teammate Sean Porter was not as good as expected during this year's preseason evaluation process. So I'm going into Moore's evaluation with an open mind, not expecting to see a player like Miller but hopefully more than I got from Porter.
Moore (6-4, 250) is tied for the lead nationally with 8.5 total sacks, and he's shown flashes of quickness and relentlessness as a pass-rusher. That's encouraging, but I'm curious to see how his overall burst and speed look on film. He's getting buzz because of his production and good frame, but I'm not yet sure he's elite in those areas. I'll be looking for things he does especially well, how he uses his hands and matches up in the phone booth, and whether is overall skill set is average-to-good or good-to-great.BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy
I've heard rave reviews of Van Noy's work ethic and football intelligence, and after watching this season's Utah game he seems to be at his best when turned loose to chase plays in space. Van Noy (6-3, 235) also shows some versatility, flashing the ability to drop in coverage and appearing to have good athletic ability and closing burst as a pass-rusher.
Van Noy doesn't have the same raw athletic ability and potential as teammate Ezekiel Ansah, but he's a much more proven commodity. He leads the Cougars with 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, and I'm interested to see how his overall athleticism and skill set stack up against other top linebackers in the country.