In the Spotlight
I wrote here over the summer that I needed to “see more disruptive playmaking” out of Peppers on defense before I could buy into his fist round hype. After the first three weeks of the season, I’m pretty much sold. Peppers is thriving at linebacker, with at least two tackles for loss in every game, 7.5 the past two weeks, and an FBS-and-new-career-high 9.5 TFLs on the year.
Last weekend against Colorado, the third-year sophomore displayed discipline against the rushing and short passing games, terrific downhill speed, and sure tackling; and he executed a perfectly timed blitz for a sack. Peppers basically achieves all of the things I expected but never saw out of Myles Jack last season while experts continuously hyped him as a top five draft choice. (Jack has played 16 defensive snaps in his first two pro games for what it’s worth.) Peppers has shown he can cover slants and short outs. The only defensive skill he’s really lacking in right now is downfield coverage. He is not a flip-his-hips and run corner, or a deep centerfielder safety, and that’s perfectly ok.
Still, because Peppers is at his best playing up in the box, there will be questions about his size. Can he get up into the 220-pound range and maintain without losing speed? Because, oh that speed. Peppers was flying through traffic and turning the corner with ease when the ball was in his hands in Saturday’s win. Here he returns a punt 54 yards for a score - the first special teams TD of his career:
So yeah, again, I’m almost totally convinced Peppers should be a first round pick. He faces some stiffer competition now as the Wolverines head into the Big Ten portion of the schedule, and while I don’t expect him to keep up his current statistical pace, I see no reason, barring injury, that his draft stock would plummet.
When evaluating quarterbacks, I like to take a look at how they perform in certain situations. We’re still so early in the season, but here’s look at ten draft eligible quarterbacks I’ve observed on tape, and what the numbers may be telling us through three games. Let’s look first at third down passing, sorted by percentage of first downs converted:
Interesting to see Chad Kelly at the top of this list. The talented-but-troubled prospect looks good on paper in the early going, but when you factor in cumulative negative plays like turnovers and sacks, the shine comes off a little. Behind Kelly, DeShone Kizer is completing and converting a high percentage of third down throws, with Central Michigan senior Cooper Rush not far behind.
Perhaps most surprising are the third down struggles of Deshaun Watson and Mason Rudolph, two touted prospects who are completing fewer that half of their third down passes, and converting first downs less than one-third of the time.
Now, a quick look at some red zone passing numbers, sorted by touchdown percentage:
Kelly and Kizer are up at the top again, this time joined by Iowa’s C.J. Beathard. And here we see more evidence of situational struggles from Watson and Rudolph. This amounts to a very small sample size so far, but it’s slightly concerning. I should note that Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner is faring quite well in both of these statistical categories, but I did not include him because he’s played just two games.
Check here throughout the season, because I’ll be monitoring third down and red zone passing, as well as other situational statistics, and providing updates periodically.
Box Score of the Week
Noah Brown WR Ohio State
5 REC 72 YDS 4 TD
Brown caught one pass in 11 games as a freshman in 2014, then missed all of last season with a broken leg. In two games heading into last weekend’s game on the road at Oklahoma, he’d caught four passes total. Then, in Saturday’s win, Brown scored touchdowns on his first four receptions, including this gem:
He added another catch later, and ended up doubling his previous career total. Given a redshirt for his injury season last year, Brown is still a sophomore, but he is draft-eligible, and should be on the radar moving forward.
Hot Take of the Week
The self proclaimed Bears insider doesn't think Christian McCaffrey is better than a 4th rounder and is only a "gimmick" back. Wow— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) September 20, 2016
Unfortunately I couldn’t find the real hot take, just Greg Gabriel’s subtweet. But after last Friday’s win over USC, McCaffrey has now eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the 13th time in 16 games, so if someone is out there calling him a “gimmick,” whooo boy that is a scorcher.
USC at Utah Friday 9:00 PM ET
The Trojans enter their second straight Friday night road game with a 1-2 record and a new starting quarterback. They’ll be trying to get star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster - who has just 11 catches for 99 yards through three games - back on track.
Wisconsin at Michigan State Saturday Noon ET
After a favorable showing against Notre Dame last weekend, Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell will be tested by Wisconsin’s always-formidable offensive line.
Penn State at Michigan Saturday 3:30 PM ET
Nittany Lions junior receiver Chris Godwin is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season, and will face a Michigan secondary that expects to have senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis on hand for the first time this season.
Florida at Tennessee Saturday 3:30 PM ET
Florida has mowed through the cupcake part of it’s schedule on its way to having the stingiest defense in the FBS through three games. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks 95th in the country in passing offense, and running back Jalen Hurd is averaging just 4.2 yards per carry on the season.
Arkansas vs Texas A&M (at Arlington, TX) Saturday 9 PM ET
A strong outing against star pass rusher Myles Garret would be a huge boost to Arkansas senior left tackle Dan Skipper’s draft stock