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Rough Draft with Revenge of the Birds Week 5

Each week, ROTB Lead Writer Justin Higdon provides a quick rundown of the latest NFL Draft-related news, notes and takes. Plus, a look ahead to the weekend’s most intriguing matchups

NCAA Football: Furman at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In the Spotlight

Malik McDowell

McDowell is a favorite of draftniks, often discussed as a potential top five or top ten pick. The junior defensive lineman had logged 13 tackles for loss last season, and another 1.5 in Michigan State’s first two games of 2016. But Saturday, against Wisconsin, McDowell was largely neutralized by the combination of center Brett Connors, left guard Michael Deiter, and left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. The trio helped limit McDowell to one assisted tackle, and a pair of pressures on freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

McDowell’s first pressure came early on a stunt from right defensive end up the middle. After that, he struggled on a number of short yardage runs. Wisconsin took advantage of his aggressive play by running the fullback right at him to convert a pair of first downs. At the goal line, McDowell got stood up and turned around, and wound up on the ground. Later, on a passing play, he appeared to beat the right guard with a spin move, but again he went down to the turf and wasn’t able to finish the play. When McDowell lined up wide right, Ramczyk, a Division III transfer, was generally able to stay with him, mirroring him to the inside, and getting just enough on a speed rush outside to buy his QB that extra split second to throw.

Does this game mean McDowell isn’t a top ten talent? Not necessarily. The Badgers were well-prepared, used McDowell’s own style and build against him, and gave their linemen help from double teams and chip blocks. Plus, Ramczyk and Deiter both project as future NFL players themselves. I’d have liked to see more out of McDowell in this matchup, but this game left me with with more positive vibes on the Wisky O-line than negative vibes on Sparty’s star defender.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

On Monday afternoon, Ian Rapoprt reported a new NFL rule, effective February 2017, that will impact FBS underclassmen, and change the way scouting is conducted in the future.

To translate, during this year’s pro day circuit, FBS schools will be able to choose five players who will be juniors or redshirt sophomores in 2017, and thus eligible for the 2018 draft. Those players will be able to participate in the pro day, run 40s, participate in drills, and meet with NFL personnel. The NFL will then be able to scout those players during the 2017 season, almost under the assumption that they will be available in the 2018 draft. If an FBS program - say, Ohio State or Alabama - is loaded with talented underclassmen, that school can petition to choose more than five players.

For example, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and LSU pass rusher Arden Key are both off to fast starts this season. As true sophomores, neither is eligible for the 2017 draft. Under the new rules, their schools can select them to participate in pro days next year, and get them some face time with NFL scouts, coaches, etc. Presumably, the idea is to give underclassmen a realistic idea of how the NFL views them, and help guide those players in making the decision of whether or not to declare before their college eligibility expires. In recent years, record numbers of juniors and third-year sophomores have declared, and an alarming number have gone undrafted and unsigned.

Though the NFL is certainly not implementing this rule out of the goodness of its heart, I do support the change. Not only does it potentially help kids make a more informed decision about their futures, but it could open the door for the league to hire more scouts and personnel people. Information and job creation are almost always welcome in my world, and of course I’ll be interested to see which players are affected next spring. Aside from Jackson and Key, I suspect UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, and Ohio State running back Mike Weber to get looks, among many others.

Box Score of the Week

Mitch Trubisky QB North Carolina

35/46 453 YDS 5 TD 0 INT

Trubisky has completed 80% of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and no INTs in his last three games. He rallied he Tarheels to a win Saturday against Pitt, converting three passes in 4th-and-six-or-longer situations during the 17-play game-winning drive. Trubisky is a redshirt junior with a Derek Carr-like build. He displayed a quick trigger, plenty of arm strength, and a good feel for pressure. Aside from a couple of lollipop jump balls to the end zone just before halftime, I was impressed with Trubisky’s accuracy, touch and zip. And yes, UNC’s passing attack includes plenty of stat-padding quick hitters, but they weren’t all bunny shots last weekend.

Hot Take of the Week

This is fun. Ian is not entirely wrong here. We should credit Wentz and his coaches. The game plans have been perfectly crafted for the Eagles rookie to succeed, and for the most part, Wentz is executing the plays with precision. Is he a “different player?” No. No, I wouldn’t say that. But his footwork and feel for pressure both look better to me. Again, credit Wentz. He had things to work on and he is clearly spending his time concentrating on the right improvements.

But - big “but” here - if Wentz does indeed become a star quarterback in the NFL, #drafttwitter, myself included, cannot be excused from pre-draft takes. I will not simply shrug my shoulders and say, “oh well, I thought he was a late Day 2/Early Day 3 player, but coaches must’ve magically fixed him.” NO! If he is a star, that means the evaluations that stated he WAS worth a top 10, first round, pick were valid. I will be looking to see where I missed.

I’m already re-assessing my concerns about his FCS vs. FBS experience, and how much that matters in relation to his skill set, and I’m already wondering if I was at least a round too low on him. I say “a round” because we are still only three games into this guys career, and while it’s been a strong three games, the race to crown him could end up looking just as absurd as the low draft rankings on him do today. After all, 15 of his 23 completions last Sunday came within 5 yards of he line of scrimmage. Three were at the line of scrimmage. Nine were behind the line of scrimmage. But look, the kid is absolutely getting the job done. If he stays ahead of defensive coordinators with his preparation, as he has done so far, he’ll succeed, and people like me will benefit much more from examining the flaws in our evaluations, than by just chalking Wentz’s achievements up to some mystical transformation.

Looking Ahead

Stanford at Washington Friday 9:00 PM ET

At this point, Stanford all-purpose threat Christian McCaffrey is appointment watching. He’ll face a Huskies defense led by cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King.

Notre Dame at Syracuse Saturday Noon ET

After the team’s third loss in four games, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called DeShone Kizer’s play “unacceptable.” Warranted or not, the third-year sophomore, who many consider the top draft-eligible passer in this year’s class, is on notice, and needs to get healthy against a Syracuse defense that ranks 90th in the FBS against the pass, and 95th in touchdowns allowed.

Tennessee at Georgia Saturday 3:30 PM ET

Tennessee roared back from a 21-point deficit to beat Florida last weekend, and defensive end Derek Barnett was a major factor. The junior finished the game with three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a pass breakup. Across from Barnett, Georgia’s Nick Chubb will look to snap out of a three-game slump. Since a 222-yard opening day performance against North Carolina, Chubb has just 200 yards on 51 carries (3.9 yards per rush) and a single touchdown.

Wisconsin at Michigan Saturday 3:30 PM ET

That rugged Badgers offensive line gets another tough test from a Michigan defensive line led by Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst Jr., and Ryan Glasgow.

Louisville at Clemson Saturday 8:00 PM ET

Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson has lost some shine in the early going this season, while Jackson already has draftniks looking ahead to the 2018 draft. With some help from his defense, perhaps Watson can gather some momentum and remind everyone that he was the de facto top dog heading into the season