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Solak | 3 small school NFL Draft prospects to watch in Week 11

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting Notes

Solak | 3 small school NFL Draft prospects to watch in Week 11

We’re going a different direction this week, team.

If you haven’t already mosied on over to the Draft Dudes podcast to get your weekend preview for college football, you’re wasting your time. The Draft Dudes is hands down the best NFL draft podcast there is–bar none.

That being said, with Kyle on the road this weekend, I filled in along with Joe Marino to preview the weekend of college football. There I gave my three prospect battles to watch, as well as two point spreads I like and an upset pick. If you’re looking for that content, grab your headphones or download the episode for your commute back home.

As such, I decided not to preview prospect v. prospect battles, as I typically do in this weekly column. Instead, I want to muster up some chatter for three small school prospects that I’ve enjoyed so far this season, but mostly kept under wraps. Given the embarrassment of riches in the Power 5 conference slate this week, I don’t expect you to necessarily forego Georgia v. Auburn for Richmond v. James Madison, but hey! It’s always fun to keep things fresh.

Let’s get in to these dark horse players, shall we?

UCF redshirt junior WR Tre’Quan Smith

Folks, I’m very excited about this young man.

Let’s get the important bit out of the way: when scouting Group of 5 prospects–or even lower down–you want to see how they perform against top competition. Well, in 5 games against Power 5 opponents, Smith has averaged (across a 3-year career) 3.8 catches, 53.2 yards (14 yards/catch), and .6 TDs.

Those numbers aren’t mind-boggling, but added context is needed here. Across his career (32 games at the time of publication) Smith has averaged 4.4 catches, 69.3 yards (15.7 yards/catch), and .56 TDs. So, the drop-off in his production against stronger opponents isn’t significant at all.

Let’s go even deeper: one of those five Power 5 games was against the star-studded Michigan defense. Smith saw 4 targets and 0 receptions in that game, but, when we get into the tape, we see that one target was a throwaway, one was deflected at the line of scrimmage, and the other two? Smith beat current NYJ CB Jeremy Clark and practice squad CB Channing Stribling deep on both. His QB (UCF was 6/22 passing on the day) missed him twice.

It’s cherry-picking to remove the stats of that Michigan game, and I’m not going to do it. But when we look at his other four performances, we see that he can handle top-tier competition:

2015 @ Stanford: 2 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD

2015 @ South Carolina: 5 receptions, 82 yards, 1 TD

2016 v. Maryland: 8 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD

2017 @ Maryland: 4 receptions, 29 yards, 0 TD

Having gone through all of Smith’s Power 5 tape I could find, I feel very comfortable saying he acquitted himself well up against whomever he was lined.

When we turn on the aforementioned tape, we see an alpha wide receiver. Listed at 6’1 201, the 2015 AAC Rookie of the Year plays like he’s much taller (I think he is, personally) and has Inspector Gadget arms that help him attack the football away from his frame. Soft hands help him regularly secure balls through contact as well.

3rd and 16, with a touchdown needed in overtime, on a scramble drill. What a play.

I especially like this rep because it shows something I think Smith must continue to hone. He can be physical at the catch point, but he must better maximize his length and strength when attempting to separate. Here, you can see him push through CB #4 to stay inbounds and get to space to help his quarterback.

A good route-runner with surprising burst, Tre’Quan Smith, plainly, has all the makings of a true split-end in the NFL. He needs some polish: he only started playing football his junior year of high school, having lettered in track and basketball as well. But he’s gonna test off the charts, and the production is there. Arrow’s up on Smith.

On Saturday, he gets UConn senior CB Jamar Summers. Summers has NFL talent, but his tape this year has some rough games in it, including an absolute thrashing at the hands of Memphis WR Anthony Miller. While Smith doesn’t nearly see the market share that Miller does in UCF’s spread-the-wealth offense, I expect him to give Summers fits as well.

Bonus: UCF freshman QB McKenzie Milton can ball

UTSA senior CB Devron Davis

Let’s get the bonus player for this section out of the way: Assistant Director Joe Marino dropped a piece on the Roadrunner’s EDGE Marcus Davenport that highlights why analysts everywhere are excited to see this player at the Senior Bowl come January.

But Davenport isn’t the only NFL talent on UTSA’s defense: Devron Davis is a diamond in the rough.

But academics have always held Davis back: he had offers from Power 5 schools in 2013, but his grades prevented him from qualifying for those programs. After 2 years at Merced College, Davis fielded offers from schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and others as a JUCO prospect–but again, his collegiate grades made it difficult for him to make it with those big name programs. A few Power 5 teams remained on the table, but Davis elected to go to UTSA, where ex-LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson was to be the new head coach.

In a stable environment, we’ve finally begun to see realizations of Davis’ incredible potential. At 6’0 210 lbs (with apparently a 4.40 40-yard dash at a Nike SPARQ event in high school), Davis’ physical profile lends itself to man coverage. He looks comfortable in the press and knows how to maximize his length, but it’s the strides in off-man and zone coverage that have really encouraged me.

That’s LA Rams and 4th-round selection Josh Reynolds there. Davis plays him with excellent leverage, turning his hips and remaining in Reynolds’ front pocket on the vert down the sidelines, forcing the back-shoulder throw.

But that’s pretty pedestrian–what gets me hype is the quick turnaround, the location of the football, and the blend of length, timing, and aggressiveness to attack the ball through the hands of the wide receiver without drawing a flag. You know how we say the back-shoulder fade is virtually indefensible? This is a pretty good back-shoulder fade, and Davis just defended it.

An animal in run support (5.5 career TFLs over 17 games) and proficient blitzer, Davis plays a physical brand of football that excites me. He’s a tad stiff in the hips, and I worry about his short-range quickness–but, considering his ball skills, physicality, and long speed, he may find at safety as well.

Davis deserves a Day 2 selection off of his tape and reported physical traits. Updated testing will be instrumental in determining his draft stock moving forward.

This weekend, Davis and the Roadrunners fight for bowl eligibility against the resurrected UAB Blazers. UAB doesn’t necessarily air it out too much, but they’ve got quick wideouts who could give Davis fits if he plays without discipline. No matter the week, however, Devron Davis is a fun watch.

James Madison senior OT Aaron Stinnie

Yes! All the way down to the FCS! Let’s do this thing.

Stinnie is such an interesting study. In high school, Stinnie only started playing organized ball in his junior year (played basketball in high school as well). He played both sides of the line, earning First-Team All-Virginia recognition for his play as both an offensive and defensive alignment. That’s just awesome.

Stinnie went to the Dukes as a defensive tackle, however, and played there as a redshirt freshman. In the spring of his redshirt sophomore year, however, HC Everett Withers and the James Madison coaching staff moved Stinnie back to the offensive side–this time, for good. He’s started every game for JMU at LT since, and JMU has been setting FCS records left and right during his tenure.

When you throw on Stinnie’s tape, a couple of traits from his variegated athletic background stick out. He has incredible quick and strong hands–likely a remnant of his days at center for his high school basketball team–that serve him very well in pass protection. As you’d imagine, the athleticism is there as well: Stinnie is a good mover in space.

His lack of experience at tackle, however, hampers his own natural agility. His kick-slide and pass sets are, plainly, quite painful to watch. Given his transcendent upper body power (compared to his current competition, that is), he doesn’t worry much about establishing a base, and even when he loses ground, he regularly re-anchors without an issue.

That footwork? Really bad.

But how often do we see that EDGE rusher finish turning the corner, pursuing the rolling QB from the back side? Stinnie shows off the aforementioned grip strength and upper body power, as well as a willingness to maintain and finish blocks that catches the eye.

That’s the most attractive quality of Stinnie, in my eyes: he can be a real road-paver in JMU’s rushing attack. When he’s coming downhill on zone blocks? Sheesh.

The question for Stinnie remains best fit. He measures in at 6’5, but I’ve seen reports on his weight anywhere between 290 and 310 lbs. He’s likely on the lighter side (he bulked up from DT to play OT), so I really wonder about his fit on an offensive line. How much weight can he bear on that frame? Because, if his footwork doesn’t improve, he may have to move inside. Does he have TE potential at a lighter weight?

Stinnie will get a chance on an NFL roster, and he has traits that make him a desirable piece. But you better do your homework on this prospect to figure out how he can best impact your team.

BonusJMU plays Richmond on Saturday, and the Spiders’ QB Kyle Lauletta has NFL traits.

Benjamin Solak

Ben Solak has been a football fan and film junkie for all of his life, and has the pleasure of serving as a National Scout for NDT Scouting. He also covers the Philadelphia Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation and co-hosts the Locked On Eagles podcast. Ben takes many things far too seriously, including fishing, Captain America, grammar, and Game Of Thrones.

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