Eric Edholm

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Intriguing TE prospect on 2021 draft radar

For as much as the 2020 NFL draft class at tight end left us wanting more, the 2021 class at the position is shaping up as a windfall. 

Only one tight end was selected in the first 90 selections this past spring, but be shocking if five or more populated that same range next year, depending on which underclassmen declare. The clear frontrunners at that spot, in whatever order: Florida’s Kyle Pitts, Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, Miami’s Brevin Jordan (who had a great game Saturday against Louisville), Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar, Utah’s Brant Kuithe and Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson.

They’re all technically eligible to stay in school for another year — and COVID-19 has changed things a bit — but we bet that majority of that group considers leaving.

And another name you can throw into that group is Boston College’s Hunter Long. Not as well known nationally as most of the others, Long nonetheless caught the eye of East Coast evaluators a year ago in his limited pass-catching opportunities (28 catches for 507 yards and two TDs on 40 targets).

Seriously, he averaged 10.8 yards after the catch in 2019. The year before, on four catches, he averaged 13.8 yards after the catch. On Saturday, in his 2020 debut, the irony was that Pro Football Focus charted him for 0 yards after the catch. But when you make grabs such as this — one of seven vs. Duke —  it’s easily forgiven.

Boston College TE Hunter Long 👀

Get on the train now pic.twitter.com/Yfvdyefob8

— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) September 19, 2020

The 6-foot-5, 256-pound Long caught a touchdown and totaled 93 yards receiving in the opener. This is a tight end who can get vertical, and though he should gain more separation, Long’s great length, concentration and strength allowed him to make these two really tough throws in traffic — the second of which he was interfered on.

View photosLong made several contested catches against Duke, like this beauty.View photosWatch Long's left hand be grabbed before the catch — and he still hauls the pass in.

Long’s blocking is also respectable, as he gives good effort and can be effective in helping the run game. What’s his draft stock? Yet to be determined but he has the chance to push himself into that Harrison Bryant-Jace Sternberger spectrum as a draft prospect.

A once-elite recruit reemerges at Miami

When Greg Rousseau opted out for the 2020 season, it left the Miami defense thinner than expected up front, even with terrific Temple transfer Quincy Roche picking up some of the slack. But the Hurricanes have had a nice surprise from a one-time big-time recruit.

Jaelen Phillips has taken the long road to get to Miami, but the 6-foot-5, 266-pound Phillips might finally be starting to fulfill his potential. In Saturday night’s victory over Louisville, Phillips made his impact felt early. He registered three tackles (one for loss) and three QB hurries. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Even with an offsides penalty near Louisville’s end zone, Phillips looked quick off the snap and was difficult to block, reminding folks of what a physical unicorn he truly is.

In the recruiting class of 2017, Phillips was Rivals’ No. 2 defensive end prospect (and No. 6 regardless of position). That was ahead of a few guys named Chase Young and K’Lavon Chaisson.

Phillips’ UCLA career got off to a hot start, but it cooled quickly, compounded by injuries, including a scooter accident that required multiple wrist surgeries. At one point, Phillips medically retired after leaving the Bruins following Chip Kelly’s arrival.

Now Phillips is reborn at Miami, and the fourth-year junior could be on the 2021 draft radar if he keeps making progress. 

Here’s what Miami defensive line coach Todd Stroud said of Phillips just before the start of the season:

“I would put Jaelan Phillips in the 99th percentile of any player I’ve ever coached as far as physical attributes,” Stroud said. “He weighs 270 pounds right now, and he runs like a safety. His ability to run, jump, and twitch is exactly what you want at that position. The athlete meets the hype.”

Losers

Appalachian State QB Zac Thomas

If you entered this season looking to endorse a sleeper QB prospect, you might have come across Thomas’ name. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior has been a winner (23-3 record as a starter) and a producer, passing the 5,000-yard and 50-TD marks in his brilliant Mountaineers career.

Unfortunately, he’s gotten off to a slow start this season under new head coach Shawn Clark — technically Thomas’ fourth head coach if you include interim coaches. Thomas has thrown interceptions in both of App State’s games and was unimpressive in Saturday’s loss at Marshall.

View photosAppalachian State QB Zac Thomas is off to a slow start in 2020. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Most of his production came off scripted throws and to schemed-open receivers, although Thomas threw a pretty fade for a touchdown in the first quarter, something not many college QBs seem to do well these days.

This wasn’t by any means a poor performance for Thomas, much less a draft-stock-killing one. It’s just that his creativity and efficiency both have left something to be desired through two games, and the arm questions are fair. He has time left to prove he’s a draftable prospect, but there’s work to be done on that front.

Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace

All things considered, for a first game coming off his ACL injury last year — and with OSU needing to play three quarterbacks Saturday — Wallace did what he had to do to help the Cowboys get a victory over Tulsa in a sluggish performance.

After being shut down in the first half, playing to a stalemate against Tulsa’s length in the secondary, Wallace broke out with two 24-yard grabs and first downs. All four of his catches Saturday came from a freshman QB playing his first game.

The first half raised concerns about Wallace’s ability to separate from tight man coverage, beat press off the line and handle DBs with length at the catch point. He gets credit for grinding his way to a good statistical game, but Wallace still has some unanswered questions in what could be another incredibly deep draft year at wide receiver.

Western Kentucky EDGE DeAngelo Malone

After a strong showing in the opening loss to Louisville, Malone seemed to have a curiously quiet affair in the home loss to Liberty.

The 2019 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year did little as a pass rusher outside a few nice pressures (one on a surprising bull rush that he’ll flash on occasion), but that’s not shocking. After all, Liberty runs a quick spread passing game, mixing in a lot of read-option and play-action looks. Not ideal proving grounds for a pass rusher such as Malone.

Where Malone struggled was against the run, namely maintaining gap integrity, staying blocked too long and missing some tackle opportunities that he normally makes. In fact, through two games (139 snaps), Malone has missed as many tackles (five) as he was credited for last season in 839 defensive snaps.

The NFL has Malone very much on its radar as he was earning top-100 grades this summer, even as high as the Round 2 range. His pass rushing talent and athleticism are very enticing, however, there are still some warts in his game that need fixing. A few were on display Saturday.

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    Source : https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/nfl-draft-winners-and-losers-why-trevor-lawrences-dimes-vs-the-citadel-actually-matter-191109985.html

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