NCAA Football News

Following Army All-American Bowl, Who Is Real 2016 No. 1 QB Recruit?

SAN ANTONIO — It took only one drive early in the first quarter for quarterback Shea Patterson to introduce himself to the casual fan.

Patterson's first pass: A screen pass to new Michigan Wolverines receiver Dylan Crawford. The second pass: A dart to Stanford Cardinal-bound receiver Simi Fehoko for 15 yards.

After an incompletion where Miami Hurricanes pledge Tyler Byrd made a great defensive play, Patterson connected again with Fehoko for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That pretty much summed up the day for Patterson, an Ole Miss Rebels pledge who made a strong case to be the nation's top-ranked quarterback. In a game where he split time with Stanford commit K.J. Costello and Michigan commit Brandon Peters, Patterson completed six of nine passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns for the game and also walked away with the Pete Dawkins Trophy, which is awarded to the game's most valuable player.

"I came here to compete," Patterson said. "This was a dream of mine."

To the casual fan, Patterson was impressive. And what's not to like? He throws an accurate ball deep, intermediate and short. His footwork and accuracy run neck and neck for his best assets. And when it comes to pressure situations, Patterson rarely panics.

Saturday was proof of that.

To those who have followed Patterson's recruiting process since his freshman year, his performance Saturday was par for the course. Every game, the 5-star quarterback plays as if he's on a mission to show everyone he's the best of a talented quarterback class.

It looked that way on Saturday—and the majority of his efforts came in the first half. He completed five of seven passes and accounted for both touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of play.

"I've dreamed about this since I was a little kid," he said. "I remember watching Cody Kessler and Bubba Starling play in this game maybe four or five years ago. It's just a childhood dream of mine come true. This is awesome."

Currently, Patterson is ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class behind Georgia Bulldogs-bound Jacob Eason. Of the quarterbacks at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, five of the top six pro-style quarterbacks were in San Antonio.

Eason, the top-ranked pro-style quarterback, has all the measurables coaches want, and he showed his arm strength on a few of his passes. However, Eason had troubles fielding the snap early, and he finished completing six of 13 passes for 71 yards an interception. Feleipe Franks, a Florida Gators commit, threw two interceptions and completed only one pass.

Costello had a decent day, completing six of 10 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a pick early. Peters had the game's longest completion of 39 yards, but he only completed four of 16 passes for the day. Jawon Pass, the nation's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, rushed for a score and completed five of nine passes for 47 yards for the day.

In short, Patterson displayed everything necessary to put himself in position to take over the top quarterback spot. And he did it against 5-star stud defensive tackles like Dexter Lawrence and Derrick Brown.

And now, Patterson focuses on life at Ole Miss, a place where many feel he'll challenge for the starting position early in his career. If he plays at Ole Miss anywhere close to how he played Saturday, Rebels fans should be excited for what's expected to be a fantastic career.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.com's composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Army All-American Bowl 2016: Score, Recruit Commitments and Twitter Reaction

The West team came out on top in the premier college recruit all-star game Saturday, as it easily defeated the East 37-9 in the 2016 Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Ole Miss quarterback recruit Shea Patterson took home MVP honors for the West, according to Yancy Porter of Scout, as he completed six of his 10 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in an extremely efficient performance:

Here is an in-depth look at how the 2016 Army All-American Bowl played out, along with a breakdown of the five recruits who announced their collegiate commitments Saturday.

 

Game Recap

The West came out of the gates firing thanks to the play of Patterson and his wide array of offensive weapons.

Following a 55-yard kickoff return, Patterson took advantage of the East's lax coverage in the secondary by finding Stanford wide receiver commit Simi Fehoko for a 35-yard touchdown.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Patterson's strong opening performance was quite consistent with what he brought to the table at the high school level:

While Patterson certainly has a lot of work to do before assuming the starting quarterback job with the Rebels, Chad Simmons of Scout firmly believes he will develop into one of the best signal-callers and players in the nation:

The East had a chance to answer on the ensuing drive with Georgia commit and No. 1-ranked quarterback Jacob Eason at the helm.

Eason fumbled a snap deep in his own territory, though, and then fumbled again after recovering it and getting hit. That allowed TCU running back commit Sewo Olonilua to punch the ball in from one yard out to give the West a 13-0 lead. A missed extra point followed.

As Mike Farrell of Rivals pointed out, Eason didn't look particularly comfortable on what turned out to be a disastrous opening drive for the East:

Scoring stalled out for a while after that, but there were some spectacular defensive plays sprinkled in, including Miami (Fla.) cornerback commit Tyler Byrd picking off Stanford recruit KJ Costello.

While Byrd showed excellent ball skills on the play, Bleacher Report's David Kenyon pointed out that he was helped out by a less-than-stellar Costello throw:

The West extended its lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half when Patterson threw his second touchdown of the day to Javon McKinley, who announced his college decision later in the game.

After Patterson found pay dirt on the play, Farrell pointed out that he was establishing himself as the game's top passer:

That score put the West up 19-0, but the East finally got on the board when Byrd blocked an extra-point attempt and returned it all the way to make it 19-2.

Former NFL quarterback and current Yahoo analyst Shaun King was among those who loved what they saw out of Byrd:

Byrd's big play gave the East the momentum it needed, as the team's ensuing drive ended in its first touchdown of the day when Louisville quarterback commit Jawon Pass ran for a short touchdown to pull to within 10 points of the lead:

Despite Pass sparking the East on offense, Woody Wommack of Rivals believes he has a lot of developing to do in comparison to the game's other quarterbacks:

The West bounced back, as it added 11 more points to its total in the final few minutes of the opening half.

Costello connected with USC commit Tyler Vaughns for a 19-yard touchdown before finding Olonilua for a two-point conversion to make the score 27-9:

After watching Vaughns' TD, Greg Biggins of Fox Sports lauded the pass-catcher for his skills as a receiver:

BYU kicker commit Skyler Southam had a rough first half, but he atoned for it just prior to halftime by knocking a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to put the West ahead 30-9 after 24 minutes.

Following a scoreless third quarter, the West continued to pour it on early in the fourth when Costello threw his second touchdown of the day, this time to uncommitted California tight end and defensive end Devin Asiasi to make it 37-9.

The 4-star Asiasi is ranked as the No. 4 athlete in the class, and Jason Howell of Rivals loved what he saw out of him on the play at the tight end position:

Eason's struggles continued for the East on the next drive, as he was intercepted by undecided cornerback Jack Jones. That prompted ESPN.com's Max Olson to observe that Eason may have been dealing with a thumb injury, although nothing was confirmed on that front.

The East team didn't take any chances, holding him out for the remainder of the game. Neither team was able to add to its respective scoring totals.

While there was a major disparity on the scoreboard, both the East and West showcased a ton of talent in the 2016 Army All-American Bowl.

If Saturday's game was any indication, then college football is in for a major infusion of talent.

 

Recruit Commitments

The first of five live college commitments during the 2016 Army All-American Bowl occurred during the first quarter when wide receiver Dylan Crawford made his choice.

The Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native ranks as the No. 20 wide receiver in his class, and he will attempt to live up to that billing at the University of Michigan, according to the Army All-American Bowl's official Twitter account:

Per Nick Baumgardner of MLive, Crawford pointed toward Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh's presence as one of the defining factors in his decision to make the move to Ann Arbor during the game's broadcast.

"I just felt it was the all-around best fit for me," Crawford said. "They've got a good network there, I can go in there and try and compete from the beginning. Coach Harbaugh's going to get you right."

After Michigan secured Crawford, 247Sports pointed out the Wolverines have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten and the second-best in the nation:

In the second quarter, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock chose between TCU, Houston and Texas A&M.

The Missouri City, Texas, native ultimately decided to join Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs in the Big 12 Conference:

At 314 pounds, Blacklock rates as the No. 28 defensive tackle and No. 271 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.

Fellow TCU commit and 4-star defensive end Isaiah Chambers was excited after hearing that he will play alongside Blacklock at the collegiate level:

Donnie Corley is an impressive wide receiver and cornerback recruit, and he declared his college choice in the third quarter.

Big Ten powers Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State were in the running, but the No. 2 player from the state of Michigan decided to remain close to home by committing to play for the Spartans:

While Corley is a 4-star wide receiver and the No. 19 wideout in his class, he is certainly talented enough to play on both sides of the ball.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Corley said during the Army All-American Bowl broadcast that his dual-threat ability played into his decision.

"They've just been real with me since the beginning," Corley said. "It was one of my first offers. I just love what Coach [Mark] Dantonio is doing up there. They've been winning the last couple years. They're in need of a lot of receivers and I got a chance to play both ways."

The third and final wide receiver to commit on the day did so in the fourth quarter, as Javon McKinley considered finalists Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington.

While the Corona, California, native is far closer to Pac-12 country, he decided to make the long trip to South Bend, Indiana, to play for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish:

The 4-star wideout ranks as the No. 18 receiver in the class of 2016, and, according to Wiltfong, he gave a number of reasons for his desire to be a Golden Domer on the broadcast.

"One of the best degree schools you could get," McKinley said. "I connected with the coaching staff really well. The whole tradition of Notre Dame is something to really look into. I just like Notre Dame."

The biggest announcement of the day was saved for last when 5-star No. 1-ranked tight end Isaac Nauta ended his recruiting process.

While Michigan made a late push to land him in addition to Crawford, Nauta's preference to remain close to home won out, as the Buford, Georgia, native committed to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

Even though the Wolverines came up short in the their pursuit of Nauta, Steve Lorenz of 247Sports still felt as though it was a significant step for Michigan in its quest to become a recruiting power once again:

Nauta will combine with Eason to create one of the most exciting, young offensive combinations in college football.

One can only assume that Nauta will be huge for Eason's development as a passer since he is among the highest-rated tight ends to enter the college ranks over the past several years, per Paul Maharry of UGASports.com:

Georgia may have scored the biggest coup of the day by getting its quarterback an elite weapon, but a number of schools significantly improved.

All five of the prospects who committed during the 2016 Army All-American Bowl have a chance to be NFL players, while several others who put forth strong on-field performances during the contest will have that opportunity as well.

 

*All recruit information and rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Winners and Losers of the 2016 Army All-American Bowl

The 2016 edition of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is in the books as the West squad defeated the East 37-9 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. 

While fans across the country got to see recruits who could make an impact for their favorite schools as soon as this fall, there’s still plenty of work to do for those players who have still yet to make a decision on where they will commit. 

However, some teams got some good news, as five players announced their commitments during the game while others are left to regroup after missing out on them.

Additionally, some committed players backed up their lofty prep accolades and displayed why fans should be anxious in anticipating their arrival on campus. 

Who makes up the winners and losers from the 2016 Army All-American Bowl?

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Isaac Nauta to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 5-Star TE Prospect

When 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta decided to decommit from Florida State, he dealt the Seminoles a major blow. But he will drastically improve Georgia's 2016 recruiting class, as he ultimately decided to commit to the Bulldogs.

According to Jeff Sentell of Dawg Nation, Nauta officially committed to Georgia on Saturday and "has already applied for admission at UGA and will enroll early on Jan. 11."

The 6'3" and 244-pound tight end from IMG Academy is the No. 1-ranked tight end, the third-best prospect from the state of Georgia and the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Nauta's size and athleticism make him an exciting prospect. He'll high-point the ball in the air, and he has soft hands for a man his size, but he's also physical in the running game and attacks his blocking assignment.

It's a huge boon to Georgia's already-impressive recruiting class for 2016, with Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com noting his commitment gives the Bulldogs the top tight end and top-ranked pro-style quarterback in Jacob Eason. 

Nauta looks as though he'll be a very versatile tight end who can stay on the field in all situations. 

He looks like a special prospect at the tight end position and is the sort of talent an offensive coordinator can utilize in a number of ways. 

Georgia's 2016 recruiting class before he committed was ranked 11th overall by 247Sports. New head coach Kirby Smart is making a profound impact on the program already. 

Florida State's loss, then, certainly is Georgia's massive gain.  

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No. 1 TE Isaac Nauta Will Provide Immediate Impact for Georgia

The momentum for Georgia and new head coach Kirby Smart is continuing to build. The Bulldogs landed a major piece to their 2016 class when 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta announced his commitment to Georgia during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The 6’3”, 244-pounder, who is originally from Buford, Georgia, will now head to Athens after choosing the Bulldogs over finalists Alabama and Michigan.

That proximity to home certainly didn’t hurt the Bulldogs' chances, but his bond with Smart also helped Georgia’s push to land him in the end.

"It's close to home and there's always a chance to win the SEC East with all the talent around the area," Nauta told Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue earlier this week. "I have a good relationship with Kirby Smart."

Nauta is the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2016 class and the nation’s top tight end prospect. As an added bonus, he will be on campus later this month as an early enrollee.

But there are many layers to his pledge that make it even more significant for the Bulldogs.

For starters, he’s an elite tight end who gives the Bulldogs a pass-catching threat and poses instant mismatch problems for defenses as soon as he steps foot on the field.

He also possesses the physical toughness necessary to step into the SEC and immediately be a factor. 

Nauta was dominant at The Opening over the summer, and he continued to flash his abilities both as a receiver and as a physical blocker in the run game during practices in San Antonio this week, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

Given the fact that he will get a chance to go through spring drills, he’ll have a shot to master the playbook of new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney by the time fall rolls around—which is his main goal now that his recruitment is finished.

"I want to get with coaches every day and learn the offense so by the time spring ball rolls around I'll be ready to go. I want to play right away as a freshman," Nauta told Donohue. 

With fellow 5-star recruit and early enrollee Jacob Eason a threat to be the Bulldogs starting quarterback this fall, pairing him with a battery mate such as Nauta would give him a safety net when things break down.

Another benefit of Nauta’s pledge is the boost it could give the Bulldogs down the stretch.

Smart and his staff have a handful of elite prospects, such as 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown and 5-star athletes Mecole Hardman Jr. and Demetris Robertson, who are all heavily considering staying in-state and choosing Georgia.

Regardless of who joins him in Athens, Nauta is the type of weapon who can make an immediate impact next season—which makes his commitment one worth celebrating for Bulldogs fans.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Information from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue was used in this story. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Javon McKinley to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the best playmakers in 2016's recruiting class is off the board, as wide receiver Javon McKinley has committed to Notre Dame.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com reported McKinley's decision.

A four-star prospect out of Corona, California, McKinley is ranked as the No. 18 wide receiver in his class by 247 Sports. He's got a college-ready frame at 6'2" and 203 pounds, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on the field as a freshman. 

During The Opening event in July, McKinley showcased his ability to snatch a ball out of the air and run past defensive backs:

Every coach in the country loves to see what a player will do surrounded by traffic. McKinley has the chops to go over the middle and make plays because of his size and strength, making up for some deficiencies he has in other areas. 

That brief video does highlight some of those concerns scouts have with McKinley at this point in his development. He's not afraid to play physical with opposing cornerbacks, but lacks the ability to get away from them.

Here's ESPN.com's scouting report on McKinley's weaknesses: 

Needs to come off the ball with more purpose, explosion. Runs to just try and get open, not a lot of precision or reason for his methods. Muscles his way through tight coverage and needs technical polish and coaching as a route runner. Is more of a run and catch guy right now that is difficult to tackle. Needs to learn nuance and coverage.

This is hardly a crippling flaw in McKinley's game as he prepares to enter college. It's rare to find a wide receiver who knows how to run routes. These players spend four years in high school knowing they can just jump over cornerbacks to make big plays. 

Moving into college is the true test of a player's ability. McKinley has the raw physical package to be a superstar at the next level and will do well to start working with a college coaching staff as soon as possible to work out some kinks. 

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Donnie Corley to Michigan State: Spartans Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Michigan's second-ranked receiver prospect, Donnie Corley, announced he is staying in-state, committing to the Michigan State Spartans following Saturday's Army All-American Bowl, according to Mike Farrell of Rivals. 

Corley is a 6'2", 185-pound wideout from Detroit Martin Luther King High School in Wyandotte, Michigan. He's considered the No. 2 player in his state, the No. 19 wide receiver in the country and the No. 112 player overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Corley burst onto the scene in 2014, nabbing 47 catches for 1,087 yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. He's versatile as well, as he added nine interceptions that season as a corner. 

Corley has good size and speed for his position and is a smooth, natural athlete. He's excellent at high-pointing the ball as both a receiver and corner but is also very dangerous after the catch, making him a dangerous playmaker in the passing game. 

He has the ability to play corner at the next level too, however, and has ideal size at the position, so it's possible he could make the move to the defensive side of the ball.

Either way, Michigan State landed an excellent recruit and a player who should be a difference-maker in Mark Dantonio's offense.

 

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Ross Blacklock to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Ross Blacklock had long been expected to continue his football career in the Lone Star State, and following Saturday’s Army All-American Bowl, he reaffirmed those forecasts by signing with TCU.

Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors passed along Blacklock's decision. 

Blacklock is listed as a 4-star prospect and the nation’s No. 28 defensive tackle, per 247Sports. He has tremendous upside with the size and strength—6’4” and 314 pounds—to dictate traffic at the line of scrimmage.

The Missouri City, Texas, native was expected to sign with an in-state team, with Texas A&M, TCU and Houston his three finalists, per Howard Chen of CSN Houston.

Texas A&M made a hard push, with head coach Kevin Sumlin making an in-home visit in early December, according to Chuck Kingsbury of SEC Country, wooing Blacklock with the prospect of lining up next to former 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack.

LSU was in the mix for Blacklock as well, per Kingsbury, but faded around the holiday. He also has a scheduled visit to Alabama on Jan. 15, according to Gabe Brooks of Scout. Whether he still takes that visit remains to be seen.

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Dylan Crawford to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Although they still have some time to wait before National Signing Day next month, Michigan fans can already start preparing for Dylan Crawford to arrive in Ann Arbor.

The 4-star wide receiver announced his commitment to Jim Harbaugh's team on Saturday, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free-Press:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Crawford is the 20th-best wideout in the 2016 recruiting class and ranks 113th overall. He's also the 18th-best player in the state of California.

Crawford made major waves in January 2015 when he announced that he was transferring from St. Francis High School to Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

Crawford's father, Glenn, revealed that education was the motivating factor behind the choice, per Aram Tolegian of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "Our family has nothing but great feelings for St. Francis and wish them the best in all things. The decision was made to accommodate academic options that would allow Dylan to graduate high school a semester early and allow him to start his life as a collegiate scholar-athlete."

The biggest on-field benefit for Crawford was that he would get paired with quarterback KJ Costello, who's also a 4-star recruit in the 2016 recruiting class. With a player that talented throwing him passes, Crawford couldn't have asked for a better situation to serve as a springboard to the collegiate level.

In addition, the two have a close relationship, taking multiple recruiting trips together:

Crawford is one of those receivers who doesn't have otherworldly gifts, but whatever physical advantage he lacks on a defensive back, he makes up for with on-field intelligence. The wideout knows how to use his hands to gain separation from his defender; he can also adjust his routes so as to be in the best position to make the catch.

That's not to say that Crawford is completely bereft of speed and agility. He possesses a wide variety of skills that will allow him to play a few different roles in the passing game.

The Wolverines currently have the nation's second-ranked recruiting class for 2016, per 247Sports, which doesn't yet factor in Crawford's commitment. Harbaugh is stockpiling a lot of impact talent after his first season with the program.

This is unlikely to be Michigan's biggest catch of the recruiting season, but Crawford has the potential to be a difference-maker in the Wolverines' offense in a few years.

 

Recruit star ratings and rankings via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Alabama vs. Clemson: Key Storylines for College Football Championship 2016

The College Football Championship matchup between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama features two of the three Heisman Trophy finalists, numerous future NFL-caliber players and plenty of resultant intrigue.

But while it's obvious to focus on Alabama running back, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, and Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson, there are other key storylines and developments to take into account.

Ahead of Monday's grand College Football Playoff finale, there are certain points of focus worth honing in on to better determine who may emerge as the new national champion. Check out some of the notable storylines to watch for:

 

Alabama vs. Clemson Key Storylines

Shaq Lawson's Health

Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson has racked up a whopping 23.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks this season, but unfortunately he suffered a sprained MCL in the 37-17 Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma.

"How I feel when it comes to game time? Hopefully, I'll be feeling right,” said Lawson on Tuesday, per FoxSports.com's Michael Wayne Bratton. "I'll say if we played tomorrow, I couldn't be able to play. That's how I feel right now."

And what a loss it would be if Lawson couldn't go. Although he's been spotted on the practice field with a brace on his knee, per Orange and White'sDan Hope, the All-American junior figures to be hobbled at best and probably not as disruptive as he usually is.

Kevin Dodd plays well in his own right as the edge-rusher opposite Lawson, but the two complement each other so well. CFB Film Room highlighted how well Dodd did to fill in for Lawson when he went down early in the Orange Bowl:

Making that much of an impact against the Sooners is one thing. A similar performance against the beefy, extremely physical Alabama offensive line is quite a tall order for Dodd to fulfill.

Both B.J. Goodson and Ben Boulware are exemplary players in the Tigers' linebacker corps. They fly to the football and have helped Clemson rank 18th in the country in rush defense. Those two will need to step up and commit to denying Henry for Lawson's injury to not be a devastating blow.

 

Can Jake Coker Keep It Up?

And that last section leads well into this one regarding the Crimson Tide signal-caller.

Coker had what may be the game of his life to date in Alabama's 38-0 romp over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. He was 25-of-30 passing for 286 yards and two touchdowns, relying heavily on freshman phenom wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who hauled in both TD passes.

If Lawson, Dodd and Co. can't get in Coker's face and hit him early and often, there's reason to believe his form from the Cotton Bowl will carry over. Michigan State was supposed to be a formidable defense—and it limited Henry to less than four yards per tote. No easy task.

One player who could make life easier to apply pressure on Coker is stud Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander.

Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller believes Alexander may be the best at his position in all the land:

Capable of taking away half the field with his airtight man-to-man coverage, Alexander will be tasked with shutting down Ridley. That should serve as one of the better and pivotal one-on-one matchups that most determines the national championship's outcome.

Clemson may have a good enough individual player to take Ridley almost completely away.

That would be bad news for Coker, whose next-best receiver in ArDarius Stewart hasn't had a 100-yard performance all season. Stewart isn't as explosive as Ridley or as much of a big-play threat as Coker's favorite target.

The Alexander-Ridley duel looms large when finding the answer to this subsection's initial question.

 

A Master Class of Clashing Leadership Styles

Speaking of head-to-head battles, another important one won't take place on the field—but rather on the sidelines.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is aiming for his fourth national title amid an already brilliant tenure. He tends to criticize and be meticulous when his team has a game well in hand; encouraging and not at all flustered in the rare instances when the Tide are trailing.

Dabo Swinney, an Alabama alum and former receiver for the football team, seldom is bereft of maximum energy, wears his emotions on his sleeve and always appears to have an optimistic outlook as Clemson's coach.

When it comes to knocking off perceived superior counterparts, Swinney has quite a fine record in recent years, per Clemson Football:

The pragmatic, "Process"-oriented Saban has taken the Tide to epic heights. The Tigers are on the precipice of a true landmark triumph with a most unconventional leader who is quite the opposite of "old school" and seems to enjoy every moment.

None of this has to do with football per se. Both men are excellent when it comes to the X's and O's. They wouldn't have made it to this point without the schematic savvy, but the way they lead is so strikingly different that it can't be ignored.

On the biggest stage and under the biggest national microscope, both men will have to deal with the game's circumstances in the moment, in their own way.

Swinney has never been here before, but he and Clemson just may have enough naivete to knock off the mighty Crimson Tide. Then again, the steady, more stable Saban could once again be the one raising the most prestigious piece of hardware in all of college football.

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Army All-American Bowl 2016: Highlights, Live Commitment Updates and Reaction

West 19, East 9—Late 2nd Quarter

Some of the nation's top-rated recruits are showcasing their skills during the 2016 Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

NBC is broadcasting the prospect showcase, and Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates, in-game commitment news and highlights.

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Army All-American Bowl Roster 2016: Breaking Down Top Recruits in Marquee Game

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is one of the best games of the year.

Some of the best and brightest high school football stars gather on the field for one game to do three things: play football, announce where they're going to play college football and give a glimpse into the future.

Four of the top-10 players in Saturday's all-star game have committed to the SEC or ACC, with plenty of Big Ten and Pac-12 commits not far behind. 

Let's take a look at some of the top names playing on Saturday, as you'll be seeing them a lot on future Saturdays in the college football world very soon.

Note: All rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and you can view the game's roster here.

 

Dexter Lawrence
  • Team East
  • 5-star recruit out of Wake Forest, North Carolina
  • No. 3 recruit in the country, No. 2 DT in the country
  • Top recruit from North Carolina
  • Committed to Clemson on Dec. 14

Lawrence is a large man.

Not many high school kids go off to college at 6'4", 327 pounds. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was able to lure him away from Florida, Florida State and North Carolina State, and he got a guy that's going to make the Tigers' front line dominant for the next couple of years.

Lawrence is not your typical big defensive tackle that focuses on stuffing the run. He's a do-it-all defensive tackle that can also get after the quarterback. He recorded 91 tackles and 13 sacks, both slight upticks from his junior year in 2014 (80 tackles, 10 sacks).

More importantly, the man is massive. It's no secret why his tackle and sack numbers are high. He physically imposes his will against the much smaller offensive linemen. Watch this highlight tape of him, and watch him bulldoze his way into the backfield.

It'll be interesting to watch how Lawrence does against much bigger interior offensive linemen, but he has plenty of strength to be a force in the middle. Time will tell how great he'll be at Clemson, but the potential is there for Lawrence.

 

Jacob Eason
  • Team East
  • 5-star recruit out of Lake Stevens, Washington
  • No. 4 recruit in the country, No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country
  • Top prospect in the state of Washington
  • Committed to Georgia on July 19, 2014

Kirby Smart will walk into a great situation when he becomes the head coach at Georgia next year, because Eason may be the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.

Yes, that is an actual statement.

Eason is the complete package at quarterback. He's 6'5", and has outstanding vision downfield with good speed once he gets into the open field. He has awareness like Tony Romo with the ability to escape the pocket when pressure gets to him.

Those are just bonuses. Eason has an amazing arm. He can make any type of throw, whether it be a deep ball that lands right in the hands of his receivers or a tight spiral that can fit through any window. That's due in large part to Eason's quick release, which is a sight to watch. He gets the ball out so fast, but puts enough power in his lower body to get enough strength in his throws.

This combination of size, throw power and accuracy is a rare trio of traits that isn't seen in most quarterbacks today. Eason is going to be a fun player to watch at Georgia.

 

David Long
  • Team West
  • 4-star recruit out of Los Angeles
  • No. 65 recruit in the nation, No. 7 DB in the nation
  • No. 10 prospect in California
  • Decommitted from Stanford on Dec. 18, choice between Washington and Michigan

Will Saturday be the day that Long makes his final decision?

Long originally committed to play for head coach David Shaw and Stanford last year, but the 4-star corner decommitted from the Cardinal in December and announced his top two are the Wolverines and Huskies.

At 6-foot and 175 pounds, Long has good size at 17 years old to develop into a great corner. He has good reaction skills toward the ball and can go stride-for-stride with any receiver, especially on the intermediate and deep routes.

Whomever gets Long will get a very valuable corner. And both programs will see how good he can be on Saturday.

 

Mique Juarez
  • Team West
  • 5-star recruit out of Torrance, California
  • No. 16 recruit in the nation, No. 2 OLB in the nation
  • No. 2 prospect in California
  • 247Sports predicts UCLA is the favorite

Juarez is a special outside linebacker.

For one thing, he hits and he hits hard. He's also a very good coverage outside linebacker, which is not a usual combination. Being listed as an outside linebacker, he has great pursuit skills in a 4-3 scheme but also is strong and agile enough to beat offensive linemen off the snap.

One wild card in play when it comes to Juarez's decision is Alabama. Juarez doesn't have the Crimson Tide listed as his final two, but he still plans to take a visit to Nick Saban's program.

"What I like [about] Alabama is that they're a very big, versatile team," Juarez said to Drew Champlain of AL.com. "They play for and win national championships and playing for [head coach] Nick Saban would be really something."

UCLA is listed as the favorite, according to 247Sports, but Juarez could very much have a change of heart by the time he makes his decision. Either way, one of those programs is going to get an all-around linebacker that can do many things and impact a defense in more ways than one.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army All-American Bowl 2016: Top Recruits Announcing Commitments at Game

With bowl season nearly in the books and recruiting about to awaken from the sanctioned dead period next week, this weekend’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl should steal some warranted attention among the college football landscape. 

The game itself at the Alamodome in San Antonio has provided an early glimpse at some of the nation’s premier talent since its inception in 2000. 

According to Patrick Maks of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, 299 NFL draft picks have played in this game, including 106 Pro Bowlers, 73 first-rounders and a first-overall pick in Andrew Luck. 

At least 30 of the 100 participants remain uncommitted, per Robert Judin of Campus Insiders, but five are expected to make their announcements this weekend. 

Here is a look at some of the top talent who should reveal their landing spot. 

 

Isaac Nauta – 5-Star, No. 1 TE, No. 9 Overall

The nation’s No.1 tight end has already made his decision on where he plans to enroll, per Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue, but Isaac Nauta just hasn’t let everyone else know.

He’s narrowed his list down to Alabama, Georgia and Michigan. 

“I’m excited to get it off my chest,” Nauta said, per Donohue. “I’m ready to head to school and get this next chapter of my life started.”

The Bulldogs are favored to land Nauta, though his primary recruiter, tight ends coach John Lilly, will not be a part of new head coach Kirby Smart’s staff. 

However, Nauta indicated last month that coaching isn’t necessarily the most paramount factor in his decision, per Jeff Sentell of DawgNation.com. 

“…With me it has always just been you have to look at the program and the university itself and its location and not just the coaches,” said Nauta, who hails from Buford, Georgia, just 50 miles from the Bulldogs’ campus in Athens. "The coaching staff is just the cherry on top. As far as Georgia goes, they will definitely stay among my top schools.”

Despite no announcement yet, Nauta plans to enroll this semester at the school he selects, per Sentell. That could be trouble for Michigan, as it began classes on Wednesday

Georgia opens the spring semester on Monday and Alabama on Wednesday, meaning Nauta will be quite busy traveling in the coming week if his hopes to enroll early come to fruition.

 

Javon McKinley – 4-Star, No. 18 WR, No. 107 Overall

Four-star wide receiver Javon McKinley is expected to announce this weekend he will leave his home state of California. 

McKinley’s three finalists include Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington, and he discussed each just days ahead of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, courtesy of 247Sports' Tom Loy:

At 6’2’” and 200 pounds, McKinley has the ideal physical frame that should give him advantages against most secondaries. He’s tall enough to snag balls out of the air at their high points and strong enough to break away from single tacklers in open space. 

Given his three finalists are offensive-minded programs, he should thrive and develop over the next three years into an NFL prospect, which he indicated is one of his highest premiums, per Loy. 

 

Ross Blacklock — 4-Star, No. 28 DT, No. 271 Overall

Lone star product Ross Blacklock is one of the few top defensive players expected to announce this weekend. And by all indications, he will not be going far from home. 

Blacklock is expected to choose between Texas A&M, TCU and Houston, according to Howard Chen of CSN Houston, with the Horned Frogs the favorites to secure his signature, per 247Sports

He has the size and strength to barrel through the line of scrimmage, as Brian Perroni of 247Sports showed during U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice:

Blacklock is the son of Jimmy Blacklock, a former Harlem Globetrotter, and as such, was quite the basketball player as a youth. However, his 6’4”, 314-pound frame lends itself more to the trenches of the gridiron rather than the backcourt. 

As Perroni's video showed, Ross Blacklock could certainly harness his lateral range at the line, but most of his deficiencies are fixable with good coaching. He’ll be a great sign for any of the Texas schools that land him. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Championship 2016: Players to Watch for Alabama vs. Clemson

The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers are the best teams in college football this season, and one of the two will leave Monday night's matchup as the national champions. While both squads have complete rosters full of top talent, a few key players have stood out this season.

Even if you haven't watched a single college football game all year, it will take only a few minutes to recognize the top talent for each team on both sides of the ball. The upcoming battle will feature game-changing offensive players who can make a huge impact with the ball in their hands as well as defensive stoppers who are seemingly all over the field.

While dozens of players could affect the game, here is a look at the top ones to watch for each team.

 

Top Players to Watch

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

When listing the top players in the College Football Playoff title game, you have to start with Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry. The Alabama star leads the nation with 2,061 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, consistently putting up incredible production against just about any defense.

The team didn't need him much in its blowout win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, but in the two previous games, Henry finished with 90 carries for 460 rushing yards, which would be a good season for a lot of players.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney noted the entire Alabama rushing attack is a challenge to stop, per Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier:

While Kenyan Drake can make some plays and quarterback Jake Coker has shown the ability to spread the ball around the field, Henry is the key to the Tide offense. He is responsible for half of the team's 50 offensive touchdowns this year and consistently makes big plays whenever the team needs one.

Henry doesn't have elite speed or agility, but at 6'3", 242 pounds, he is almost impossible to bring down. By the end of long games, Henry wears down opposing defenses, and the same could happen to Clemson.

 

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

While Henry has been the best running back in college football this season, Clemson can counter with the top quarterback. Deshaun Watson was a Heisman finalist and the winner of the Davey O'Brien Award as the best quarterback in the country after an outstanding sophomore year.

Watson is a dual threat with the ability to pick up yards with both his arm and his legs. He enters the final game of the year with 3,699 passing yards and 1,032 rushing yards, becoming only the third person in FBS history to top 3,500 and 1,000 in a single season, per ESPN Stats & Info.

In addition to posting the big numbers, he also remained efficient while ranking fourth in the country in Total QBR, per ESPN.com.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban had high praise for the opposing passer, per TideSports.com:

Clemson has plenty of offensive weapons in Wayne Gallman, Jordan Leggett and others, but Watson will be the key for the Tigers on Monday.

 

Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

The strength of Alabama's defense is its defensive line, with future NFL stars such as A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed clogging up the middle and leaving no room for opposing teams to run. This makes things easier for the linebackers, although Reggie Ragland deserves a lot of credit for his own play this season.

The senior patiently waited for his chance to shine and took over as a leader on defense last season before turning into a star this year. He led the Crimson Tide with 97 tackles, and the Associated Press named him a first-team All-American.

Ragland has a wide skill set, but his most impressive attribute might be his ability to lock down runners and keep them from getting away. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network captured an impressive stop from earlier in the year:

Watson and Gallman create a dynamic rushing attack for Clemson, but Ragland could be a big part of keeping them in check.

 

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

One of the big question marks for Clemson heading into the national title game is the health of defensive end Shaq Lawson. The All-American missed much of the Orange Bowl after suffering a knee injury and was questionable during the week, although he will likely play Monday, according to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press.

This is big for the Tigers as they hope to slow down Alabama's offense. While this is a challenge regardless of who is on the roster, it would be tougher without one of the nation's top defensive players.

Lawson leads the team with 10.5 sacks as well as an incredible 23.5 tackles for loss. His 56 tackles are also impressive for a lineman, showcasing his ability to cover tons of ground.

Even when the junior doesn't make the tackle, he is often disruptive enough by getting into the backfield and ruining an opposing offense's game plan. As long as he is healthy, the Tigers have a chance to keep Alabama out of the end zone.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army All-American Bowl 2016: Commit Tracker and Recruit Highlights

The 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, placing dozens of premier college football prospects on the same field. The action is expected to be scintillating in San Antonio, where eventual NFL stars such as Andrew Luck, Odell Beckham Jr. and Adrian Peterson once competed.

A new era of playmakers is prepared to take their talents to universities across America later this year, and some are set to finalize collegiate plans during the All-American Bowl. We'll find out that fate for five recruits Saturday, including four coveted wide receivers. 

Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia and Alabama are among programs aiming to add quality pieces to impressive recruiting classes less than a month shy of national signing day on Feb. 3. We've got you covered with updated commitment breakdowns, prospect analysis and video highlights right here.

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2016 NFL Draft: Buyer Beware on Memphis Quarterback Paxton Lynch

The NFL playoffs are underway for 12 of the finest organizations, but that leaves 20 other teams with an eye turned toward 2016.

Some franchises must rebuild from the ground up, and others are trying to upgrade specific positions so they can make a playoff push next year. One of the top needs for several of these teams is a quarterback.

A franchise quarterback can be defined many ways, including as being among the most elite of the NFL. This would be the top six or seven guys such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and players of that ilk.

My definition is a top-15 quarterback who can reasonably become a playmaker at the position to help win playoff games—and eventually a Super Bowl.

Since the elite quarterbacks are so difficult—and random—to develop, NFL teams must project collegiate talent and decide if there is someone they can build a winner around. Or will this quarterback be good enough to help take our team to the next level?

We’ve already broken down the game of California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff, and now it is time to look at Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch.

I studied Memphis' offense in all but three games to get a good feel for Lynch as a player and prospect. (The three games I didn’t chart were those against Missouri State, Kansas and SMU.) After tracking his progression from even late 2014 to the end of his 2015 season, I concluded that franchises with a high draft pick should beware of Lynch.

We’re going to look at Lynch’s strengths, weaknesses and how he projects into the NFL. Let’s start with a broad view and then narrow down his specific traits.

 

Who is Paxton Lynch?

Lynch is listed at 6’7”, 245 pounds and was a three-year starter for the Memphis Tigers. He was a 2-star recruit out of Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, Florida. Although he drew some attention from the University of Florida, Charlie Weis’ departure from the program in late 2011, when Lynch was a high school senior, led Lynch to sign with (former head coach) Justin Fuente and Memphis. 

With his height and thick, natural frame, the first obvious positive for Lynch is his size. He will face zero questions about his durability, as his build is similar to that of Cam Newton and Joe Flacco. Physically, he’s NFL-ready.

Player agent Leigh Steinberg recently tweeted: "#THE AGENT Interesting @PAXTONLYNCH fact-his hands are 11 1/2 inches, longest ever for QB, extra gripping capacity on a rainy day."

Lynch was relatively unknown among many draft outlets until this season. I ranked Lynch as my third-best draft-eligible quarterback prior to the season, with the hope that he would take another giant leap in development.

He did so and now ranks as a top-10 prospect overall, according to ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

Not only has Lynch improved his tape and how he’s getting the job done, but his production has taken leaps as well. His 8.5 average yards per attempt is very impressive and has dramatically risen each season. He’s mastered the Tigers’ spread offense to the point where he is a very efficient player while still creating opportunities.

 

Downfield Accuracy

Memphis uses a spread offense based on concepts from Art Briles’ Baylor attack and Brigham Young’s 1970's West Coast offense. Fuente was part of the Texas Christian University offensive staff from 2007 until 2011 when TCU was turned into a powerhouse. He also saw firsthand what a spread attack can do for a quarterback, as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was a product of the system.

The West Coast principles that co-offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey employ play a major role in Lynch’s success as well. Memphis likes to dink and dunk before spraying downfield on occasion. The Tigers rely on Lynch’s strong arm and quick eyes to get the ball out to the open man. When the defense starts creeping up, the offense will manufacture space by attacking downfield.

I charted Lynch’s passes to determine what percentage of his throws were reasonably catchable. This is subjective and does not align with traditional statistics because I’m looking to add context to those numbers. But it also helps us see where Lynch excels and where he struggles.

I developed an accuracy chart for 2015.  

Most notable in the chart is how well Lynch attacks downfield. Memphis averaged just four passing attempts in the 11 games I noted, but he was very effective in throwing a catchable ball. His receivers had a 48.8 percent chance to reel in his 45 deep throws, which ranks second among the top four draft-eligible quarterbacks I charted this year.

The importance of the catchable-throws aspect is those throws give the receiver a chance without asking him to make a one-handed, circus-style catch. There are some incomplete passes that are accurate, just like there are some inaccurate passes that end up being caught because of luck or by an otherworldly receiver making an exceptional catch. Here’s an example.

Lynch maximizes the leverage his receivers create on deep passes. On the play below, watch as Lynch perfectly places his pass to the outside shoulder of his target. The cornerback does a good enough job working the receiver to the sideline, but the pass was indefensible. The catch wasn’t easy to make, but the excellent pass made it possible, even with great coverage:

Despite his size, Lynch does not have an overly powerful arm. We’ll touch on that more later.

But he has a good enough arm to hit any throw as long as he’s in rhythm. When he plants and drives the ball, he can put serious torque on his passes.

Some of this, as noted earlier, stems from his massive hands. With an incredible 11.5-inch hand length, Lynch can control the football as you or I could a Nerf minifootball. When everything goes reasonably well mechanically, Lynch is capable of hitting tight windows, like he did in the throw below, with proper timing and placement.

Hitting deep out routes is a massive positive for Lynch and the offense he’ll join. Memphis rarely tried these, which is probably more due to his receivers lacking the skill set needed to execute this play. Lynch’s above-average accuracy on intermediate and deep routes complement his excellent underneath throwing talent.

 

Comfort in and out of the Pocket

What separates Lynch from big, stiff signal-callers such as Flacco and Ryan Mallett is his athleticism. It’s rare to find men of Lynch’s stature playing quarterback in football and not forward in basketball. His ability in the pocket or to extend plays outside of the pocket will cause evaluators and coaches to drool over his potential.

Similar to Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Lynch can thrive in an offense that begs defenses to bring pressure. Since Lynch can brush off rushers, he buys time for receivers to spring free. He’s not a run-first player when the pocket breaks down, but he’s absolutely capable of gaining chunk yardage when he escapes the tackle box.

But just because Lynch can run doesn’t make him a running quarterback. As seen above, Lynch has a natural feel for the chaos around him. He doesn’t panic often and will rarely force bad passes. The above clip helps show his patience and eye level as he tries to give his receivers the chance to come free.

Even when facing better competition, Lynch’s athleticism sticks out. For example, he was masterful on the move against Ole Miss. This helps on third-down scramble drills that inevitably he will face in the NFL.

Offensive coordinators who are looking for a moldable talent to challenge how a defense prepares will also enjoy his red-zone capabilities. Lynch is a decent pocket passer in the red zone but really excels on the move. Changing his launch point is smart because he draws the linebackers toward him as soon as his legs start churning.

Mechanics on rollouts and speedouts is an area where Lynch showed improvement from the start to the end of the season. He began the year taking a flat, almost horizontal, line to the weak side of the field. This was an issue, as Lynch doesn’t have a strong enough arm to execute without his lower body helping to create torque.

As we can see against Auburn in the December 30, 2015 Birmingham Bowl (among other examples late in the season), Lynch bows out more and works upfield when he’s preparing to throw. The result of his pass is a more accurate and timely throw, but he also had the chance to run if he wanted to. The dual-threat aspect adds layers to defenders’ decision-making process.

 

System Transition

While Lynch has highly intriguing strengths, his weaknesses emerged as the season progressed. As defenses adjusted to Memphis’ offensive attack, Lynch was unable to adapt and his performance dipped. That's evident, per Lynch’s accuracy chart from before and after Week 11.

You’ll notice an excellent overall number of a 79 percent catchable-passes rate prior to Week 11. He had just one interception and three other interceptable passes. His efficiency and ability to protect the ball is a critical part of his projection into a more complex NFL system.

But things changed down the stretch of the season. The quality of opponents improved on a weekly basis, and the Tigers’ simplified offense bogged down and became more run-centric. Memphis’ playmakers weren’t getting wide open anymore, and Lynch struggled to adjust.

Remember, this accuracy chart has nothing to do with actual completions, but rather, it isolates the performance of just the quarterback. If the pass is accurate, it is tallied so, regardless of how the receiver plays the ball. There is no doubt that Lynch did not respond well when defenses took away the easy reads he previously had.

The big issue with Memphis’ and Baylor’s offense is how they are based around presnap reads. This exposes Lynch to some bad habits and poor decision-making. New York Jets’ and former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty talked about his struggles adjusting to the NFL. Lynch will likely struggle with this as well.

Putting too much stock into one play isn’t fair, but one play can tell a story. In Lynch’s case, he repeatedly struggled with making the right decision in packaged plays such as the one above.

Let’s dig into this story.

We see the offense aligned with trips receivers on the top of the screen, another split on the far hash and one on the outside numbers. The numbers don’t make sense presnap to go to the trips screen, so Lynch rules out his first read without looking there postsnap. But he forces the throw to his slot receiver, who was smothered by the time the ball was released.

Since Lynch didn’t bother to read the defender’s first steps, he nearly throws an interception. This was avoidable since the far outside receiver is open with about six yards of cushion on a curl route. That was the correct read.

We have another example of getting stuck on his presnap read, this time against Auburn. Above we see a should-be interception, which could have been the third against Auburn, including dropped interceptions. This short-side throw is late, but it was always well-covered, as we can see below:

The screenshot taken is to highlight what Lynch should have seen before he starts his throwing motion. The red circle shows the cornerback in Cover 2, and he is clearly following the outside receiver upfield. With the safety roaming over the top, there is no reason Lynch should throw this pass. Factor in that he had a wide-open slot receiver who could have been off to the races with an accurate target.

 

Lack of Nuance

While the successful quarterback position doesn’t have to have perfect mechanics or a tight spiral on every throw, there is a certain level of nuance needed on a consistent basis. Aspects such as stepping into throws, reading leverage and working through progressions are incredibly important. Lynch struggles with his lower body quite often despite his experience.

As mentioned earlier, Lynch has a good but not great arm. He is unable to compensate for poor footwork, which can be said for all but a small handful of NFL quarterbacks. The margin for error rises when the ball flutters to the far side of the field.

This is a constant issue for Lynch. He is an effortless passer that can push the ball downfield, but when the windows shrink, he needs to put extra mustard on his throws to give his receiver time to create after the catch. If he steps into his throws and leads with his pivot foot, his accuracy will increase.

Watch Lynch’s pivot foot on the video above. He whips his front hip open to the sideline, and the ball comes out wobbly. This will be a pick-six in the NFL, as the defender was given way too much time to react. The ball was unpredictable as it left his hand because his lower body was not aligned to his target.

His horizontal step to the sideline with his leading foot is a habit that must end immediately. His throws cannot be late and to the wrong shoulder in the NFL with any regularity. Every quarterback makes mistakes, but poor ball placement and below-average velocity are two things that can't constantly show up at the next level.

 

Where He Can Improve

Lynch’s footwork must be the first area of improvement at the next level. While he is clearly a natural at the position, there are many missed opportunities that can push Lynch to franchise quarterback if he can convert them. Hitting wide open receivers in stride on intermediate routes is, at times, an issue for Lynch, and it has everything to do with his lower body.

Shoring up his footwork will also aid his arm. Lynch’s hands can be a good thing, but also a negative at times. He has an over-the-top delivery with his hand almost palming the football when he throws. This creates extra spin on the ball when Lynch is trying to throw too hard without his base aligned.

A new system may also bring challenges for Lynch. He did show a functional knowledge and understanding for leverage and positioning of his receivers and the defenders. But there is room for improvement with situational football. An example can be found on the third down below.

On 3rd-and-4, Lynch happily took the covered slot receiver for three yards, even though he was the most covered man in his progression. The zone-based defense had hoped for this, and the two underneath linebackers quickly smothered the receiver. See below for how the play unfolded:

Had Lynch recognized the zone coverage, the correct read was his streaking receiver, highlighted with an orange outline. The cornerback has overcommitted to his zone and turned his back to the receiver. With just one safety single high over the top, Lynch easily could have completed this for chunk yardage and a first down.

It’s a play like this that should cause concern for just how far Lynch is from becoming a viable starter in the NFL.

 

Projection

Lynch has the size that scouts dream of, and his breakout 2015 campaign was very encouraging for his outlook. He shows a natural comfort in the pocket that most quarterbacks could only fantasize about. His best plays strike up images of a young Roethlisberger.

Lynch's upside is significant, and it's why he’s been projected as a top-10 pick. But we cannot overlook the obvious weaknesses to his game right either. He’ll need at least a year to refine his footwork further and then adjust to an NFL playbook. The jump from the AAC to the NFL is steep.

Finding the best fit for Lynch is relatively easy, but he has a major buyer-beware sticker on his projection. Taking Lynch in the top half of the first round sets a high expectation that he will be a franchise quarterback at some point in his rookie contract. While he may get there, don’t expect that climb to come until the latter part of a five-year deal.

Comparing Lynch to recent prospects, he falls between Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler. Tannehill and Lynch both excel on short and intermediate passes, and they use their mobility. But Tannehill improved quickly despite limited experience in college, and he seems to be, at worst, an average NFL quarterback. Osweiler has struggled when he’s played, but he needs more time to prove whether or not he can develop.

The top-10 hype on Lynch is simply too much. Dallas, with the No. 4 pick, is the only team drafting that high that should even consider him. The Cowboys offer a rare situation in which Lynch can develop. But it might be wiser to draft Goff, who is clearly the better quarterback prospect.

Lynch has franchise quarterback potential, but it’ll take a few years. If he’s afforded the time, he can greatly reward an organization. But the growing pains he will have may resemble those from his collegiate experience, which quickly peaked once things started clicking.

 

All stats used are from sports-reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

 

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USC Responds to Steve Sarkisian's Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit

The USC Trojans filed a response to former head football coach Steve Sarkisian's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 6, according to ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura

Sarkisian is reportedly seeking $30 million after USC fired him despite having prior knowledge of his alcoholism, but the school's official response characterized the former head coach's claims as "half-truths and, in many cases, outright falsehoods," per Bonagura.

The response proceeds as follows, based on documents that ESPN.com obtained: 

It is absolutely false that Sarkisian ever admitted to having a drinking problem, to being an alcoholic or to needing to seek treatment. The truth is he denied ever having a drinking problem, but blamed his inability to perform the essential functions of his job on marital stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for which he was taking medication.

Sarkisian was fired in mid-October after the school asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. At the time, athletic director Pat Haden told reporters it was "clear to me that he was not healthy," per ESPN.com

Shortly before the school fired Sarkisian, an unnamed USC player told ESPN.com that Sarkisian "showed up lit to meetings again today," while another source said the coach "appeared not normal" when he arrived for a practice. 

While Sarkisian—who is now sober, according to the lawsuit—is seeking a hefty sum, Bonagura reported the school is disputing the $30 million figure since the two sides agreed to settle terminations through an arbitration process when he signed his contract in 2013. 

Although the two sides are engaged in a legal battle, Sarkisian appears focused on making a return to the sidelines. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Sarkisian has done some exploratory work regarding possible employment as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL. 

With a resume that includes a stint as the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach, Sarkisian is a compelling—and risky—candidate for teams that are piecing together fresh staffs for the 2016 season. 

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