Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The Outback Bowl is one of the better bowl matchups, pitting Michigan against South Carolina. There are several future NFL players in this game, though the best player on the field isn’t yet draft eligible.
I saw South Carolina in person earlier this year at LSU, and I’ve seen almost all their other games in one form or another. Their best player is DE #7 Jadeveon Clowney, who will be the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the focus here is on prospects for this year’s draft. And the biggest name on the offense, RB Marcus Lattimore, is recovering from a brutal knee injury and will not play here, or perhaps ever again.
S #36 DJ Swearinger has been an interesting evaluation. He is powerfully built and is not afraid to lay the lumber from either safety spot. Swearinger loves to stare down the opposing QB while in coverage, which is why he is so hit and miss. At times he sees the play as the quarterback does and makes plays on the ball with confidence and aggression, but other times he loses awareness of his responsibility and can be exploited when the pass protection holds up. He has the athleticism to match up well with most types of receivers, though at 5’11” he’s smaller than ideal. Swearinger can also make the acrobatic interception, and he has some ability to time the blitz when asked. Right now I see him as a 4th-5th round talent, but a strong workout season could push him into the 3rd or even late 2nd.
DE #98 Devin Taylor benefitted a lot from playing across from the freak that is Clowney. He was better in 2011 when versatile Melvin Ingram was also drawing attention away, and his stock has fallen with a subpar 2012. Taylor is very long at 6’7” and leanly muscled, which lends some credence to the thinking he could be better as an outside linebacker in the NFL. He lacks functional base strength and sometimes appeared to shy away from going inside. Teams ran right at Taylor frequently, and he needs to show he can anchor on the edge. He did show the ability to make plays in space and does a great job avoiding cut blocks. There are some tools here, but his tweener attributes and underwhelming production likely relegate Taylor to being a Saturday selection in April. Watch how he takes on blockers and closes on the ball with control, two attributes he must improve to succeed in the NFL.
C #55 T.J. Johnson is a big, pounding pivot who could be drafted late. His size and power make him a better fit at guard at the next level. Keep an eye on his pad level, as tall centers (he’s 6’5”) really tend to struggle in this area. He also appears to have short arms for his height, and that causes him to be too high with his hand placement in pass protection. I want to see him run blocking in space and combo blocking to ascertain whether he’s a late round pick or a priority free agent.
OLB #21 Devonte Holloman has the ideal build and athleticism to make a 4-3 SAM backer at 6’2” and 245 pounds. He is actually a converted safety that outgrew the position as his body developed, and his ranginess shows. His biggest issue is avoiding blocks and getting free once he’s engaged. Holloman has a tendency to go for the big hit instead of the sure tackle as well, something you might see in this game. Watch him in coverage and at trying to contain outside runs, because if he looks good in those areas his stock will rise from 6th round status I currently have.
WR #1 Ace Sanders is reportedly doubtful to declare after his junior year, but he’s worth watching regardless. He is a dynamo on underneath routes with excellent stop/start moves and lateral quickness. He also has very good long speed and runs deep routes well for a smaller receiver. Where he can really make hay in the NFL is as a return man, where he has also excelled.
I also saw Michigan play in person this year, in their opening blowout loss to Alabama. Their best prospect is LT #77 Taylor Lewan, a bruising behemoth who plays with a temperament that harkens to former Wolverine Jake Long. Lewan has very long and powerful arms, and when he can get his arms extended it is lights out for the defender. He slides fairly well and goes a good job of pushing edge rushers far around the outside. Lewan has proven very adept at getting out in front of scrambling QB Denard Robinson, which will give him added appeal to teams with QBs that like to run. He will have his hands full with Clowney in this one, and the thing I want to see from Lewan is how well he does when Clowney (or Taylor) try to get to the inside. Lewan has shown a bad tendency to overextend when he has to block down, and he will lose his balance at times. He is a very emotional player who has shown he will stew over mistakes as well, which bears watching in this one. I see Lewan best succeeding in the NFL at right tackle, as he reminds me some of current Viking Phil Loadholt. Lewan will be drafted in the first 25 picks, though my final grade on him will probably be a little lower than that.
Denard Robinson #16 is the ultimate draft wild card. As I’ve stated for well over a year now, I strongly believe Robinson’s best NFL position is running back. His quickness, surprisingly strong legs, and open field panache call to mind Jamaal Charles. He is decisive, elusive, and versatile enough to motion to the slot. Michigan has used him in that capacity after switching him form quarterback. Many see Robinson as a wideout, but from what I’ve seen his footwork and release from the line are in need of major work. Some have even suggested a switch to the other side of the ball to cornerback, which fits his athleticism nicely. I suspect we’ll see Shoelace play a little of everything in this one–RB, WR, QB, perhaps even returning kicks–and that versatility is s double-edged sword for his draft stock. He’s quite clearly not a quarterback, and recent conversion projects (Armanti Edwards, Isaiah Stanback) don’t exactly inspire confidence. Enjoy watching him in his collegiate finale as he has been one of the most electrifying and entertaining players in the nation for years.
Safety #11 Jordan Kovacs is the kind of consummate football player that coaches love. He’s undersized and lacks ideal speed and range, but his instincts are off the charts. My 7-year old son attended the Alabama game with me, and he asked me at one point “Is Kovacs the only guy on Michigan who can tackle?” It sure seems that way at times. He is a late-round prospect who I would not bet against making it as a third safety and special teams demon a la Haruki Nakamura.
End #88 Craig Roh should make it to a camp as a lunchpail-type strongside end. He understands the game well and has a sneaky burst around the edge. Roh won’t ever be much of a pass rusher, but he can set the edge against the run and closes well on the ball. If he could disengage from blocks better and add a little more lower body bulk, Roh could make a nice find as a 3-4 end. He played inside a lot more as a senior and gradually grew into the closer-range combat.