Will Richards, DLD Scout
Michigan and Notre Dame faced off under the lights in Ann Arbor. Here are some thoughts on how some of the more prominent draft prospects in the game fared.
With the exception of the worst play so far in this young college football season, Devin Gardner had a very impressive game. He made a variety of throws to different areas of the field and he showed good but not great ball placement and velocity on most of them. His footwork in the pocket still isn’t clean and his sense of timing still needs to be developed, but he’s shown a ton of promise in his limited reps under center. He’s displayed a solid ability to read a defense and to make decisions quickly. Gardner has shown everything scouts want to see from a developing QB, including the athletic ability to make things happen with his legs. If he’d made the position switch last year, he’d be slotted to go a lot higher than he will be this year. Gardner is a great fit in the middle rounds for a team like the Packers looking for a new young QB to develop.
All day, ESPN harped on about the great Notre Dame Defensive Line. Taylor Lewan was not impressed. Whether it was the athleticism of Prince Shembo or the power of Stephon Tuitt, the Wolverine left tackle handled it and asked for more. Nobody questioned Lewan’s talent level last year, but his consistency was debatable. This performance went a long way to answering those questions. He turned in an almost blank card in pass protection and he didn’t earn any yellow laundry.
Gardner’s favorite target against the Irish was red shirt senior Jeremy Gallon. Gallon pulled in eight receptions, including three for touchdowns, and he fell just short of two hundred yards. Gallon is hardly a great NFL prospect at a listed 5’8, but he’s the sort of guy that could be a pretty effective late round guy out of the slot. Tavon Austin showed last year that a receiver can be taken highly despite being tiny, but Gallon is even shorter than Austin and isn’t as dynamic of an athlete as Austin to make plays in the open field.
Michael Schofield is a classic Big 10 mid-to late-round tackle. He’s got solid technique and is strong, but he’s just not a good enough athlete to really excel in the NFL. Tuitt got after him both with speed and with raw power and Schofield didn’t handle it particularly well. He’s’ a guy who’s always going to be vulnerable to guys with an elite game, and Tuitt definitely has elite parts to his game. Schofield’s going to need to kick inside to guard if he hopes to start, but that might be a reach. His future in the league is likely as a utility back up. That’s not a knock on Schofield as that guy has draftable value in today’s NFL.
Stephon Tuitt continues to show the athletic ability that scouts adore. I can’t think of a 310 pounds man with the quickness and the flexibility of Tuitt. He’s got the physical ability to play LDE in a lot of schemes, and that would make a left side very difficult to run at successfully. He can play just about any spot on the defensive line and gives you an athletic freak to give QBs problems. He couldn’t turn the corner on Lewan, but against Michael Schofield (who is a draftable talent) he was getting into Gardner’s face.
Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix continues to be Louis Nix. He’s not making the number of explosive plays that you would expect from a top defensive player in the nation, but he’s been a rock against double teams and he was even starting to beat them against Michigan. He performed a lot better against the young guys of Michigan than he did against Kyle Friend of Temple. The obvious comparison for a guy like Nix is BJ Raji of the Packers. Nix is stronger, but he doesn’t move as well as the Packers nose tackle. How high he climbs up the board will be determined on how much time he can spend in opposing backfields. Nose tackes that can contribute against the pass are incredibly valuable, but guys that can just eat blocks are a dime a dozen and can be found later in the draft or even in the ranks of Undrafted Free Agency.