Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
The four overtime thriller between Michigan and Penn State featured a number of NFL draft prospects who faced stiff tests in a physical battle. A majority of this game occurred in the trenches, but both offenses came up big through the air when it counted, and I’m not talking about kicking field goals.
It was an up and down performance from Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner. He got himself into trouble early on by making poor coverage reads and throwing interceptions into the lap of Penn State defenders. He eventually settled down and began to pick the Nittany Lions apart down the field. His sharp accuracy down the field was on display, as was his ability to maneuver in the pocket. Gardner dodged multiple rushers who had clear shots at him as well as climbing the pocket like a season vet on numerous occasions. As usual, he was quite productive on the ground, with deceptive speed to run away from defenders. It will be important for Gardner to grow in his ability to read coverage and make good decisions moving forward, as he builds on his fantastic natural skills as a passer.
Stud left tackle Taylor Lewan left the game with an injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. He put in a solid shift prior to his exit. At 6’8” 308, Lewan’s quick feet to mirror on the edge and change direction is quite impressive, which he put on full display against Penn State. Lewan also did a fine job getting his hands placed as a pass blocker and keeping his frame clean. As a run blocker, he could be more efficient with his first step to beat defenders to spots. He also needs to do a better job sustaining and finishing blocks, which showed a bit against Penn State. As a whole, it wasn’t a bad day at the office for Lewan, but he still needs to truly dominate a football game and prove himself worthy of a high first round pick.
Right tackle Michael Schofield also did a commendable job for the Wolverines. He doesn’t show numerous high level characteristics as a tackle prospect in the game though. His feet looked quite heavy as a mover, not nimble or smooth. Rushers came quite close to beating him around the corner multiple times as his kickslide struggled to generate depth. It wasn’t all bad. His anchor against the bullrush was terrific. He also did a solid job with his hands as a blocker. He proved quite effective pulling and leading up the hole on power plays, where he squared up linebackers well. Overall, Schofield showed his limitations on the edge and will still have something to prove to NFL scouts.
The roughest night of any Michigan prospect undoubtedly came from Fitzgerald Toussaint. While he rarely had much space to work with, he certainly didn’t help out his offensive line. He was slow pressing the line of scrimmage and was decisive far too often. His patience was a big help on a few runs, but got him caught from behind on others. Even when holes emerged, he failed to show significant burst into the second level to take advantage. As a pass blocker, Toussaint showed the vision to make proper pick-ups. He struggled meeting rushers though, even whiffing on a safety and allowing Gardner to take a big hit from his blind side. It’s important that Toussaint puts this game behind him, but it showed his limitations when the backfield gets muddy.
Jeremy Gallon’s totals don’t approach those of his performance against Notre Dame, but he still showed the kinds of traits that will translate immediately as an NFL pass catcher. At 5’8”, Gallon is a jitterbug as a route runner with the ability to change directions on a dime. He attacks the ball in the air like a much bigger receiver would and has terrific hands at full extension. His route tree was on full display, which will be a big plus when he’s likely asked to play a high percentage of snaps from the slot as an NFL receiver.
Jumping to the defensive side of the ball for Penn State, it was all about defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. He was in the backfield all game, whether disrupting the running lanes of Toussaint or chasing Garnder off his spots. He left a few sacks on the field though, struggling to break down after coming free as a rusher. That is no blight to his performance as a whole though. Jones overwhelmed opposing blockers on first contact on a consistent basis, and then used his hands to free himself up to make plays. He also pressed the pocket from the inside with impressive lower body power. His handling of double teams left something to be desired, but that’s just not his game. Jones is a three technique through and through and looks like he learned a bit from former teammate and Seattle Seahawk defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
It wouldn’t be right to write up a crop of Penn State prospects without including a linebacker. Mike backer Glenn Carson made a few plays for the Nittany Lions defense but doesn’t look like a high level prospect in NFL terms. He was proficient with reads and diagnosing plays, arriving into his gaps into a timely fashion. The problem is that he’s not aggressive enough coming forward and not aggressive enough when he gets there. There were multiple occasions where he got to the ball amidst the traffic and wasn’t physical enough to make the tackle at the point of attack. Carson also got left in the dust trying to chase plays in the open field more than once. For a 235 lb. linebacker, that’s not something you want to see. The run of impact NFL linebackers had to come to an end at some point, hopefully it picks back up when the sanctions on Bill O’Brien’s team lighten.
Even though it was one of his more quiet games of the season, Penn State’s #1 receiver Allen Robinson came up big when it counted and ultimately saved the game in the dying moments of the fourth quarter. Robinson reinforced his positive characteristics on Saturday. His willingness to go over the middle and make difficult catches was on display. He also showed his ability to separate working the boundary on comeback routes when running cornerbacks off. While it may not be the one people remember, his catch on the sidelines during the final drive was super impressive. The body control to tap his toe in bounds was something a good number of NFL receivers would struggle to get done. Then he put his ability to climb the ladder and highpoint the football on display as Michigan’s secondary gaffed late in the fourth quarter. His overtime fumble on a mishandled end around shouldn’t sully a fine performance.
Finally, right guard John Urschel, who didn’t exactly put in a dominant performance up front for the Nittany Lions. The most underwhelming part of his game was a lack of control on first contact. He was often physically outmatched and had his anchor compromised as a pass blocker. He showed the ability to maneuver his hips well as a run blocker and get play-side of defenders, but failed to create real movement up front. When asked to climb to the second level, he failed to put blocks of any significance on linebackers. Overall, a lack of strength and some struggles with balance left a lot to be desired with Urschel’s performance and outlook as an NFL prospect.