NFL Hot Press

Sources Excited About Ohio State Safety Malik Hooker

Updated Sept. 29, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Every year in college football, there are some players who come out of nowhere to end up being hot NFL prospects. One player who fits that description this year is Ohio State redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker. Hooker was a backup behind Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell in 2015, but he has had a huge presence as a replacement in the early going of this season. Some team sources believe that he is going to end up being their top-rated safety for the 2017 NFL Draft and graded higher than LSU's Jamal Adams, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, or Florida's Marcus Maye.  

In three games this year, Hooker has 16 tackles with 1.5 for a loss, half a sack, two passes broken up, and three interceptions with one of them being returned for a touchdown. Teams like that the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has size and length to go along with speed and instincts. The evaluators who love Hooker feel he is a safety who can do it all. In coverage, he is fast and athletic with the skills to defend the deep part of the field. They also say he has the length and strength to play in the tackle box. They like how Hooker drives down on the ball. They feel he is a fast, rangy defender with good ball skills. Right now, they think Hooker is on his way to being a top-20 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.  

One top national scout from an NFC team said that Hooker's skill set is the best he's seen from a safety since Eric Berry. He likes Hooker more than Adams, Peppers, or Maye. That scout said in his opinion Hooker could end up being an elite safety prospect comparable to Berry or the late, great Sean Taylor. Many in the scouting community feel that Taylor was the best of the best in terms of safety prospects this century.  

Sources from another team said they have been impressed by Hooker, but at this point, think he would be rated behind Adams and Peppers for them. However, it is early in the season, and team contacts believe that Hooker could grow in popularity in the months to come. At this point, Hooker is off to a great start this season for Ohio State and his hopes for the NFL.  

Illinois Could Have Two First Round DEs

Updated Sept. 21, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

There has been a good amount of hype about Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot, as a few draft analysts have projected Smoot among the top 10 prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft. In speaking with multiple NFL teams, they say they are grading Smoot as a mid-to-late first-rounder. While Smoot is a well regarded prospect, some scouts say they like Illinois' other defensive end Carroll Phillips more, and those teams think that Phillips has a shot to also make it into Thursday night next April.

Some sources absolutely love Phillips, while others are lukewarm on him. Perhaps size and scheme fit is coming into the evaluation because teams that run a 3-4 are high on Phillips while the lukewarm sources are with 4-3 formations. Currently, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Phillips is one of the leaders nationally with four sacks in three games. He has recorded a sack in each game to go with 18 tackles and nine tackles for a loss. He has the second-most tackles for a loss in the nation behind only Michigan's Jabrill Peppers.
The teams that love Phillips say he is super athletic and twitchy. They feel that his speed and athleticism is very similar to Leonard Floyd's. Like Floyd at Georgia, Phillips can struggle some on run downs. However, they feel that he is a very gifted, natural, pass-rushing talent. They see him as a potential first-rounder. As one could expect, the teams that aren't in love with Phillips don't see him as a high pick. 

Sources say that Smoot is very athletic and explosive off the edge. However, they feel he is more disruptive than productive, and that could be the case in the NFL. Smoot has 12 tackles and two for a loss with zero sacks thus far in 2016. They feel he is the kind of player who will have a lot of pressures on the quarterback, but only a few sacks. Smoot is listed at 6-foot-3, 255-pounds but teams think that Smoot could be about 10 pounds heavier. Starting across from Jihad Ward, Smoot had a strong junior season in 2015, as he totaled eight sacks with 15 tackles for a loss, 40 tackles, two passes batted and three forced fumbles.

Teams also say that Illini defensive tackle Chunky Clement could be drafted on day three. While Illinois could be in store for a rough season under first-year head coach Lovie Smith, NFL scouts say that Smith and his staff are doing a good job of developing Phillips and Smoot for the pro game. That development could culminate in both being a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Teams Prefer Anthony Walker Lighter, Faster

Updated Sept. 18, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Entering the 2016 season, NFL sources felt that linebacker had the potential to be a position of strength in the 2017 NFL Draft. They felt that inside linebackers like Florida's Jarrad Davis, Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan, Alabama' Reuben Foster, and Northwestern's Anthony Walker could all end up grading out as early-round talents. Two games into the season, sources have said though they have been disappointed in the way that Walker has looked compared to his 2015 tape. 

The reason that Walker has disappointed NFL evaluators is a dramatic weight gain. He was previously listed at 6-foot-1, 225-pounds, and teams liked that he was a fast sideline-to-sideline defender. He had a great 2015 season as he totaled 122 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception. Sources felt that while Walker could stand to add weight to take on and shed blocks in the NFL, they would have preferred that he do that in a NFL team's strength and conditioning program. 

Walker is now weighing in the 240s while being listed at 245 pounds. Teams feel that the added weight has slowed Walker down and have diminished some of his bread-and-butter attributes of the speed to fly around the field. Walker has recorded 14 tackles with one pass broken up, so he is on pace to fall well short of his 2015 production. 

According to teams, the added weight and change in play is hurting Walker's draft grade, so returning for his senior year and slimming down may not be a bad idea. 

Teams Think James Conner Should Return for Senior Year

Updated Sept. 16, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

One of the happiest moments of the college football season has been the return of Pittsburgh running back James Conner. What was supposed to be a big 2015 season for Conner never got off the ground as he tore his ACL. Then, he was diagnosed with cancer. Conner was declared cancer free in the spring and was already training hard to return to football this fall. Conner has had a triumphant return to the field with four touchdowns in his first two games, but for his pro potential, sources say Conner would be better served returning for his senior year.   

Conner (6-2, 235) was heavier and faster before the injury and illness. Teams wouldn't blame Conner at all if he decides to skip his senior year, given the injury risk that all players take when returning to school. They especially wouldn't blame Conner given all that he has had to persevere through. However, putting more time behind him with a true offseason to work on getting back to 100 percent could help him to be a more devastating runner in 2017, and thus a higher draft pick for the NFL.  

Sources say that it is very understandable that Conner hasn't completely regained the speed, explosion, and power that he had as a runner in 2013-14. Teams really like Conner off the field and admire his toughness to make such a fast return to the field. For his football future, they think he would have a better shot of being a mid-round or even second-day pick if he returned for his senior year. Right now, they say that Conner would be a day-three and possible late-round pick.

Teams See Future Tight End in Tyrone Swoopes

Updated Sept. 7, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

One of the shocking upsets from the tremendous first week of college football was the unranked Texas Longhorns knocking off a top-10 Notre Dame team. There were tons of NFL eyes on that game because there was a lot of talent to scout. Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer really impressed sources, and so did Texas' signal-caller Tyrone Swoopes. However, league contacts like Swoopes potential to be a tight end in the NFL.

One general manager from a playoff team said he thought Swoopes could be a fourth- or fifth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They really like his size at 6-foot-4, 249 pounds and his athletic ability. They feel he has potential to develop with good hands and he could be a great fit at the position. In speaking to a college scouting director from another team, they agreed completely and thought that Swoopes is an intriguing day-three developmental tight end. 

While Swoopes isn't factoring into the 2017 quarterback class, he could strengthen a potentially talented class of tight ends. Alabama's O.J. Howard, Michigan's Jake Butt, and Ole Miss' Evan Engram look to be the elite of the group, but for teams that miss out on them Swoopes is an intriguing option in the mid-rounds. 

Some teams think Cook could pass Fournette

Updated Sept. 2, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Entering the 2016 college football season, two of the consensus top prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft are true junior running backs Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. LSU's Fournette is considered by most to be rated higher than Florida State's Cook, but surveyed teams to gauge how close they are. The results provided some surprising information from NFL evaluators. 

A general manager of an AFC team said that he didn't think Cook could end up passing Fournette with teams, but he said that Cook's draft grade won't be far behind for Fournette. An NFC general manager said he thought that Cook could surpass Fournette as Cook is a phenomenal runner. 

Three teams said that they could see Cook passing Fournette on some team's draft boards, but they thought the majority of the league would have Fournette as the top-rated running back. One team source said that Fournette's high ankle sprain could hold him back some, and that might cause Cook to end up with more production. That source felt that the ankle sprain could be worse than LSU has been letting on, and it could linger throughout the season.   

Both players have proven to be dominant running backs, but the higher-rated of the two might come down to who is able to stay healthy during the 2016 season and during the lead up to the 2017 NFL Draft.

Villanova DE Kpassagnon Viewed as Second-Day Talent

Updated Sept. 1, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Every year during the draft process, some little-known players at the beginning of the season end up rising up to be early-round picks. There wasn't much known about Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah prior to his senior year and he ended up becoming a top-10 talent in the 2013 draft. A year ago at this time, there was no discussion about Oakland Raiders defensive end Jihad Ward as a future second-rounder, but that is what the Illinois defensive end became. This year, a similar player could be Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon. Team sources who have seen him in fall camp say that Kpassagnon is a second-day talent.

Kpassagnon has great size at 6-foot-7, 290-pounds. In 2015, he had 33 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for a loss, two blocked kicks, and a forced fumble. Evaluators believe that Kpassagnon is raw, but the skill set is there with a lot of upside to develop. Sources say that Kpassagnon is a perfect fit as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense.

League contacts hope that Kpassagnon will earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl to see how he performs against better competition. Kpassagnon is on the Senior Bowl watch list entering this season. Defensive ends with his measurements are in demand and teams believe that a strong season would result in Kpassagnon being selected in the second or third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
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