Week 1 of the 2021 college football season kicked off with excitement, expectations, hope and faith.
Fans believe every summer that their team will exceed expectations. Hell, your writer is a Texas fan, so I’m well-versed in the undeniable hope of summer as each college football season looms. This year was no different, with fans from Chapel Hill to South Beach to points across the map believing their team and their quarterback laid claim to that all-important QB1 title.
And then the weekend happened, leaving QB1 hype and Heisman hopes in the gutter for many a fan and for a few top quarterbacks.
That’s where we’ll start this week, elaborating on our QB1 Power Rankings and checking in on a quarterback class that is still looking for it’s prince after the struggles of Week 1.
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North Carolina senior Sam Howell kicked off the holiday weekend of football with all eyes on his Tar Heels traveling to the notoriously tough to play in Blacksburg, Virginia where the Virginia Tech Hokies blast Enter Sandman from the speakers for a night game and no matter the team’s chances, they always make Lane Stadium a difficult atmosphere for opposing teams.
Howell felt the pressure not just of the Hokie fan base but also of an offense that lost its top two wide receivers (Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome) and running backs (Javonte Williams, Michael Carter) from their up-start 2020 campaign.
On a night where his offensive line was under constant pressure, Howell completed just 53 percent of his passes while tossing three interceptions to just one touchdown. Mind you, Howell threw just seven interceptions in each of his last two season as a starter. Part of his allure is his smart decision-making and no turnover type of football.
That was missing on Friday night as Virginia Tech also sacked Howell six times.
The season is long and there is no doubt time for his draft stock to be rehabilitated, but Howell’s Heisman hopes likely ended in Blacksburg. And as one high-level evaluator text us this weekend, Howell was viewed by their scouting crew as a third-round prospect. Not quite the first-rounder many have been hyping.
Howell wasn’t the only top quarterback to struggle, he was just the one with the largest display of poor play. Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, our QB1 at this juncture of the draft season, also left some plays on the field he’d love to have back.
On the second throw of the game, Rattler tossed one into the waiting hands of a Tulane defender. He’d follow that up with another INT later in the game but balanced it out with a solid overall outing (304 yards, 1 TD) despite not scoring in the fourth-quarter and not showing the type of lower body twitchiness or burst we hoped to see from him as his game expands.
Rattler is a talented athlete and has a big arm, but his passing mechanics are a work in progress. It’s a long season, but he’s not giving off the Kyler Murray or Zach Wilson vibes we’d seen mentioned for him.
If those quarterbacks trended down, who trended up?
Matt Corral from Ole Miss is the most pleasing quarterback prospect to watch from a playmaking standpoint—but he also scares the heck out of you with decisions that are likely to leave him injured or wracking up more multi-interception games. But his lower body quickness, his arm strength, and his field vision are the types of traits that could really excite and intrigue NFL scouts.
The same goes for Malik Willis of Liberty. Willis is without question the most dynamic athlete of the 2022 quarterbacks and arguably the most elusive and electric runner in all of college football. His passing, though, can be hit-or-miss. If he can dial in his ball placement this season, Willis’ special tools as a runner could push him way up boards.
And we can’t move on from the quarterback talk until Desmond Ridder gets his deserved mention. A senior at Cincinnati, Ridder has the arm strength, athleticism, experience and accuracy teams are looking for. In fact, I believe he would have been a top 75 selection in last year’s draft. If he can build on the success of 2020, Ridder’s NFL-style body of work could make him the belle of the ball in a quarterback class that lacks a defined top target.
The Scout’s Report
—Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley was a favorite prospect of mine based on 2020 tape and his athletic potential. He is not, however, a favorite of Nick Saban’s. Billingsley did not start in Alabama’s season-opener and has famously been called out by Saban this summer for a lack of discipline. Said the head ball coach, “We’re just trying to get [Jahleel] to be a responsible, disciplined person and a responsible, disciplined player.” A sideline coaching point from Saban to Billingsley also went viral on Saturday night with many believed the talented tight end is doing what’s necessary to get back into the coach’s good graces. The talent is there with Billingsley, but no coach in college football carries more weight with NFL decision-makers than Saban. In my 11 years on the job, I’ve heard numerous stories about a player’s draft stock being raised or dropped due to a recommendation from Saban. For Billingsley’s future, he has to work to get back onto the field and back to a point where Saban will sign off on his ability to NFL teams.
—Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, and an unfortunate part of the draft process. As fans and evaluators, we can only hope players recover and get back onto the field when it’s safe for them. For multiple top prospects, Week 1 signaled the end of their seasons.
Michigan WR Ronnie Bell — out for the year (knee injury)
Minnesota RB Mo Ibrahim — out for the year (ankle injury)
Alabama LB Christopher Allen — out indefinitely (fractured foot)
One player who appears to have dodged serious injury but no doubt left us all holding our breaths was Oregon’s pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. The top overall player on y 2022 Big Board, Thibodeaux left the Duck’s opener early and was seen after halftime in a walking boot. The team says it’s just an ankle sprain, but it’s a situation to monitor closely—especially with Oregon set to face Ohio State this weekend.
—Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is one of my favorite players in college football and a top five overall player on my Big Board. You saw why on Sunday night as Hamilton single-handedly kept the Fighting Irish alive in a very close game against Florida State. I’m hereby petitioning to nickname Hamilton “The Lone Ranger” given his incredible range and playmaking ability.
—The biggest game of the weekend saw the Georgia Bulldogs win a defensive battle (or offensive struggle) over the Clemson Tigers. In a game featuring many standout offensive prospects, it was the Georgia defense that dominated. Defensive tackle Jordan Davis made himself big-time money in a eye-opening all-around performance. His teammates Adam Anderson (#19) and Nolan Smith (#4) were also unstoppable off the edge of the defense. If any team can stack up against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide at this point of the season—at least on paper—it’s this loaded Georgia defense.
—In case you missed this week’s 10 Things (a new feature here), let’s talk about Purdue pass-rusher George Karlaftis. The Boilermaker pass-rusher was all over the field in their win over Oregon State—wracking up eight hurries and otherwise making life hell for the Pac-12 offense. He has the look of a top 15 prospect and is ranked as such on my board.
From kase_adillaaa (great name!): Odds Joe Brady is the HC of the Bengals this time next year?
While I’m not sure it’ll be specifically the Bengals—but man that would be great—if Brady has a big year with Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers, I do think we’ll see his name on short-lists for both college and NFL head coaching jobs. So, dream on Cincinnati, it could happen.
From ryveig: Which non-QB rookie will look best week 1?
I’m a big believer that it is easier for defensive players to make an impact early on. With that in mind, I’m betting on a big impact (even if not big stats) from Micah Parsons with the Dallas Cowboys. He’s already unseated Jaylon Smith. He’s already shown his playmaking ability in the preseason. And he was a freakishly talented athlete with certified three-down skills.
From macbride7: When are we getting podcast content? I’m having withdrawals!
I’ve been getting this question a lot, so let’s take it head on. Right now, I’m pausing creating any podcasts and putting my efforts into writing as much as possible at The Draft Scout. We’re really excited about our daily podcast Mic’d Up and hope you’ll check it out. But as soon as I know more information about a future podcast, you guys will be the first to know!
From hail.wft: What was your path to your career?
This could be a very long story, so I’ll give you the abridged version here.
I was a very below-average football player at a 1A school in Missouri but I loved football. It was all I’d think about or talk about. I collected cards, read every book I could get my hands on, played Madden religiously and actually got grounded for the first time when I snuck a Bud Light NFL season preview magazine into my Bible to read at church.
Unfortunately, given my athletic ability, I quickly realized that my dreams of being the next Jerry Rice weren’t happening and that my obsession with football needed channeled into a more realistic outlet.
Around this time, the Internet really become available in rural Missouri. That, combined with a high school English teacher who encouraged me to write in the school newspaper covering sports, are the reasons I’m here today.
I started writing for a website called NFL Draft Blitz in the early 2000’s while I was still in high school and college and loved it. From there, while working overnights in an emergency room, I started my own website and parlayed that into connections that allowed me to freelance scout for Arena League and Canadian Football League teams.
I spent time coaching high school and semi-professional football. I spent time starting a Draft site for SB Nation. Ultimately, I liked the freedom of running my own site though, so I launched New Era Scouting around 2008 and ran it like a daily NFL draft site with a scouting service that we sold to teams.
In the fall of 2010, I received an email about a job posting on Bleacher Report—a site I had never heard of. I applied. They accepted. The rest is history.
6. Riser of the Week — UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet
It’s quite amazing that Jim Harbaugh didn’t have a place for Charbonnet in the Michigan backfield. The 20-year-old back transfered to UCLA and was the offense in an upset win over LSU this past weekend. His hard-charging running style and smooth gait are very impressive.
5. Faller of the Week — UNC QB Sam Howell
Said it above. Will say it again. That was ugly. And it’s hard to excuse it away by poor offensive line play and a lack of weapons. I was in Iowa City when Josh Allen led a talent-less Wyoming team into Kinnick Stadium for an old-school ass-kicking. That was a situation where a talented quarterback had no help around him. Howell, at North Carolina, no doubt lost a lot of helpers but he’s not destitute there.
4. Sleeper of the Week — Penn State WR Jahan Dotson
The Wisconsin-Penn State game was short on offensive output, but Jahan Dotson stood out as a verified threat after the catch and the type of athlete teams want to put in space at wide receiver. He has a late Day 2 grade on my board now, but that might be changing if Dotson continues to impress.
3. The NFL season gets underway this weekend but Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t expected to play. He’s also not expected to be traded. Or added to the NFL’s exempt list. Watson is just kind of there; on the roster but not on the field.
And that should surprise no one.
Watson can’t really be traded for. What can a team offer for a player who is facing 22 allegations of sexual misconduct? You can’t trade future draft picks for a player who may be in jail or suspended next season. You really can’t trade players who will take the field in 2021 for him either. There is no situation where conditional picks work here, either, as the Texans are in no hurry to move on from Watson—which is what it would take for them to accept conditional picks from a team like Denver or Philadelphia in exchange for his services this season.
So while it’s fun to speculate and everyone seems to have a source on this one, common sense says Watson will likely sit out the season while getting paid by the Texans; with his future being determined after this season.
2. Get your tailgate pants on, it’s Tailgate Tour time!
Come join the Draft Scout crew as we take over Kansas City this coming weekend. We’ll kick things off Saturday night (6pm) for a Texas vs. Arkansas watch party at Atomic Cowboy in Westport. This is a free event with BOGO drink specials, awesome food, and a damn good time all night long.
Sunday, if you’re attending the Chiefs’ season opener, come see us in Lot J as we tailgate at the Mid-America RV GameDay trailer from 10:30 until kickoff. A ticket to the game is required to tailgate in Kansas City, but this is a free tailgate with food, drinks and a GameDay trailer that features three 70” TVs so you don’t miss any of the early game action!
At both events we will have koozies, signed jerseys, various merch, cooler bags (great to hold those beers in while you tailgate) and Madden 22 copies to offer as special giveaway items.
1. Our daily podcast—Mic’d Up—has officially launched! You can subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or just check your email every day around noon CST for an easy download and listen link. Join Mello and Big Country as they go football heavy on all things college and NFL every day.