To continue the weekly review of five senior prospects' performances, I attempted to isolate players that faced a difficult matchup, and in three cases their top competition for the season. Feel free to send any observations or suggestions my way via Twitter. I did make one exception this week, including one junior in Western Kentucky ILB Andrew Jackson.
Missouri OLB Zaviar Gooden (#25/6’2/230) vs Georgia - Despite playing only a bit more than half of Saturday’s contest against Georgia due to a strained hamstring, Gooden left with the scoreboard showing the Tigers’ ahead by eight points. Lining up mostly as a strong side linebacker, the senior was not afraid to set the edge on slanting runs and quickly chose an aggressive angle to meet blockers at the line of scrimmage. Gooden is not a well sized prospect for his alignment, so it is to be expected that he loses ground against offensive linemen at the second level. However, the Tiger is active to fight to tackle or disengage to chase after forcing the running back inside. Somewhat surprisingly, he is least effective against cut blocks, failing to use his hands or anticipating the road block. In coverage, Gooden’s first step to close is very quick, but he tends to lose ground when forced to turn or flip his hips. He stayed with sophomore receiver Michael Bennett downfield but failed to locate the football on a back shoulder throw. As a pass rusher, Gooden gets upfield, but that seemed to be his only goal instead of attempting to turn the corner or work towards the quarterback. I question if the veteran linebacker has stiff hips and the issue is also apparent when dealing with agile running backs. Instead of changing direction quickly with a burst, Gooden instead dives at the cutting back for a desperate tackle. Still, I love how he keeps his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and meets backs or blockers immediately. Despite playing mostly as a strong side linebacker, Gooden may project best as a weakside linebacker at the next level.
Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher (#79/6’7/305) vs Michigan State - In his most difficult matchup of the season, Fisher was extremely impressive. The Chippewas game planned plenty of three step drops and short passes to counter Michigan State’s pass rush, but when Ryan Radcliff was forced to drop back the Central Michigan offensive linemen consistently gave up pressures... other than Fisher. In pass protection, his drop step is not overly athletic, but Fisher counteracts it with excellent hand use and consistent extension. The senior’s initial punch can be too wide, but he does a nice job of adjusting and keeping hand control. Fisher is a technical blocker with a mean streak. While repeatedly facing off with defensive end William Gholston, the Chippewa was not phased by the inside rush, stuffing the defender with a straight arm and was content to ride the inside shoulder around the pocket whenever the outside rush lane was taken. Along with his drop step, I do not think Fisher has an overly agile anchor in terms of bending at the knee. Instead he continues to shuffle and halts his opposition’s momentum with extended arms. When run blocking, Fisher is not the quickest to the second level but he consistently hits his target. Once in a while he overextended when crashing down, but it was not a big issue. Fisher is not an exciting athlete, but his understanding of balance and momentum is excellent, and he fared very well against Gholston and other talented Spartan defenders.
Ohio State FB Zach Boren (#44/6’0/245) vs UCF - Only a few teams use a true fullback in the NFL, so Boren is lucky to be getting snaps as a ball carrier and H-back along with lead blocking duties. As a traditional fullback, the Buckeye was used to trap block defensive ends and always led with the correct shoulder. That kind of block is difficult to sustain and Boren was somewhat tentative on contact, stopping his momentum rather than trying to run through the opposition. When lining up a filling linebacker, Boren connected between the numbers and sustained his block. The senior is a smart blocker in terms of targeting the correct shoulder so that if the defender does try to evade they are taking themselves out of the play. Boren’s lone reception was along the sideline on a flat route, but he did hands catch it and quickly turned upfield to make the most of the available room. Other times he broke off his route when sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller rolled out of the pocket. Finally, as a ball carrier, Boren flashed a little shiftiness in terms of switching running lanes to pick up extra yards. Through the hole his pad level is a bit high, but Boren showed a willingness to lower his shoulder when facing incoming linebackers or safeties. Now, the senior is not overly agile or an incredible athlete to draw mismatches, but he does offer alignment versatility and an aggressive attitude.
Western Kentucky ILB Andrew Jackson (#4/6’1/262) vs Alabama - In a difficult matchup against one of the top offensive line’s in recent memory, Jackson made a ton of plays on the way to being credited with 6.5 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Jackson does not have outstanding chasing sideline to sideline speed but can knife through blocks and get to the backfield to disrupt. I really appreciated the junior’s understanding of his limitations and style of aggressively attacking lanes. However, the lack of speed is an issue and was apparent when spying quarterback A.J. McCarron, who beat him to the edge on a scramble on the way to picking up seven yards. Jackson’s high pad level when contacting offensive linemen at the second level leaves him susceptible to being pushed back and lacks the length to separate and disengage. His instincts are on display every play since he lacks outstanding burst to make up for missteps. Therefore, his lack of wasted movement is even more impressive and apparent. Jackson may be best as a strong side inside backer in a three man front, where he can fill holes inside and recognize lanes to knife through.
Western Kentucky DE Quanterus Smith (#93/6’5/248) vs Alabama - Facing his top competition this season, Smith finished with three sacks, his only tackles in the game. The senior made D.J. Fluker look heavy legged multiple times by getting an excellent burst off the line and dipping around the edge. On his first sack, Smith was untouched after dropping his shoulder to turn the corner but did not even attempt to use his hands to keep that separation, which is an area to improve in the future. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio did much better, but Smith set him up with an outside step to inside swim for another sack. On all three plays, the Hilltopper’s closing burst was evident and although he does not drive through the tackle he wraps up to finish. I was surprised at how well Smith set the edge versus the run, kept extension and anchored to force runs back inside. He can certainly improve by not being so tentative on ambiguous run or pass downs and his lack of hand use to release around the edge, but I look forward to seeing Smith’s production against weaker competition.