Written by Zachary Gartin
When the college season was in flux, many players made the decision to opt-out and subsequently declared for the NFL draft. For some players, this was the right decision. For others, this was a decision that may end up hurting them. Whatever the effect of that decision may have been, we still have to watch these guys, so I am sitting down and doing just that.
Almost every week (I am done guaranteeing consistency with my articles) I will be recapping the guys I have watched up to that point. While I won’t include numerical grades, I’ll be ranking the players, including a hesitant comp, and giving you a bunch of positives and negatives. So in the honor of saving time, let us get started.
3 Paragraphs +1 clip that embodies the player (good or bad)
Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
Watched: Texas, Mississippi State, Alabama, UGA
First and foremost, Ja’Marr Chase is a really good football player. You don’t put up 1780 yards and 20 touchdowns over 14 games without being good at this sport. What makes him so good is his smoothness, physicality, and ability to consistently make plays on the ball. You rarely see a wide receiver win as consistently at the catch point as he does, and his route running and hand fighting are nothing to laugh at either. His ability to fight through contact within his route and at the line of scrimmage is absurd.
But Chase is not perfect. He ran a somewhat limited route tree at LSU, consisting mostly of slants, goes, and quick outs. Chase lets defensive backs get their hands on too easily at the line of scrimmage and struggles against more patient press defenders. Chase’s willingness to be physical can hurt him at times as well, as he can take on unnecessary contact within his routes at times. Chase also doesn’t have elite long speed or burst, which will force him to be more of a technician to separate at the next level.
I am going to be a little bit lower on Chase than some others, but I believe that he will still be a successful NFL wide receiver. The former LSU wide receiver reminds me of a smoother Marvin Jones. Chase is a vertical receiver that wins through physicality and at the catch point but may struggle to create separation early in his career due to a lack of refinement or elite athleticism. Chase currently carries a late first-round grade for me. He will immediately produce as a WR2 in the NFL, but I worry that is where his ceiling lies as well.
Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Watched: UNC, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech
Farley is absurdly athletic. At 6’2” and around 210 lbs, Farley clocked an insane 24.16 mph against Notre Dame, per Bruce Feldman. If that isn’t absurd enough, I don’t know if there is a smoother corner when it comes to changing directions in this draft class. Farley’s ability in off-man coverage is unique in this class. Match the smooth transitions, speed, and understanding of how to play off-man with his excellent ball skills, and you get a corner built to play on an island at the next level.
Unless you put Farley in press-man. While Farley is a great athlete, his footwork in press technique is very rough and looks to be a result of either poor coaching or inexperience or both. His eyes and lack of experience in zone can give the former Hokie problems when asked to play any type of short or underneath zone. While a majority of the times his eyes are disciplined, Farley can sometimes get caught on double moves because his eyes are in the backfield too early. I do think the press technique is fixable, but there is a question about whether he has the mentality to be a good press corner at the next level.
Farley didn’t remind me of anyone specifically when I watched his tape, but I saw some comparisons to Marlon Humphrey (Raven’s cornerback) and I don’t hate them. Farley wins due to his smooth movement skills and ball skills which allow him to thrive in off-man coverage, which is a rare skill to walk into the NFL with, but the Virginia Tech star will probably struggle early if he doesn’t fix his press footwork during his time off. Caleb Farley carries a late first-round grade for me right now. You just don’t find cornerbacks with that combination of size and movement skills very often.
Gregory Rousseau (EDGE, Miami)
Watched: Florida, Pitt, FSU, Louisville
Gregory Rousseau may be one of the toughest evaluations for me this year. The upside is obvious. Rare length and frame for any position, let alone EDGE. He’s a good athlete with solid strength and room for more muscle on his frame. He redirects and pursues well due to a stellar motor, which got him a majority of his sacks. The Miami defender also grew against the run throughout the year, getting better every game. He also showed some positional versatility, aligning all over the formation.
The reason Rousseau is a tough evaluation is that he is just so raw. He didn’t have a pass rush move to speak of during the 2019 season and rarely had a plan when going to rush the passer. His hands and hips can be disjointed, rarely firing at the same time. His hands and hand fighting technique were not nearly active enough to create consistent pressure in the NFL. Rousseau’s versatility in 2019 also came at a cost, as he rarely had true EDGE reps and rarely won when asked to win with something other than length and athleticism.
There isn’t a quick and easy comparison for Rousseau here because the former Hurricane isn’t even version 1.0 of the player he is going to be. His tools are intriguing, but the flaws and possibly bad habits a year of rushing the passer without a plan will be a bit tough to break. Rousseau gets a mid-second round grade from me. His upside due to his frame and solid athleticism is crazy, but Rousseau will be a serious project for anyone who wants to try it.
Damonte Coxie (WR, Memphis)
Watched: Louisiana Monroe, Temple, Cincinnati
Damonte Coxie was a surprising watch for me. He showed signs of being a very good and patient vertical route runner with solid hand fighting. His solid release game was a pleasant surprise as well, as Coxie showed some patience and versatility at the line of scrimmage. His hip drop is snappy and quick, which allows him to get easy separation on stop routes off of a vertical route tree. He has solid hands and is a savvy player, creating openings for a quarterback with his movement and pacing. Coxie also has some dawg in him, especially when attempting to block defenders.
Where Coxie struggles is expanding from a vertical route tree. His footwork is a little slow and uncreative at the top of routes, and his route tree is fairly limited. The former Memphis receiver isn’t an elite athlete and can struggle with acceleration and burst to create separation. Coxie can also get stuck in his break on outbreaking routes at times. My biggest knock on Coxie’s game is that he does not attack the ball in the air like I would like to see from a bigger receiver, as well as a few concentration drops that are probably fixable.
It might be a bit of recency bias, but Coxie reminds me a bit of Travis Fulgham. Coxie is a vertical route runner with some snap in his hips to help on stop routes, solid deep speed, and solid hands. While I would like to see him attack the ball in the air a bit better, I doubt it’s a mental thing and could come with more experience. Coxie garners a late third-round grade for me, but we could see him drop into the fifth round to a deep wide receiver class.
Sage Surratt (WR, Wake Forest)
Watched: Boston College, FSU, Louisville, Virginia Tech
Sage Surratt is a fun player to watch on Saturdays. He has an NFL frame and long arms, which help him dominate at the catch point and in 50/50 balls. Surratt is a physical route runner with some build-up speed. The Wake Forest receiver has strong hands and frames the ball very well any time the ball is coming his way. You can definitely see the basketball background in his route running and release game, as he tries a lot of hesi-moves in his releases. Surratt also does a good job pacing his routes at times, sometimes catching DB’s off guard.
But Surratt doesn’t win in a lot of other ways. His footwork is uncreative throughout the routes and against press coverage. He had a minimal route tree in college (only ran three different routes against Boston College) and lacked the quickness and explosiveness that would help him separate in the NFL. His physicality before the ball gets to him will cause PI’s in the NFL, and he pushes off pretty consistently.
I’m going to be a lot lower on Sage Surratt than almost everyone. His ability to win 50/50 balls is fun in highlight videos, but I feel like his athletic ability and struggles to create separation will really hold him back at the next level. Winning on 50/50 balls and with physicality isn’t the most consistent way to win in the NFL. I gave Surratt a 4th round grade, and unless he develops his route running and/or press releases, he could struggle to win in the NFL.