NFL draft winners and losers: 2 big-name QB prospects struggle out West

In case you’ve been terraforming on Mars up until today, first off: welcome home. Second: Chase Young is a winner. Pretty much every week, in fact. We wrote about his big performance on Saturday after returning from suspension. Young did not look rusty.

Now onto the other winners and losers from the weekend’s action:

Winners

Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos

His performance was overshadowed by Young’s dominance, but Gross-Matos has strung some nice games together to help steady his draft stock and make it a more tantalizing decision on whether he declares or returns to school.

He made nine tackles in the game, two sacks for minus-15 yards and another 1.5 tackles for loss. Gross-Matos’ production sagged a bit midseason, but he now has eight sacks on the season as the gifted physical traits are starting to add up into the statistics. Plus, he’s good for a handful of pressures in each game that don’t show up in the box score.

We’re still ambivalent about Gross-Matos as a prospect in some respects, but — should he come out — with a little bit of a drop-off in the edge-rushing department in this class after the top few prospects, he could find himself in good shape with a strong pre-draft process. Right now, he has a decent chance to go in the top 40 or so picks, but the higher end of Round 1 feels like a reach.

Georgia S J.R. Reed

Statistically speaking, Reed’s senior season hasn’t been quite as prolific as his 2018 campaign was, but we see a mature, assignment-sound player whose final season has been his most impressive and whose draft stock perhaps has been a bit undersold. There’s a narrative that the former walk-on and Tulsa transfer is a nice player, but ultimately not all that gifted of a prospect.

We will fight against that one a bit. First off, Reed has NFL bloodlines — his father, Jake Reed, spent 12 years as a receiver in the NFL, the same length of time Reed’s uncle, Dale Carter, spent in the NFL as a standout defensive back. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has praised Reed’s toughness and smarts and has given him the role of the secondary’s captain — the player who channels all the crucial communication on the back end.

That was tested Saturday against a dangerous Texas A&M team when Bulldogs CB Eric Stokes left the game and Aggies QB Kellen Mond was starting to heat up and threaten a comeback. But Reed and the back end held firm, holding A&M to no catches longer than 24 yards and completely taking the run game away. And with each game that Georgia’s offense struggles, it puts the onus on Reed and the defense.

Georgia DB J.R. Reed (20) defends during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday.(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Perhaps when it comes to testing time, Reed won’t stand out like some of his safety brethren in this class. There might be prospects at the position who are better covering deep with range, Maybe Reed is best as a box safety who can expand his coverage skill on the next level. But I think this is a high-floor, easy-evaluation player who should be considered on Day 2 of the draft with few regrets.

Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar

In our eternal search to find quality 2020 draft TE possibilities, we’ve become smitten with the surge that Kolar has been on in recent games. Saturday’s victory over Kansas was the first time in five games he hadn’t caught at least one TD, but he more than made up for it with six grabs for 100 yards (his first 100-yard college game) on eight targets.

Very quickly here, even with a balanced Cyclones passing game — they have four players with  600-plus receiving yards — Kolar has become QB Brock Purdy’s main target down the stretch. Over his past five games, the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Kolar has 24 catches for 330 yards and five TDs.

If you want to compare him to another standout redshirt sophomore who made waves last season, Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson — the eventual No. 6 pick in the draft — caught  46 passes for 717 yards and six TDs last season. Right now, with two more games, Kolar has 47 catches, 649 yards and seven TDs. Hockenson was the better blocker; no argument there. But it certainly shows how gifted a receiver Kolar is.

Yes, he’s a redshirt sophomore. Yes, right now it appears Kolar could return to school and form a dangerous duo with Purdy again as a pair with All-America hopes. But should Kolar choose to come out early, he’s done nothing but help his cause.

Losers

Oregon QB Justin Herbert

After one of his best performances of the season last week against Arizona, Oregon’s Justin Herbert fell hard in a stunning loss to Arizona State. Herbert looked uncertain and flummoxed by pressure and the Sun Devils’ zone defense. 

He finished the game 19-of-35 passing for 290 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. But put the stats to the side for a moment; there’s little question it was his worst performance of the season.

In fact, you could say that these past two games are a pretty perfect snapshot of Herbert as an NFL prospect. He possesses all the tools you could dream of, and occasionally it looks beautiful. But Herbert also is going to have outings that are just confounding. His consistency is a big concern for NFL evaluators.

Oregon QB Justin Herbert still should hear his name fairly early in the 2020 NFL draft, but he has had enough poor games to raise concerns. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Look, the guy is still a first-round pick — likely in the top half of Round 1. He’s too skilled not to go that high. But Herbert is going to need to answer these questions against a higher level of competition.

We’ve gotten some Ryan Tannehill-ish vibes over the past two seasons watching Herbert. And hey, to be fair, Tannehill has some moments when he looks damned good. Have you seen what Tannehill has done the past month-plus for the Titans? He’s not bad, and he occasionally looks terrific. But sprinkled in throughout any season he’s had in the NFL, Tannehill manages to look quite bad two or three times and just average in other outings.

I hope this isn’t the NFL path for Herbert, but it’s hard not to think this is the way it could go without great coaching and superior skill-position talent and blocking. 

Washington QB Jacob Eason

The “go back to school” chorus got a bit louder for Eason amid a disappointing season that took another hit with the loss at Colorado on Saturday night. Whether that happens or not is another matter, as the Huskies’ staff might collectively decide that QB2 Jacob Sirmon might be the better option in 2020. That almost certainly would lead Eason, a fourth-year junior who turned 22 years old last week, to test the draft waters.

But for every NFL throw Eason makes, such as a few beauties he unleashed in the third quarter of the Colorado game, he makes just as many  — if not more — head-scratchers. Eason finished the game 21-of-33 passing for 206 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But those stats don’t fully tell the story of a quarterback who just seems to lack command and pocket presence right now.

Washington QB Jacob Eason hasn't played his best ball down the stretch. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Eason’s size and arm talent are what make him a possible first-rounder. There are time he looks like he possesses Matthew Stafford-level throwing ability. But taking unnecessary sacks (five of them vs. the Buffs), failing to come off his spot consistently to make throws and going to his second and third reads — those have all become worrisome issues. 

My gut feeling is that he still will come out early and still will be a borderline first- or second-round pick. That raw ability doesn’t just grow on every college campus. But the team that picks Eason must have a plan for him that involves quickening his mental processing and learning to deal with pressure better. Those are hard things to cultivate, but it can be done.

Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb

When all my grading is completed, it would not be shocking to see Lamb finish ahead of the class — even ahead of Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy — as the WR1 in the 2020 NFL draft. But Lamb’s recent (undisclosed) injury has hurt his cause just a little bit, first missing the incredible comeback against Baylor and then appearing to being limited Saturday against TCU.

First off, credit where due: Horned Frogs CB Jeff Gladney, one of the better corners in college football, saw a lot of Lamb in the second half and did a good job on the Sooners receiver, keeping him without a catch on only one targeted pass. But Gladney was flagged for targeting the game prior and was forced to sit out the first half against OU.

Lamb gamely played 82 of his team’s 85 offensive snaps and was forced to be a decoy and run blocker for much of the victory. He finished the game with two catches (on six targets) for 16 yards with a back-shoulder touchdown he caught against TCU freshman Keeyon Stewart.

The injury isn’t considered serious, and he hasn’t at all harmed his draft stock irreparably, but we will be monitoring Lamb closely this week for Saturday’s “Bedlam” game against rival Oklahoma State to see how he’s operating.

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