Each Saturday I will select a specific game and focus on several players that may be under the Detroit Lions' radar for the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft. My goal is to pick two different teams each and every week so that we can go over plenty of new names.
Texas at #11 Notre Dame - 7:30 EDT on NBC
DT Hassan Ridgeway, 6-foot-4, 309 pounds (#98, RS Junior)
Ridgeway sees a lot of snaps as a nose tackle in the Longhorns defensive coordinator Vance Bedford's hybrid scheme and is a tough player to move off the line of scrimmage. He is what I like to call a "space eater" against the run and does a great job of tracking the ball carrier. He has fantastic awareness and does a great job of recognizing screens.
As a first-year starter, Ridgeway sacked the QB six times, while also tallying 10 tackles for a loss. What goes unseen on the statsheet is his ability to command double teams and allow his teammates to make something happen 1-on-1.
We have an entire season to play before we get real serious about "Draft talk," but this is the time where I like to focus on the negatives and see by the end of the year if that player has shown any improvements. Having only one year under his belt, Ridgeway is definitely a raw prospect, especially as a pass rusher. I would like to see some more consistency with his pad level and less of him leaving his chest exposed. He could also do a better job with his hands to disengage, as well as occasionally beating a double-team.
I like Ridgeway a lot as a potential Haloti Ngata replacement/backup, depending on what the Lions do with him. He's a perfect fit as a 1-tech defensive tackle that can play a little bit of nose tackle, should the Lions continue to sprinkle in some 3-4 looks to their scheme. As it stands, I see Ridgeway as a potential Day 2 or 3 pick down the road.
Other players to watch:
CB Duke Thomas, 5-foot-11, 178 pounds (#21, Junior)
OT Ronnie Stanley, 6-foot-5, 315 pounds (#78, RS Junior)
Stanley is a spectacular prospect and probably would have been the top tackle selected had he declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. Right now I have him tied with Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil as the top tackle for next year's draft. There isn't a whole lot you can say negatively about Stanley's game, but I could list you a million positives.
What really jumps at at you is how fluid Stanley looks in pass protection. He has great bend and moves around well for his size, but it's his long arms and extension that makes it nearly impossible to get around him. He uses his hands to latch onto defenders and control them in the run game and sets his anchor early to stonewall them in the passing game. Stanley is a phenomenal blocker out in space and gets the job done as a second-level blocker. His tape vs. Florida State from last year is next to flawless.
Stanley is a very technical blocker and my only critique with him would be to show a little more tenacity out on the field. With that being said, I believe that he's a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, barring any injuries.
WR Corey Robinson, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds (#88, Junior)
Robinson is the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, so you know where he got his height from. Robinson reminds me a little bit of Mike Evans coming out of Texas A&M, except Robinson is a better athlete and is more familiar with the full route tree. He has springs in his legs that give him a gigantic catch radius and does well when going up for contested catches.
My early concerns are his hands and his blocking. He broke his hand early in fall camp last year and showed some inconsistencies to start the year. Robinson is also prone to dropping the football and showed questionable hands in his game vs. Stanford last year. As a blocker, Robinson tends to act lost out in space and loses his footing when trying to run block. I'd like to see him clean up that part of his game because he could potentially wipe out defenders with his size on a consistent basis.
Robinson had an up-and-down 2014, but he showed flashes of why he'll likely be considered a Day 1 or Day 2 pick next year. If he can increase his production and show improvement in a few areas, I could see him being one of the first few receivers off the board.
LB Jaylon Smith, 6-foot-2, 240 pounds (#9, Junior)
I've seen several draftniks declare Jaylon Smith as their No. 1 defensive prospect and top overall player already. Naturally, I had to take a closer look at this kid. I'm not so sure I could see an inside linebacker getting drafted in the top-five picks like others do, but the talent is clearly there with Smith. As a true sophomore, Smith earned Second Team All-American honors and led the Irish with 111 total tackles.
Smith is the total package as an off-ball linebacker. He can cover, he can hit and he can make plays in the backfield. He's a spectacular athlete that has elite sideline-to-sideline speed and can make a play anywhere on the field. The Irish also saw his versatility and used him in slot coverage, as an inside linebacker and as a pass rusher. As for where he'll line up on Sunday's, I'd imagine Smith best suited as a weak-side backer in a 4-3, or an ILB in a 3-4 scheme.
Draft Breakdown's Jeff Risdon did a terrific job of finding the weaknesses in Smith's repertoire and primarily focused on his tendency of being the last player to react after the snap and also his predictable linear pass rushing technique.
Other players to watch:
DT Sheldon Day, 6-foot-2, 285 pounds (#91, Senior)
CB KeiVarae Russell, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds (#6, RS Junior)
WR Will Fuller, 6-foot-0, 184 pounds (#7, Junior)
C Nick Martin, 6-foot-4, 301 pounds (#72, Senior)