Quentin Williams, DE, Northwestern-Williams stuck out to me in what appeared to be a rotational defensive end role in 2010 during his sophomore season. He will be a junior in 2011 and I have to say I think he has some upside. He has good size at 6’4”, 250 pounds and has a listed 4.70 40 yard dash time, which speaks to his athleticism which I noted on the field as well. He seems to fire off the line pretty well, and showed some edge speed from the LE and RE spots which I thought was intriguing. I don’t think he has an elite get off or elite edge speed by any means, but he is at least above-average in each department. He flashed some hand usage, though I have to emphasize the word flash because they were not even consistent flashes. He needs significant technique work on his hand usage and his pass rush moves, as he is just a speed rusher right now. There are plenty of players with some above-average raw athleticism, flashes of production and potential and sometimes they have the size to play at the next level, which Williams does. However, what sets Williams apart is his motor. He has a motor that is on par with or just below Ryan Kerrigan, the former Purdue Boilermaker defensive end who rode his athletic ability and fantastic motor to the #16 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Putting anyone in Kerrigan’s zip code when it comes to his motor and effort level is very high praise, but Williams has a similar motor in my opinion. I didn’t see him quit on a single play, he gives great pursuit from the back-side and absolutely doesn’t stop until the play is over. He is going to be a player that will get a number of effort sacks if he can improve his technique, regardless of his athletic ability. But with his size, arm length, athletic ability as an edge rusher and his motor… he is only some added strength and consistent technique work away from causing some notable havoc in opposing backfields in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if he has put on any weight when September rolls around, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the 255-260 area. Keep an eye out for Williams though… guys with motors like his don’t tend to fade away very easily.
Jordan Mabin, CB, Northwestern- Mabin is a solid corner but I’m not sure he has great upside. He doesn’t seem to have great footwork (doesn’t click and close well) but he seems to have a pretty good burst to close despite some wasted steps in his transitions. He also has a good, low backpedal, shows ability in zone coverage and seems to have good ball skills. He also looked good in man coverage, seems to mirror defenders routes pretty well and seems to have a pretty good feel for pass defense. He doesn’t support the run well, however, and struggles to get off blocks. I just worry about him wasting steps in his transitions, but if he were able to improve his footwork during his transitions to avoid wasting steps I think I would like him more. He just doesn’t have anything great going for him: solid size, pretty good speed, pretty good in man and zone coverage, good back-pedal, good ball skills, but nothing great. So I wonder if he has starter upside in the NFL. I will be interested to see how he does this year, but at this point I would say he is more of a nickel/dime back than a NFL starter.
Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern- Some might write Persa off because of his size, or because of the offense he plays in, but while I think that his size and the spread offense he operates are hindrances to him as a prospect, I have to say I love watching this kid play. This is going to sound like overkill, but as far as I’m concerned he is the white Mike Vick. Hopefully that doesn’t sound racist or insensitive in any way, but as far as athletic ability and playing style that is the best comparison I can make. He isn’t as fast and as quick as Mike Vick is, few people are, but it is safe to say that he is probably the most athletic quarterback in the Big-10 now that Pryor has left, and yes, I think he is as athletic as Taylor Martinez of Nebraska. Plus, he is a much better passer than Martinez. But that isn’t the point. He has a very similar playing style to Mike Vick, though he might be a bit more mature as a passer than Vick was when he left Virginia Tech 10 years ago. He has a tendency to scramble obviously, something he and Vick obviously share, and he will hold onto the ball too long at times which results in sacks, another trait he shares with Vick. He is also extremely dangerous in the open field, and once he tucks and runs he is a threat to break a big run all the time, just like Vick. He may not be a threat to break off an 80 yard run because he probably has 4.6ish straight line speed whereas Vick was in the 4.38 range, but he has great quickness and shiftiness as a runner and he has fantastic vision for a quarterback whether he is running a designed QB draw or whether he takes off up the middle and is improvising. He also doesn’t have the rocket arm strength that Vick does, but I think he is more accurate that Vick was out of Virginia Tech also.
He does have good arm strength though, and he puts good zip on passes 20+ yards downfield and shows very impressive accuracy at times. I would grade his arm strength at a 3.5 and his accuracy at either a 3.0 or a 3.5, above average/good, because he will miss high sometimes but he consistently puts the ball in a very catchable spot and rarely blatantly overthrows or misses his receiver altogether. He also shows flashes of anticipation, the ability to throw his receiver open, and he also shows the ability to come off of his primary read and throw to another guy downfield or check down. It isn’t extremely consistent because of the offense he plays in, sometimes he just doesn’t need to go through all his reads, but the fact that he shows the ability to do it is encouraging. His throwing motion is solid, but he doesn’t always keep the ball up high enough when scanning the field, sometimes holding it near his mid-section, and that leads to a bit of a dip in his throwing motion, elongating it ever so slightly. Even when he does this his throwing motion is quick, but that is definitely a kink that could be worked out. I also am impressed with Persa’s intangibles as he seems to be a good leader and makes checks at the line, plus the drop-off in his team’s performance was extremely evident once he got hurt. It’s clear he means a boat-load to Northwestern, and I think they are going to surprise some people this year with Persa back healthy, though getting bitten by the injury bug is just another thing he has in common with Vick if you think about it.
Some may not like the white Mike Vick comparison for Persa, but if you watch him play he does play a similar style to Mike Vick and while he doesn’t have an identical skill set, they are definitely comparable. However, Persa is probably about 5’11”, which is even shorter than Vick, and while I like some of his upside as a quarterback it is going to be tough to sell NFL decision makers on his game at that height. Add in that he operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun, has a tendency to tuck and run instead of stepping up in the pocket and continuing to scan the field, and he isn’t incredibly accurate (above-average/good, but not great)… it’s going to be a tough sell. I think he could definitely be a wild-cat QB in the NFL because of his great vision and feel for whether he should keep it or hand it off, plus he would be dangerous enough as a passer that he could throw if teams loaded the box against him, similar to what Brad Smith does for the New York Jets.
However, I think a move to receiver is probably in his future regardless of how well he plays this year, which is unfortunate but he should be able to make the transition. He is athletic enough even if he doesn’t have elite straight line speed, and he is so elusive and shifty with the ball in his hands he should have no problem getting YAC, and he should be able to learn to run routes well because of his quickness and burst as long as he works at it. Plus, quarterbacks who change positions and become receivers often have an improved understanding of how to get open against different coverages, which gives them a leg-up on defenses once they get the hang of their new position. I love Persa though, I think he is going to lead Northwestern to another bowl game this season, and I think they could have 8 wins in them depending on their schedule and what their defense can muster to help out the offense.
Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern- Ebert is a big play receiver and I love his potential in the slot. He was regularly targeted by Persa and when Persa was healthy he produced 54 of his 62 receptions, 849 or his 953 yards and all 8 of his touchdowns. Without a good passer to get him the ball his numbers dropped to season lows. With Persa healthy I would be surprised if Ebert didn’t continue to gash defenses down teh seam for big chunks of yardage. He seems to have some speed (4.63 listed 40 time), good quickness/burst and good hands. He is a serious sleeper considering his production last year. He is flying way under the radar right now, so it will be interesting to see if he surprises some people during his senior season. I have high expectations for him.
Vince Browne, DE, Northwestern- Browne is probably considered by most as the best Northwestern defensive lineman, and at this point that may be true, but if I am right about Quentin Williams’ upside then that may not be the case for long. Browne was productive last year with a notable 7 sacks for Northwestern, so I was understandably curious to see how he got those sacks to see if it was due to great athletic ability, great technique work, or other circumstances that don’t necessarily reflect next level talent. At this point I would make the argument that it is the latter of the three possibilities, unfortunately. Browne has pretty good size but he doesn’t have great athletic ability. He seems to have a solid get-off and some edge speed, but I do not think it is as impressive as Williams’ and even his isn’t elite. However, get-off and edge speed aren’t everything, though they are very helpful tools for defensive linemen to have. But being a technician and getting the most out of your athletic ability by being extremely solid in the fundamental aspects of the game produces results also. That does not seem to be the case with Browne, however, as he did not show much hand usage to me and struggled to shed blocks because of it. He also struggled to get off blocks and make plays because of his inconsistent motor in my estimation. Unlike Williams, he doesn’t give great backside pursuit, he doesn’t keep coming to try to get to the QB even when he is blocked as often (though he did this a couple times) and if he does end up getting engaged by one or God forbid two offensive players he seems to throttle down, or at least he did in the two games I was able to watch of him. Perhaps I am being overly critical and I just raised my expectations too much based on his stat line, but I did not think that his on-field performance was as impressive as his statistics would have indicated. Just another reason you need to watch the tape and not rely solely on stats.
Drake Dunsmore, TE, Northwestern- Dunsmore has good size (6’3”, 235 pounds listed) and seems to be a good athlete for the position. He has more of an H-Back role on Northwestern, as he isn’t usually the primary blocking TE (similar to Kendricks’ role on the Badgers) but he gives good, consistent effort as a blocker, he just isn’t great at it. He is a solid wall-off blocker but he isn’t going to drive any DE’s or LB’s downfield. He won’t ever be a dominant blocker but his willingness to block means that he will be able to get coached up in this area and at least be solid in this area which means even if it is a slight issue at this point it shouldn’t remain that way once he gets to the NFL. However, he is quite the receiving TE and is athletic enough that he can line up on the line or he can line up in the slot as if he is just an oversized receiver. He shows potential as a route runner and can create separation with his athleticism but he also has notable shiftiness to him which I really like. You can’t coach that kind of feel for the game, so it is nice to see that. He seems to give pretty consistent effort as a blocker and route runner, and on top of that he catches the ball away from his body with his hands well and runs hard after the catch. I think Dunsmore is flying under the radar right now to be sure, but I would be surprised if he didn’t improve on his 40 receptions, 381 yards and 5 TD’s as a senior, especially considering the comfort level Persa has with him at this point. It’s not really surprising that a significant portion of his production came while Persa was on the field, and seemed to drop off a bit after he was injured. So while he isn’t going to be a 1st rounder, I think he is a sleeper that could end up in the mid-rounds if he plays well and demonstrates the skill set that I feel I have identified all season long. So watch out for him!
Ben Burkett, C, Northwestern- Burkett seems to have good size, strength and athletic ability for the position in addition to good hand placement as a run and pass blocker. He also looks like he has strong hands, a solid initial punch and is great at combo blocks. He looks smooth when moving from the initial block to the second level and does a good job of getting his hands on a linebacker when he gets there. He is good on screens and clearly has the mobility to block downfield. Overall he seems to have a good skill set for a center. The problem I have with him is that he almost seems lazy or out of shape. His effort is consistently poor and he throttles down a lot. If offensive linemen can have bad motors, he has one. This is evident in pass protection as well as when he is run blocking. This leads to him not sustaining at ALL regardless of what phase of the game he is in and he almost never finishes a block as a result of this. That is very concerning to me and I don’t know how correctable his effort level play to play will be. He has upside, but with that effort level he won’t ever reach his potential, which in my estimation is a pretty good NFL starting center. But his intangibles have not jumped out at me at all, and considering his effort level on the field it’s hard to assume that he is constantly in the film room studying, but that is obviously a conclusion I have jumped to without much substantiation for it. Regardless, he has upside but his motor scares me off, and it will scare off talent evaluators also if it doesn’t improve dramatically this year.
Al Netter, OT, Northwestern- Netter looks like a RT to me. I don’t think he handles speed and agility very well, and he doesn’t have good enough agility to mirror speed rushers adequately. He does do some things well, however. He has good size, seems to have long arms and he sustains blocks effectively. When he gets his hands on the defender and engages him as a pass blocker he usually takes him out of the play completely, which is something you always like to see from offensive linemen. He does a pretty good job getting out of his stance even though he doesn’t have great lateral agility. He also seems to have a pretty good first step when he is down blocking or pulling, etc. However, he struggles a lot with his hand placement as a blocker, so much so that I thought he got away with holding an alarming number of times just in the two games I watched of him from last season. He also likes to reach at times which negatively impacts his balance and this helps lead to him ending up on the ground more often than I would like to see. He is also not agile and does not block well at ALL on the move, and in my notes I literally wrote “He is worthless when pulling/blocking on the move” and I do not say things like that lightly. He struggles to even get his hands on a defender when blocking on the move, much less place his hands on them correctly and sustain a worthwhile block.
He also plays high at times which negates his natural strength. So while he has good size, seemingly pretty long arms and a pretty solid base, his lack of quality technique as far as hand placement, his kick slide, etc. limits his potential in my eyes. His kick slide is awkward and it looks like he is putting too much weight on his front foot when he executes it, which might also contribute to his balance issues. So while his size, starting experience and solid track record might indicate upside in the NFL, I think he is a mid-late round pick as a back-up RT that may or may not have upside as a developmental guy that just needs to be coached up. I don’t think he will ever be a quality starter in the NFL at this point, because even if he cleans up his technique (which would be a two or three year project at least) he doesn’t have the athletic ability and lateral agility to consistently mirror quality NFL pass rushers at either defensive end spot. Additionally, getting him to play with better pad level, fixing his kick slide, dramatically improving his hand placement and improving his balance by helping him stop his bad habit of reaching is a pretty dramatic undertaking, and while it is doable with hard work I would not bet on him correcting those issues and turning them all into strengths, which further diminishes his potential as a NFL player in my eyes.
David Nwabuisi, LB, Northwestern- Nwabuisi was only a rotational player last season but with two starting linebackers gone I expect him to step in as a starter. He isn’t a huge player and he didn’t show me tons of ability, but even as a sophomore last year he was intentionally substituted in for traditional passing situations which intrigues me. That makes me think he has upside in coverage at least, which warrants further investigation if/when he gets more consistent playing time. I’m not sure what kind of upside he has yet, but he is at least intriguing enough for me to keep tabs on him.
Brian Peters, S, Northwestern- Peters didn’t blow me away in any certain aspect of the game, though he seems to be a fundamentally sound safety. He looks like he has solid closing speed, he seems to be a good tackler, he plays smart in coverage and doesn’t bite on play-action, knows his assignments and seems to be pretty reliable despite elite athleticism. I don’t think he has starter upside in the NFL, but I think he could potentially stick as a back-up/special teamer in the NFL.
Sorry about the length of this post, but I watched a LOT of film on Northwestern this weekend. I like to be thorough. I have a Wisconsin post in the works along with some notes on San Jose State and Arizona State prospects. I’m still going through all the film though, so that will take a couple more days to get through. Thanks for reading!