-Montee Ball was the man in this game. He had a fantastic game rushing 38 times for 224 yards and 2 TD’s. He also added two receptions for a cumulative total of -1 yards, but he had a 5 yard reception for a touchdown to help bring Wisconsin back early in the 2nd half. I can’t say enough good things about Montee Ball. Last year he looked like he lacked burst, might have been carrying too much weight, and while he was still very effective I didn’t think he was a legitimate NFL prospect. This year he dropped about 25 pounds and the second I saw him touch the ball for the first time this year I immediately said “Wow, Montee looks like a completely different back.” He has so much more burst, so much more speed to finish runs, and hits the hole harder and faster. He still runs the ball hard, he runs through arm tackles with ease, he can run guys over when he puts his head down, and he gains a lot of yardage after contact. He has very reliable hands out of the backfield, and overall strikes me as a very complete back. Will he go in the first round? I’m not sure, but I would definitely put a 2nd round grade on him at this point. He has feature back written all over him in the NFL, and has proven that he can be an every down back because of the emphasis Wisconsin puts on running the ball and working the clock. Montee Ball, it’s time to go pro! I’ll have a scouting report up on him this upcoming week.
-Russell Wilson was not the headliner of this game by any stretch of the imagination. Montee Ball literally carried them, and Wilson was essentially a glorified bystander. He was 10/13 for only 90 yards and 1 touchdown (to Montee Ball) and ran for another touchdown on a naked bootleg at the goal line. Wilson has had much better games, and while he only threw three incompletions two of them were poor throws while he had plenty of room in the pocket to throw. He missed both high, and the second pass was not a clean spiral. Once Wisconsin had taken control of the game he did convert two throws on 3rd downs with ease to extend their drives which should not be overlooked, but I think Wisconsin could have handled Illinois very easily in this game if Wilson had been more of a difference maker in the passing game. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the statistics, but for a while Illinois was doing a solid job of taking Montee Ball away and Wilson wasn’t moving the ball for Wisconsin. Ball and Wisconsin’s offensive line wore Illinois down in the second half, but if that hadn’t happened I don’t know if Wilson could have won this game for Wisconsin today throwing the ball.
AJ Jenkins- Jenkins had an average game with only 4 receptions for 33 yards, but he was impressive. He had a touchdown called back by a very questionable offensive pass interference call on a TE who allegedly “picked” the defender like a basketball player, but in reality he barely touched him as he ran by him (his shoulder nicked Fenelus who was in coverage on the play). Jenkins had created legitimate separation over the middle, caught it cleanly and picked up the rest for a TD only to have it called back. Later on same drive Illinois was inaccurately called for a second “picking” penalty and this was even worse Darius Millines, a wide receiver on Illinois, stopped his route and avoided the defender and may not have actually touched him. Yet, the penalty was still called and another catch and run by Jenkins (this time down inside the five) was negated by a bad call by the refs. Jenkins was matched up with Fenelus the entire game from what I saw, and it was a pretty even battle. Jenkins created separation relatively consistently and if it weren’t for those penalties he would have had about 50-60 yards and potentially a touchdown. I’m a huge Jenkins fan and while I don’t think he’s a 1st or 2nd rounder because I don’t think he has great deep speed he strikes me as a nice #2 or slot receiver in the NFL because of his good hands, willingness to go over the middle, ability to make catches in traffic, and because he can make defenders miss in the open field to pick up yards after the catch.
-Antonio Fenelus had a very good game today. He was matched up on AJ Jenkins all game and while Jenkins did make some plays and create separation against him Fenelus held his own in coverage. Overall he had pretty good coverage on deep throws, he used the sideline well as a defender, but he did get beat deep on at least one play when Jenkins had separation down the middle but O’Toole’s pass was underthrown in the face of the wind. As a result, Fenelus recovered and made a great diving interception on the play. Fenelus had another shot at an interception but it went right through his hands, was tipped around and eventually intercepted by Aaron Henry. I’ve liked Fenelus since I watched him last year and personally feel that he is underrated. He’s not an elite corner prospect, but I think he has NFL ability and is worth mid-round consideration.
-Jeff Allen is the left tackle on Illinois. He has a lot of starting experience with over 30 career starts under his belt, and might actually be a four year starter. I’m not sold on him sticking at LT in the NFL, but I think his upside might be as a right tackle in a zone blocking scheme. He’s pretty agile for his size (listed at 6’5″, 315 pounds) and gets off the ball effectively, especially in the running game. I haven’t seen him much so I don’t know how well he cuts, but he is not a drive blocker so putting him in a man blocking scheme that relies on driving defenders off the ball is not where his upside lies. He does seal well and positions himself effectively to create running lanes for Illinois’ running backs, but I don’t think he has as much upside in a man scheme as he does in a zone scheme. He had a solid game against Whitney Mercilus because he didn’t have as many issues with him attempting to speed rush, but he struggles with speed and I don’t think he has the lateral agility and kick slide to mirror elite NFL pass rushers. I think he could be a solid/quality RT, but is a potential back-up LT that could play there in a pinch. That gives him some value, but I still grade him as a 4th round guy right now. If he has to move to RT his inability to move defenders off the ball in the run game hurts his value if he is forced to move there.
-This was the first game I have gotten to see Whitney Mercilus in since he has caught fire and garnered significant National attention. He’s a legitimate prospect, but I think he has to stick at LE in the NFL. He doesn’t have the edge speed to stick at RE in my opinion. He’s a strong guy with a lot of potential, but it was hard to evaluate him as a pass rusher when Russell Wilson only threw the ball 13 times and Montee Ball had 38 carries for 224 yards. I like his potential, but I need to see more. He had 17.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks coming into the game today, so I just need tos ee more of him.
-Michael Buchanan is another one of Illinois’ talented defensive linemen. He was on my list of potential break-out players before the season began and has produced 11.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble on the year (before the Wisconsin game). He’s got great speed off the edge, but he needs to get stronger and add weight to stand up better against the run. He’s got potential, but still needs developing and coaching.
-Illinois middle linebacker Jonathan Brown may only be a sophomore but he is a star. Before today’s game he had 78 total tackles (only 29 solo), 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble and an interception. He has great instincts, he fills well, he flows to the ball well, and he just makes plays. I’m a huge fan and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. He showed up often today as he always does.
-Ian Thomas is an underrated linebacker in my opinion. He’s only 6’1″, 235 pounds but he was filling very well when he had the opportunity to against Wisconsin. Is he a top 100 guy? No, but he’s a quality tackler with 64 tackles (23 solo), 8.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks so far this year. He’s got draftable ability in my opinion, but no one is talking about him. I think he will at worst get picked up as a UDFA and make a roster because of his potential contributions on special teams.
-Patrick Witt was the only reason I watched some of this game, and while I think he has some arm talent and accuracy I was not overly impressed. He stared down his receivers regularly, didn’t make very good decisions and ended up with two interceptions before I tuned back in to the Wisconsin-Illinois game. He has enough ability to be brought on as a UDFA, but I’m not sure he has draftable talent beyond late round consideration right now. He could make himself some money with a quality performance in a post-season game like the East-West Shrine Game though.
-Alfonzo Dennard didn’t seem to have a very good game against Michigan. I didn’t see much of the game, but when I watched I was not very impressed. I like him, but he hasn’t been helping his stock a lot in recent weeks.
-David Molk may be my #1 senior center in this class. He’s not very big, but he’s very mobile, has tons of starting experience, and is overall very reliable. He won’t be able to block a DT one on one in the NFL very often, but he’s intelligent and should have a very long NFL career. Not a 1st round pick, but definitely warrants 2nd-3rd round consideration.
-Denard Robinson should just move to slot receiver. I know Michigan won this game, but he could be such a dynamic receiver in the slot and that is the only position he has a NFL future at. Just bite the bullet Michigan!
I focused on the Illinois-Wisconsin game, but I had a few notes on the other prospects as well. Enjoy the rest of the games tonight!