After much anticipation, a handful of teams across the FBS and Division II will officially kick off the 2017 season Thursday night.
With that, draft-eligible prospects for the 2018 draft will continue to either strengthen the thoughts and early analysis from draft analysts across the country or even rebuild what was perceived by game film from the previous season.
At NGSC Sports, it officially opens up the scouting department’s coverage of the 2018 NFL draft. As well as our weekly scouting focus that will be tailored around the week’s top contests, we will also have a special edition of the scouting focus for all seven University of Minnesota home games. In our special edition, a scouting primer will be presented detailing a few prospects from each squad.
Thursday night, the P.J. Fleck era will take on its first challenge in the University of Buffalo when the Gophers play host to the Bulls at TCF Bank Stadium. With not just a new head coach, but the decision to run with two quarterbacks, the Golden Gophers may look to their two-headed rushing attack. As for the Gophers defense, it all starts up front with a senior who had a breakout 2016 campaign.
University of Minnesota
RB Rodney Smith 5110 205 (Rjr.)
2016: Played in all 13 games with 12 starts… ran for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns on 240 carries.
Watching Smith’s tape will give you a Tavon Austin-type vibe. He is extremely shifty and has a good understanding on how to set up a defender. According to Pro Football Focus, the redshirt junior’s 56 missed tackles was No.1 among all returning Power 5 running backs with fewer than 270 carries.
He also possesses the speed to quickly hit the edge and turn the corner. Despite delivering most of his damage on the ground due to his fluid lateral agility, Smith has underrated power when running in between the tackles and does a nice job of keeping his pads low. However, there are times where he fails to see the cutback open up, largely due to attempting to barrel through defenders. Another reason that some might see Austin in his game is his catching ability out of the backfield. A crisp route runner, Smith does a good job of selling his brake in option routes, slowing the feet of oncoming defenders.
DT Steven Richardson Jr. 6000 290 (Sr)
2016: Played in all 13 games and started 11… 31 tackles, 11 tackles for loss (led team), 7 sacks
The first thing that sticks out about Richardson’s tape is that he has an explosive first step. There were numerous snaps in which after two steps, he was nearly in line with the defensive end who never made contact.
He is fairly fundamentally sound, bringing his hands along with his feet when making initial contact. A compact frame (6-foot), much of his success comes from his ability to stay low on contact and never letting his feet die. However, he also is a sporadic with his feet, often getting too narrow in his base causing him to fall. Underrated power and lateral agility. In 2016, the Gophers front four was asked to partake in a bevy of angles and slants. His explosive first step, blended with his power, allows for more control when attempting to stone reach blocks. When facing a drive block and is unable to win with his get off, he does a good job of keeping a strong base underneath him.
It is however, a double-edge sword. With his compact frame, he is also at a disadvantage in his reach and often struggles when he misses with his initial strike. Despite a good understanding of hand fighting, Richardson is still raw as a pass rusher, often working a bull rush, but has no true compliment to it if he happens to come across an opposition of equal strength. What he does have is a really nice push/pull and he does a nice job of exploding his hands into his target to deliver not just a strike, but a feel of a bull rush before quickly pulling and either ripping or swimming through.
University of Buffalo
LB Khalil Hodge 6100 240 (Jr)
2016: Started all 12 games… 123 tackles (team-high), 7 tackles for loss, sack, averaged 10.3 tackles a game
After a standout sophomore season, Hodge is looking to take the MAC by storm… Again.
The 6-foot-one-inch linebacker simply has a nose for the football. He’s great at stacking and shedding opposing offensive lineman and relies heavily on his instincts to put him in the right place. However, as a sophomore last season, there was a slight timidness to his game. He seemed to be unsure of when to fire against play action and looked more comfortable dropping into the hook rather than hitting a straight back pedal. Hodge does have a good motor and possesses the ability to have sideline to sideline speed. What should help the 240-pound junior is that he had an entire year plus and offseason in a Division 1 strength and conditioning program, which should help as he look sluggish at times.
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft Analyst for NGSC Sports
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JZimmerNFL
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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