As part of our On3 midseason report, we talked to several NFL scouts and asked them to identify some players whose draft stock is on the rise coming out of the first half of the season. Here are 15 who came up. They’re listed alphabetically; all are seniors except where noted.
Florida A&M S Markquese Bell
A Maryland transfer and former four-star recruit, Bell has posted 31 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in five games for FCS Florida A&M. That includes 10 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble during a September loss to USF. At least some in the scouting world view Bell as an early-round prospect. “He’s big and rangy, and he’s physical,” a scout told On3. “He’s a very willing tackler. Very productive at that level. He’s standing out.”
Florida DE Zachary Carter
Carter led Florida with five sacks last season, and already has exceeded that figure with an SEC-leading 5.5 sacks. He also is tied for second in the conference with eight tackles for loss. At least some scouts have first-round grades on Carter.
SMU WR Danny Gray
An SMU coach raved about Gray to On3 during the summer and tabbed him as arguably the team’s most impressive and dynamic player during the Mustangs’ preseason camp. Gray has followed that up by scoring seven touchdowns in SMU’s first six games. During a 42-34 Week 4 win over TCU, Gray had four catches for 130 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown. Gray, who has big-time speed and explosiveness, has gone from having late-round preseason grades to being viewed as a potential early-round prospect.
Iowa CB Riley Moss
Moss, who had later-round grades entering the season, is tied for first nationally with four interceptions. He had two pick-sixes in the Hawkeyes’ season-opening win over Indiana and has recorded interceptions in back-to-back games against Maryland and Penn State. Moss suffered a knee injury during the win over Penn State but should be back “in a couple weeks,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
Wyoming LB Chad Muma
Muma, another late-round prospect entering the year, is tied for 16th nationally in tackles per game (9.4). He also has a sack and two interceptions, including a pick-six during a Week 3 win over Ball State. Muma has registered double-digit tackles in four of the Cowboys’ first five games.
Texas LB DeMarvion Overshown
Overshown ranks second in the Big 12 with 52 tackles and has been cementing himself as an early-round prospect in the eyes of scouts. During the Longhorns’ 52-51 loss to Oklahoma, Overshown had eight tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, two quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. “This last game against Oklahoma was big for him in the first quarter,” a scout said. “He’s kind of the new-age hit-and-run, go-get-the-ball, straight-line fast guy — not quite like the twitchy, change-of-direction guy, but in terms of just run sideline to sideline and hit people and create impact plays. We have (NFL) starter grades on him.”
Kentucky DE Josh Paschal
A Kentucky staffer told On3 going into the season that he expected Paschal to end up going in the top three rounds of the draft. That’s now looking increasingly possible. Paschal ranks fourth in the SEC with 7.5 tackles for loss. “There will be defensive line prospects with more ‘wow factor’ in this draft, but few are as dependable and productive on a weekly basis as Paschal,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told On3 recently. “From a scouting perspective, Paschal is a versatile and instinctive player with quick hands and a slippery knack for getting into the backfield. Makeup-wise, he is a checks-all-the-boxes type that we expect to ascend through the draft process once NFL teams start spending time with him.”
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett
Pickett has been the driving force behind a Pitt offense that’s gone from ranking 10th in the ACC in scoring last season to first nationally this season (52.4 points per game). Pickett, whose previous single-season high for touchdown passes was 13, has thrown 19 touchdown passes this season, with only one interception. A fourth-year starter, Pickett ranks first among Power 5 players in quarterback rating (194.7). “National media hype around Pickett is starting to build and rightfully so,” Nagy said this week. “The biggest improvement we’ve seen this season from Pickett has come in decision-making areas. … No quarterback in college football has helped his draft stock more than Pickett so far this season.”
Arkansas DT John Ridgeway
A transfer from FCS Illinois State, Ridgeway has 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the Razorbacks’ past five games. “He’s been a pretty impactful nose (tackle) for them,” an SEC personnel official said. “He’s got great size and length (he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds), and he does a great job holding the point versus the run and stalemating centers. And he can push the pocket in pass rush.”
Baylor RB Abram Smith
After starting at linebacker last season, Smith moved back to running back this season (he played the position earlier in his career) and ranks second in the Big 12 with 597 rushing yards and third with seven rushing touchdowns. His yards-per-carry average (7.65) ranks fifth-best nationally among players with at least 50 carries. “Few players in college football have created as much buzz among NFL scouts as Smith, who led Baylor in tackles in all four of his starts at linebacker last season and is now among the national leaders in rushing,” Nagy said. “ … Perhaps the thing we and NFL scouts like most about Smith is how people at the school talk about his toughness. Based off everything you hear, Smith is exactly what NFL teams are looking for from a football makeup perspective.”
Georgia LB Channing Tindall
Tindall leads Georgia’s top-ranked defense in tackles with 29 after notching 15 tackles and three sacks last season. “He’s made some plays,” a scout said. “He could help somebody as a backup and special-teamer in the league, so he’s improved himself from being kind of a big question mark to actually a guy who looks like he could be a real contributor in the NFL.”
Georgia junior DL Travon Walker
A former five-star recruit, Walker is emerging as one of Georgia’s top NFL draft prospects along with guys like linebacker Nakobe Dean and fellow defensive lineman Jordan Davis. During the Bulldogs’ win over Auburn last week, Walker had four tackles, a sack and five additional quarterback hurries. “He’s a freak,” an opposing SEC coach said. “Rare athleticism and explosiveness. Get-off like a pure pass rusher. Also has great strength. Can align anywhere on the d-line.”
Alabama junior WR Jameson Williams
A transfer from Ohio State, Williams ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards (510), is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (five) and is one of just two players nationally with two kick returns for touchdowns. “He looks like the guys they’ve had there (at Alabama) in the past,” a scout said. During the Crimson Tide’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M last week, Williams had 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. “I don’t know if this wide receiver class has as many explosive, playmaking guys as previous drafts,” another scout said. “A lot of possession-type guys in this year’s class. But he is an explosive guy and the best receiver on Bama’s team. I think that guy’s an absolute game-breaker. I need to see more of the actual film of what he’s doing without the ball in his hands and the route-running and all that, but you can’t deny that that dude is freaking explosive. And you have the return capability from him, too. I think he has the potential to be a first-round pick. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this draft class, so I think there’s going to be a lot of competition to see who those first-round receivers are. Anybody that’s got explosive playmaking ability is going to get the edge in my opinion.”
Auburn redshirt sophomore DL Colby Wooden
Wooden, who ranked third in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss last season, has 28 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks through six games this season. In Auburn’s Week 5 win over LSU, Wooden had seven tackles, a shared sack, two additional quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. “Big, physical kid,” an opposing coach said of the 6-5, 278-pound Wooden. “Played some d-tackle against us, which is not him. I believe he is a five-technique at the next level who can set the edge and play the run. I believe he will have a very successful pro career. Really like him.”
Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe
Zappe was one of several Houston Baptist players to transfer to Western Kentucky this offseason after the Hilltoppers hired Houston Baptist offensive coordinator Zach Kittley as their new OC. Zappe leads the nation in passing (447.0 yards per game) and ranks second with 21 touchdown passes. “ “I think this Day 3 quarterback crop is just kind of ‘pick your preference,’ ” a scout said. “I’m not too fired up about this quarterback class at all. But he’s in full command of that offense. He makes all the calls. He’s basically the offensive coordinator of that offense. It’s pretty neat to watch. Obviously, there’s a lot of rapport there with the staff.”
Some other players who were mentioned: Cincinnati S Bryan Cook, Louisiana junior OT Max Mitchell, Central Michigan OT Luke Goedeke, Alabama DL Phidarian Mathis, Alabama RB Brian Robinson, Boise State WR Khalil Shakir, Arkansas DE Tre Williams, Fordham OT Nick Zakelj.