2014 NFL Draft: Prospects Facing Make-or-Break Scenarios in 2nd Half of Season
While it's not necessarily crunch time quite yet, the second half of the season does have some make-or-break implications for several struggling NFL draft prospects.
Certainly, it's well understood that slow starts happen. But then again, scouts typically don't have patience for a prospect who simply isn't getting the most out of his overall talent and level of ability.
Unfortunately, the following players all find themselves in this unlucky boat. Their individual starts to this season have been nothing short of disappointing, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're down and out either.
After all, the conference football season is just beginning, and there's no better time than now to start turning things around.
However, they better do so quick—there are only so many more opportunities remaining. Patience is running thin on these eight prospects who have struggled to live up to expectations.
QB Stephen Morris, Miami (FL)
There's one thing with Stephen Morris that is absolutely certain: He can sling the rock like nobody's business.
With a live arm and what seems like unlimited velocity, there's really not a throw Morris can't make. Unfortunately, it's not his arm strength, and definitely not a lack of athleticism and upside, that has scouts bothered.
What has people like Bleacher Report's very own Matt Miller concerned is his general lack of consistency and inaccuracy in terms of ball placement.
To put it in perspective, consider the difference you experience when shooting a 12-gauge shotgun versus a 20-gauge shotgun. The 20-gauge is more accurate but sacrifices power, whereas the 12-gauge option produces more recoil (and is thus less accurate) but is much more powerful.
Morris' arm is the 12-gauge. He has the arm strength to make any throw, but because of his cannon for an arm, he can also struggle to remain accurate from one throw to the next.
Overall, Morris' completion percentage so far on the season (59.7) isn't terrible, but his general inability to change up his ball speed and scattershot-like accuracy has his draft stock in peril.
Moving forward, what scouts really want to see is the game begin to slow down for Morris, as his upside and potential are nearly unlimited.
However, Morris may want to start doing that soon.
In an already deep quarterback class, Morris' draft stock is falling, and what he does over the second half of this season could make or break his stock as a legitimate franchise quarterback prospect.
QB David Fales, San Jose State
What's true about Stephen Morris as a quarterback prospect is probably the exact opposite of what's true about San Jose State quarterback David Fales.
For instance, while Morris' arm strength is probably his greatest asset, and his overall accuracy can be described as shoddy at best, Fales is probably one of college football’s most accurate passers.
Or at least he used to be.
You see, just last season Fales led the nation in completion percentage at an astounding 72.5-percent clip.
However, the results so far this season have been vastly different: He has completed a paltry 59.6 percent of his passes through the first six games.
Surely, part of this may be attributed to a change in coaching staff and overall offensive philosophy. However, a nearly 13-percent dip from one season to the next does bring with it some major red flags.
Luckily enough, Fales is coming off his best performance of the season—completing 80 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and 431 yards. However, scouts undoubtedly want to see more overall consistency out of No. 10.
After all, last season, it was Fales' superb accuracy, ball placement and overall decision-making that had scouts excited. Now, however, Fales seems to have almost become a shadow of his former self and has taken a noticeable step back in each one of these important categories.
Moving forward, Fales certainly has his work cut out for him, but the time for No. 10 absolutely has to be right now.
After all, in an already deep quarterback class, his draft stock is diminishing. It's truly put-up-or-shut-up time for this once promising and polished pocket passer.
WR Marqise Lee, USC
What a difference a season can make. At this time last year, Marqise Lee was considered the hands down best wide receiver in all of college football and the favorite to be the first receiver taken off the board.
Now, however, Lee may just be fighting to hang onto his first-round status altogether.
So far this season, Lee has accumulated 30 catches for 385 yards and just one touchdown. Compare that to last season after five games (52-649-7) and its readily apparent that Lee's numbers are down considerably across the board.
Part of this is due to the loss of quarterback Matt Barkley, poor coaching, as well as a knee injury Lee suffered against Arizona State in a 62-41 loss.
However, to say Lee has been his normal self would be a stretch.
For instance, Lee seems to be struggling with drops and fans and scouts alike are also slightly concerned with his somewhat frail frame at just 6'0" 195-pounds.
It's not certain when exactly he will return from injury, but when he does; he most certainly will have some ground to make up.
After all, players like Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are off to hot starts and have closed the gap considerably, if not passed him outright.
Meaning, while the second-half of the season may not necessarily be a make-or-break scenario for Lee, it is still very much an important piece of the puzzle into where Lee will ultimately fall come next May.
WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
Just looking at his numbers wouldn't lead you to believe that Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief was struggling. After all, 24 catches for 358 yards and four touchdowns in your first six games is rather respectable—especially in the rugged SEC.
Nonetheless, Moncrief is in fact struggling. As NFL.com media analyst Daniel Jeremiah pointed out, Moncrief has only topped the 100-yard mark once this season (Auburn) and has been held under 75 yards receiving in five of the Rebels' six contests.
Obviously, numbers don't mean everything, but besides the lack of production, it is also the lack of consistency that has many scouts both frustrated and confused.
Coming into the season, Moncrief was expected to become one of the best in not only the SEC, but in the entire nation altogether. Unfortunately, Moncrief simply hasn't lived up to this billing.
Overall, he's been hit or miss, which leads me to believe that Moncrief has still not broken through the barriers of what it takes to become an all-around receiver and elite NFL talent.
Areas like route-running, hand-eye coordination and even run-blocking continue to be an issue, and while his combination of size and speed is great, the finer points of his craft still need seasoning.
Luckily for Moncrief, this week Ole Miss takes on LSU. Consider this to be his make-or-break game and potentially his last chance to prove he has what it takes to play and deliver against top-flight competition.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Just looking at Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins screams elite NFL talent.
His broad shoulders, incredible wingspan, natural hands and sheer size fit the mismatch label, and his background in basketball should only endear you more to him as an instant red-zone threat.
NFL evaluators see and think the same, but not everything is quite working in Seferian-Jenkins' corner so far this season.
For one, Seferian-Jenkins was arrested on DUI charges earlier this year and subsequently suspended by head coach Steve Sarkisian for the Huskies' opening game against Boise State.
Some might consider this a minor deal, others might look more into it. But regardless of what anyone thinks, No. 88 definitely did not make things any easier on himself by slipping up.
This, along with his rather so-so start to the season (16 catches, 185 yards and three touchdowns) is not quite what scouts expected coming off an astounding 69-grab, 892-yard, seven-touchdown sophomore season.
Surely then, like many on this list, Seferian-Jenkins' numbers are down, but that does not necessarily mean he’s completely out.
After all, there are not many 6'6", 276-pound monsters walking around that are athletic enough to make the type of touchdown catch that Seferian-Jenkins did against Oregon this past Saturday.
He laid out his body, arms fully extended over his head, while still having the mental wherewithal and alertness to come down in bounds.
These are the type of plays that scouts want to see more of, and now is the time that No. 88 needs to start delivering.
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
Admittedly, I have been a big proponent for Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton in the past.
After all, it’s hard not to with the numbers he put up just last season—collecting 13 sacks on his way to earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Outside the numbers, however, was the fact that despite playing at a weight of 6'1", 267-pounds, Sutton's explosion and quickness were often too much to handle and more than made up for his lack of ideal size or arm length.
Now, however, after gaining 21 pounds, Sutton simply hasn't seemed to be the same dominating interior defensive lineman we once saw.
For instance, while his quickness and explosion isn't necessarily gone, it's still not on par with the type of foot speed and hand quickness we had grown accustomed to out of big No. 90.
On top of this, Sutton has looked rather sluggish and out of shape, struggling to finish plays and appearing noticeably more winded than ever before.
Things like this are just one of the reasons why notable draft analysts like CBS Sports' Rob Rang have recently questioned whether Sutton's lack of impact can be traced back to his weight gain?
Certainly a fair question: Sutton's one sack on the season and relative inability to cause disruption in the backfield has onlookers worried that Sutton may in fact be a situational pass-rusher at best in the NFL.
Whatever the case may be, the dreaded "tweener" label is definitely something Sutton will need and want to shake by playing lights-out over the second half of the season.
After all, his future kind of depends on it.
DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Much the same as the previously mentioned Will Sutton, Notre Dames' Stephon Tuitt's numbers are also down and could be because of his own weight gain.
You see, last season, Tuitt checked in at a solid 6'6", 303-pounds, and went on to have a massive sophomore campaign.
This year, however, Tuitt appears noticeably slower off the snap, and the extra sand in his pants appears to be hampering more than just his sack totals. It's also hampering his NFL draft stock.
Coming off a 12-sack season, many expected Tuitt to continue down his road to NFL stardom. However, ever since offseason surgery to treat a sports hernia, Tuitt simply has not been or looked the same.
For instance, while his length is still one of his greatest assets, Tuitt's lack of explosiveness and loss of overall speed and quickness cannot be overlooked.
Last season, Tuitt won with length, sure, but he also won on account of his ability to change directions and keep offensive linemen off balance.
This is no longer the case.
Because he's slower off the snap, offensive linemen have been able to match his athleticism and mirror him with much greater frequency and efficiency.
Surely, Tuitt will retain some of his value because of his versatility, but part of what made him special in the first place was his combination of size and quickness—not just because he could line up and rush the passer from multiple angles.
It goes without saying that the five-technique position is where Tuitt will ultimately make his living. However, in losing some of that speed, Tuitt also lost some of what made him special and unique.
Getting back to his ideal playing weight should be Tuitt's goal over the second half of the season. If he can do that, everything else should fall into place.
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
It wasn’t all too long ago that everyone was singing the praises of the one and only Bradley Roby.
After all, coming into the season there was little competition for him as the game’s best cornerback, and he had more than proved the season before just how dominate he could be.
However, following a one-game suspension and a rather porous start to the season, those praises quickly morphed themselves from glowing compliments into painful criticisms.
As NFL.com College Football writer Mike Huguenin recently pointed out, Ohio State was supposed to have a lockdown secondary with the return of not only Roby, but senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.
What they’ve gotten instead has been rather alarming—and unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
Highlighting the play of Roby in particular is that despite his world-class speed and overall athleticism, he simply has struggled to lock down receivers. That has allowed players like Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis to go off to the tune of 10 catches for 207 yards and one touchdown during their Week 5 outing.
In addition to this, Roby has also had a tendency to grab and hold onto receivers for far too long. Sure, scouts love his physicality and toughness, but Roby has been simply too rough for his own good at times this season.
This type of thing won’t fly in the NFL and surely has even more people concerned that Roby simply can’t hang with bigger wide receivers on account of his smaller-than-ideal size (5’11”, 192 pounds).
Whatever the case may be, Roby’s play so far this season simply isn’t cutting it—not for Ohio State fans and especially not for NFL scouts.
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