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NFL draft: If Dolphins miss on Tua or Burrow, there's a fascinating alternative

We took a look elsewhere at the NFL draft winners and losers from the LSU-Alabama game in a separate post. Now here are some other 2020 draft prospects who caught our eyes, along with some big draft-related developments in the NFL:

Could Dolphins end up without Tua or Burrow?

I was listening to Yahoo Sports’ NFL podcast last week with Charles Robinson and Terez Paylor, and Charles hit on a fascinating point — even before the Miami Dolphins won their second game of the season on Sunday and further hurt their chances of earning the top pick in the 2020 draft.

And it’s a point that possibly could shake up the entire landscape of this coming draft picture.

The Dolphins are now 2-7, sitting in the same No. 4 overall draft slot they resided in prior to the win over the Indianapolis Colts. But we might have to kill off this whole tanking idea now. In fact, they’re not even in last place in the AFC East, holding a tiebreaker over the New York Jets (who also won Sunday) because of Miami’s head-to-head victory over them.

I said it when Brian Flores was hired, and I am doubling down now: This is not a coach who is resigned to sitting back and losing a bunch of games with a smile on his face. Management can bust out their prayer beads for all the draft luck they want from here on out, but a fiery and focused Flores — even with all the Dolphins’ deficiencies — is going to keep going for victories.

And, in a strange way, that might end up helping the following scenario unfold, even as unlikely as it might sound on the surface.

What if, Charles mused, the Dolphins don’t take (or don’t pick high enough to draft) either Tagovailoa or Burrow? The only way that happens, as Charles pointed out, is if they secure a veteran QB — and a big one — prior to the draft in free agency.

The biggest name who could come free this spring? None other than Cam Newton. We’re not sure the Carolina Panthers’ future plans with Newton and Kyle Allen, so it’s all just speculative at this point. And Newton’s foot injury clearly is a major concern.

The Panthers might still keep Cam Newton, but if not there is a fascinating landing spot in Miami. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

But what if the Dolphins, who are teeming with salary-cap space, throw a big contract offer at Newton should he come free? Newton could be the face of the franchise and one of the kings of Miami in that scenario. He also would be a huge draw at the box office, which is something that might make owner Stephen Ross sit up in his chair.

Winning games now with Flores might help convince management that he’s the right coach. And from afar, Newton or any other prospective free agents willing to listen to the Dolphins’ pitches this offseason would be impressed that Flores could field a competitive team despite all the talent shortages.

By no means is this Newton idea any kind of surety, but it certainly would be fascinating. The Dolphins still would have a ton of money left over to throw around in free agency on some expensive pieces to surround Newton on offense (Amari Cooper? Brandon Scherff? A.J. Green? Rodney Hudson? Melvin Gordon? Hunter Henry? Rodney Hudson?) and then focus on defense in the draft.

With three first-round picks, imagine the talent they could get if they didn’t have to draft a QB up high. A Round 1 haul of, say, Ohio State EDGE Chase Young, LSU CB Kristian Fulton and Alabama S Xavier McKinney — along with a slew of Day 2 and 3 picks, plus their warchest of 2021 draft ammo — would put the Dolphins on the immediate road back to improvement.

Of course, with the uncertainty of Newton’s foot issues, the Dolphins also would have to consider their QB insurance options. But maybe that means drafting one in Day 2 or 3 instead of somewhere in the draft’s top five picks overall.

It’s a truly fascinating possibility that we never could have seen coming as recently as perhaps a month ago. Such is life in the NFL, but sharp front offices will always adjust to unexpected developments and pivot when needed. Dolphins GM Chris Grier was on hand for LSU-Alabama, and the odds still say that the draft is the most likely route of addressing Miami’s QB need.

But landing Newton would change all of that. If he’s even available, for that matter.

Two Washington prospects headed in opposite directions

Washington QB Jacob Eason faces a fascinating decision on whether to enter the 2020 NFL draft in about two months’ time. Some feel his arm talent, size and fearlessness could be enough to tempt an NFL team in Round 1 should Eason enter. But there remain glaring concerns about his consistency, ability to read coverage and work through progressions and his poor reps against pressure to make Eason a complex evaluation for scouts.

Most of those concerns were on display in the Huskies’ 19-7 win at Oregon State. In fact, you could lump the past two games — including the late home loss to Utah — together and find plenty of reasons why Eason isn’t close to a finished product.

It has been an up and down season for Washington QB Jacob Eason. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

I spoke on Friday with ESPN’s Ryan Leaf, who keeps close tabs on the Pac-12, about the conference’s quarterback prospects for a piece I am working on for later this week. But what Leaf had to say about Eason prior to the Oregon State game really stuck with me.

“He’s got to come back,” Leaf told me by phone. “He’s regressed a bit from where he was earlier in the season. He struggles a lot at stepping up in the pocket. His thing is, if he feels any pressure coming towards him, his immediate reaction is to plant that foot and spin out of the pocket. It’s really gotten him in trouble.

“[Washington head coach] Chris Petersen said that the tackles have done a really good job of giving him a pocket and he’s not utilizing it. Last week’s performance against Utah — four touchdown passes, yes, but one was [against prevent coverage] at the end, and two bad interceptions that really cost them.”

Leaf thinks whenever Eason does go pro, he’ll kill the NFL scouting combine with his size (6-6, 227 pounds), athleticism and arm skill. But if it was up to the former Pac-12 star, Eason should “take a page out of the Justin Herbert playbook” and return to school for another season.

Eason only completed 16 of his 32 pass attempts against Oregon State for a mere 175 yards and two picks. But five of those catches and 90 of those yards went to TE Hunter Bryant, whose receiving skills have been eye-opening this season.

Bryant also had a touchdown catch in this game wiped out by penalty and a drop on a would-be 29-yard grab where he was slammed to the ground on his back. He was the best player on offense for the Huskies, along with RB Salvon Ahmed, who ran for 174 yards and two scores. Watching Bryant’s natural receiving skills and athleticism made me think of Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. last year when he ended up as the 50th overall selection.

Injuries have really hindered Bryant’s ability to stay on the field the past few seasons, but he’s raised his game this season. The football watching-nation saw Bryant’s miracle one-handed grab in the Rose Bowl in January against Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah, who could be a top-10 pick in 2020.

Bryant won’t go that high, but he’s one of the favorites now to be TE1 in this class should he declare, assuming his health concerns are alleviated and the 6-2, 239-pound tight end’s size and lack of blazing straight-line speed are not major issues. His competitive-catch skills and tackle-breaking ability are special.

Other NFL draft notes from around college football

Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver has had a nice season so far, and he was a huge factor in the Broncos’ 20-17 overtime win over Wyoming. The 6-3, 254-pound Weaver is the Mountain West’s career sack leader, adding two sacks — both right before halftime as the Cowboys were driving to take a touchdown lead — to up his season total (12.5) and career totals (33).

There are some who have questioned whether Weaver’s athleticism is top notch, and his level of competition is a notch down from other Power-5 rushers. But he’s displayed clear improvement season to season, plays with a great combination of finesse and power and has a clear pass-rush plan when he hunts quarterbacks.

We view Weaver as a top-50 pick and a borderline Day 1 selection until further notice. He’s had a strong season and matched a lot of the national hype he got in the preseason.

***

One pass rusher whose draft stock might have taken a hit this weekend was Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara. His season is now over after a broken fibula, and the timetable of the injury will complicate his draft evaluation. The 6-5, 245-pound rusher has had some dominant tape (check out the Virginia game) but also a few games that will leave evaluators digging even deeper.

But the possibility of landing in Round 1 just went down with the injury, which also robbed Okwara of the chance of finishing the season on a high note.

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I was watching the Iowa State-Oklahoma game on Saturday just marveling at the Cyclones’ tight ends. The clear standout of the group is 6-6, 252-pound redshirt sophomore Charlie Kolar, who is likely to return to school (we suspect) and become a major weapon for QB Brock Purdy for the next year-plus. Kolar grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, and stung the Sooners with a touchdown in the waning seconds. The Cyclones’ two-point try failed, however, and they lost, 42-41, in a thriller.

Iowa State's Charlie Kolar leads a standout group of Cyclones tight ends. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Although none of Iowa State’s three standout tight ends individually put up big receiving numbers, all three found the end zone. Dylan Soehner, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound redshirt junior scored their second touchdown to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 14, and 6-7, 245-pound redshirt junior Chase Allen helped fuel the Cyclones manic comeback with a TD down three scores early in the fourth quarter.

Where do they find these guys?! Their size and length alone are eye-popping, but watching each of them move around had me very excited. Allen especially had a great game, even considering his holding penalty that wiped out a rushing TD.

All three could return to school with more eligibility remaining. But Iowa State — a school that hasn’t produced an NFL-caliber tight end since Mike Banks, who had a cup of coffee with the Arizona Cardinals in the early 2000s — might suddenly have one of the most impressive TE rooms in the entire country.

***

South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards is the Gamecocks’ best offensive weapon by far in what has been a trying season on that side of the ball. And everyone in the house knew he would be the target with the Cocks down to their final play down 20-15 to Appalachian State.

That’s when this happened:

Edwards got as open as you will ever see from a receiver in the red zone. The gut-wrenching part is that his quarterback overthrew Edwards badly, a pass that was pretty much uncatchable for any receiver in the country.

That’s obviously no knock on the 6-3, 215-pound receiver, who had a terrific game against Alabama (which always helps) and who finished this contest with nine catches for 90 yards and a score. The fact that he did so — and played 64 grueling snaps, many of them trailing and thus passing almost every down — with a sprained knee is pretty phenomenal.

Edwards has been a bit overlooked at times in what is shaping up to be a banner year at wide receiver. But his competitive demeanor (watch the end around on the first play from scrimmage vs. Bama), my-ball attitude, excellent body control and great run-after-catch ability must be respected.

I think Edwards is a Day 2 prospect with a very high floor who could make an excellent WR2 for an NFL team wanting to add size and physicality to its receiver corps.

***

I wanted to wait to offer my analysis on Princeton QB Kevin Davidson, who has become an out-of-nowhere NFL prospect this season, until after the Tigers’ huge game this past Saturday at Yankee Stadium in a battle of unbeaten Ivy League heavyweights with Dartmouth.

Well, Davidson struggled in the game, which Princeton lost, 27-10. On Princeton’s first play from scrimmage, Davidson was sacked. On the second play, he was harassed on an incompletion that had no chance of being caught. 

After the opening three-and-out, Davidson threw a bad pick-six to a defensive lineman on a screen pass on Princeton’s second possession that put them in an early hole. That set the table for a frustrating game in which Davidson completed 26-of-43 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown pass and two picks on the day against a Big Green defense that is atop the Ivy rankings and which features an NFL-caliber corner in Isiah Swann, who picked Davidson deep in Princeton territory. His longest completion on the day was a 30-yard catch and run, but mostly everything else was short and quick.

Princeton QB Kevin Davidson had a rough outing vs. Dartmouth, but he remains on NFL scouts' radars. (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But trust us when we say that NFL scouts absolutely have Davidson on their radar and will keep him on it, even after a tough day at the ballpark. They’ve been arriving at Princeton more than they have in a few years, probably since TE Seth Devalve (a 2016 Cleveland Browns fourth-rounder) was in school.

One poor game isn’t going to crush the fate of the 6-4, 225-pound passer who has a very good arm, decent footwork and a platform you can work with in a developmental QB. Davidson had preferred walk-on offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State coming out of California, so this clearly is a talented player we’re talking about.

Scouts have wanted to see Davidson up close this season because this has been the most extensive playing time the senior has received after backing up former Ivy League Player of the Year Chad Kanoff (who is on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad) and All-American John Lovett (who has transitioned to tight end and is on the Kansas City Chiefs’ injured reserve list).

But finding tape on Davidson had proven to be difficult prior to Saturday’s game, too. NFL scouts are funneled college tape from programs coast to coast via NFL Films through what’s known as the “Dub center,” but as of last week it featured only two of Davidson’s games in a season where he’s completed 68.6 percent of his passes, averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and registered a 20-5 TD-INT ratio.

The positives from the Dartmouth game were that Davidson delivered a good TD pass right before the half to keep his team in the game, and he kept gunning despite all the pressure (three sacks and four more QB hits) the Big Green delivered. That appears to show the kid has some grit as well.

We’re probably talking about a seventh-round or undrafted projection for Davidson at this point. He could end up being invited to one of the postseason all-star games and might be in line for an NFL scouting combine invitation, either of which would help get more sets of eyeballs on him.

But tough game or not, we’re keeping tabs on Davidson because he will end up on an NFL offseason roster, we believe, in 2020.

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