Robert Craft

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The Defense Captains

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There has been somewhat of a de-emphasized value on linebackers in recent years but the NFL Draft class of 2021 features some of the most prominent under the radar prospects in this year’s draft.

Linebackers are always one of the most important pieces for a defense in the NFL. They hold the group together and many wear the “green dot” that has them become the voice of that eleven-man defensive squad.

They are the defensive quarterbacks that lead the team onto the field. They are asked to cover, blitz and attack the run game each and every down.

What is the prototype NFL linebacker? The answers depend on the scheme, but it all comes down to versatility. Each linebacker prospect offers something a little different with wildly different body types and plenty of intrigue.

1.Micah Parsons, Penn State, 6-3, 244: Parsons was a one-year starter at Penn State and played the off-ball spot or weak side linebacker.

He is a physical freak with impressive size, speed and athletic strength. Parsons has great vision and agility to hunt running backs from sideline to sideline.

He shows to be an NFL three down linebacker that has yet to scratch the surface on his talents. He is projected as the best linebacker in the class, but there is major concern about his character and immaturity. Grade: 1st Round.

  1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, 6-2, 215: Owusu-Koramoah is the most versatile linebacker in the draft. He can play both linebacker and nickel defender.

He has remarkable speed and closing burst to blitz, cover and mirror both tight ends or wide receivers across the field.

Owusu-Koramoah’s first step explosion, playmaking range, and intelligence gives his coach flexibility to play him at linebacker, safety, or nickel.

Major concern is what position fits his new team’s skill set, as well as his discipline at times.  Grade: 1st Round

  1. Jamin Davis, Kentucky, 6-4, 234: Davis is a rising prospect and some teams have him as their top linebacker in the 2021 Draft.

He had a phenomenal pro day workout that displayed incredible speed in the 40 and excellent explosion in the jumps.

Davis is a rangy player with a nose for the football, stretching out his stride to close against the run or drop coverage. Major concern is tackling technique, shedding blockers, and trusting his eyes.  Grade: late 1st-2nd Round

  1. Zaven Collins, Tulsa, 6-4, 256: Collins is a big, quick and versatile athlete who displays the ability to drop into coverage, make tackles in the run game, and rush the passer.

He is an ultra smooth mover in coverage with the awareness that leads him to football.

Collins has the hand power to dispose of blockers in the hole and find the ball carrier.  He has flashed untapped pass rush skills that have NFL defensive coordinators drooling.

Concerns are that he is not very physical and the scheme fitted to his playstyle are likely 3-4 systems.  Grade Late 1st-2nd Round

  1. Nick Bolton, Missouri, 6-0, 235: Bolton has terrific range and play personality as a run defender, trusting his read and vision to blow up plays at the line of scrimmage.

He lacks size, which reduces his margin for error taking on blocks and with his tackle radius. He is explosive through contact and is a reliable finisher. Concerns are lack of speed, size and athleticism. Grade 2nd Round

  1. Jabril Cox, LSU, 6-3, 233; 7. Baron Browning, Ohio State, 6-3, 241; 8. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina, 6-2, 277; 9. Dylan Moses, Alabama, 6-3, 235; 10. Pete Werner, Ohio State, 6-1, 235.

Once a highly regarded position, linebackers are seeing their stock take a bit of a hit over recent years, as coverage players or pass rushers tend to be more valued in today’s NFL, where passing is king.

The Disruptive Types

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Since 2013, at least one pass rusher has been drafted in the top five each year. However, that eight-year run will assuredly end this year. This year Rush End is loaded in terms of depth between picks 20-150.

There is tremendous talent available but many of the top prospects are young and not as proven as many of the prospects we have seen in the prior years like Myles Garrett, Chase Young, and the Bosa brothers.

Teams will be hesitant and cautious when looking at this area on the football field. Azeez Ojulari is my top defensive end available but there is currently no clear-cut number two.

1.Azeez Ojulari, 6-2, 241, Georgia: Ojulari was the best pass rusher in the SEC in 2020 while leading the conference in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles.

He is a dangerous edge rusher with elite quickness and puts good pressure on the quarterback.

Ojulari uses his burst and bend to attack the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle while establishing the corner and detaches from blockers with violent hands. Ojulari lacks elite size and length but that shouldn’t limit his NFL ceiling.

  1. Gregory Rousseau, 6-7, 265, Miami:Rousseau has been the consensus top defensive end prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft, but most of his college production came from rushing in the A Gap.

He is an intelligent player when it comes to breaking down pass rush execution. Rousseau is not a fast, explosive pass rusher and is not overly physical, but he is a faith-based prospect with the length, frame and athleticism that leave defensive coordinators drooling.

  1. Kwity Paye, 6-3, 271, Michigan: Paye has size, speed, athleticism and improving technique. He looks like a player with big upside for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Paye has rare lower body twitch and fluidity for his size and uses his physical hands to attack the point of attack.

Paye’s pass rushing toolbox isn’t very deep right now, but he is a compact, explosive athlete with menacing energy. He showed improving pass rushing moves and toughness versus the run in his final college season.

  1. Jaelan Phillips, 6-5, 265, Miami: Phillips has first round talent with his body type, twitchy athleticism and a nose for the football, but unfortunately the medical feedback will ultimately decide his NFL Draft grade.

He is very smooth in his upfield attack and redirects blockers naturally. He uses his hands as weapons and rushes with his curls on fire. Phillips has a good skill set with strength to shed blocks and hold the edge in run defense.

  1. Carlos Basham, 6-3, 281, Wake Forest:Basham is rarely controlled due to his active play style, power, and hustle, which directly leads to his production.

He has shown the skills to be able to rush from the edge and tackle in sub packages.

His hands have a lot of pop, but his stiff hips off the ball show when he’s trying to bend the corner.

Basham needs to improve his pass rush creativity; but his size, explosiveness and effort make him a safe pick to become a solid starter in the NFL.

  1. Jayson Oweh, 6-5, 255, Penn State: Oweh is super explosive with his first two steps, making him consistently disruptive and affecting the backfield’s action.

He was not productive in college, notching just four sacks over his last 18 games, but he has a projectable body and moves differently than most athletes his size, but his pro-level instincts are lacking.

The 6 foot 5, 255 pounder is a workout warrior with shocking speed. He is a high risk, high reward pass rush prospect. Don’t let activity outshine production.

  1. Joe Tryon, 6-4, 263, Washington; 8. Joseph Ossai, 6-3, 255, Texas; 9. Payton Turner, 6-5, 270, Houston; 10. Ronnie Perkins, 6-3, 248, Oklahoma.

This isn’t a great draft for high end, eye popping talent at the defensive line. There is talent, no doubt or disrespect to any of these athletes and their ability, but there’s not a Chase Young or Aaron Donald type that jumps off the page as top 10 future highlight-making picks.

This year, there are players with high ceilings, and low floors who are physically gifted.

Bring The Beef

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL Draft’s offensive line class has depth and volume at the position.

The O-line class’s first three rounds are even better than the studs from a year ago.

All the players below are expected to be Top-50 picks, they include both tackles and interior blockers. Protecting franchise quarterbacks from harm is worth these big guy’s weight in gold.

This class features several first round prospects that are versatile enough to play as interior or bookend protectors in the NFL.

1.Penei Sewell, OT, 6-6, 325, Oregon; Sewell opted out the shortened Pac-12 season and is a better prospect than the four tackles who were high first rounders last April (2020 NFL Draft – Andrew Thomas, Jerdick Willis, Mekhi Becton and Tristian Wirfs).

Sewell is an excellent athlete with real quickness on the edge. He pops out of his stance, gets his hands into the chest of defenders and has quick feet for speedy end or LB blitzes.

He is dangerous when he slips to the second level and gets nasty with bullying linebackers and defensive backs. Top 10 selection easily.

  1. Rashawn Slater, OT/G/C, 6-3, 306 Northwestern; Slater is a quick and agile athlete.

Given his lack of height and length, he might be a better fit on the inside line at guard or center. Watching the 2019 tape versus Ohio State’s Chase Young (NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year), Slater did not give up a sack, a quarterback hit, or even a hurry. Top 15 selection

  1. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, 6-4, 315, USC; Vera-Tucker has versatility playing to left guard in 2019 and left tackle in 2020.

Vera Tucker is an easy mover with athleticism, quickness and agility. He can glide next to speed rushers with ease.

He is a natural knee bender, who maintains great leverage while avoiding bending at the waist. He does a nice job of scrapping and keeping his hands fighting to sustain blocks. Top 20 selection

  1. Christian Darrisaw, OT, 6-5, 314, Virginia Tech; Darrisaw has good size that fits his mean streak well.

He shows efficient slide quickness in pass protection as well as being a bulldozer in the run game.  While he shows the ability to manhandle defenders, he tends to take plays off.

Darrisaw needs to become a more consistent and disciplined finisher and improve his hand engagement. Mid to late 1st round

  1. Teven Jenkins, OT, 6-6, 320, Oklahoma State; Jenkins opted out in late November after suffering a lower back injury.

His Pro Day physical will be important for his draft position. Jenkins is a big edge protector who is extremely strong at the point of contact.

He doesn’t relinquish any engaged block until he either pancakes his opponent or removes them completely from the play. He has a nice, fluid, side to side kick slide and easily mirror’s edge rushers. Mid to late 1st

  1. Liam Eichenberg, OT, 6-5, 305, Notre Dame; Eichenberg is not viewed as the same caliber of athlete as the top 5 on my list, but he has NFL measurables and impeccable fundamental blocking skills make him a solid bookend offensive tackle.

Eichenberg has to expand his use of angles to defend speed rushers. He has accurate hand strikes and a demeanor to offset his lack of lateral mobility. Late 1st early 2nd,

  1. Sam Cosmi, OT, 6-6, 295, Texas; Cosmi is raw undisciplined talent that needs development, but athletically he is a freak, about on par with our top 5s ability.

Cosmi blocks with quickness and urgency in pass protection, usually marrying his eyes with his hands and maintaining a square base. Cosmi needs to get bigger and stronger to compete at the next level. Late 1st early 2nd

The 2021 NFL offensive line draft class has impact players at guard, tackle and center; the offensive line is one of the positions that stand out as a strength in this year’s draft.

Top Tight Ends

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There is debate at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and every defensive position on which NFL Draft prospect would be the top player at the position, but there is no question at tight end.

Florida’s Kyle Pitts is a special talent and will be an immediate weapon for the team that drafts him in the top 10.

After Pitts, there are three to four prospects who should be drafted on Day 2 followed by a handful of tight ends who will be targets in the mid to late rounds.

1.Kyle Pitts, Florida, 6-6, 246: On my draft board, Pitts is the second-best player in the 2021 NFL Draft and the rarest prospect after Trevor Lawrence.

Some scouts think Pitts could move to wide receiver and be a Calvin Johnson style player.

Pitts was dominant in 2020, showing superb speed, hands, leaping ability, route running, and dynamic mismatch potential for the NFL.

Every opponent was incapable of covering Pitts, including future first and second rounders in the Alabama and Georgia secondary. Some scouts say Pitts is the best receiving weapon in the draft and is a more dynamic mismatch than Chase, Smith and Waddle.

  1. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State, 6-5, 256: Freiermuth was solid in 2020 before going down with a season ending injury that required surgery.

Medicals will be extremely important for Freiermuth. As a receiver, Freiermuth has the potential to be a contributor to a team’s passing attack, but lacks separating speed and elite athleticism.

Freiermuth’s most distinctive positive trait is his physicality as a runner and blocker. NFL coaching will help him get a better technique and a more aggressive demeanor. Late round 2 – early round 3

  1. Brevin Jordan, Miami, 6-3, 244: Jordan is a smooth route runner with the quickness to separate.

He glides through the secondary and is able to use his athleticism with speed to get open.

Along with good route running, Jordan has very reliable hands that give him the ability to control the ball with his hands.

As a blocker, Jordan shows the willingness to block but he lacks size to take on NFL defensive ends and linebackers. Early round 3

  1. Hunter Long, Boston College, 6-5, 253: Long has good size and does an excellent job of winning contested catches.

He uses his build to shield off defenders with skilled body control and awareness to put himself in between the ball and coverage.

Long is a solid blocker but the skill set is not there for him to develop into an effective NFL blocker. He has the potential, but he needs to get stronger to pack more punch and sustain his blocks after point if contact. Late round 3 – early round 4.

  1. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame, 6-4, 252: Tremble displays the competitiveness to be a bulldozer as a run blocker and ties up defenders in pass protection.

Although his production was lacking at Notre Dame, his tape is enough to get scouts excited.

Tremble was an underutilized receiver in college and therefore unrefined in route running.

He flashed the athleticism and body control to work pass underneath defenders and make himself a large target. He is projected to be a better pro than college player as he continues to develop. Round 4-5.

  1. Tre’ McKitty, Georgia, 6-5, 245:McKitty only made six receptions during the 2020 season with the Bulldogs. He had better receiving production in 2018 and 2019 when playing for Florida State.

McKitty is a good athlete with a nice burst of speed out of his breaks to create space from defenders early on and challenge defenses vertically.

Scouts are concerned with his blocking and non-existent production in 2020.

Other players to look out for: Quintin Morris, Bowling Green; Nick Eubanks Michigan; Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss; Pro Wells, TCU; Tony Poljan, Virginia.

There is a clear delineation between the haves and the have nots at tight end in the NFL nowadays and this year’s draft is the same. There is Kyle Pitts and everyone else

Wide Open

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Starting with Wide Receiver 1, there won’t be a consensus on this group from team to team or scout to scout. The amount of talent at receiver rivals last year’s class, which set a record with 13 drafted in the first two rounds.

I don’t think this class will break that record but I believe this class will have 15 plus receivers drafted in the top three rounds. For me, ranking the top receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class has been a head scratching exercise.

1.Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, 5-10, 182: Waddle showed signs of becoming a more refined receiver before an ankle injury caused him to miss most of the year.

Waddle has dangerous speed and is a scoring threat anytime he touches the ball. Waddle’s speed and game changing ability has him as my number one receiver. I believe Waddle will be selected in the top 10.

  1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU, 6-1, 200:Chase decided to skip the 2020 season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. I think it was a wise choice to protect his draft stock because he could not get any higher in the rankings.

Chase was the best receiver in college football in 2019, averaging 21.2 yards per catch with 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase is another top 10 pick.

  1. DeVonta Smith, Alabama, 6-1, 165: Smith dominated college football in 2020, showing he is a true wide receiver who does everything well.

If Smith was 20 pounds heavier, he would be top 3 in the draft. He is a touch receiver who has demonstrated quality, but not elite speed, excellent route running and superb ball skills. Smith is the final top 10 pick from the ranking.

  1. Kadarius Toney, Florida, 5-11, 189: Toney is a loose, elastic athlete that routinely makes the first man miss with special start and stop abilities that create explosive plays.

Toney improved his route running and remains a work in progress. I think Toney belongs in the second round but he is a dangerous weapon as a receiver and punt returner.

I see Toney going in the late first round, but not top 10.

  1. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota, 6-2, 210: Bateman opted back in after the Big Ten decided to bring back football, then played in five games before opting out the remainder of the season.

Bateman is a natural hand catcher with length and excellent route execution. He lacks the explosive burst that the top four displays, so he is a late first early second round pick in my prediction.

  1. Terrace Marshall Jr, LSU, 6-4, 200: Marshall played well in 2020 before opting out of the last part of the season. He had good size, length, speed and mismatch ability. Marshall is a vertical threat, but lacks explosion and first step quickness.

He is a day two selection late second or early third round pick.

  1. Rondale Moore, Purdue, 5-9, 180:Moore feasted on jet sweeps and quick game targets. While short, Moore plays stout with a fluid ease of movement and instant acceleration to force miss tackles.

He has elite speed and is an explosive playmaker with the ability to score on any touch. Moore is a day two pick mid second early third pick.

  1. Dyami Brown, North Carolina, 6-1, 195: Brown has excellent one cut acceleration and separation quickness. He is highly skilled at the double move (head fakes, quick settling of his feet, ect..), and he plays with strength to make a living on the outside versus corners.

Brown is another day two pick.

Here are the other receivers I think will go in the first three rounds: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss; Amari Rodgers, Clemson; Tutu Atwell, Louisville; D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan; Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State; Amon-Ra St Brown, USC; Cade Johnson, South Dakota State.

If your favorite pro team needs a receiver, this is the year to grab one in the first three rounds, but then again, there is talent in day three of the draft: with the deepest group in this year’s class.

Running Wild

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As your teams prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, I will take a look at the top running backs in this year’s draft class.

This year’s running back class isn’t as top heavy as last year’s, which had seven running backs drafted in the top 70 picks.

I think there will be three or four running backs drafted in the top 60, followed by a handful of backs who will be targeted in the top 200 picks.

Which backs will have a chance to make an immediate impact?

1.Travis Etienne, Clemson, 5’10, 200lbs: Etienne ran really well in 2020, showing a dynamic burst, improved strength and the ability to pick up yards after contact. He is also a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Etienne could be a three down starter and inject speed and explosiveness into a team’s ground game. On top of being very fast, Etienne demonstrates very good running fundamentals; like the patience to let the hole develop, the vision to see lanes and the posture to run behind his pads.

Etienne is not the biggest back, but he runs hard and will be the first running back selected.

  1. Najee Harris, Alabama, 6’2, 230lbs: Harris has the quick, graceful feet of a much smaller back to elude pursuit, showing improved decision making and on field maturity as a senior in Tuscaloosa.

There is no doubt Harris has the ability and skill to be an impactful NFL three down running back.

Aside from his size and speed, Harris is a natural runner with good instincts. He shows excellent vision, patience and anticipation to follow his line before busting downhill.

Harris is not a proven threat in the pros yet, but his reliable skills set as a rusher, receiver and blocker makes him the second back off the board.

  1. Javonte Williams, North Carolina, 5’10, 220lbs: Williams was a load for the Tar Heels in 2020, showing both power and quickness as a runner.  He may have three down starting potential for the NFL. Some NFL experts think Williams could end up being the first running back drafted in April.

Williams is a physical bell cow back who can be the engine of a tough rushing attack.  He is a downhill runner who can impose his will through sheer strength.

Williams’ strong build, knee bend and ability to run behind his pads let him break a lot of tackles and pick up yards after contact. However, Williams will need some work as a blocker and identifying blitzing defenders.

  1. Kenny Gainwell, Memphis, 5’11, 191lbs: Gainwell decided to sit out in 2020 due to losing four family members to COVID-19.

Gainwell is a fast and explosive back, as well as a threat to rip off chunk plays on any touch. He also is a superb receiver out of the backfield with 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

Gainwell lacks ideal size and power, which leads to durability and usage concerns.

He is a versatile rushing and receiving threat with instinctive playmaking ability, projecting as a scheme-specific offensive weapon.

  1. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State, 5’11, 215lbs: Hill was phenomenal in the 2020 season opener, showing serious receiving ability to help lead a crucial upset over LSU. On top of making some huge catches, Hill did well as a pocket protector.

Hill was suspended over a locker room incident, and decided to sit out the rest of the season. He has a good skill set and could become a starter in the NFL.

NFL teams have said that Hill jumped out to them and became impossible to ignore.

QB1

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I’m starting off the positional ranks for the 2021 NFL Draft with the strongest positional groups in the class.

Quarterback prospects light the fires of fans and general managers more than any other position. This is especially true this year with six quarterbacks with first round potential, including four in the top 10.

Over the next eight weeks, workouts and the interview process will give teams a better idea of physical and mental development of these soon-to-be rookie quarterbacks. Whether it’s top end talent or depth, 2021 signal callers class stacks up favorably against any class this decade.

1.Trevor Lawrence, Clemson: The number one quarterback, the number one prospect and soon to be the number one pick.

As a three-year starter at Clemson, Lawrence has full command of the offense, setting the protection and running the show. He went 34-2 as a starter for the Tigers, including three straight playoff appearances and the 2018 National Title.

Lawrence stands six foot six inches, and weighs 213 pounds. I think Lawrence is a generational talent with size, athleticism, arm talent, processing speed, and intangibles.

  1. Zach Wilson, BYU: A three-year starter at BYU, Wilson was a productive starter doing a little bit of everything, including traditional, five wide and option plays.

Although the competition was underwhelming, he produced dynamically; setting records for single season completion percentage, and accounting for 43 total touchdowns.

Wilson doesn’t have an ideal NFL body, but his natural accuracy, off platform skills and ability to make spontaneous decisions translate to NFL talent.

  1. Justin Fields, Ohio State: A two-year starter at Ohio State, Fields was one of the top college football players the last two seasons.

With Jake Fromm blocking him at Georgia, Fields transferred to Columbus in 2019 and needed only 21 games to get number two in Ohio State’s career passing touchdown record book.

Fields is arguably the most accurate quarterback in the draft class. He is a legitimate threat as a runner and has the arm strength to flip a ball 60 plus yards without a slow wind up.

  1. Trey Lance, North Dakota State: A one year starter at North Dakota State, Lance is a dual threat quarterback, who is following in the footsteps of Carson Wentz.

Lance has a prodigious physical skill set. The ball shoots out of his hand differently than anyone else in this class. His accuracy is the lowest of any quarterback in this top ten by nearly 10 percent. When you have his level tools, that’s a project worth developing.

  1. Mac Jones, Alabama: A one year starter at Alabama, Jones was a prolific passer and set an NCAA single season record for completion percentage (77.4) and the first player in Alabama history to throw for 4,500 passing yards in a single season.

The tools are average at best. Jones will be the ultimate debate at the position on performance versus physical ability.

That being said, he was never a detriment to the offense.

  1. Kyle Trask, Florida: A two-year starter at Florida, Trask lit up the scoreboard this past season to 43 touchdowns in 13 SEC games.

He has ideal size at 6 foot 5, 240 pounds and NFL arm talent, but not quite on the level of the guys at the top of the class.

Trask understands where to go with the football and is at his best when he can loft throws into the window. However, his accuracy can’t be described as pinpoint, his lack of mobility troubles him against pressure and there is a noticeable lack of zip on his throws.

7-10: Davis Mills, Stanford, Ian Book, Notre Dame, Kellen Mond, Texas A&M, and Jamie Newman, Wake Forest/Georgia.

As recent history has proven, players don’t have to be drafted in the first round to be an NFL starting quarterback (Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and THE GOAT Tom Brady).

Knighted

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

UCF hired Gus Malzahn as its football coach on Monday, just two months after he was fired by Auburn.

Are the Knights getting a talented coach with experience winning in the SEC or a retread that was fired for not winning enough in the SEC West?

Malzahn went 68-35 at Auburn overall with a 39-27 SEC record.

He won nine or more games three different times and never had a losing record at Auburn despite playing in the toughest division in college football. Furthermore, he has never had a losing record at any level.

In recruiting, he finished with four top 10 classes and his lowest rank class was 14th. My big concern is his recruitment of offensive linemen, he tends not to recruit enough each cycle.

Malzahn had a $21 million buyout at Auburn that is not subject to an offset, meaning he will earn that money plus his salary at UCF.

Malzahn will receive a five-year, $11.5 million contract as UCF’s new head coach and add that to his $21 million buyout.

Malzahn replaces Josh Heupel, who took the Tennessee job last month, following former UCF athletic director Danny White to Knoxville. Because of the odd timing in the hiring cycle, UCF had to move quickly to hire Terry Mohajir as Athletic Director from Arkansas State.

During Monday’s press conference, Mohajir stated, “last Sunday prior to accepting the UCF job, I called Gus and asked if he was interested in coaching.” Mahajir then hired Malzahn, whom he worked with briefly in 2012 at Arkansas State.

Malzahn quoted during his press conference, “Definitely I’m going to call plays, I will call plays for the rest of my career. That’s what I love to do, that’s what I’m good at, and that’s what got me here.”

Knight fans say Gus Malzahn is a step or two up from Josh Heupel. Malzahn won the presser and his resume speaks for itself. Malzahn will recruit at an entirely different level, with his already established relationships in Florida.

Malzahn will be inheriting a UCF program that has the sixth best winning percentage in FBS since 2017. The five teams in front of the Knights have all made the College Football playoffs at least twice in the same span (Alabama .927, Clemson .911, Ohio State .900, Oklahoma .849 & Notre Dame .837), while the Knights have never once been selected to the CFP.

Terry Mohajir said, “He has won at every level, he has coached a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL draft picks. There has never been a better time for Coach Malzahn to lead a program than right now.”

Malzahn added, “I’m thrilled to be the head coach at UCF, and I’m truly looking forward to being part of Knight Nation. It’s exciting to be head of a program where the future is extremely bright. I will be hitting the ground running in terms of getting to know the team and everyone else connected with UCF. Our goal is to be ready to win championships.”

After watching the press conference, Gus Malzahn is a phenomenal hire. Hey Knight fans, time to hop on the Gus Bus.

The Knights under Coach Malzahn open the 2021 schedule at home on September 4th against Boise State.

I’ll be there and I already know the Bounce House will be Shaking with excitement.

 

 

Picks Of The Litter

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

After a very disappointing 2020 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars are making major changes to their organization.

First, the Jaguars promoted Trent Baalke to General Manager and then hired Urban Meyer as their Head Coach.

Both Baalke and Meyer have their work cut out for them to rebuild this depleted roster. The good news is the Jags have the most cap space in the NFL and multiple first round draft picks.

Here is a breakdown of the Jaguars overall picks in the 2021 NFL draft.

Round 1: The Jaguars have their pick the first overall and the Los Angeles Rams via the Jalen Ramsey trade number 25.

Round 2: Jags have the 33rd overall pick and the 45th overall pick via trade with Minnesota for defense end Yannick Ngakoue.

Round 3: Jags have the 65th overall.

Round 4: Jags have their own selection and Los Angeles’ part of Ramsey’s trade.

Round 5: Jags have two picks: their own and The Cleveland Browns via the Ronnie Harrison trade.

Round 6: Jags have no picks due to trading for Kamalei Correa.

Round 7: Jags have their pick and Tennessee Titan’s pick.

Reminder: there will likely be compensatory picks at the end of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth round, so the total number of picks will not be determined until all compensatory picks are awarded by the NFL.

The Jags will determine their draft needs after shopping in the free agent pool. The Jags are projected to have $74 million in cap space, so the “Urban Renewal Project” is underway.

I will be assessing the Jags’ needs heading into the 2021 offseason starting with the least significant to the most significant.

Secondary: The Jags had a huge drop off in secondary play. Injuries within the group only made things worse, and as a result they were ranked 30th in the NFL.

At safety, the Jags could use one starter alongside Jarrod Wilson. I could also argue Wilson needs to be replaced.

The 2021 free agent class is very strong with Justin Simmons, Anthony Harris, Marcus Maye and John Johnson.

The Good Job

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Danny White left UCF to be the new Athletic Director at Tennessee and White didn’t go far in his search for a new head coach.

White hired Josh Heupel for the second time, having brought him down to the Sunshine State to coach UCF just a few years ago.

When Heupel left for Tennessee, UCF’s starting quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, made it known that he was not happy. Gabriel turned to social media to express his feelings.

Gabriel posted on his Instagram that he was surprised Heupel didn’t notify anyone on the team prior to his departure. “No goodbye? Not even a phone call? Crazy,” Gabriel posted.

Gabriel wasn’t finished throwing shade at his former coach, “This has been the best two days since I’ve been on campus! Tomorrow is gonna be a great day!”

It should be interesting to see who UCF will hire as their new head coach, but it is very clear who the players want. The players leading candidate among former and active players is Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Lebby was at UCF in 2018 and 2019 and was universally loved by his players.

The list of rumored names and interested parties needs to be narrowed by the preferences and plans of the A.D.

Here is an example: If you see Louisiana Tech’ Eric Wood hired, that might mean someone like Skip Holtz. Until the A.D. is hired, the field is too big to handicap.

That’s why UCF is one of the best coaching opportunities in recent memory and maybe the best in the 2020-21 cycle.

Yes, I know the 2020-21 cycle included Texas. No, I do not think UCF is a better coaching job than Texas, Auburn or Tennessee, but it is a better opportunity to win immediately and is considerably less stressful than any of those other places. A considerable reputation builder before being thrown to the Power 5 dogs.

Unlike many of its American Athletic Conference peers, UCF has an on-campus stadium, The Bounce House. UCF also built Florida’s first full size indoor practice field. In every manner of physical construction, UCF has outfitted itself like a Power 5 program.

UCF paid Heupel and Scott Frost a starting salary of $1.7 million, which at the time was considered to be big money for a non-Power 5 school.

Today, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen makes about $2 million a year and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickel is making $3.4 million annually.

I expect UCF to keep financial pace with their AAC rivals. I guess that UCF will exceed them immediately or structure an incentive-based contract to catch their next Head Coach. Also, expect UCF to lead the salary pool for assistant coaches.

You don’t have to win a national championship at UCF with these expectations from your fans, donors and the media: win a lot of games, win the AAC, and stay yelling from the rooftops of the Playoff debate.

How many Power 5 programs with unrealistic expectations can claim this? None.

It is not a realistic way to sell the job but imagine if you’re discussing UCF as the idea of being a P5 to potential coaches without the unrealistic pressure.

All UCF has to do is choose wisely from the group that wants the AD job, and then the person the Knights choose needs to select correctly from an even larger pool of football coaches.

If recent history is any indicator, even with a late coaching search, UCF will get the right guy.

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