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Fan Favorites: NFL Draft Prospects

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Game On Wisconsin’s fandom stretches the entire length of the country, and like us here at GOW, many of our fans are obsessed with the NFL Draft. Who are their favorite prospects?

This is a special series of articles that I welcome all of our fans to participate in. It’s simple. Just reach out to me on Facebook or on Twitter @IsaacBJG21, tell me a little about yourself, your Packer fandom, and your favorite NFL Draft prospects and I’ll highlight your players and give you a special shoutout.

For the third installment of the Fan Favorites series, we’ve got one of my best friends, Zac Thelen. Our friendship goes way back but has always been centered around football. I believe the first words I ever spoke to him were “What’s your 40-time?” We played ball together in high school and college but today, we have to rely on fantasy football and obsessing over the NFL Draft.

Zac’s favorite prospects are Chris Rodriguez Jr and Patrick Surtain Jr. Surtain might be well known in the scouting community but not everybody is familiar with Rodriguez.

Chris Rodriguez Jr – Kentucky, RB

Benny Snell Jr’s departure following the 2018 season left a void that was filled mostly by Lynn Bowden Jr during the 2019 season. Chris Rodriguez Jr was just the fourth-leading rusher for Kentucky during the 2019 season but he still managed 533 yards and 6 touchdowns on just 71 rushing attempts.

Rodriguez began the 2020 season as part of a three-headed rushing attack – four if you want to include the quarterback but emerged as the clear RB 1 as the season wore on. After 8 games he leads the team in every rushing category (102 attempts for 701 yards and 9 TDs).

Rodriguez, a redshirt Sophomore, is second in the conference among qualifying running backs with 4.08 yards after contact per attempt. The 5’ 11”, 224-pound running back falls forward every single play. His extra effort is impressive and he’s elusive when the situation calls for it.

He can break tackles in a variety of ways but typically just takes what the defense gives him. He isn’t very creative in space and doesn’t usually consider the entire field. When in space, we don’t see game-breaking long speed. Rodriguez is quicker than fast and shows good explosion.

Rodriguez displays Le’Veon Bell-esque patience and footwork which is required in Kentucky’s Pistol-zone rushing scheme. He quickly absorbs the information ahead of him and rarely misses anything. Rodriguez can get skinny and fit through a tiny seam or play behind his pads and create a hole if none exists.

While Rodriguez is a talented ball-carrier, he has almost no experience as a receiver. He’s converted just 2 of 6 targets for 18 yards in his career – not just this season, his entire career. That’s alarmingly low but this Kentucky offense is very run-dependent.

Rodriguez has had more opportunities as a blocker and he’s taken advantage of them. He’s been efficient at picking up the blitz and has the strength to take on edge rushers one-on-one. He’s allowed just 1 pressure on his 30 pass-blocking attempts. He’s just as effective as a lead-blocker and Kentucky asks him to play that role often. He’s got the strength and feet to take a linebacker out of the play.

Rodriguez is squarely in the top-ten of the pure ball-carriers in this NFL Draft class. We need to see more out of him as a receiver but he’s already proven to be a good blocker. He’s an easy projection to early-down work in the NFL.

However, as a redshirt sophomore that hasn’t had many carries, Rodriguez could easily return to Kentucky for the 2021 season. He’s basically guaranteed to be drafted based off of what we’ve already seen but could increase his standing in the NFL Draft if he repeats his rushing production and improves as a receiver. I currently have a 4th-5th round grade on Chris Rodriguez Jr.

 

Patrick Surtain Jr – Alabama, CB

Patrick Surtain Jr is an elite press-coverage cornerback prospect. The 6’ 2”, 202-pound junior is on his third season as a starter and he’s deeply entrenched in the first-round discussion. Surtain might not have elite speed or movement skills but he’s got the perfect frame and mentality to perform at that role in the NFL level.

Surtain displays a great knee bend and active feet at the line of scrimmage. His hands are a positive as well. He’s adept at guiding players off the route, and much like a blocker, will allow receivers to run themselves out of the play. He consistently knocks off timing routes and can stone receivers when he puts his mind to it. He’s got elite power for the cornerback position.

Surtain does a great job of turning his hips and running with the receiver. He stays in the hip pocket and does his best to keep pace. His 40-time might be in the low 4.5s but he can still hang with most college receivers. He’s got great reaction skills and enough start and stop to stay sticky at the stem.

Surtain has played almost all of his snaps at left corner this year but has experience in the slot as well, but given his skill set, I think we can disregard his slot experience and focus on his abilities as an outside cornerback.

He’s allowed just 14 of 36 targets in his coverage to be completed this year for 156 yards and 1 touchdown. He’s got 18 total PBUs in his Alabama career which supports the ability at the catch point that we’ve consistently seen on film.

To go along with elite skills at the line of scrimmage, Surtain also has elite ball-skills. He has long arms that allow him to make a play on the ball when most others cant. He’s great at reading receivers body language and setting himself up for success when the ball is in the air.

As a tackler, Surtain does his job. He isn’t the type to get involved when he doesn’t have to but won’t allow ball-carriers to get by him without a fight. He does a good job using his length to get separation from downfield blockers. Unlike with many other press corners in this class, we’re not worried about Surtain’s run-defense.

Surtain’s combination of size, length, feet, and technique have NFL scouts very excited. Prior to the 2020 season, I had Surtain as my CB3 in this NFL Draft class but he’s improved to CB1 with his performance this season. He’s an easy bet to be selected in the top-ten and could potentially go top-five to the right team.

 

Zac’s two favorites are both great prospects. While Chris Rodriguez Jr is a relative unknown right now, he won’t be for long. He’s sure to rise as the draft process picks up. Patrick Surtain Jr, on the other hand, is widely regarded as the top cornerback prospect in this class, and I agree.

Zac and I are excited about the potential of these two players. If there are any prospects that you’re excited about, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook or on twitter @IsaacBJG21 and I’ll feature you and your favorite 2021 NFL Drafts Prospects in the next Fan Favorites installment.

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