With one day to go until a historic NFL Draft for Cal, I figured I'd put together my thoughts on Cal's draft prospects, and how they might (or might not) carve themselves a role at the next level.
There are people on this board who have heard me make extremely bullish projections about Goff, very early on. After his Freshman year, I thought he was an NFL QB, in spite of all the losing he endured. After his Sophomore campaign, I thought he was a better NFL prospect (but not a better college QB) than Winston and Mariota.
Jared has the essential traits that make up a successful NFL QB: Quick release, accuracy, great feel in the pocket, courage to step into his throws under pressure, the ability to make quick reads on progressions, the ability to throw with great trajectory and touch, and enough arm to make every throw. On top of all these skills, Jared has all the intangibles you'd want off the field, in that he's a natural leader, he's a football junkie, and he has no knucklehead tendencies.
While many scouts fall in love with measurables and physical prowess, many of the great NFL QBs, like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Dan Marino succeeded because of their ability to get the ball out quickly, accurately and on time, while avoiding pressure. Each of them had some physical limitations, and yet that did not preclude them from having NFL success. While there is a place in the NFL for physical specimen like Rothlisberger, Newton and Luck (and perhaps Wentz), I believe those core QB skills are the best indicators of NFL success, and Jared has those in spades.
Jared has the best feet I have ever seen in a college QB. He has completed more passes downfield while sliding away from pressure than anyone else in college. While, as with most QBs, his accuracy can be a little streaky, I believe Jared will have a very successful QB in the NFL.
Lawler likely hurt his draft stock by not running well in the Combine, and not jumping particularly well either. However, his advanced ball skills and great catch radius will make him a valuable commodity in the League.
Aside from his highly publicized XXXL hands, Lawler also has incredible body control, which allows him to make acrobatic catches in the air, and a great knack for locating and tracking the football, which allows him to make catches even when he's tightly covered. He will be a red zone weapon the minute he steps onto an NFL field.
Whether Kenny can be anything more than a red zone specialist depends on whether he can develop as a route runner. It remains to be seen whether he can create any separation from NFL DBs.
In spite of an injury marred Senior season, Lasco possesses the diverse skillset to carve himself a role in the NFL. Lasco has good size, above average speed, enough elusiveness and power, and good hands. He is also an incredibly physical and willing special teams player, and those guys will always have roles on NFL rosters.
What has always stood out to me about Lasco, aside from his obvious physical gifts, has been his ability to consistently beat the first defender. Looking at film, the first guy almost never gets his hands on Daniel, as Daniel has a smooth and deceptive ability to change directions at full speed. Even when the first guy does make contact with Daniel, daniel has shown the ability to power through contact.
The one limiting factor for Lasco is that, at times, he struggles to find the best running lane. There have been games where he left yards on the field due to lack of vision and patience. However, with his physical gifts and work ethic, I expect Daniel to have a good run in the NFL, barring injury. It will be up to NFL teams to decide whether they think Daniel can stay healthy in the long run.
A former walk on, Stephen Anderson does not have the prototypical size or eye popping measurables one would expect for an NFL TE. What he does have is incredible hands, great feel, tenacity and effort level. These traits will ensure that he gets a look either as a late round pick or as an UFA, and if he finds the right situation, he can carve out a role for himself as a flex TE/WR.
If Stephen could pack on 20 more pounds, he'd be one of the best TE prospects in this draft. Alas, it's unlikely that his frame can pack on that much weight without compromising his mobility.
What Stephen will be able to do in the NFL is to make contested catches in the middle of the field, as he has the requisite hands, courage, and the ability to find and sit in the soft underbellies of zone defenses. On the right team, Stephen can be a valuable chain mover.
Scouts love how many effort plays Stephen makes, whether it be hustling to block downfield, or chasing back on turnovers. Regardless of position, Stephen is just a good football player, and those are always valuable.
Trevor has enough speed and range to be a viable downfield threat in the NFL. However, injuries slowed down his Senior campaign, and precluded him from putting out a high enough quantity of good tape out there. It's unclear whether Trevor has the requisite route running and physicality to beat NFL DBs one on one.
While Trevor has shown flashes in the return game, I don't think he's an explosive returner who can sidestep tacklers and run away from coverage. His TDs against WSU had as much to do with WSU as it had to do with Trevor's knack in the return game.
If Trevor does find a role for himself, I believe it will be on the outside, as a deep threat. However, I have not seen Marvin Jones-like body control or D Jax like explosiveness from Trevor, so he will have to develop into a superior route runner to get separation.
While Bryce runs the fastest 40 of all the Cal receivers, his role in the NFL is unclear to me. He is a guy who was moved inside because he had trouble beating top college CBs, and yet he does not have enough wiggle to consistently get open as a slot receiver in the NFL. Bryce is also not a YAC guy, as he struggles to shake defenders after the catch.
Bryce's best attribute is his straight line speed, which indicates that his most likely role will be as a field stretching guy on the outside. Bryce also has a tremendous work ethic and an infectious personality, so he'd be a good locker room guy.
However, there is a lot of film on Bryce over his four years at Cal, and there's a reason why he wasn't invited to the Combine. Scouts aren't sure that he can be a deep threat when he's not going against college nickels and safeties.
Whether he does carve out a role in the NFL or not, I believe that Bryce's competitiveness and work ethic will make him a success in life.
As a big guy who runs surprisingly well, it's not shocking that Darius has caught the eyes of some NFL scouts. Darius has prototypical size and strength, and he has sneaky mobility.
The one aspect that held Darius back in the past was his ability to consistently catch the ball. I will always have nightmares about that first Northwestern game, where twice the ball bounced off his hands into the arms of a waiting Northwestern linebacker. However, Darius greatly improved his ability to make difficult catches in his Senior year. He made a number of clutch, contested catches during the last season, including some beautiful twisting grabs on balls over his head.
If he shows the ability to get open in the middle of the field, Darius' physical abilities may well grant him an extended look in the NFL.
Stefan McClure and Mustafa Jalil could conceivably get invites to NFL camps as UFAs. While Stefan is an incredible leader, and has the size and physicality that the NFL requires, knee injuries have sapped him of his speed and range, and as a consequence, his NFL prospects are dim. Mustafa, when healthy, is a space eating man mountain. Unfortunately, he has shown no ability to stay healthy, and it's unlikely that a 22 year old who can't stay on the field will develop into an NFL player who can.