CFB Insider: What I'm hearing about the SEC in Week 1
Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in the SEC ahead of this week’s games.
This is what he’s hearing from SEC coaches and NFL scouts in Week 1 …
Alabama’s real weapon
Jaylen Waddle, overshadowed last year by Alabama’s deep receiving corps, has developed this fall camp into the team’s most dynamic receiver.
He’s already listed as co-starter on the Week 1 depth chart with All-SEC wideout and All-American candidate Jerry Jeudy, but it’s more than just who gets on the field first. Waddle had a strong season in 2018 (45 catches, 7 TDs), and has turned up the production in fall camp.
It’s no longer Jeudy – a potential Top 15 pick in the NFL Draft — Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith and the rest. It’s now Waddle and Jeudy (or Jeudy and Waddle) and everyone else.
He wasn’t as consistent last season as Jeudy, and didn’t have the deep speed of Ruggs or the length of Smith. But his game, one Alabama staffer said, has “dramatically changed” over the past 9 months.
He’s more polished in every area. He’s releasing off the line easier and quicker and with more physicality; he’s running disciplined routes; he’s driving defensive backs off coverage and making difficult catches.
He has become a complete receiver and is pushing everyone in the group to perform at a higher level to get on the field.
Tennessee can’t keep Bryce Thompson
As strange as it might sound considering the heightened awareness toward domestic abuse, star Tennessee CB Bryce Thompson has a larger issue concerning his suspension from the team: The university could expel him if it deems him a danger to the campus because of threats he made outside an alleged toxic relationship.
Thompson, a freshman All-American last year, was arrested last weekend on misdemeanor domestic assault charges. According to the police report, 2 witnesses to the alleged assault said Thompson told the woman he would “slap the (expletive) out of you” – but also that he said he would “shoot up the school.”
That threat has compounded Thompson’s problems because allowing Thompson back on the team and allowing him to stay at the university puts Tennessee in a precarious situation.
Should Thompson do something on campus to another student or group of students, the university would have knowingly allowed a student on campus who had previously made threats against not only a domestic partner but the campus population.
The university would open itself to a potentially crippling lawsuit, much less any fallout from what Thompson could do.
The return of Jacob Eason
Jacob Eason won the starting quarterback job at Washington – and another heralded quarterback left for the transfer portal in the process – but there are concerns about his extended layoff and how it will translate to the field.
Think about this: The last time Eason took a significant snap, Jake Fromm – Georgia’s rising star junior quarterback – was in high school.
Eason, a former freshman All-American at Georgia, was injured in the first series of 2017 and lost his job to then-freshman backup Fromm. Eason beat out Jake Haener, a former 4-star recruit who entered the transfer portal after losing the job and left the Huskies – and Eason – with little wiggle room.
Eason’s physical tools have never been a question; he throws the ball with more velocity than anyone in the college game. The issue for the Washington staff: Eason’s decision-making and management of the position and the offense.
No matter who you are, a 2-year layoff (Eason was the backup at UGA in 2017; redshirted in 2018 as a transfer) of not preparing as the starter at such a critical position is a significant question.
If this were last season and Washington was starting at Auburn in the season opener, it could get dicey. The Huskies get FCS Eastern Washington at home this weekend to begin the season, but Week 2 brings Cal and the Pac-12’s best defense.
USC’s QB quandary
JT Daniels won the USC quarterback job, but freshman Kedon Slovis played so well in fall camp, he could be the future at the position.
And maybe sooner than you’d think.
Daniels, the top pro-style quarterback recruit in 2019, played well at times last season but the job was open in spring drills and fall camp. Slovis, a 3-star recruit who was seen as a project, outplayed USC veterans Jack Sears and Matt Fink to win the top backup job – and at times, played better than Daniels in fall camp.
One USC staffer told me Slovis, “is a natural quarterback; a smart guy who knows the position, and he’s a leader. Guys gravitate to him.” The competition between Daniels and Slovis, he said, “was a lot closer than anyone expected.”
With USC athletic director Lynn Swann’s expectation of winning the Pac-12 hanging over the program (and coach Clay Helton), the Trojans can’t afford to misfire at quarterback.
The offense has 3 games – Fresno State, Stanford, at BYU – to figure out the position before a home game vs. Pac-12 favorite Utah on Sept. 20.
Lose that game, and winning the Pac-12, much less the South Division, gets significantly more difficult.
CFB’s most undervalued player
Look for Vanderbilt to try and gash the Georgia defense between the tackles with star TB Ke’Shawn Vaughn — the same rebuilt Georgia defense the could be vulnerable up the middle.
Vaughn might be the most underrated player in college football, if only because of where he plays. He rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season and led the nation with 6 carries of 60 or more yards.
“I have no idea why he didn’t enter (the NFL Draft),” one NFL scout told me. “He would’ve been the first back taken.”
Alabama’s Josh Jacobs was taken 24th overall by the Raiders in April’s draft, and the next running back selected wasn’t until 53rd overall (Penn State’s Miles Sanders, Eagles).
Most appealing to NFL scouts: Vaughn’s game-breaking speed and his production after the initial contact. According to Pro Football Focus, Vaughn averaged 5.28 yards after contact and forced 40 missed tackles in 2018.