NFL DRAFT 2022: SMALL SCHOOL SCOUTING - WEEK 3
By Rebecca Rennie
Slightly later than ideal, but Small School Scouting at The Touchdown continues! This week, we feature two standout HBCU prospects, including possibly the top FCS defensive prospect for 2022. On offense, we look at a couple players in the trenches and a ridiculous statistical quarterback performance. We also profile a prospect from the biggest FCS contest of the week, though not from the winning team. Let’s get started!
HBCU football is receiving a much welcomed and concerted push for increased promotion, exposure and coverage this season. From an NFL Draft perspective, there’s also a number of talented prospects from historically black colleges and universities. Not only perhaps the top HBCU prospect, Rattlers safety Markquese Bell is a strong candidate for the top small school defensive prospect for 2022.
Week 3 saw A&M taking on their only top division opposition of this year in South Florida. While not a powerhouse FBS program, the Bulls were the superior team throughout, en route to a convincing 38-17 win. Bell took advantage of the matchup however, with an impactful performance and a force on defense. The imposing defensive back piled up 15 tackles (10 solo) and a sack against USF. Showing his all-action ability, he was a factor working deep and when around the line of scrimmage, in addition to his consistently best deployment of working downhill to take on ball carriers.
Forceful hits were a common occurrence, including during a some early red zone action. Bell also forced a fumble at the goal line for a turnover to end South Florida’s opening drive of the game. Midway through the second quarter, Bell snuck in late on a safety blitz. With ideal timing, he found a gap to go unblocked to the QB for a physical takedown for the sack. Throughout, Bell showed a physicality, explosiveness and range of influence combination to his play.
That said, it was far from a perfect performance, including a couple non-optimal angles toward ball carriers. He was perhaps the one caught out on an early QB touchdown pass, though in fairness while matched up with USF’s most explosive wide receiver. A particularly poor drive in the third quarter was a disappointing series for the safety. Bell missed badly on a sideline tackle attempt for a big gain up the left sideline. He appeared to not hustle on a makeable play shortly after that, contributing to another chunk of yardage. Finally, he missed another tackle on the touchdown-scoring run up the middle. The timing wasn’t ideal either, after FAMU had just gotten some life with a good drive to close to 24-10.
Overall though, it was a strong showcase performance for the toolsy DB. One of the most physically intimidating safeties in this class, Bell ticks the boxes in terms of measurables with ideal length, size, speed and power. Such athletic potential didn’t go unnoticed out of high school, however. The football and track & field standout was a coveted 4-star recruit who initially joined Maryland. A suspension for unannounced reasons led to a season at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas before re-emerging with Florida A&M in 2019. His first season with the team included 61 tackles, 5 TFLs, 9 breakups, 5 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
As referenced earlier, Bell is arguably at his best as a downhill wrecking ball. Bringing an alpha demeanor, the HBCU star hits emphatically as a violent presence. The intention appears to always make ball carriers regret entering his field of influence, and reconsider doing so in the future. He brings the same authority at the catch point to fight for the football. Bell also offers the speed to provide range in coverage. That said, he can improve his reads, positioning and initial movements in the passing game. The tools are undeniable though, with plenty of still-untapped developmental upside.
Continuing with a second HBCU prospect, we head all the way back to the previous weekly Thursday night HBCU matchup on ESPN. This waterlogged contest between Alabama A&M and Bethune-Cookman featured one of the more interesting FCS quarterback prospects in Aqeel Glass for the A&M Bulldogs. While he could have been featured here, there’s a desire to revisit him later with a couple more games viewed. He performed admirably during the downpour, but more film will contribute to a fairer analysis.
Instead, Savage was another prospect on the field who really stood out during the unfavorable conditions. Wildcats running back Que’shaun Byrd had a productive outing with 132 rush yards (6.3 average) and 2 touchdowns. The substantially built 6’5, 320 lb Savage was a key factor in paving the way for Byrd to excel. In pass protection, the redshirt senior’s strength stood out at the point of attack.
That size and core strength combines with good footwork and balance. Savage proves to be difficult to move off his spot, anchoring down consistently well. More often he is creating backward movement himself, dictating the action after initial contact is established. Setting his feet well and squaring up, he absorbs power comfortably again FCS level competition. Not overly stiff or tight, Savage is fairly well coordinated between lower and upper body.
In the run game, the Wildcats lineman shows ability to open holes working in a straight line. Also showing more refined blocking technique, he can effectively turn his man and work angles. In all facets of his game, the hand technique is a positive. Savage gets nice extension and is well-placed with his hands to aid in winning early during many reps.
Though a decent athlete, Savage may not have ideal foot quickness for providing tackle versatility outside. The upside and versatility could be limited to the interior. He appears to have size and power that could translate to the next level as an under-the-radar small school prospect.
In one of the most anticipated FCS games of this young season, James Madison dominated Weber State in a high-profile matchup. Some garbage time scoring made the 37-24 final score appear closer than the game truly was in real time. Not only were JMU the superior team on the day, but the Wildcats also made self-inflicted errors to contribute to the defeat. It would be harsh to put too much of the blame of veteran edge defender Tarlas, however.
The redshirt senior had a solid outing portraying the skills that could earn a look at the pro level. Statistically, Tarlas totalled 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hurries and a forced fumble on the day. You could make the case for Tarlas having one of the hottest motors in all the FCS. The non-stop energy and effort each snap stands out on film. More than just hustle, he has notable upfield burst and closing speed.
It feels risky to leave Tarlas unblocked given the quickness, yet James Madison questionably did so multiple times. That allowed Tarlas to be the first man on scene during a group TFL on the running back late in the first half. The Wildcats pass rusher was close to challenging the mesh point on the play. He was again left free early in the fourth quarter and brought the momentum on a physical QB hit as Cole Johnson released downfield.
Tarlas had some good reps that didn’t appear on the stat sheet, getting early pass rush wins with his initial burst then dip-and-ripping through the tackle. Switching between the left and right side of the line, he provided difficult reps to both JMU offensive tackles. Showing good eyes and positioning against the run, he’s capable of evading contact and filling gaps to bring down ball carriers around the line of scrimmage for minimal gains.
In addition to closing speed, Tarlas’ lateral movement was evident to the sidelines on several plays. In one instance, the edge prospect lined up almost over the slot, dropped and made a solid tackle in space. At the moment Tarlas is probably a better player than someone like Norfolk State’s De’Shaan Dixon, who was featured last week, even though Dixon has the superior upside. Tarlas is not lacking in traits himself, however. He is well built for his frame, with enough physicality, useful burst and redirect agility.
Weber State receiver and kick returner Rashid Shaheed also stood out with exceptional pro-level speed. He looks very intriguing as a special teams prospect with potential as an offensive playmaker. It felt a little dubious to fully include two Weber State prospects in the article though, given the overall disappointing team performance and result. The Wildcats are not without other talented draft prospects though, including running back Josh Davis and interior defensive lineman Jared Schiess.
Popular among several of us here at The Touchdown, Barriere has his fans in draft media. The indications so far don’t seem to reflect that the NFL will have the same optimism over his potential, including not being including among a handful of FCS quarterbacks featuring on the initial Senior Bowl Watchlist. The relatively undersized but dynamic passer has talent though and would love to see him get an opportunity.
The Eagles quarterback had another big statistical day in the wild 62-56 shootout win over Western Illinois. There is a huge caveat to acknowledge, given that the defense and tackling on show was frequently ugly. Either way, for the record, Barriere passed for 542 yards, completing 69% of passes and 6 pass TDs. He added 20 rushing yards on three carries.
Even taking into account the opposition mistakes, some of the on-point deep throws were spectacular. The 76-yard downfield catch-and-run to Johnny Edwards to end the first quarter was an early highlight. The next possession in the second quarter was arguably better on the 51-yard completion to Talolo Limu-Jones. Barriere has quick and compact throwing mechanics and a strong arm to make any throw, including to stretch defenses over the top.
The EWU quarterback has some unconventional footwork at times and there is still the occasional misplaced throw. He put the ball in danger a couple times versus the Leathernecks on ill-advised attempts. His ball placement overall appears to have improved relative to his early career starts. The outstanding arm traits allow him to pull off passes plenty others cannot. His mobility to buy time and scramble adds to his playmaking ability without relying on taking off too often.
Barriere likely will continue his monstrous levels of production that could lead to some top awards coming his way at the end of the season. The FCS star hopefully gets an invite to a prominent post-season All-Star event. The league is more open to prospects of his stature provided they have traits elsewhere. As a final note from the game, it was another productive game for another personal favorite. Western Illinois receiver Dennis Houston again flashed in compiling 175 yards on 11 receptions and 2 touchdowns. He was featured in our Week 1 version of The Touchdown’s Small School Scouting series.
It’s been a great year for FCS upsets over top division schools, including several victories over Power 5 programs. There was almost another during the Week 3 early Saturday window of games with the SEC’s Kentucky threatened by Chattanooga. Many have been excited by UK’s start to the season, particularly the re-imagining of their offense. They were out of sorts however, for the majority of the eventual 28-23 escape over Chattanooga.
Had the Mocs been able to finish some good possessions that ended in field goals, the result could have been different. They did put together some impressive methodical drives during the game. The Wildcats have size on the defensive front, yet the small school team held up fairly well for the most part in the trenches.
Senior guard McClendon Curtis was a factor in that area and looked the part among the SEC opposition. He did draw a holding penalty during the second quarter that was well sold by the defender. Otherwise, he handled direct attacks in pass pro well and was an effective mauler in the run game.
Curtis has an impressive frame of his own with size and strength that could earn him a look from the NFL. Questions will center around his athletic profile primarily and would like to also get confirmation of arm length. The power is present in his physical traits but can be a little labored in his movement without notable explosion. As a result, he is also unlikely to provide positional versatility. Given the preference for depth linemen to provide cover and depth at multiple spots, that might hold Curtis back when compared with some others.
That said, he showed his best abilities against the best opposition he’ll see in his final year. While not blessed with the quickest feet, he plays with solid balance and control. His hands generally find their mark with a forceful punch as he engages at the point of attack. He can over-lean at times when seeking contact but mostly shows dependable form and base. He can excel as a run blocker, blowing open running lanes and sealing off defenders effectively. Curtis may be a slightly longer shot for the pros but deserves a shoutout for his showing against Kentucky. Size is always sought after by scouts and so shouldn’t be counted out regardless.
Feature Image Credit: FAMU Athletics.