Wed, Sep 19, 2018
By Jim Nagy
Last Saturday, I was keeping an eye on the Vanderbilt/Notre Dame game while sitting in the press box at Auburn so I knew that Shurmur played well enough to rally his team on the road against the No. 8 Fighting Irish, but it wasn’t until I watched the tape on Monday that I realized the significant progress Shurmur has made since last year. This is one of those cases where statistics (26-of-43 for 326 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) don’t reflect how well Shurmur actually played.
For those that have not made the connection, Kyle is the son of New York Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur. When I visited Vanderbilt practice during fall camp last month, the common theme was, “he’s a typical coach’s kid.” In the football world, being a “coach’s kid” is a good thing. It’s a simple and concise way of telling scouts, “he’s what you’re looking for” or “he’s a football guy." While it doesn’t hold true for all coach’s sons, Shurmur sounds like he “gets it."
The easy positives on Shurmur are his size and experience. He is a big-framed kid (listed at 6-4 and 225 lbs.) that has played a lot of football at Vandy. If he stays injury free and the Commodores make a bowl game this season, Shurmur will finish his career with 44 starts and he should pass former first-round pick and Reese's Senior Bowler Jay Cutler on most all-time career passing lists.
Athletically, Shurmur is average in most areas, but I came away impressed with how light-footed he looked in Saturday’s game. If you polled most QB coaches, the one athletic trait that QB must have is good feet and Shurmur appeared to have more bounce going thru his progressions than I recall him having in years past. While he is never going to pose a threat with his legs, he did show enough mobility to slide and buy time when he needed to.
In terms of pure arm talent, Shurmur is not going to blow anyone away, however, on Saturday he did many things that NFL evaluators will undoubtedly appreciate, including the ability to make plays from the pocket. The ball generally came out on-time and he was accurate on the kinds of must-have intermediate throws that NFL quarterbacks need to make a living. There were numerous times where he showed he wasn’t afraid to test tight-man coverage and his precision fitting the ball into small windows was impressive. When I watched him live during fall camp I questioned his arm strength, but last Saturday in South Bend it looked strong enough to play at the next level.
Perhaps the best takeaway from last week’s game was the poise he showed, particularly in clutch moments. There were multiple times in the game where Shurmur stood in versus pressure, got hit, and still delivered accurately and those are the kinds of messy pocket throws that scouts want to see. Even on the game-ending drop by talented junior WR Kalija Lipscomb, Shurmur put the ball in a spot where his receiver could make a play on it.
With future NFL skill people like juniors Lipscomb, TE Jared Pinkney, and RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn to continue to develop with, we expect Shurmur to be a prime Reese's Senior Bowl candidate when selection time comes at the end of the season.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Kelly Bryant (Clemson), Will Grier (West Virginia)
Let’s start off by admitting that we made an egregious error by not putting Tavai on our initial Senior Bowl Watch List. A couple of NFL friends brought him to our attention back in June and we mistakenly left him off the list that was released in late August — this was a simply an oversight.
All that said, Tavai is a darn good football player. He was squarely on NFL radars this summer and college football fans should now be taking notice too, especially after performances like last week’s career-high 15-tackle effort versus Army.
In last Saturday’s 28-21 road loss at West Point, Tavai displayed very good feel inside the box. Scouts generally tend to avoid watching secondary prospects against triple-option type teams like Army, Georgia Southern, and even Georgia Tech because very little can be taken from that exposure except for how tough a DB is in run support. Conversely, those are good games to watch front-seven defenders because all the misdirection and deception allows scouts to gauge a linebacker’s eyes and defensive linemen’s ability to bend and protect their legs versus cut blocks.
Tavai is a four-year starter that aligned exclusively at Mike in the past and this year he is again playing mostly stacked inside in the Rainbow Warriors’ 4-2-5 scheme. Unlike the majority of college ILB that project strictly as two-down Mike linebackers at the next level, Tavai has the athletic ability, as well as the length, to play multiple positions and stay on the field all four downs. Most NFL teams expect linebackers, even starters, to play in at least two phases of the kicking game and Tavai’s ability to run and tackle in space should make him a productive core ST player as a pro.
The first thing scouts like about Tavai is his size. Hawaii lists him at 6-4 and he looks like he has long arms on tape. Tavai was only 180 pounds coming out of high school, but he is playing around 235 now and he has the frame to eventually pack on at least another 10 pounds. Having good height is beneficial for inside linebackers because it allows them to see over the defensive line, giving them clearer sightlines to track the ball in the backfield.
During the pre-draft process, you will probably hear draft analysts referring to Tavai as a “scrape and flow” linebacker, which means he is most effective working laterally and chasing things down on the perimeter. While he does show good speed tracking down outside runs, he also has a knack as an inside run blitzer. Last year, he finished 10th in the nation in tackles per game (10.3) and he had a combined 30.5 TFL in his sophomore and junior seasons, which is incredible production behind the line-of-scrimmage for an inside ‘backer.
There isn’t a single NFL team that sends a member of its scouting staff to the islands, so an under-exposed player like Tavai would greatly benefit from playing in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January.
The Reese's Senior Bowl is scheduled to see Tavai play live on September 29 when the Warriors take on San Jose State in the Bay Area.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Gerald Willis III (Miami)
|Jim Nagy is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He spent 18 years in the National Football League. In his time in the NFL, Nagy worked as an area scout in the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions, as well as in a national scouting capacity for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a part of six Super Bowl teams and four Lombardi Trophy winning clubs (Green Bay Packers XXXI, New England Patriots XXXVIII and XXXIX and Seattle Seahawks XLVIII).|