Last year's first round of the NFL Draft was confirmation of one astute fact
The city of Houston has some young ballers playing GREAT football all over the country.
The greater Houston area produced the following first and second rounder:
- CeeDee Lamb - Foster HS, Richmond - Cowboys 17th overall
- K'Lavon Chiasson - North Shore HS, Galena Park - Jaguars, 20th overall
- Kenneth Murray - Elkins HS, Missouri City - Chargers, 23rd overall
- Jordyn Brooks - Stratford HS, Houston - Seahawks, 27th overall
- Ross Blacklock - Elkins HS, Houston - Texans, 40th overall
- Grant Delpit - Lamar HS, Houston (IMG as a senior) - Browns, 44th overall
- Antoine Winfield - The Woodlands HS, The Woodlands - Bucs, 45th overall
- Jalen Hurts - Channelview HS, Channelview - Eagles, 53rd overall
Eight of the top 53 players in last year's draft came from the Houston area. This year, in my Harris 100, the greater Houston area is well represented as well. Seven players who played high school ball in the area are featured in my Harris 100 with one school producing two players (and a third in "The Harris 100: Next 50" - Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson)
#8 Jaylen Waddle - Episcopal HS, Houston
When Waddle decided to take his talents away from Houston to Tuscaloosa, I thought that maybe he would be just a gadget player with all of the Alabama receiving talent around him. Seemingly, Alabama did try to use him in that way early in his career, but the Tide offensive coaches soon realized that he was as good or better than any and all the stars that were already on campus. Over his three years, he became just as valuable a member of the receiving corps as any of the other three stars (Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and 2020 Heisman winner Devonta Smith). He has the ability to embarrass defenders with an angle on him in the open field and don't even think about catching him out in space. Against Auburn in 2019, he caught a curl route on the right side of the field, ran back across the field for a 50+ yard touchdown and not one Auburn defender got a hand on him. NOT. ONE. He catches the ball with his hands and rarely double catches the ball, which is hugely important given the fact that he accelerates through the catch and away from defenders in a blink. He will put defenders on notice wherever he lines up on the field. He's an electric route runner who leaves defenders in his wake on his routes. He can start and stop on a dime and stay under control the entire time. If he were completely healthy, he'd run in the 4.3 range in the 40-yard dash, but it's not as if he has to prove that - it was VERY clear that no one could run with him in his three years at Alabama. In 2019, he averaged 17 yards per catch...averaged 20.8 yards per touch and scored a touchdown every eight times he touched the ball in 2019. He was off to a MASSIVE start in 2020 before he injured his leg on a kickoff return on the first play of the matchup with Tennessee. Incredibly, he returned to play in the National Championship against Ohio State and tried to stay on the field even though it was clear that he was playing on one foot. That's a tough dude who's going to have to play some inside, some outside, return punts, return kicks and do a little bit of everything for the offense that drafts his services. That said, he should be healthy to start the 2021 season so look out for one more Alabama star to take over offensively in this league.
#13 Rashawn Slater - Clements HS, Sugar Land
Slater is highly intriguing at the tackle position. He's the son of former NBA player Reggie Slater and played his ball in Sugar Land, TX at Clements HS. He was considered to be a guard prospect by most recruiting services, but he stepped right into the Northwestern starting lineup at right tackle. As such, he started 26 straight games for the Wildcats and PFF graded him as the No. 1 freshman offensive lineman in 2017 and ranked him fourth in the B1G among all offensive tackles that same season. Not surprisingly, he was named Academic All-B1G in 2018 and was a 3x Academic All-District selection back in high school. It's easy to see why many thought he was going to be a guard because he can really mash in the run game. He has some strong/heavy hands and will strike with those clubs. In the 2018 B1G championship game against Ohio State, he was matched against star edge rusher Chase Young. He locked up Young expertly on an outside zone play that turned into a 77-yard touchdown. The Northwestern running back ran right inside Slater's block on Young and outran everyone to the end zone. When I first studied him as a sophomore in 2018, I didn't think Slater had the requisite quick feet, but what I noticed in his junior season was how well he did utilize his feet, especially in pass protection. I'm not going to say I was wrong (good luck with that!), but it really showed how much Slater had matured and grown as a legitimate tackle candidate for the NFL. As a pass protector, he's calm as can be out on the edge and there's an economy of movement. He doesn't panic even when facing dudes with some serious juice. In the run game, there isn't much he doesn't do well. He has the acceleration and ability to get up to the second level as he did against Ohio State in 2019 on a zone run away from him. He was actually able to cut off the backside linebacker who initially had leverage on him. Slater took the proper path and flipped his hips up and through the block to turn the linebacker out of the running path. The best part about Slater's efforts was that a few plays later on the same play, the Ohio State linebacker attempted to beat Slater to the spot knowing he was coming. So, the linebacker jumped well inside and Slater just reacted to him and pinned him to that side and the running back cut off of Slater's block for a big gain again. He maintains his eyes up the field so as to not miss loopers/stunts, staying in a coiled athletic position. One of my favorite plays in that game or many others was when Slater nearly got put on his wallet by the 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young caught him playing a little high and went speed-to-power into one nasty bull rush. Slater was rocked and I was 1000% sure he was going on his back. But, after two backward steps, somehow, Slater re-anchored and held his ground and kept Young well away from the quarterback. Highly, HIGHLY impressive. There's a tackle in that there body for sure and a darn good one too.
#26 Joseph Ossai - Oak Ridge HS, Conroe
There doesn't appear to be anything that Ossai CAN'T do on a football field. Watching throughout the 2019 season, Ossai was constantly on my radar screen. But, in the 2019 Alamo Bowl win over Utah, he took things to a whole different level, finishing with 3.0 sacks and 6.0 TFL in one of the best defensive performances in the 2019 season. In 2019, he burst on the scene, starting 13 games for the Longhorns. He finished the year with 90 tackles, leading the Longhorns. He also had 5.0 sacks, 13.5 TFL and nine quarterback hurries which was tops for the Longhorns in each category. He was second on the team with two interceptions, including one of LSU Heisman star Joe Burrow. Not much changed for him in in 2020 either as he finished with 5.0 sacks, 16.0 TFL and three forced fumbles. He was named 1st Team All-Big 12, not surprisingly and decided to enter the 2021 NFL Draft at regular season's end. On the field, he can absolutely fly. He's built like a Greek god. He's quick, agile and physical. He is absolutely relentless and that might be his best asset, which is a mouthful. At 245 lb., he's fluid enough to stay with running backs like LSU star Clyde Edwards-Helaire in coverage, staying right in his hip pocket. Against Oklahoma in 2019, he tracked down Jalen Hurts as easy as he would on a mid-week practice rep. He's an absolute dude on the football field. When I was studying LSU offensive players against Texas, I couldn't take my eyes off of what Ossai was doing in coverage, playing the run, blitzing and rushing the passer. He can have tunnel vision out on the field, losing focus on the big picture, which allows teams to take advantage of him a bit on the edge. His awareness isn't always his best asset as he'll get lost with his eyes and focus on ghosts, as I call them. That all said, I'll take him right now. After his first two steps, he probably gains as much ground as any edge player I've seen in a while. When he clears the tackle, he's on the quarterback so quickly. He does need to add a few more pass rush tools to his toolbox, but when he does, he's going to be ultra-tough to block consistently.
#49 Samuel Cosmi - Atascocita HS, Humble
In my estimation, Cosmi is the most talented Texas lineman in quite some time and he played at an extremely high level throughout his career at Texas. I'm a bit worried about his length and I think he might have to move inside to guard as a result. That said, he is absolutely violent in the right way, though. I loved his battle with 2020 1st rounder K'Lavon Chiasson from LSU - I probably watched that matchup three or four times last off-season heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. He has significantly strong hands and uses a highly nasty chop to get rushers hands off of him. He does stay square on rushers and anchors against bullrushers. He finished the 2019 season with 2nd team All-Big 12 honors and 1st team All-Bowl honors as well after leading the way against a talented/stout Utah defense in the Alamo Bowl. He finished the 2020 season as a 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-Big 12 honors. He has more than adequate movement skills for any spot on the offensive line. As I mentioned, he plays the game violently and doesn't avoid contact/collisions. He appears to love that aspect of the game. Case in point, v. LSU in 2019 in 2nd quarter, LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence tried to long arm him and Cosmi chopped the sh-- out of Lawrence's inside arm. He did it so violently that it sent Lawrence right down to the turf. Ultimately, I think the lack of real length could be an issue for Cosmi. I saw a few rushers long arm him and Cosmi couldn't get his hands into the rusher because of his short arms. He started 34 of 35 games in his career and even scored a rushing touchdown on a tackle eligible 'reception' against West Virginia in 2019. One thing he will have to answer for in interviews is the fact that he left the team/opted out after eight games of the 2020 season. It's not as if Texas was a well oiled machine throughout his four years but teams are absolutely going to want to know why he opted out when he did after the loss to Iowa State. As soon as the Horns' opportunity to play in the Big 12 Championship game was extinguished, he decided to leave Texas and start to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. I know plenty of NFL people that had a ton of issues with players that opted out of bowl games, so his decision to leave two or three games before the end of the season will need plenty of explanation, no question.
#89 Walker Little - Episcopal HS, Houston
Little was on the fast track to the NFL, having started 21 games in his first two seasons on the Farm. But, in the first game of the 2019 season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury that seemed to set the stage for Stanford's eventual 4-8 season. He's the prototypical left tackle with size, length, agility and intelligence, but how his body responds more than two years after the knee injury remains a mystery. Little was the first true freshman to start at left tackle in 17 years when he opened his college career in 2017. He was an ESPN Freshman All-America honoree after playing nine games for the Cardinal. Furthermore, he was named the 2017 Pac-12 Freshman Co-Offensive Player of the Year. In 2018, as the bona fide number one at the position, Little started all 12 games at left tackle and earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors as well. Tugging at my heartstrings is the fact that Little is a Houstonian, having played his high school football just down the road from NRG Stadium at Episcopal HS where he was one of the most decorated offensive linemen in the city's history. He's been everything Stanford could've wanted and then some. Prior to the injury, he was on track to be in the top three candidates in this Draft class and still might turn into one of the best tackles in the league if his body holds up in the future. He's the prototype - length, intelligence, toughness, run/pass effectiveness, slides up and down the arc smoothly, stays on balance, sound foundation, willing and able to drive defenders off the ball in the run game and pops/pulls around effectively (i.e. not slowly). I want to see him stay on his feet and drive on his pull blocks/run blocks in the future. He has plenty of pop, but has to bring feet with and through the block. He will face an adjustment to the speed a bit quicker off the edge. That said, he personifies what a left tackle should look like at the next level. With the Pac-12 waffling on a return, Little decided to opt out of 2020 and enter the 2021 NFL Draft. As such, he will not have taken a snap since September 2019. That will certainly complicate his evaluation, but every asset teams want in a left tackle WAS there before the injury so hopefully two years of no pounding will help him reach new heights in the NFL.
#93 Jaelon Darden - Eisenhower HS, Aldine
Darden is a fellow Houston homeboy, having attended Eisenhower HS in a suburb of Houston Aldine, TX. He finished his career as the all-time leader in career receptions (230), yards (2,782) and receiving touchdowns (38). He is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands and possesses insane change of direction and the ability to make people miss in close proximity. One of my favorites was against La. Tech in 2020. He caught a now screen on the far sideline and had no real room to navigate the sideline. He had a receiver stalk blocking a cornerback, but four La. Tech defenders were on the scene to make the stop, but Darden whipped one way, then jump-cut the other and then sped through as no one, I repeat NO ONE, got a hand on him as he burst into the end zone. I mean, my goodness. He has a different gear than most in this draft class. The more I watch of Darden, the more I want him on my squad. He's someone I feel like offensive coaching staffs would say "Hey, I can work with that dude's juice, I'll figure out ways to use him and destroy defenses as a result." Darden can take a play that breaks down, make people miss in space and turn in a positive result more often than most offensive prospects in this 2021 NFL Draft. He snatches the ball with his hands and doesn't allow the ball to get into his body. The twitch is insane. What's the old saying, stop on a dime and give you change? He'll do that multiple times on the same play and give multiple defenders their money back. My gosh, he's electric. The way he explodes out of his cuts on his routes is outstanding. Darden said that making people miss was like brushing his teeth; it was something he just does every day. He's not large, but he plays like he's from Aldine and if you know Aldine the way I do, that means something. If you don't, just know that there won't be anyone tougher on the field. As tough, yes. Tougher? Nah. I'm telling you he's an absolute gem late on day two or earlier.
#97 Payton Turner - Westside HS, Houston
Turner made one heck of an impression on scouts and the Senior Bowl staff in 2020. Executive Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy tweeted during the fall of 2020 that Turner had been the highest riser of anyone that received a Senior Bowl invitation. His play went up two full notches and for a guy with a basketball background and 35-inch arms, he's going to continue to get attention throughout the NFL Draft process. He had a strong couple of days at the Senior Bowl before a little tweak sat him down for the third, and last, practice of the week. He's just understanding how to use that length too. He has a plan when he rushes and, as he showed at Houston and at the Senior Bowl, he moved up and down the line of scrimmage to rush the quarterback. He played a ton inside on the first day but moved outside for the most part on the second day. He's one of those guys that probably plays outside on run downs but moves inside on passing/third down. He came in weighing 270 lbs at 6-5, with an 84-inch wingspan and 35-inch arms. He has massive 10 ¼-inch hands and has a basketball playing background. However, he doesn't have a basketball players mindset on the field as he plays with ferocity, inside and/or out. Those are elite traits and his play during the 2020 season and the last two days bear that out.
Click here for my full Harris 100 to peruse this weekend. Thanks for reading, everyone!