One week removed from the fourth of July, I’m back in the film room. This week, I focused on players from the Independent teams in college football. To be honest, I could sit here all day and post clips of what Army and Navy do on offense. For the sake of the NFL Draft, it’s a rarity to see one of the Midshipmen or a Black Knights being drafted by one of your favorite teams.
It can happen, though.
There have only been two players drafted from Navy in the 21st century. Joe Cardona was drafted in the 5th round by the New England Patriots in 2015, and in 2016, the Baltimore Ravens selected Keenan Reynolds in the 6th. As for Army, the last time we saw one of the Black Knights selected in the NFL Draft was Caleb Campbell by the Detroit Lions in the 2008 NFL Draft.
That’s what makes the NFL Draft so fun. Anything can happen, and every year it’s something different. New players, new teams, and a new generation. This summer, Christian Page and I have been trying to scout the next wave of the new generation, this time, for the 2020 NFL Draft. With America’s birthday having just passed, I wanted to find some players from the independent teams (don’t belong to a conference) that should have our attention for this upcoming season.
Frankie Hickson, RB, Liberty
We could be talking about plenty of Notre Dame football players, but I didn’t watch both sides of the football. My apologies to their quarterback, Ian Book. As for the Liberty Flames, their offense from 2018 wasn’t necessarily . . . flames. Their quarterback, Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert, held them back from time to time. He was far too inconsistent with his decision making and constantly rushed through his progressions. His number one target, Antonio Gandy-Golden, is a big receiver at 6’4″ and 220 pounds. He looks to have a big catch radius and can high-point the football, but he looks like an “ironing board” when running down the field.
Liberty had a very predictable offense. From their games against Virginia or Auburn, their coaching staff made me scratch my head. They would be setup with a 1st-and-10 and, after an incompletion, they’d go straight to a running play on 2nd-and-10. This happened way more than it should have, but one player that stood out was one of their running backs, Frankie Hickson.
Listed at 5’8″ and 200 pounds, Hickson could be a running back that slips under the radar. Being one of the small school players, we could see him shine at the East-West Shrine Game or the Senior Bowl next year. Last season, he racked up 1,032 rushing yards on 229 carries and 10 touchdowns. There were times against Auburn and Virginia that he faced a loaded box and would have a very limited push from his offensive line. Despite being undersized and some limitations, he found ways to maneuver through defenses. I haven’t had a chance to see him show off his breakaway speed, but he displays the vision and toughness to run between the tackles. We’ll see what he does now that he’s got Hugh Freeze as his head coach, and we’ll see if the Flames and Hickson can take a step in the right direction.
Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
It’s only July, but one of my favorite players for this season is already Julian Okwara. His brother, Romeo Okwara, plays for the Detroit Lions, but it looks like Julian is already better than him. That’s not a jab, that’s the truth. Listed at 6’5″ and 240 pounds, the talented edge rusher can still put on some weight and muscle. Either way, he’s already got a nice blend of power and speed.
Julian Okwara with terrific backside pursuit. You can't teach effort and he brings it on every play I've seen pic.twitter.com/VW6qBHu3C0
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 2, 2019
Bruce Feldman ranked him 10th on his college football “freaks list”. Beyond just his size, he’s freakishly athletic and has been rumored to run 21 MPH. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but he does show relentless effort every time he’s on a football field.
On the play above, you see a prime example of the effort and pursuit that Okwara brings on every play. In 2018, he had 39 tackles, 8 sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss. Whether he’s using that pursuit to make a play or consistently putting himself in good position to make plays with proper technique, there’s plenty to like when watching Okwara. The school record for sacks in a season at Notre Dame is held by Justin Tuck with 13.5. Can Okwara break that record? He certainly has the tools to make it happen.
Khalid Kareem, EDGE, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish really have “take your pick” type talents off the edge. From Okwara to Kareem, they have talent all over the board at the position. So far, I’ve only watched Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, and it’s clear that I like both players. Kareem is listed at 6’4″ and 265 pounds and possesses the versatility that defensive coordinators covet at the next level.
The play above is one of the best pass rushes I’ve seen from Khalid Kareem from last season. He is working against one of the top offensive linemen in the country, Stanford left tackle Walker Little. First, you’ll notice the explosiveness from Kareem that gets Little to cross his feet and get him off his base. Next, he uses a long arm technique with his left arm to create separation, which allows him to keep his outside hand free. Once Little tries to reset his hands inside, Kareem hits him with a nice outside chop and rip through to get the edge. This puts Kareem in perfect position to make the sack on K.J. Costello.
From the versatility to the raw power, Kareem looks the part to play along any defensive front. He can play at defensive tackle as an interior pass rusher and has the natural ability to play off the edge. Last season, he had 42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. During the offseason, he’s been working out with former NFL defensive end Marcus Howard and continues to find ways to make himself a better player. Time will tell, but there’s plenty of talent on the Notre Dame defense, and it starts with their edge rushers, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem.