Southeast Spotlight: Comparing top 2024 standouts to NFL players
Everybody loves (or loves to debate) a good player comparison, so let's delve into some of the best in the Southeast relative to NFL players they remind us of at this stage of their development or with a little projection.
Cam Coleman - A.J. Brown
One of the most physically impressive wideouts in the class of 2024 is Coleman, the Texas A&M commitment out of Alabama known for an above-the-rim basketball game and domination on Friday nights. At 6-foot-3, many would assume he wins at the catch point and/or high point, and they would be right, but there are other elements that liken Coleman to Philadelphia Eagles star AJ Brown.
For one, Brown was also a two-sport star back in the day, with baseball as his secondary sport, helping him with reaction time and easy ball tracking skills. Coleman flashes the same, but each is sneaky strong after the catch. We don't think of bigger bodies after the catch as much as we should and each gets it done with the ball in their hands.
Coleman has a viral clip where he sheds a half-dozen tackles en route to the end zone and Brown has done as much at the highest level, finishing second among wideouts in yards after the catch in 2022. Sure, both are big, physical and can get up, but each is so dynamic despite the size, one could draw up a slip screen and let either rack up the yardage in chunks.
Eddy Pierre-Louis - Zion Johnson
Pierre-Louis is a four-year varsity starter often known for his immense power and surprising athleticism at more than 300 pounds. Whether at tackle or guard, where he seems most likely to splash in college, his ability at the contact point and when asked to move beyond convention is equally as head-turning.
Zion Johnson became similar late in his college career at Boston College before becoming a first-round selection for the L.A. Chargers last year. Known for his striking ability and swiftness on the move, he became a key cog for the Chargers as a rookie the same way we expect borderline five-star Pierre-Louis to make waves in college football in 2024.
Johnson put the traits into the testing setting with ease at the NFL Combine, repping 225 pounds 32 times while registering a 4.47 short shuttle at 312 pounds. The modern athletic traits are even more coveted up front now-a-days, part of the reason Rivals is much higher on Pierre-Louis compared to the industry to date.
Chauncey Bowens - Dalvin Cook
A pair of south Florida natives at the same position reminding us of each other isn't the biggest surprise call on this feature, but when Dalvin Cook was coming up, two elements of his game were consistently talked about first -- his build and his burst. Bowens, the Georgia commitment, offers similar in an even bigger package at some 220 pounds heading into his senior season.
Blistering track times at his size coming off of strong junior tape enabled his stock to rise in a hurry this year, but it all comes back to that burst. Top speed is critical, too, and both of these talents obviously check the box, but the acceleration toward that top end mark behind a low plane and plenty of power is what puts the most pressure on defenses.
On the flip side, neither back gets a ton of credit for their ability in space and in the passing game, but each holds his own there as well.
Caleb Odom - Darren Waller
This is probably the most low-hanging fruit on this list given the basketball background and lengthy frames, but Caleb Odom and Darren Waller have what most offensive coordinators covet. Each has elite length and an easy ability to move despite the frame, to the point each has been viewed more as a wide receiver than tight end at various stages of their development.
The key for Odom, which Waller realized, will be to add good weight while maintaining the wide receiver traits at the line of scrimmage as a more balanced threat. Waller did so, checking in at 238 pounds at the combine, so we'll see how the Alabama commitment develops from a physical standpoint over the next few years.
Odom is in the 215-pound range at this time, perhaps slightly ahead of the fellow Georgia native back in his high school days. Either way, the matchup each presents is very easy to see regardless of position projection or alignment.
Jake Merklinger - Derek Carr
The tape the Tennessee commitment has put together of his 2022 season has plenty of strong-armed throws and well-timed tosses within it, but what stands out just as much is this combination of toughness and athleticism that shows up in spurts. The tight release and second-level velocity is a classic delivery, much like that of Derek Carr and the likeness between the two carries over onto that tough element as well.
Carr isn't known as a runner, but he can scramble as needed and when linear, can out-run front-seven types with his sub 4.7-second 40-yard dash speed. We can see Merklinger doing similar in the SEC one day, keeping defenses honest with his legs while showcasing good velocity and decision-making with his right arm.
From a physical perspective, the two make even more sense with one another, each listed at 6-foot-3, with Carr currently at 210 pounds and Merklinger pushing 190-plus heading into his senior season.