Tuesday Draft Notes -- 1.0

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Most schools around the country are just two games into their regular-season schedules, but already there is plenty of buzz in the draft world. In our first edition of Tuesday draft notes, we start in the deep south.

Few scouts gave Mississippi State tackle Martinas Rankin a draftable grade entering the season, and most stamped the blindside blocker as a priority free agent. I’m told that has changed as area scouts have gone through Starkville and come away believing Rankin is a middle-round choice.

Why the sudden change?

Rankin has really improved his game, as evidenced against Louisiana Tech. He did a terrific job protecting the blind side of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald from La Tech’s speedy edge rushers. Rankin still shows some stiffness and at times looked mechanical, but he’s definitely headed in the right direction.

Speaking of Nick Fitzgerald, I’m told the feeling at Mississippi State is the quarterback will enter the draft off a good year. The big-armed passer looked terrible at the start of the Louisiana Tech contest before getting it back together. He actually did more damage with his legs than his arm. Last month I slated Fitzgerald as a sleeper first-round pick with starting potential on Sundays. The next three games on the Mississippi State schedule include LSU, Georgia and Auburn -- teams with good defenses and, in the case of LSU and Auburn, defenses with next-level talent in the secondary. All pose challenges for Fitzgerald.

I was told yesterday it looks very much as though Louisiana Tech pass rusher Jaylon Ferguson will enter the draft after the season. Ferguson put up gaudy numbers the past two years, including 14.5 sacks as a sophomore, but struggled so much against Rankin on Saturday that he made our Week 2 sliders list. Present grades on Ferguson range everywhere from the second day to the last round.

A longtime scouting friend attended last week’s Oklahoma State-South Alabama contest in Mobile and came away unimpressed with Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph.

He told me Rudolph has the tools but his accuracy and timing need a lot of work. He also felt Rudolph takes too much time making decisions in the pocket and all too often is slow reacting -- something you can get away with on Saturdays, but not Sundays.