It felt inevitable that Cass and King would meet in the PSL Championship Game considering the perennial talent on the two squads; after all, they met in the PSL final just last year with King edging Cass, 27-25.
This year, Cass wasted no time getting on the board. Just minutes into the game Donovan Peoples-Jones hauled in a deep ball and outran Ambry Thomas to the end zone. From there, Cass built a 28-0 lead. King eventually found its offense thanks to Thomas, who looked excellent at receiver and finished the game with three touchdown catches. Thomas found himself matched up frequently against Jaylen Kelly-Powell; the two are cousins, and both have Michigan offers. King fought back in the second half, but Cass countered them each time and walked away with a 41-20 victory.
There was plenty to watch in this one what with all the Michigan offers on the field, and especially since they played head-to-head often. Cass beat King earlier in the season on a rain-soaked field; this matchup looked different, as playing in a dome let the players showcase just how talented they are.
[After THE JUMP: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jaylen Kelly-Powell, and Ambry Thomas scouting reports and film]
[This reel is essentially three highlight tapes in one. Thomas’s highlights run from 00:00 to 1:12, Jaylen Kelly-Powell’s highlights run from 1:12 to 2:08, and Donovan Peoples-Jones’s highlights run from 2:08 to the end of the video (keep in mind that Thomas is exclusively covering him)]
2017 CB/WR Ambry Thomas (M offer)
This is the second time we’ve seen Thomas this season, and his impact on the game was far more noticeable on offense this time around. I really liked him the last time we watched him; he locked down a much taller receiver and displayed great skill in press coverage. That’s not to say that my opinion of him as a corner was necessarily diminished here, but it was clear that he was going against the best receiver in the state.
From the drop, you can see that he’s got the kind of quick-twitch speed that allows him to adjust to receivers on the fly. That’s evident on the jet sweep that starts at 00:00, as he feigns toward the D gap before bouncing further outside and trying to create more space by stopping and starting again near the sideline. At 00:13 Thomas is lined up as a safety would be in Cover 1. He reads the screen and covers a ton of ground quickly while taking a good angle to the ballcarrier, but once he gets there he’s stiff armed and knocked away. This one play encapsulates everything I’ve seen in two viewings: fast as heck, intelligent in that he reads plays quickly and gets himself into position to make a play, and desperately in need of adding strength.
Watch the play that starts at 00:24 and you’ll see that he also knows how to high-point a ball. At 00:49 he beats Kelly-Powell, who’s playing pretty good press, by a full step at the time he’s catching the ball. He again shows his ability to freeze defenders at 1:02. All told, he’s incredibly athletic and seems to be a more legitimate two-way threat than I thought he was after our first viewing. Thomas is talented enough as a receiver to at least merit experimenting with him on offense if he eventually chooses Michigan.
2017 S/RB Jaylen Kelly-Powerll (M offer)
Kelly-Powell’s highlights start at 1:13 with him standing on the 36-yard line. At 1:14 the ball is snapped. By 1:16 Kelly-Powell is at the 46-yard line and the QB sees the grim sceptre of destruction but somehow is able to dump the ball to his safety valve. Kelly-Powell even appears to pull up a bit so as to avoid getting flagged, which isn’t terribly surprising considering how involved he was mentally. His awareness extended beyond recognizing plays as they developed (which he did really well) as he seemed to be the one responsible for making checks and getting his teammates lined up on every play.
Cass likes to line Kelly-Powell all over the place. They’ll have him walk down into the box and play near the level of the linebackers in run support, play man over the top as a safety, and play press man in the slot or on the outside. He can cover almost anyone; in Cass’s first meeting with King this year, Kelly-Powell won most of the times he was covering Thomas (more on that in a Future Blue Derivatives post sometime down the road). That wasn’t the case in this game. Kelly-Powell flips his hips quickly and can stick with Thomas for a bit, but once Thomas gets downfield he’s usually able to gain a step or two of separation. That’s what happened at 00:49, and a closer matchup can be seen at 1:23. It didn’t make the highlight reel for the sake of avoiding repetition, but that same jam-turn-trail happened over and over again that night.
At 1:27 Kelly-Powell moves laterally for a split second before he realizes that Thomas didn’t get the ball, at which time he reverses course, loops around King’s blockers, breaks down, and misses in the open field. At 1:36 he’s still directing traffic when the ball is snapped, but he reads the handoff, bounces a gap over, and sticks the ballcarrier. When I’ve watched him play, I’ve seen much more of the latter. Kelly-Powell is agile enough to weave through traffic and fast enough to get from sideline to sideline in a hurry, and he also takes good angles to the ball. He’s generally an excellent run defender, and I don’t recall seeing any open-field struggles in the earlier Cass-King game. It’s a concern as a safety, but the (extremely) small sample size caveat definitely applies here.
Speaking of agility, Kelly-Powell’s was on full display on offense. He sticks a foot in the dirt and explodes past defenders at 1:43 and 1:52. He had his best game as a running back against King, but his collegiate future is likely at safety, where he has all the tools needed to succeed as one in a Don Brown defense.
2017 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (M offer)
Before we get into the scouting, keep in mind that when Peoples-Jones was lined up as a receiver, Ambry Thomas—a composite top-100 prospect, the second best player in the state, and a player whose coverage I found no flaws in after multiple viewings—was lined up across from him. Now start the video at 2:08. Yeah. Dang.
That’s how things usually go for him. Cass utilizes a very run-centric offense, and then they bomb it to Peoples-Jones two or three times a game. He usually catches one for a touchdown. Even though he isn’t targeted all that often, he’s always engaged. It seems like half of his highlight reel is him blocking downfield, but I felt that was worth including because it was noticeable live. He doesn’t take plays off when he isn’t targeted, and his blocks helped the backs extend runs on multiple occasions (there’s a good example at 3:52).
It’s hard to tell whether Peoples-Jones is a good route runner because he usually just runs a go route and torches a corner in the process. At 2:01 he does run a nice out route against Cov3, though the QB never looked his direction. It’s also hard to tell what his leaping ability is like, but it appeared to be pretty good on the one ball thrown to him that he had to go up for; Thomas got flagged for DPI here, which isn’t a terrible thing to do since Peoples-Jones would have caught that otherwise.
Surprisingly, the one area he didn’t look exceptional was running the jet sweep. The first one is at 2:40, and he takes a big step inside before deciding to continue toward the sideline. The linebacker doesn’t bite at all, and the step slowed Peoples-Jones down enough that he isn’t able to turn the corner before the LB gets there. At 3:01 he takes the handoff and widens his arc instead of cutting upfield, but it works out in the end because he’s able to avoid the penetrating defender outside, turn upfield and set up a block near the sideline, and run through Thomas for a few extra yards.
A couple of jet sweeps where he probably could have cut upfield sooner doesn’t lessen the luster of his potential. Peoples-Jones made Thomas look pedestrian at times, and Thomas is flat-out great. With his skills and size (6’2”, 192 pounds), it’s obvious why he’s just outside the 247 composite top 10.