TCU at Kansas, 12 PM on ESPN
Obviously not the sexiest game to kick things off, but Kansas is rarely on national television and they have a player draftniks need to see. Safety Fish Smithson is a legit top 100 prospect and one of the more exciting defenders in the nation.
Smithson garnered buzz in the offseason for his prodigious tackling totals last year, leading the nation in solo tackles. Where most folks know Fish–real name Anthony–is for his athletic interceptions, like this one against Texas Tech…
Picked off by Fish Smithson!
Looking for more of those Saturday.
KU-TCU // 11 a.m. // Memorial Stadium
— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) October 5, 2016
He’s not big (listed 5’11” and 205) but he really does look bigger than that on the field. Against my beloved alma mater, Ohio University, Fish was everywhere. He’s playing a more conservative role and that has cut back on the tackle stats. It’s also augmented his draft stock, as he’s shown he can cover in both man and zone situations.
TCU doesn’t have any great senior prospects on offense, but junior wideout Taj Williams certainly grabbed some attention by torching Oklahoma for 210 yards and 2 TDs last week. The Frogs spread the ball around nicely, so Smithson will have to show vision and quick reactions.
Herein ends any and all reasons to watch Kansas football.
Texas at Oklahoma, 12 PM on CBS
The Red River Rivalry is always must-watch status for college fans. From a draft perspective, this isn’t the most appealing year but there are still several reasons to watch.
The biggest draw is Oklahoma DT Charles Walker. He needs a strong outing to keep himself in the top 50 conversation. Walker has shown positional versatility and strength at the point of attack, but he has scant production (2 solo tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 QB hurries, no sacks). Right or wrong, the NFL cares about productivity.
His potential shows on this sack against Greg Ward and Houston:
I want to see more of the closing effort here. He’s been at his best using his quickness to attack the B gaps but Walker has shown very little ability to do much on the edge this year.
Texas is very young and doesn’t have much in the way of 2017 prospects. Senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette is probably their top player to watch. The 6’3”, 315 pounder shows impressive use of leverage and strong hands. He’s also got an improving eye for the ball. Oklahoma has had issues with interior rushers, so he could have a standout game.
Tennessee at Texas A&M, 3:30 PM on CBS
Every preview you read about this game will hype up the pass rushing battle between Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett.
Garrett, Texas A&M’s standout junior, sits atop many a draft board, mine included. His 6’5″, 270-pounds of sculpted muscle and advanced pass rush skills check just about every scouting box. For my money he’s a better prospect coming out than 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
His Volunteer counterpart Barnett is similar in size, and he’s a darling for the analytics crowd like College Football Focus. I don’t see him as twitchy or flexible on the edge, but that is a relative comparison; this is some pretty nice bend on a straight speed rush, albeit made much easier by a truly awful blocking effort:
Aggies LT Avery Gennessy is the best pass protector Barnett has faced all season, and the long senior is very good at nullifying guys who simply try to run around him. Gennessy is very physical in the run game and isn’t shy about going after a guy from snap to whistle. He’s not as agile as some recent Aggies tackle prospects but is probably the best creator of movement in the run and screen game. Barnett goes to the shoulder dip frequently, but he’ll need to show a broader repertoire to best Gennessy and prove he belongs in the first-round conversation.
Unfortunately some of the draft luster is dulled by injuries…
Looks like RB Jalen Hurd is doubtful vs. Texas A&M. Vols already without injured starting LBs Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) October 7, 2016
Keep in mind Vols CB Cam Sutton, a legit Day Two prospect, is also sidelined with a broken ankle.
I’m not a big Hurd fan but this would have been a nice opportunity for him to convince me he’s draftable with a strong game. This just puts more of an emphasis on how well Joshua Dobbs can handle the pressure and exploit the soft spots in the Aggies coverage. Dobbs has flashed for me at times, including last week against Georgia, but I want to see one game where he puts it all together for four quarters. Against Garrett, standout CB Josh Evans and improving DE Daeshon Hall, now that would be a noteworthy accomplishment.
Michigan State at BYU, 3:30 PM, check local listings
The Spartans are reeling after an overtime loss to Indiana following a blowout defeat at home to Wisconsin. The pressure is on standout DT Malik McDowell to help turn the tide, but No. 4 will miss the first half due to a (bogus) targeting call in the Indiana game.
McDowell has played pretty well but it would be nice to see him make a bigger impact on the stat sheet here. Oddly enough, McDowell’s absence in the first half here should provide an excellent illustration of just how much he does. This is a great opportunity for McDowell to show both mental resiliency and physical dominance once he returns in the second half. Great players respond positively to adversity, and many draft evaluators (myself included) see McDowell as a potentially great player.
Michigan State’s passing game is overly reliant on quick hits and dumpoffs. This provides a nice evaluation tool for the BYU linebackers and safeties. The Cougars have an outstanding LB prospect in Butch Pau’u, but he’s just a sophomore and not draft eligible. Seniors Harvey Langi and Sae Tautu both made the preseason Senior Bowl watch list, though at this point both appear more fated to the Shrine Game or NFLPA Bowl.
Langi will often face tight end Josiah Price, who has quietly played his way up in my mental draft rankings. Price has shown soft hands and better footwork on his routes. Langi needs to do better against the chip and release, something Price does quite well when lined up inline. But Price will need to set a hard edge and sustain his run blocks better against the physical LB. I expect to see more of Langi outside as Tautu will miss the first half as the result of a (merited) targeting call last week.
BYU LB Sae Tautu ejected for targeting on this play: pic.twitter.com/lxOO11HLLi
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 1, 2016
While he’s not anywhere close to McDowell’s class, what is true for the Spartans stud holds true for Tautu here too. This is a chance to show his importance and also gauge how well he responds to adversity. Safety Kai Nacua gets a chance to prove his merit too. He was invisible against UCLA but all over the field against Utah.
I live in Michigan so this game is broadcast on the local affiliate, and it’s available on some regional FSN networks.
Colorado at USC, 4 PM on PAC-12 Network
This one has a laser focus on one particular matchup: Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie against USC wideout Juju Smith-Schuster.
No. 9 for the Trojans had an exceptional sophomore season. He’s not been as dynamic in 2016, dealing with a new QB and a lesser supporting cast around him. Still, he’s got a lot of tools. Many of them show on this play from last year’s Notre Dame game:
The release, the acceleration up the outside, the way he subtly uses his hand to keep space, how well he attacks and secures the catch in traffic–all of that looks great.
Smith-Schuster lit up Arizona State last week for 7 catches and 123 yards, scoring three times. I haven’t seen that game yet but I did catch the Utah game one week earlier and I saw the guy who many projected as a first-round pick there too. He’s at his best when USC lines up in bunched or stacked formations and he can get that clean release.
Awuzie is getting more notice, and it’s deserved. I saw him in person in Colorado’s tenacious effort at Michigan. I’ve said it before, but what stands out about No. 4 is that he doesn’t have any real deficiencies to his game. Smith-Schuster will test him deep. The Buffaloes have a rangy safety in Tedric Thompson but they like to use him to help more in the middle of the field or opposite Awuzie.
Colorado’s “other” corner is Ahkello Witherspoon, and he has taken advantage of teams avoiding Awuzie. He’s got great length at 6’2” and good post-throw mechanics. He’s improved his draft stock with a strong senior season but he needs to tackle better. If Smith-Schuster catches a pass on him, the Trojan wideout could shine after the catch.
Alabama at Arkansas, 7 PM on ESPN
If you like defensive front seven play, or if your NFL team happens to need help at any of the line or linebacker positions, this is the game for you!
Seriously, if you can’t find one prospect you like amongst these two defensive fronts, just stop watching football.
Alabama has the top shelf covered with guys defensive end Jonathan Allen, outside rush backer Tim Williams thumping ILB Reuben Foster. Allen compares favorably to Deforest Buckner, who went No. 7 overall as a 5-technique end and is playing pretty darn well for the 49ers. Foster is likely the best ILB prospect in this draft class and a better athlete than Reggie Ragland from last year.
Williams has exceptional speed and closing burst, and his ability to get low and scream around the edge presents a major problem for 6’9” Arkansas tackle Andrew Skipper. The flashy pass rusher has some off-field concerns but on the field he’s a speedy witch. Skipper uses his length pretty well but he can really struggle with guys who can get down and get funky.
Don’t want to spend a top 20 pick on one of these guys? Okay, the next few tiers of talent are also well-stocked in this important SEC West tilt.
Arkansas has several defenders who exhibit definite NFL qualities. Tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter sure looks like a Senior Bowl invitee, another guy who projects quite well as a 5T. End Deatrich Wise brings length, strength and decent violence in his hands as a base 4-3 end. Linebacker Brooks Ellis has made plays all over the formation in the 10 quarters of Razorback football I’ve watched this year, and he doesn’t stay blocked long. I liked what I saw of him in coverage against TCU, and he showed he can blitz and seal the deal against Texas A&M.
The Crimson Tide have NFL starters in the secondary in safety Eddie Jackson and CB Marlon Humphrey. Jackson is a more complete safety prospect than HaHa Clinton-Dix, who is now a good NFL starter for the Packers. Humphrey continues to challenge as the top cover man in this class, and the Hogs have a pair of late-round receiver prospects in Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan who bring divergent skills. If Humphrey can handle Hatcher’s injury-prone speed and Morgan’s strong routes and ability to quickly transition from receiver to runner, that’s a strong case to bolster his top 20 argument.
There are so many other prospects here too…
Florida State at Miami, 8 PM on ABC
Hurricane Matthew mercifully spared South Florida, and as a result this big-time ACC game goes on as scheduled.
I haven’t paid enough attention to Miami, which is undefeated and features a couple of senior defensive backs who have played their way further up the draft radar. Safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter have both elevated their stock.
Jenkins has shown impressive cover skills, including a fantastic play to save a touchdown against Georgia Tech by stealing the ball from the receiver in the end zone. I want to see more of him against a Florida State offense that has speed but not necessarily a lot of consistency at receiver. He must stay low and controlled in his movement.
Carter is auditioning for the hybrid LB/S role at the NFL. No. 6 reminds me more than a little of Mark Barron, who struggled at safety for the Rams but has found a home as an undersized OLB. He gets a stern test in the run game here with Dalvin Cook, a violent runner with great feet. Carter should continue to rise up, though facing Cook–a first round on-field talent with injury flags–is no picnic.
I continue to be underwhelmed with Florida State left tackle Roderick Johnson. Even though he earned ACC Lineman of the Week, his first-round projections baffle me. I’m not the only one who doesn’t see it. Check out what With The First Pick astutely noted,
When one watches the tape, the biggest red flag jumps out very quickly: Johnson’s handwork is very poor. He holds them low far too often and a defender who knows how to use their hands properly can easily slap him out of the way.
Similarly, I’m not all that enthralled with Miami QB Brad Kaaya. That doesn’t mean I think Kaaya, or Johnson for that matter, are bad prospects. It means I haven’t seen justification for the top 20 overall projections that fly rampant with both. Kaaya looks great when he’s in rhythm and on schedule, but he breaks down and loses accuracy more than most QBs when disrupted. I also want to see better zip on the outside throws. He’ll never have the big arm, but he can mask it some by just letting it fly from time to time. I rarely see that from the junior. Florida State likes to gamble on the back end, so if Kaaya can get time behind what might be the best G-C-G group in the country in KC McDermott, Nick Linder and Danny Isidora, he will get the opportunity to take deep shots.
McDermott and Linder are just juniors, but both are going to be very highly-rated in the 2018 draft. Isidora should get an invite to the Shrine Game. So too should wideout Stacy Coley, who is approaching Cris Carter “all he does is catch touchdowns” status with 4 TDs in 15 catches.
Enjoy the games, and for further prep check out the latest podcast from Justin Higdon and Seth Cox here at Draft Breakdown!