After last weekend’s amazingly eventful college slate, this week lacks sizzle. Yet that can be the best time to evaluate prospects instead of being caught up in the emotion of the contests.
Ohio State at Michigan State 12 PM on ESPN
This game sure looked awesome back in August when these two teams were both in the Top 10. Ohio State held up their end of the bargain, but this is the worst Michigan State season in years. Last week snapped a 7-game losing streak and there will be no bowling for Sparty.
A lost season can be revelatory in the scouting process. Does a player keep going 100% on every snap, every game? Are they just going through the motions after the first quarter when they’re down 14-0 and don’t have a first down?
That’s what I’m looking for with Michigan State this week, specifically with their top two prospects in DT Malik McDowell and safety Montae Nicholson. McDowell remains an outstanding athlete but has not posted the increase in production many expected or scouts wanted to see. While NFL teams will certainly evaluate the context, the fact he’s often marketed as a premium pass rusher and major disruptive force but has just 1.5 sacks and 7 TFLs in nine games is a legit flag. He does face double teams and his cries of being held are not false, but beating the likes of Pat Elflein and Billy Price for a splashy sack or a quality run stuff sure would help ease some concerns.
Elflein, an Outland Trophy finalist, is in the mix for being the top center. I happen to think he’s a better prospect at guard, where he spent most of his Buckeyes career. Price has been inconsistent and needs to focus on moving his feet to stay balanced and in a position of strength. McDowell should, and often does, eat improper blocking technique for breakfast.
The outside matchup of Nicholson and Ohio State’s versatile back Curtis Samuel offers a nice glimpse at the NFL future of both. Nicholson fits the athletic and physical building of a hybrid safety/LB. If he can contain Samuel, a hybrid RB/WR whom I like more as a receiver at the next level, No. 9 in green and white should gain more momentum.
At least five NFL scouts will be watching this one in person. With Gareon Conley, Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore all potential top 50 picks in the Buckeyes secondary, it’s easy to see why. For Conley, he must show more strength and better positioning on 50/50 balls than he did here in the loss to Penn State:
Florida at LSU, 1 PM on SEC, local affiliates
Several future NFL starters take the field in a rare early afternoon game in Baton Rouge. And just about all of them play defense, which can make this a tough game to watch for entertainment purposes.
Kendell Beckwith vs. Jarrad Davis. Beckwith plays inside for LSU, Davis primarily outside for the Gators, but they’re both solid Day Two picks. Watch Davis and how he handles LSU’s outstanding hit/run RB duo of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. He will need to be both decisive and disciplined. The same is true of LSU LB Duke Reilly, another early Senior Bowl invitee.
Late edit–I just saw Davis will miss this game with an ankle injury. Bummer.
Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson vs. TreDavious White and Dwayne Thomas at cornerback. The Gator duo are both potential first-round talents who complement one another nicely. Tabor is a little more risk/reward, while Wilson focuses more on making the sure, smart play. White can be as good as either but doesn’t show the instincts or desired consistency. He’s coming off a bad game against Arkansas. Thomas has some off-field baggage that will scare away some teams but is a generally reliable outside corner with coveted length and speed.
Marcus Maye vs. Jamal Adams. The safeties represent their schools well. Adams is a potential top 10 overall pick; Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling recently listed the spectacular Tigers ballhawk as his No. 3 overall prospect. I’m not quite that bullish but the love is not unfounded. Maye ranked 73rd for Easterling, and I actually am higher than that on the 5’11” senior. Unfortunately he’s out for the season with a broken arm. Had this game been played as scheduled–it was moved because of a hurricane–we would have seen Maye get to provide coverage on Malachi Dupree and Travin Dural, LSU’s Day Three wideout tandem. Dupree could sneak into the third round with some explosive plays here, though bad QB play has hindered that ability all season.
Buffalo at Western Michigan, 3:30 PM on ESPNU
ESPN’s traveling road show comes to West MI to highlight the undefeated Broncos as they Row the Boat against Buffalo. There will be at least two NFL scouts in attendance in Kalamazoo, and as long as my kids’ sporting events wrap up in time I’ll make the 45-minute sojourn to the game as well.
Right tackle Taylor Moton is one of the first players accepting a Senior Bowl invite. He deserves the honor, and Phil Savage and the Senior Bowl crew hinted at his NFL future by listing the bulky (he’s 6’5”/328) tackle as a guard on their roster. Moton does have experience playing inside and it better suits his foot speed and brawn.
The man he’s protecting, QB Zach Terrell, merits at least a Shrine Game invite for his precision ball placement and smart, quick decision making. He reminds me some of Cody Kessler, only with a better arm. Of course this is also a chance to further investigate my personal WR1 in Corey Davis.
NFL scouts have also been sniffing around Broncos DE Keion Adams, who can be disruptive with his speed off the edge. At his size (6’2”/245) he’ll need to transition to linebacker, so watch when WMU uses No. 1 in space…and they do.
The Bulls don’t have anyone who figures to get drafted but there are a couple of intriguing players who should at least make NFL camps next summer. Tight end Mason Schreck is a good one, an agile 6’5” Cleveland-area native with sticky hands and a nice frame. Senior RB Jordan Johnson has good balance and leg drive power, and he can also catch out of the backfield when given an opportunity.
Washington State at Colorado, 3:30 PM on FOX
Colorado has one of the most talented secondaries in college football, and this is a great proving ground for corners Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Tedric Thompson. All three will be in the NFL next season, with Awuzie the headliner. No. 4 is so incredibly well-rounded as a player. He doesn’t have great size but isn’t small at 5’11”. He’ll often match up against Gabe Marks, who has prolific numbers but doesn’t really stand out as more than a late-round NFL prospect in my eyes.
The Buffaloes barely allow 50% completions, so Washington State QB Luke Falk will have to earn it. He’s currently over 74% and can fit passes into tight windows. Falk is expected to declare and is going to be one of the more divisive prospects thanks to Mike Leach’s shotgun spray gun spread. Leach has never had a QB with Falk’s downfield accuracy or poise under pressure.
His passing chart, courtesy of the good folks at Pro Football Focus, illustrates how consistently accurate Falk is all over the deeper realms.
Tedric Thompson must have a strong game in coverage. He is good at attacking with the ball in the air but doesn’t always take the best angles or positon himself well enough before the throw. It will help that Cougars wideout River Craycraft will miss this one. And no, you’re not the only one who thinks that’s some secret level on WarCraft…
A pair of Colorado LBs, No. 98 Jimmie Gilbert and No. 31 Kenneth Olugbode, are both undersized run-and-hit backers who will get next-level looks. Showing capability in coverage here will help their stock. If the Buffaloes can control the Washington State run game without needing to commit them close to the line, Colorado should win. That task falls on underrated Josh Tupou, a 325-pound behemoth who gave Michigan all sorts of trouble when I saw them at the Big House back in September.
Oklahoma at West Virginia, 8 PM on ABC/ESPN
The Big 12 likely gets decided in Morgantown, and the winner here still has an outside shot at crashing the CFB Playoff if more chaos happens above them.
Oklahoma wideout Dede Westbrook is the best reason to watch. He’s skinny but he is capable of making tough catches and extending his catch radius a lot further than looks possible. The Mountaineers counter with Antonio Crawford, a plucky corner who plays better against Westbrook’s style. The Miami FL transfer has helped his draft stock with a feisty, competitive season.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Walker here. The Oklahoma defensive tackle left the Sooners this week to focus on his NFL future. Walker is a potential top 100 prospect who was in the midst of an underwhelming season before being sidelined with a concussion. He hasn’t played in over a month and decided to quit on his teammates on the eve of their de facto conference title game. That’s not a good look.
What happens if Walker is on an NFL team that’s 3-9 and going nowhere? Will he stay committed and give full effort? How was he regarded in the locker room and by the coaches? These are difficult and legitimate questions he’s brought upon himself. Good thing he’s got time for his agent to help him prepare; if he doesn’t ace these inquisitions, it’s a very bad look for a player whose stock was already trending down.
I highly encourage you to check out Kyle Crabbs audio preview in the Locked On NFL Draft podcast. He’s seen West Virginia in person and offers more perspective than you’ll get from anyone else, including me.
Air Force at San Jose State, 10:30 PM on CBSSN
Air Force doesn’t get many nationally televised games, so seize this opportunity to catch future Shrine Game wideout Jalen Robinette.
He’s got outstanding size and can be a load after the catch, but in binge watching his complete library here on Draft Breakdown, I see a lot of little things that give me pause. The routes are kind of cumbersome. Take this play against New Mexico:
No. 9 does a fair job of selling in the inside cut, but it takes him a couple of decelerated steps to make the out cut. He also doesn’t use his body to shield off the defender, and a better NFL-caliber CB can react quicker and undercut him for an easy pick-six here. So while he does make the catch, Robinette didn’t necessarily impress here.
There is a lot of body catching too, though I’m not one who gets my panties in a bunch about guys who do that often. Tis better to body catch than not catch at all. Robinette does block exceptionally well, as you would expect from a wideout in an option offense.
For the Spartans, TE Billy Freeman doesn’t get near enough action but always impresses when he does…just like me in high school. I’ve only seen about 5 quarters of them this year but senior DE Nick Oreglia looks to have some potential as a rotational 5T. Linebacker Christian Tago could be joining Robinette in St. Pete in January too, though he had a rough game against San Diego State. No. 4 will need to show quicker reactions and better angles against Air Force.
USC at UCLA, 10:30 PM on ESPN
I recently included UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley in the first round of a mock draft I did over at RealGM. Surprisingly to me, a lot of folks–even in the online draft community–expressed ignorance on the 6’2”, 265-pound Bruins senior. This game provides an excellent chance to catch “Takk” in action against one of the nation’s better offensive lines.
McKinley doesn’t have the optimal length but he uses his strong arms and shoulders to create space for himself better than a lot of 6’6” guys. He has very quick feet for his size, too.
When you watch McKinley square off against Chad Wheeler, Zach Banner and even inside against future NFL guards Damien Mama and Viane Talamaiavo (both juniors), pay attention to how well he finds the ball and uses leverage. While on this play he reads and finishes perfectly…
…there are other times where he can get lost in the big bodies and doesn’t see the ball fast enough. McKinley can look tight in the hips and ankles, too.
Another matchup to watch in the Battle of Los Angeles–and you’d better be listening to the Rage Against the Machine classic album of the same name while reading this–is Bruins CB Fabian Moreau against Trojans WR Juju Smith-Schuster.
Moreau is best summed up in this tweet:
Could definitely see UCLA CB Fabian Moreau as a future Seahawk. Extremely physical + I love his instincts in man coverage.
— Conor Dorney (@cdorney) November 4, 2016
He’s a legit 6 feet and 205 pounds. UCLA churns out a lot of defensive backs of that size. Think Sheldon Price or Aaron Hester or Tony Dye (who played safety). Moreau is the best prospect of the lot because of his instincts, but he’ll be challenged by Smith-Schuster’s physicality in routes and ability to break tackles after the catch.
Enjoy the games!