Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
Now that we are a few weeks into the college season, it’s getting a lot easier to see who’s for real and who is not living up to their pre-season projection. However, there is only so much time in the summer to look at prospects that have limited film, are going to be playing in entirely different systems, or were slow to develop in college. Around this time, certain prospects begin their sharp ascent up draft boards by coming from seemingly nowhere to show something that they either didn’t previously show or that went unnoticed. Here are a few names that went from hushes to hollers in draft circles.
Tee Higgins - Sophomore Wide Receiver, Clemson
You might say I’m cheating by picking a true sophomore who can’t be drafted until 2020, at the very earliest. I say I can’t be cheating because it’s my column. Tee Higgins has been that impressive. While Deon Cain failed to live up to expectations as the next great Clemson receiver after the departures of Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, and Mike Williams, Tee Higgins is the real deal. Clemson has not had to throw the ball a lot to win decisively, leading to the 6'4", 200-pound Higgins having only a slightly above average 6-catch, 158-yard stat line thus far. However, when they needed to throw against Texas A&M last Saturday, Higgins turned in a highlight reel touchdown. This play shows everything that will make Higgins a force over the next two years at Clemson, and what will put him in contention for WR1 next summer.
Emanuel Hall - Senior Wide Receiver, University of Missouri
Emanuel Hall, though he measures in at 6'3" and 200 pounds, was previously viewed as a deep threat receiver first, and nothing second. In Mizzou’s first game against the University of Tennessee-Martin, Hall’s stat line of four catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns did nothing to change the narrative. Hall’s next game against the University of Wyoming and their strong secondary, though, sure changed the narrative. Hall had the same 171 yards receiving, but this time on ten catches and a single touchdown. Against one of the best non-power-five defenses, this deep threat was running underneath routes and making impressive catches in traffic. With his size and speed, if he can consistently prove that he has the toughness, route running skills, and hands to consistently work underneath like he did against Wyoming, then Hall could be making himself a lot of money this fall.
Benny Snell - Senior Running Back, University of Kentucky
Snell wasn’t completely unheralded coming into this season. He was widely viewed the same way that Kentucky, in general, is viewed: he’ll put up stats against bad teams, can’t carry the offense against good teams, and ends up being a middling back in a league full of excitement. I saw something different, though. I saw a Frank Gore-type back who will reliably run the ball with balance, plenty of power, and enough speed to be a bell-cow back for a pro team. This past week against the University of Florida, Snell made me look great with 174 yards on 27 carries and 2 catches for 8 yards in a shocking upset of the Gators. Snell showed an impressive endurance in this game, wearing down an SEC defense and maintaining his strength and form throughout the entirety of the game. Even more, Snell showed an all-around game that will translate to the pros, finding holes in the line, bursting through those holes with balance and speed, pass blocking exceptionally well against a strong Florida defense, and being exactly the weapon Kentucky needed to break a 31-year losing streak against the Gators. I’m all aboard the Benny Snell train.
Manny Wilkins - Senior Quarterback, Arizona State University
Manny Wilkins has had a solid but unspectacular career this far for the Sun Devils. Wilkins stuck around for his senior season and new head coach Herm Edwards, and the results have been fantastic. While he predictably picked apart the University of Texas-San Antonio in week one, it was his play in Arizona State’s upset victory over Michigan State that is opening some eyes. Playing potentially the best defense he will face all season, Wilkins completed 30 of his 48 passes for 380 yards and a touchdown, including a 5-minute, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter that led to field goal as time expired. Wilkins did throw one interception, but it was on a deep pass to end the first half in a two-minute drill. There are still some concerns with Wilkins, especially mechanically. He has a long windup that will need to be fixed and he could have better ball placement to let his receivers get the most out of their receptions, but he has the mental aspects of the game down. He seems like he is processing things much better in his senior season, and he, at the very least, will be draftable next April.
Brett Rypien - Senior Quarterback, Boise State University
This name may sound familiar, but likely because you remember Brett’s uncle Mark, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback and Super Bowl XXVI MVP for the Washington professional football franchise. Turns out the old gunslinger has a nephew who can do some slinging of his own. In two games this season, Rypien has completed 41 of 56 passes for 667 yards, 7 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Granted, these games were against the University of Troy and the University of Connecticut, but this is the type of dominating performance you want from a top-end prospect when the competition is not up to snuff. What sets Rypien apart from many other prospects is that he might be the best deep ball thrower in the country, showing excellent accuracy on the outside and deep parts of the field to hit his receivers in stride. He hasn't played the best defenses, but showing you can do it in general is step one. Now he just has to prove it against tougher competition. Although they aren’t world-beaters on defense, Oklahoma State University is next up for the Broncos, and they can at least match Boise State’s offensive firepower. Just like his uncle Mark used to, Brett is hoping to outduel the Cowboys this weekend.
Dwayne Haskins - Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback, Ohio State University
I’ve talked about Haskins already, but he is skyrocketing up boards to the point where some are mentioning him as QB1 next spring. In his first Big Ten matchup, Haskins completed 20 of 23 passes for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns, bringing him to 42 of 53 for 546 yards and 9 touchdowns on the season. We knew that he had incredible arm strength, but his ability to work through his reads is very impressive given his inexperience. Todd McShay has called Haskins Urban Meyer's most natural passer since Alex Smith. Combine that with his elite arm strength, and you could have a special quarterback. Haskins has a huge test coming up this weekend against Texas Christian University. If he continues to dominate, Buckeye fans might need to start relishing what they have before he has no choice but to move on.
Joe Bachie - Junior Linebacker, Michigan State University
The linebacker class was seen as relatively weak this year, but Bachie’s early play has been impressive. Bachie is the leader of a defense that ranks second in the country in yards against per rush, and a defense that is only allowing 34.5 rush yards per game. Arizona State had 267 yards rushing week 1, but had only 44 yards on 29 carries against Michigan State. In total, he has 21 tackles this season, 2.5 of which were for loss, 1 of which was a sack. Bachie also had a win-sealing interception against Utah State week 1. The common theme is that Bachie is all over the field making plays, proving without a doubt that Bachie can ball.
Jaylinn Hawkins - Junior Cornerback, University of California Berkeley
This prospect has a very appropriate name, as he’s been a ballhawk so far this season for one of the nation’s surprisingly strong passing defenses. Hawkins has three interceptions in two games, helping lead a surprisingly 2-0 Cal team. In week one, Cal defeated the University of North Carolina (up 24-3 before giving up some garbage time scores) in a game where they held the Tarheels to 15 of 35 passing for 137 yards. The next week, Cal held Brigham Young University to 22 of 41 passing for 196 yards. The Golden Bears have put a no-fly zone up over Berkeley, and Jaylinn Hawkins is the lead engineer.
Tipa Galeai - Junior Outside Linebacker, Utah State University
Finally, we have a player who is happy that everyone forgot who he was. Highly recruited out of high school, Galeai originally went to TCU and played there for two seasons. In the spring of 2017, surveillance video caught him drunkenly assaulting two fellow male students who made comments about how drunk he was. One student decided not to press charges, but the other did, and Galeai was found guilty of assault. Galeai was asked not to return to TCU and missed the 2017-18 season after transferring to Utah State. Now that he is back on the field after a clean one-year hiatus, Galeai is putting his pent-up aggression into the right place. Galeai has 3.5 sacks in two games this season, including two against Michigan State in the opener. Galeai looks dominant in his two games with the Aggies, and if he keeps his nose clean, he could be a fast riser.
Small School Check-In
One of my favorite parts of my preseason draft previews was finding a small school sleeper at various positions to keep an eye on throughout the season. Now seems like a good time to take a quick look to see how some of these players are faring.
Tyree Jackson - QB, University of Buffalo
Tyree Jackson has been exactly as advertised, completing 60% of his passes (43 for 72) for 464 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Better yet, he has led Buffalo to a 2-0 record. Jackson has made some impressive throws to show off his elite arm strength, but still needs a little more work on his accuracy. However, if Josh Allen can be drafted in the top ten, Jackson has shown me nothing to make me think he is a worse prospect. This either goes to show how overrated Josh Allen was coming out of school, or how underrated Tyree Jackson is right now.
Devin Singletary - RB, Florida Atlantic University
Singletary has had quite a rough start. The electric, big-play running back for Florida Atlantic has only run for 126 yards on 34 carries (3.7 per carry), and has hauled in only a single catch for 13 yards. Teams are daring FAU to pass, selling out to stop the run. Unfortunately for Singletary, this means quite a bit of his preseason chatter is starting to fade.
Penny Hart - WR, Georgia State University
In between the highs of Jackson and the lows of Singletary, we have Penny Hart. He’s off to a respectable start with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, with one of his two games coming against the much more talented North Carolina State University that just shut down the entire Georgia State team. Not to spoil my TV Guide for the week, but I’m really looking forward to seeing if Hart can break out on the national stage Friday against the University of Memphis.
Mitchell Wilcox - TE, University of South Florida
In the preseason, I wanted to see Wilcox have some consistency on a team that needed a weapon. Wilcox has done just that, bringing in six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown for a team with a run heavy game plan. Even with the limited number of pass attempts, Wilcox has become a reliable member of their receiving group while staying on the field to provide extra blocking help in the run game.
Sutton Smith - DE, Northern Illinois University
Everyone’s favorite tiny pass rusher has continued his high-level production in 2018, with three sacks in two games against power-five competition (at the University of Iowa and vs. the University of Utah). What is promising, though, is that he has looked relatively good in run support, especially given his stature. If this is new development in Smith’s game is here to stay, it could add a new dimension that boosts his draft stock by a few rounds.
Jaylon Ferguson - DE, Louisiana Tech University
Ferguson, by far the best weapon on Louisiana Tech’s defense, has been schemed against pretty heavily so far. Even so, he has managed half of a sack in each of his two games, along with an additional tackle for loss in run support against South Alabama. It’s a little tougher to tell how he is progressing when he is getting all of this attention; it speaks to the respect he has earned thus far in his career to earn such attention.
Marquise Copeland - DT, University of Cincinnati
Copeland has been a stud in the middle of the Bearcat defensive line. He has 13 tackles, which is quite a bit for a defensive tackle, and batted a ball down at the line. The Cincinnati defense in general has been very strong this year, currently placing ninth in the nation with only 3.94 yards allowed per play. Copeland is a big reason for that, and he will look to continue being disruptive as the season wears on.
Jahlani Tavai - LB, University of Hawai'i
Tavai has lived up to his reputation of being an all-around playmaker as a linebacker. In two games (Tavai was suspended for the first), Tavai has 20 tackles and a forced fumble. Navy passed the ball only 13 times, but Tavai managed 2 passes defensed in his only game against a team (Rice University) that throws the ball. Hawai’i has gotten off to a roaring 3-0 start this season, and Tavai’s strong play and leadership on defense is a huge reason why.
Rashad Robinson - CB, James Madison University
Sadly, we don’t see Rashad Robinson this season. He sustained a foot injury in the preseason and will miss the entire 2018 season. Robinson is eligible for a medical redshirt so that he can return for the 2019 season.
Chris Johnson - University of North Alabama
North Alabama, as a team, has had an impressive past defense to start the season. The longest pass allowed was for 43 yards, but all other completions were below 20 yards. Chris Johnson is a big reason why. Playing the single-high position, teams are resorting to dink-and-dunk underneath passes to negate his abilities over the top. Teams are avoiding him, and that alone speaks to his abilities as a safety.
The sheer amount of college games on at any given time can be completely overwhelming. Every week, in the TV Guide section of my column, I will choose the top two games at any given time slot and outline the various prospects you can watch in those games. That way, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and hit the “Previous Channel” button on your remote to toggle between games chock full of pro prospects. Here is your guide for week three (all times Eastern).
Friday, September 14
Georgia State University at University of Memphis, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Like I indicated above, we have my small school sleeper at receiver on a national stage this Friday in Penny Hart (junior wide receiver, #18). Georgia State also has a few defensive prospects to look out for, with Jerome Smith (senior cornerback, #16) and Michael Shaw (senior outside linebacker, #44) hoping to jump onto draft boards with some national exposure.
Memphis lost quite a bit of talent last year, but still have some guys worth checking out. Darrell Henderson (junior running back, #8) is the shiny weapon this year on offense, with Drew Kyser (senior center, #54) heading a line that will look to open holes on the ground for Henderson to burst through. Curtis Akins (senior outside linebacker, #7) is intriguing on the defense, but most of the talent in this game, as expected, is on the offensive side of the ball.
Saturday, September 15
Florida State University at Syracuse University, 12:00 PM, ESPN
Florida State had a very rough opener against Louisiana State University, even though they are very talented on paper. Demarcus Christmas (senior defensive tackle, #90) and Brian Burns (junior defensive end, #99) have proven to be a dangerous duo on the defensive line, and Levonta Taylor (junior cornerback, #1) and A.J. Westbrook (senior safety, #19) form a strong secondary. These four have needed to be strong, as the offensive talent has been lacking. Derrick Kelly II (senior guard, #74) and Alec Eberle (senior center, #54) seem to have regressed, and Deondre Francois (redshirt sophomore quarterback, #12) has looked terrible against real football teams. These three really need to step up if Florida State wants to challenge anyone in the ACC.
Syracuse is typically pretty barren in football, but they have some interesting prospects this year. Cody Conway (senior tackle, #60), Koda Martin (senior tackle, #78), and Aaron Roberts (senior guard, #59) form an underrated trio on the offensive line. They will look to keep Eric Dungey (senior quarterback, #2) upright in the backfield. Dungey has had injuries each of his first three years on campus, and will need a clean season to have any hopes of getting drafted. Ravian Pierce (senior tight end, #6) is a nice mismatch in the middle of the field, and Chris Slayton (senior defensive tackle, #95) leads a defense that will be challenged plenty as the Orange start conference play.
University of Oklahoma at Iowa State University, 12:00 PM, ABC
Last year in this matchup, Iowa State upset Oklahoma in Norman, turning the nation on its head. This year, Oklahoma looks to return the favor. Unfortunately, Oklahoma received some awful news regarding their stud on offense, as Rodney Anderson (junior running back, #24) is out for the season with a knee injury, prematurely ending his Heisman campaign. “Hollywood” Marquise Brown (junior wide receiver, #5) has stepped up on his absence and is proving his worth as a big play receiver. Ben Powers (senior guard, #72), Bobby Evans (junior tackle, #71), and Dru Samia (senior tackle, #75) have been exceptional along the line thus far, and look to continue that dominance against a strong Iowa State team. While the Big 12 isn’t known for its defense, Prentice McKinney (senior safety, #29) and Caleb Kelly (junior linebacker, #19) are both talented enough to hear their names called next April.
Kyle Kempt (senior quarterback, #17) needs to get things going, as teams have been daring him to throw as they sell out to stop the single season record holder for broken tackles in David Montgomery (junior running back, #32). He’ll need the help of Hakeem Butler (junior wide receiver, #18) to do so, as Iowa State’s offense has struggled thus far. Defensive captain Brian Peavy (senior cornerback, #10) is on a mission to keep Iowa State in games this season, and is accomplishing that thus far. Willie Harvey (senior linebacker, #2) and D'Andre Payne (senior safety, #1) are also decently strong prospects on defense.
Louisiana State University at Auburn University, 3:30 PM, CBS
For LSU, as has become their tradition, a defense with uber-talented individuals is the name of the game. Greedy Williams (redshirt sophomore cornerback, #29), Devin White (junior linebacker, #40), and Rashard Lawrence (junior defensive tackle, #90) all have first round talent and have shown it on the field, with Breiden Fehoko (junior defensive end, #91) and Edwin Alexander (junior nose tackle, #99) being likely mid-round selections. Garrett Brumfield (senior guard, #78) is one of the better guards in the class, and Foster Moreau (senior tight end, #18) could be an interesting late round pick. Joe Burrow (junior quarterback, #9), a transfer from Ohio State, has been solid but unimpressive thus far. Luckily, Nick Brossette (junior running back, #4) has stepped up and filled right in for Derrius Guice, leading LSU’s offense to success.
For Auburn, Jarrett Stidham (junior quarterback, #8) and Darius Slayton (junior wide receiver, #81) will face perhaps their toughest challenges of the season in the strong LSU defense. Stidham performed decently against Washington at the beginning of the season, but needs a strong performance here to bring himself back into the fold for the top quarterback. Prince Teno Wanagho (junior tackle, #76) will look to give Stidham enough time to find any holes possible in that secondary, but they may be few and far between. Though they are largely a lost breed in today’s NFL, Chandler Cox (senior fullback, #27) is one of the top fullbacks in college football, providing a valuable blocking and receiving weapon out of the backfield. While Dontavius Russell (senior defensive tackle, #95) and Derrick Brown (junior defensive tackle, #5) are the true strength of the Auburn defensive line on the interior, Marlon Davidson (junior defensive end, #3) and Nick Coe (Redshirt sophomore defensive end, #91) are hoping to get their names on draft boards, and a strong performance against the run-oriented Tigers could do just that.
Boise State University at Oklahoma State University, 3:30 PM, ESPN
Do you like touchdowns? Because this matchup will have plenty of those. For Boise State, Brett Rypien (senior quarterback, #4) will hope to throw the ball all over Stillwater, while Alexander Mattison (junior running back, #22) and Ezra Cleveland (redshirt sophomore tackle, #76) will look to control the ground game. David Moa (junior defensive tackle, #55), Jabril Frazier (senior defensive end, #8), Tyler Horton (senior cornerback, #14), Curtis Weaver (redshirt sophomore outside linebacker, #9) all have potential on defense, but the true calling card of this Boise State team is their gunslinger behind center.
Oklahoma State is having a down year as far as draftable talent, but they still have plenty of offensive firepower of their own. The key name to know is Justice Hill (junior running back, #5), who is the type of explosive talent that can take it to the house on any play. Trey Carter (senior defensive tackle, #99) is the leader of the defense, but a matchup with Boise State is unlikely to play to his strengths of stopping the run.
University of Alabama at Ole Miss, 7:00 PM, ESPN
The Crimson Tide have, quite possibly, the most talented defense in the country. Deionte Thompson (junior safety, #14), Anfernee Jennings (junior outside linebacker, #33), Raekwon Davis (junior defensive tackle, #99), and Mack Wilson (junior linebacker, #30) all have lived up to the first round chatter they have been receiving thus far. Isaiah Buggs (senior Defensive tackle, #49), Terrell Lewis (junior linebacker, #24), and Quinnen Williams (redshirt sophomore defensive end, #92) are all having solid seasons as well, but certainly benefit from the top-end talent playing beside them. On offense, Jonah Williams (junior tackle, #73), Ross Pierschbacher (senior guard/center, #71), and Lester Cotton (senior guard, #66) hope to all come off the board before the end of the second round, and should open plenty of running lanes for Damien Harris (senior running back, #34). Irv Smith, Jr. (junior tight end, #82) is coming along well, but is relatively unproven. Also, keep an eye out for the hero from the National Championship Game, Tua Tagovailoa (sophomore quarterback, #13). He isn’t eligible to be drafted, but he is fun to watch.
Ole Miss will be giving Alabama their first real test of the season. Ole Miss is led by a quartet of highly skilled pass catchers in A.J. Brown (junior wide receiver, #1), D.K. Metcalf (redshirt sophomore wide receiver, #14), DaMarkus Lodge (senior wide receiver, #5), and Dawson Knox (junior tight end, #). Greg Little (junior tackle, #74), Sean Rawlings (senior interior offensive lineman, #50), and Javon Patterson (senior guard, #79) form three-fifths of one of the best (and funniest) offensive lines in the country. They will look to continue protecting Jordan Ta'amu (senior quarterback, #10), who is quietly having a strong senior season. While Ole Miss doesn’t generally stop many teams on defense, Ken Webster (senior cornerback, #5) and Josiah Coatney (junior defensive tackle, #40) are individual talents that could be late round fliers come April.
University of Southern California at University of Texas, 8:00 PM, FOX
USC is coming off a hard-fought loss to Stanford, and it gets no easier with this cross-conference rivalry. Tyler Petite (senior tight end, #82) and Daniel Imatorbhebhe (junior tight end, #88) form one of the best tight end duos in the country. Toa Lobendahn (senior guard/center, #50) leads the offensive line with the skill of a tackle but the length of a guard, and will likely stay inside at the next level. Cameron Smith (senior linebacker, #35) and Marvell Tell III (senior safety, #7) could easily be Day 2 picks on defense, while Porter Gustin (senior outside linebacker, #45), Iman Marshall (senior cornerback, #8), and Christian Rector (junior defensive end, #89) could be later round prospects if they are able to put USC back on top of the Pac-12.
Texas, as has become common for them in recent history, is a conundrum. They have talent, but don’t seem to be able to put it together into anything strong on the field. On defense, Texas boasts a talented secondary with potential first round pick Kris Boyd (senior cornerback, #2) on one side, Davante Davis (senior cornerback, #18) on the other, and P.J. Locke III (senior safety, #11) roaming the back end. Anthony Wheeler (senior linebacker, #45), Charles Omenihu (senior defensive end, #90) and Breckyn Hager (senior defensive end, #44) round out the talented defense. On offense, Texas is led by Collin Johnson (junior wide receiver, #9) and John Burt (senior wide receiver, #1), each of whom are physically gifted but have underperformed on the field. Johnson’s best game as a collegiate athlete came last year against USC, catching seven passes for 191 yards in Texas’s overtime loss. Calvin Anderson (senior tackle, #66) and Tre Watson (senior running back, #5) also have some potential, but Texas still is missing something. That something could come in the form of an improved Sam Ehlinger (true sophomore quarterback, #11) behind center, but he has been hit and miss thus far.
Ohio State University at Texas Christian University, 8:00 PM, ABC
Nick Bosa (junior defensive end, #97) may very well be the first overall pick next year. He has been absolutely dominant this season. He’s been a man amongst boys. Parris Campbell (senior wide receiver, #21), Dre'Mont Jones (junior defensive tackle, #86), and Robert Landers (Junior Defensive Tackle, #67) all have first round aspirations with a strong 2018 campaign, but it seems like Dwayne Haskins (redshirt sophomore quarterback, #7) is the most likely to join Bosa in the first round after his hot start to the season. Outside of Campbell, Ohio State’s remaining receivers, Johnnie Dixon (senior wide receiver, #1), K.J. Hill (Junior Wide Receiver, #14), Binjimen Victor (junior wide receiver, #9), and Austin Mack (junior wide receiver, #11) all have the athletic profile to get drafted, but need to show the production to go along with it to have a real chance. Michael Jordan (junior guard, #73) and Isaiah Prince (junior tackle, #59) anchor an offensive line that will look to clear room for Mike Weber (junior running back, #25), who has outperformed talented true sophomore J.K. Dobbins in the first two games. On the back end of the defense, Kendall Sheffield (junior cornerback, #8), Damon Arnette (junior cornerback, #3), and Jordan Fuller (junior safety, #4) hope to continue Ohio State’s recent tradition of strong play in the secondary.
TCU plays in the Big 12, but they certainly do not seem like they belong there. Rather than relying on a spread out, high octane offense, TCU is led by the best defense in the conference. Ben Banogu (senior defensive end, #15), Ty Summers (senior linebacker, #42), and Ross Blacklock (redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, #90) form the backbone of a dominating front seven for the Horned Frogs. TCU does still have some offensive firepower, with the speedy KaVontae Turpin (senior wide receiver, #25) being a gamechanger on offense as a receiver and on special teams as a returner.
You can follow Zach on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great draft coverage!