Zach's Draft Corner: What to Watch
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour!
We’ve reached the halfway point for a lot of teams, and we are starting to get a good idea of what a lot of these players are going to be as pro prospects. However, there is still plenty of time for players to change the narrative. There will be only a watch guide this week while I’m away for a work trip, but I’m really looking into diving deeper into singular prospects now that the sample size is getting reasonable.
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 eight (all times Eastern).
Friday, October 19
Colorado State University at Boise State University, 9:00 PM, ESPN 2
Colorado State is mostly devoid of talent after a few stars left the program for the 2018 NFL Draft, but they do have one player who is starting to open a lot of eyes. Preston Williams (junior wide receiver, #11) has come on strong this season after transferring from Tennessee, averaging 7.4 catches, 95.9 yards, and a touchdown over his first seven games. The 6’4”, 209-pound Williams looks to be the top prospect for the Rams, and could be working his way into the N’Keal Harry/J.J. Arcega-Whiteside/Kelvin Harmon tier of big wide receivers. The rest of Colorado State’s team does include some intriguing Day 3 prospects. Josh Watson (senior linebacker, #55) and Tre Thomas (senior linebacker, #52) are a formidable duo in the middle of Colorado State’s defense, and Ben Knox (senior tackle, #78) anchors a line with his prototypical size and length (6’6”, 310 pounds).
Boise State has had a rough go of it ever since I mentioned that Brett Rypien (senior quarterback, #4) was having a strong season, scoring only 34 total points in losses to Oklahoma State and San Diego State. The Broncos managed to come away with a convincing win against Nevada, and will look to build on their success against Colorado State. Alexander Mattison (junior running back, #22) and Ezra Cleveland (redshirt sophomore tackle, #76) will look to control the ground game for Boise State. David Moa (junior defensive tackle, #55) suffered a season ending calf injury, but Jabril Frazier (senior defensive end, #8), Tyler Horton (senior cornerback, #14), Curtis Weaver (redshirt sophomore outside linebacker, #9) all have potential on defense, even though the true calling card of this Boise State team is their gunslinger behind center.
Saturday, October 20
University of Michigan at Michigan State University, 12:00 PM, FOX
Michigan looks to be finally hitting their stride after a dominating performance against Wisconsin. A major reason for their success is the improved play of Shea Patterson (junior quarterback, #2), who was very erratic earlier in the season. Karan Higdon (senior running back, #22) has stayed relatively healthy, and the 6’8” Zach Gentry (senior tight end, #83) has been an effective safety blanket and third down weapon for Patterson. Michigan also boasts one of the most talented defenses in the country, with Rashan Gary (junior defensive tackle, #3), Devin Bush (junior linebacker, #10), Chase Winovich (senior defensive end, #15), Lavert Hill (junior defensive back, #24), Khaleke Hudson (junior linebacker, #7), and Tyree Kinnel (senior defensive back, #23) all being locks to be drafted next year outside of a catastrophic injury. Some members of their defense are banged up, including Rashan Gary, but everyone that matters is still expected to play.
Michigan State features Brian Lewerke (junior quarterback, #14), who has had a disappointing season thus far and is looking more and more certain to return to school for his senior season in an attempt to reclaim his lost luster. He leads an offense with some dynamic and balanced weapons, including Felton Davis III (senior wide receiver, #18), L.J. Scott (senior running back, #3), and Matt Sokol (senior tight end, #81), although Davis and Scott are dinged up and their status is unknown for Saturday. It would be a bad time for both to miss games, as Michigan State has been sputtering and Michigan is starting to catch fire. On defense, Khari Willis (senior safety, #27), David Dowell (junior safety, #6), Justin Layne (junior cornerback, #2), Raequan Williams (junior defensive tackle, #99), and Joe Bachie (junior linebacker, #32) all have hopes of being drafted from a talented, albeit underachieving, Michigan State team.
University of Oklahoma at Texas Christian University, 12:00 PM, ABC
With Rodney Anderson (junior running back, #24) being out for the season with a knee injury, “Hollywood” Marquise Brown (junior wide receiver, #5) has stepped up and is proving his worth as a big-play receiver. Kyler Murray (junior quarterback, #1) is a Heisman candidate, but his committed baseball career means that his football career will be limited to this season. Enjoy him while you can. 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 Texas team. While the Big 12 isn’t known for defense, Prentice McKinney (senior safety, #29) and Caleb Kelly (junior linebacker, #19) are both talented enough to hear their names called next April.
TCU looks much more like a pro-style team than most you’ll find in the Big 12, and that’s mainly due to the fact that TCU is led by the best defense in the conference. Ben Banogu (senior defensive end, #15) and Ty Summers (senior linebacker, #42) form the backbone of a dominating front seven for the Horned Frogs. Ross Blacklock (redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, #90) gave the Horned Frog front seven even more strength, but an Achilles injury ended his season early. 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.
North Carolina State University at Clemson University, 3:30 PM. ESPN
NC State has a few intriguing prospects, and the name of their game is consistency. Ryan Finley (senior quarterback, #15) was QB1 coming into the season for Todd McShay, mainly due to his safe decision making and relatively accurate arm. He’ll likely be drafted at some point in the first few rounds if he can continue being reliable, although his limited ceiling will likely push him into the third- or fourth-round conversation. Kelvin Harmon (junior wide receiver, #3) is consistently seen as a top-five wide receiver prospect, and is a sure-handed as they come, though his athleticism may only be average. Garrett Bradbury (interior offensive line, #65) and Tyler Jones (senior tackle, #53) are the core of a strong offensive line for the Wolfpack. A.J. Cole III (senior punter, #90) is good if you enjoy watching punters. Darian Roseboro (senior defensive end, #45) has admirably filled in for Bradley Chubb, but is certainly a few notches below his more talented predecessor.
Clemson has been cruising, and they’ll look to continue doing so against what should be an overmatched NC State. Christian Wilkins (senior defensive tackle, #42), Dexter Lawrence (junior defensive tackle, #90), Clelin Ferrell (junior defensive end, #99), and Austin Bryant (senior defensive end, #7) form maybe the best defensive line in the country, leaving Kendall Joseph (senior linebacker, #34), Mark Fields (senior cornerback, #2), and Tre Lamar (junior linebacker, #57) with the task of cleaning up whatever manages to make it past the line. One intriguing name to note is Trayvon Mullen (junior cornerback, #1), who has improved as the season has gone on and worked his way into the CB2 conversation behind Greedy Williams of LSU. On offense, Mitch Hyatt (senior tackle, #75) looks to work his way into the top tackle conversation, while Hunter Renfrow (senior wide receiver, #13) is proving his worth as a potential slot receiver. Greg Huegel (senior kicker, #92) is another kicking prospect who has a chance to make it into the NFL with a strong senior season. However, the big storyline with Clemson this year has been the usurping of incumbent starter Kelly Bryant (senior quarterback, #2). Bryant was benched in favor of freshman Trevor Lawrence (#16), whose absolutely special arm talent was evident from the moment he stepped onto the field. Bryant didn’t play in enough games to lose his ability to redshirt, so he will look to become a graduate transfer and play his final season of eligibility elsewhere next season.
University of Colorado at University of Washington, 3:30 PM, FOX
Colorado has had a surprising start to the season, but last week’s loss to USC means that they will need some help if they want to make it to the PAC 12 championship. A tough matchup against Washington is not exactly what the Buffaloes wanted in order to get back on track. Evan Worthington (senior strong safety, #6) and Rick Gamboa (senior linebacker, #32) are hoping to make enough noise to get drafted next April, but Colorado is led by their offense. Travon McMillian (senior running back, #34) has had a strong season for the Buffaloes, and while his upside is limited, he still has mid-round value as a reliable back. Steven Montez (junior quarterback, #12) has done enough to lead Colorado to a number of victories, but Laviska Shenault (sophomore wide receiver, #2) has been the one stealing the show. He isn’t draft eligible until next season, but he is fun to watch. McMillian will be running behind Aaron Haigler (junior offensive tackle, #64), and hoping to keep Alex Kinney (senior punter, #89) off the field.
Trey Adams (senior tackle, #72) was the preseason OT1 for many draft pundits, but a back injury ended his season early. Kaleb McGary (senior tackle, #58) is a behemoth on the right side that will hope to control the weaker Buffalo defensive line. Myles Gaskin (senior running back, #9) has been the main weapon for the Huskies, but a shoulder injury leaves his Saturday in doubt. Jake Browning (senior quarterback, #3), and Drew Sample (senior tight end, #88) will face their toughest test of the year, and a strong game by the Husky offense could be a huge boost to all of their stocks. The strength of Washington’s defense lies in their secondary, with Jordan Miller (senior defensive back, #23), Taylor Rapp (junior safety, #7), and JoJo McIntosh (senior safety, #14) all being strong prospects to hear their names called early in next April’s draft, though Jordan Miller is dinged up with a leg injury. Greg Gaines (senior defensive tackle, #99) will look to replace the production of Vita Vea on the defensive line. Other potential prospects that could be drafted late with a strong 2018 season include Tevis Bartlett (senior linebacker, #17), Jaylen Johnson (senior defensive end, #92), Chico McClatcher (junior wide receiver, #6), and Shane Bowman (senior defensive tackle, #96), although Bowman's hopes may be fading with a foot injury that will cause him to miss around two months of his final season.
Mississippi State University at Louisiana State University, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Mississippi State’s true talent is on their defensive line, with Jeffrey Simmons (junior defensive tackle, #94) and Montez Sweat (senior defensive end, #9) both looking like first-round locks, potentially even in the top ten overall picks while Gerri Green (senior defensive end, #4) is working his way into the Day 2 conversation. Johnathan Abram (senior safety, #38), Mark McLaurin (senior safety, #41), and Jamal Peters (senior cornerback, #2) are the beneficiaries of the strong defensive line, as they usually don’t have to maintain coverage for very long. Nick Fitzgerald (senior quarterback, #7) was heralded as a possible breakout quarterback this year, but he continues to prove he is more running back than thrower. Elgton Jenkins (senior interior offensive line, #74) and Darryl Williams (junior interior offensive line, #73) are good linemen to have on a strong running team, and will look to continue their exceptional run blocking against a tough LSU defense.
LSU lost a tough one to Florida two weeks ago, but came back with a vengeance last week in a dominating performance against Georgia. Still, every game is now a must-win, and they will have to keep pushing if they want to make a push for the playoffs. Greedy Williams (redshirt sophomore cornerback, #29) is CB1 and a potential 49er draftee in the top five overall, Devin White (junior linebacker, #40) is working his way up to LB1, and Rashard Lawrence (junior defensive tackle, #90) has also shown first-round talent. Breiden Fehoko (junior defensive end, #91) and Edwin Alexander (junior nose tackle, #99) are likely mid-round selections, making that defense even stronger. Garrett Brumfield (senior guard, #78) is one of the better guards in the class, although a knee injury has kept him out since September. Foster Moreau (senior tight end, #18) could be an interesting late round pick. Joe Burrow (junior quarterback, #9), a transfer from Ohio State, is starting to look comfortable, and an improved passing game could be exactly what LSU needs for a playoff push. Nick Brossette (junior running back, #4) has stepped up and started off the season strong as Derrius Guice’s replacement, but has recently started to regress a little.
University of Oregon at Washington State University, 7:30 PM, FOX
With Stanford slipping the past few weeks, Oregon walked away with a big win over Washington last week. Oregon is maybe the most talented overall team in the PAC 12, but a powerful Washington State offense could make this an upset. Justin Herbert (junior quarterback, #10) has had an exceptional season, and is easily one of the top two quarterbacks in this year’s relatively weak class. Jake Hanson (junior tackle, #55) and Calvin Throckmorton (junior guard/center, #54) lead a line that will try to give him plenty of time in the pocket, as well as open up holes for Tony Brooks-James (senior running back, #20). On defense, Jalen Jelks (senior defensive end, #97) is one of the nation’s premiere pass rushers, with Troy Dye (junior linebacker, #35) and Justin Hollins (senior outside linebacker, #11) patrolling the middle of the field.
Washington State normally isn’t a team stocked with talent, but they do have an exciting style of play (Mike Leach is their coach, after all) and a couple of prospects that will make this game exciting from start to finish. Andre Dillard (senior tackle, #60) and Jalen Thompson (junior safety, #34) lead their respective sides of the ball, and are each likely to be drafted somewhere on day two or three.
University of Arizona at University of California, Los Angeles, 10:30 PM, ESPN 2
Arizona has had a very up and down season. In 2019, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (senior safety, #6) is really the only draftable prospect. Really, this game is only worth watching if Khalil Tate (sophomore quarterback, #14) is healthy after an ankle injury removed him from last week's game. Tate is one of the most exciting players in the country as a dual threat quarterback, but his absence would make this game tougher to stomach when you could be doing so many other things on a Saturday night.
On the other sideline, we have 49er legend Chip Kelly calling the plays. It hasn’t been a fairy tale start to Kelly’s tenure at UCLA, but their first win of the season came over Cal last week and is hopefully the kickstart this team needs. Caleb Wilson (junior tight end, #81) and Bolu Olorunfunmi (senior running back, #4) make up an offense that could be capable of putting up a lot of points. The Bruins lost Soso Jamobo (senior running back, #1) last week to a season-ending concussion, so it will be interesting to see how UCLA adjusts. Rick Wade (junior defensive end, #90), Nate Meadors (senior cornerback, #22), Keisean Lucier-South (junior linebacker, #11), and Adarius Pickett (senior safety, #6) are all draftable prospects on defense, but are all more likely to be late round picks that will be fighting for roster spots. Josh Woods (senior linebacker, #2) is another name for that list, although a knee injury has kept him out this season.
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