Zach's Draft Corner: Potential NFL Coach Candidates/What to Watch


Image Credit: Marvin Gentry/USA Today Sports

Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

It’s the final week of the college football regular season, and it seems to sneak up on me quicker and quicker every year. While a few conference championship spots have already been secured, some of the games this week will determine who gets to play next week and who has to wait at home for bowl game decisions.

However, on this Black Friday, we are going to take a look at Black Monday, or the day after the final NFL regular season game where coaching staffs are fired. While the NFL tends to be an old boys club that recycles coaches, some teams get adventurous and try to scour the college ranks for a coach who can make the jump. Successes of the likes of Paul Brown (Ohio State to the Cleveland Browns) and Bill Walsh (Stanford to the 49ers) made it an attractive option, but it can be hard making the adjustments between the college and pro game. For example, in the NFL, you can't recruit and dominate a region’s talent geographically, you have to deal with the salary cap, additional games, smaller rosters, etc. Chip Kelly, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Jim Harbaugh are some more recent examples, but had various degrees of success. If you are going to try to find a common link between those who have had success and those who have failed, it seems to be that most who have had modern success had experience in both pro and college before going pro. These candidates include Pete Carroll (USC and Seattle Seahawks), Tom Coughlin (Boston College and Jacksonville/New York Giants), and Dennis Green (Northwestern and Stanford/Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals). Regardless, for every Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State and Miami/Dallas and Miami Dolphins), there's a Bobby Petrino (Louisville and Atlanta Falcons).

Here is a list of 15 college coaches who could make the leap to the NFL after this season. I break them down into three different categories: The Hot Names (i.e., the coaches getting most of the attention in national circles), The Retreads (i.e., those who used to coach professionally and could be called on to do so again), and The Zach Pratt Preferences (i.e., those who are a little under the radar right now but have the mix of college and professional experience to potentially succeed if they made the jump).

The Hot Names

Lincoln Riley, University of Oklahoma

Riley took over for Bob Stoops after he retired before the 2017 season and has led the Sooners to a 22-3 record as a head coach. He’s only 35 years of age, but NFL coaches have been consulting him consistently throughout his tenure about bringing some of his concepts into NFL systems. He is the absolute hottest name of them all right now, but he has a dream job at Oklahoma right now. He’s been linked to many jobs, including Cleveland, but would the opportunity to work with his former Heisman-winning quarterback be enough to lure him away? Or would it take a call from the likes of Dallas and the bottomless pockets of Jerry Jones to tempt the Texas boy away from Oklahoma? My bet is that he stays in the South, but it’s up in the air as to whether that’s with Oklahoma or Dallas.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State University

Another young guy on this list at only 38 years of age, Campbell coached Toledo for four seasons before taking the Iowa State job in 2016. In Ames, Campbell has rejuvenated the Cyclones despite a pretty substantial difference in overall team talent. Given their location and history, it can be difficult to recruit players in their region that can match up with the likes of Oklahoma and Texas on a consistent basis. Born in Ohio, Campbell is currently being linked to jobs in the Ohio area, including potentially as an Urban Meyer replacement if he is let go after this season. He also might be a candidate the Browns look into, and a chance to give his hometown team glory could be enticing.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame University

Kelly has been a pretty consistent name on these lists, as he has been a head coach in college football since 1991, amassing a 230-90-2 combined record at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Note Dame. His time to make the jump is dwindling, as the 57-year old Kelly is one of the older names on this list. He’s also the only defensive-minded coach in the “hot name” category, which differentiates him from most of the other candidates. His act has also been wearing the Irish thin, from the fans to the administration. It may be hard to fire him after a potential undefeated season, but the tension might drive him to finally accept the move to the pros. Hailing from the Northeast, a move to Buffalo or New Jersey may be in his future.

David Shaw, Stanford University

Still relatively young for coaches at 46, Shaw has the most NFL experience of anyone in this category. Shaw was an offensive assistant for Philadelphia, Oakland, and Baltimore between 1997 and 2005. He moved back to college in 2006, and was the offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007–2010. When Harbaugh left Stanford for the 49ers, Shaw took over as head coach at Stanford, leading them to a 79-26 overall record since 2011. His experience in the pros, mixed with his success at an academically rigorous institution, has led him to be one of the first names brought up whenever the college-to-pro discussion is going on. After a generally disappointing season and the loss of some key offensive talent, this might be the year Shaw finally jumps ship, but he has all of the security in the world at Stanford. It’s unknown whether he would want to give that up at this point in his life.

Jeff Brohm, Purdue University

This may be the name with the most potential to go to the pros, as he is almost all but certain to leave Purdue after this season after his wildly successful stint there. A former quarterback for San Diego, Washington, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Denver, and Oakland after going undrafted out of Louisville, Brohm moved on to coaching and has been very successful. He was an offensive assistant at Louisville, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, Alabama-Birmingham, and Western Kentucky before getting the head coaching job with the Hilltoppers. He left for Purdue in 2017, and has a 42-22 overall record as a head coach in five seasons between the two jobs. The 47-year old Brohm is all but certain to get an offer at his alma mater, Louisville, after they let Bobby Petrino go earlier this season. However, he is also an attractive option to go into the pros, with his exceptional offensive scheming being his calling card.

The Retreads

Lovie Smith, University of Illinois

The mild-mannered, defensive-minded Smith always seemed like an odd fit in college. He led the Bears to a Super Bowl, but never was bad enough for Chicago to be in the running for an actual quarterback to take them over the top. He then went to Tampa Bay and was given Jameis Winston, and had the Buccaneers looking like they were on the rise after a 6-10 2015 campaign. However, Tampa Bay grew impatient, fired him, and he rebounded at Illinois. He’s a bit older at 60, and may simply want to retire if he and Illinois part ways. However, I've always thought he was underrated as a coach, and he could at least have success as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Lovie.

Greg Schiano, Ohio State University (Defensive Coordinator)

The 52-year old's act wore very thin after his stint in Tampa Bay, but he's always been a great defensive mind. He has built his reputation back up at Ohio State as the defensive coordinator. Given that the NFL is an old boy's club, for the most part, you can never overlook his coaching experience as being a driving factor behind a return to the NFL. Further, with some potential disruption in the Ohio State coaching staff with Urban Meyer's fiasco earlier this season, the entire staff may be blown up, leaving him looking for a job.

Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic University

I may be in the huge minority here, but I think that Lane Kiffin is a hell of a coach. He has certainly encountered his fair share of problems, but many of his problems were not of his own doing. In his stint with the Raiders, he was dealing with the late, crazy years of Al Davis, who drove him out of town after their egos clashed. He took the head coaching job in Tennessee after Phillip Fulmer retired, but left after one season to take over for Pete Carroll in USC, which is what many considered a dream job. However, he also had to deal with the aftermath of Pete Carroll, which included multiple lost scholarships and the trouble of convincing athletes to go to a team with bowl sanctions. It's no wonder he did not perform well under those circumstances. He was an elite offensive coordinator at Alabama, and has done well with Florida Atlantic. He’s also likely matured now that he's 43, and he deserves another chance at a major program, be that in the NFL or college.

Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan

I don't need to go over the credentials of the 54-year old Harbaugh. You know them well. He is a great coach, and if he is able to bring Michigan back to glory, he might want a shot at that Super Bowl he never won.

Herm Edwards, Arizona State University

You know he plays to win the game. He was taken out of the running for a lot of other jobs because he had been out of football for too long after leaving Kansas City in 2009. Now he is back, and leading Arizona State to a respectable season. He's 64, and may not want the stress of the pro game again, but now that he is back in football, he's a name to watch as a possible return to the pros.

The Zach Pratt Preferences

James Franklin, Penn State University

Franklin was the coach to finally bring Penn State out of the Joe Paterno incident, going 44-20 since taking over (he’s 68-35 overall). He had a cup of coffee in the NFL as a WR coach for Green Bay, and had internships for Miami, Philadelphia, and Minnesota in college. The issue with Franklin is that there is no more vertical growth in college, as Penn State is likely the final stop for the 46-year old Pennsylvania native. If he starts to get bored with the success at Penn State and wants to try something new, the best he might do is to go to the NFL.

Brian Ferentz, University of Iowa (Offensive Coordinator)

Ferentz has received praise from the likes of Kyle Shanahan for coaching players in a pro-style system. This should come as no surprise, as Ferentz coached under Bill Belichick for three seasons as an offensive assistant and tight ends coach. Ferentz also played offensive line for Atlanta and New Orleans before becoming a coach. His father, Kirk, the head coach of Iowa, was long seen as a candidate for leaving college for the pros given his ability to develop talent and his experience with Belichick in the pros (offensive line coach in Cleveland). Now that Kirk is getting up there in age, and the 35-year old Brian has taken over the offense, his name will certainly garner similar looks. Brian is seen as the head coach in waiting for the elder Ferentz, but if Kirk’s reputation starts to fray, Brian may jump ship before he loses the opportunity.

Scottie Montgomery, Eastern Carolina University

His head coaching career has not gone as hoped, with a 9-25 record at East Carolina. However, I don’t chalk that up to his lack of skill, but instead to the fact that he is trying to recruit amongst lots of strong programs (Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, etc.) in a very small geographical area. Montgomery played four years as a receiver for Carolina, Denver, and Oakland before moving on to be a receivers coach in Pittsburgh from 2010 to 2012. Now that he has experience running a program, he could be a candidate to leave the troubled recruiting behind him and move into the pros, though a coordinator position would be a likely stepping stone for him.

Jeff Tedford, Fresno State University

Tedford is a name familiar to many on the West Coast. He coached California for eleven seasons before becoming the offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay in 2014. He had an unsuccessful run there due to a severe lack of talent, but he is a head coach again at Fresno State and could fare better in the pros if he could run his own team.

Ryan Day, Ohio State University (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach)

My personal favorite of anyone on this list. Have to save the best for last, right? Day was the interim head coach for Ohio State during Urban Meyer's suspension, and has since moved back to his job as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Day has NFL experience as the former quarterbacks coach for Philadelphia and San Francisco during the Chip Kelly era. Day is widely seen as a great offensive mind, and could be the successor to Urban Meyer if Ohio State decides to look in-house. Ohio State certainly thinks highly of him, as he was promoted to offensive coordinator after he was linked to the Offensive coordinator job under Mike Vrabel for the Titans. He isn't a hot name yet given his lack of head coaching experience, but his name will be on fire soon. He's that good.

TV Guide

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 thirteen, aka Rivalry Week (all times Eastern, playoff rankings in parentheses).

Friday, November 23

University of Nebraska at University of Iowa, 12:00 PM, FOX

This week has a ton of rivalry games that they always put at the end of the season, and this is one of those games. Iowa and Nebraska will start your Black Friday off with a battle for the Heroes Trophy. For Nebraska, most of the talent is not eligible for the draft, coming with new head coach Scott Frost and his convincing recruiting. For those who are eligible to be drafted, Stanley Morgan Jr. (senior wide receiver, #8) is looking to put offseason troubles behind him and prove he is worth a mid- to late-round flier. Jerald Foster (senior guard, #67) anchors the Nebraska offensive line, while Lamar Jackson (junior cornerback, #21), Khalil Davis (junior defensive tackle, #94), Freedom Akinmoladun (senior defensive tackle, #91), Mick Stoltenberg (senior defensive tackle, #44), and Luke Gifford (senior linebacker, #12) hope to revive the “Blackshirt” defense that made Nebraska so formidable in the past. Morgan may end up being the only prospect drafted from Nebraska this year, but each of these young men has a chance to work their way up the ranks with good workouts.

Iowa is led by the top tight end in the nation in Noah Fant (junior tight end, #87), but it is his counterpart T.J. Hockenson (sophomore tight end, #38) who has been on the rise this season with punishing blocks and advanced receiving skills. Nate Stanley (junior quarterback, #4) and Nick Easley (senior wide receiver, #84) will look to continue producing in the passing game, while Keegan Render (senior center, #69) and Ross Reynolds (senior guard, #59) provide leadership on an offensive line with true sophomores at the tackle positions. On defense, Anthony Nelson (junior defensive end, #98), Matt Nelson (senior defensive end, #96), and Parker Hesse (senior defensive end, #40) all are capable of causing disruption in the backfield. Amani Hooker (junior safety, #27) and Jake Gervase (senior safety, #30) form a solid safety duo in the secondary. Miguel Recinos (senior kicker, #91) is a generally reliable kicker, and could be working his way into draft consideration with a relatively strong season.

University of Houston at University of Memphis, 12:00 PM, ABC

The main draw of this contest is that you get to watch Houston’s top-three prospect in Ed Oliver (junior defensive tackle, #10) if he is recovered from his knee injury. Playing for Houston, you don’t get to see him play live too much, so you should take advantage of his nationally televised contest. Isaiah Johnson (senior cornerback, #14) transitioned from wide receiver, and is a tall (6’3”), physical cornerback that benefits from the disruptive presence that is Oliver. Will Noble (senior guard, #69) and Austin Robinson (senior linebacker, #22) will fight for training camp spots.

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, having a ridiculous 9.2 yards per carry on 158 attempts this season. Trevon Tate (senior tackle, #72) and Drew Kyser (senior center, #54) heads 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.

University of Virginia at Virginia Tech University, 3:30 PM, ABC

This in-state battle gives us the Commonwealth Cup, which Virginia Tech has won for 14 straight seasons. This year, though, the Cavaliers are the team coming in hot. For Virginia, Juan Thornhill (senior safety, #22) and Bryce Hall (junior cornerback, #34) are the studs of a secondary that has found surprising success as the season has rolled on. These two are the main reason that Virginia is ranked 25th in the country going into this matchup. Olamide Zaccheaus (junior wide receiver, #4) and Evan Butts (junior tight end, 46) are the playmakers on offense, and will hope to put up enough points to get the Cavaliers another victory.

Virginia Tech does not have the level of talent that they are used to, but still have some prospects worth watching in Ricky Walker (senior defensive tackle, #8), Yosuah Nijman (senior tackle, #69), Trevon Hill (junior defensive end, #94), Vinny Mihota (senior defensive end, #99), and Divine Deablo (redshirt sophomore safety, #17). One name to watch in this one is my "diamond in the rough" at the safety position, Reggie Floyd (junior safety, #21).

(6) University of Oklahoma at (13) West Virginia University, 8:00 PM, ESPN

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, out indefinitely), Cody Ford (junior guard, #74), 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, Neville Gallimore (junior defensive tackle, #90, questionable with an undisclosed injury), Prentice McKinney (senior safety, #29), and Caleb Kelly (junior linebacker, #19) are all talented enough to hear their names called next April.

Will Grier (senior quarterback, #7) had a few down weeks in the middle of the season, but is making a push to regain his QB1 status in a down year for quarterbacks. Yodny Cajuste (senior tackle, #55) is continuing his strong 2017 season, garnering some first round talk himself. David Sills V (senior wide receiver, #13) is trying to prove that he can be a number one receiver for a team, and Gary Jennings (senior wide receiver, #12) is showing off his talent in his own right. David Long, Jr. (junior linebacker, #11), Dravon Askew-Henry (senior safety, #6), Kennedy McKoy (junior running back, #4), and Ezekiel Rose (senior edge, #5) are having strong seasons, but still are Day 3 prospects at best.

(16) University of Washington at (8) Washington State University, 8:30 PM, FOX

Another in-state battle, I present you with the Apple Cup game. 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, and Nick Harris (junior center, #56) guides the unit. 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 Byron Murphy (sophomore cornerback, #1), Jordan Miller (senior defensive back, #23), Taylor Rapp (junior safety, #7), Myles Bryant (junior cornerback, #5), 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, while Ben Burr-Kiven (senior linebacker, #25) is an athletic playmaker in the front seven. Other potential prospects that could be drafted late include Tevis Bartlett (senior linebacker, #17), Jaylen Johnson (senior defensive end, #92), Chico McClatcher (junior wide receiver, #6), Jake Browning (senior quarterback, #3), Drew Sample (senior tight end, #88), and Shane Bowman (senior defensive tackle, #96), although Bowman's hopes may be fading with a foot injury caused him to miss around two months of his final season. Also keep an eye out for my "diamond in the rough" on the interior defensive line, Levi Onwuzurike (sophomore defensive tackle, #95).

Gardner Minshew (senior quarterback, #16), the transfer from East Carolina, is the story of the year for Washington State. After some productive seasons at East Carolina, Minshew and his mustache kept the production high after the jump in competition, though he still throws a lot of interceptions. 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 are playing way above what their talent says they should. There is no reason this team should be ranked 8th in the country, yet here we are. 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 2 or 3, but these are really the only serious 2019 prospects for the Cougars.

Saturday, November 24

(4) University of Michigan at (10) Ohio State University, 12:00 PM, FOX

One of the most classic rivals in college football, this is simply known as “The Game.” After six straight years of Buckeye victory, Michigan is looking to turn the tides in their favor. This game will determine who plays in the Big Ten Championship game, and likely who gets to go to the College Football Playoff.

Michigan looks to be finally hitting their stride, which is a dangerous thought for a team with so much talent. 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 Zach Gentry (senior tight end, #83) and Sean McKeon (junior tight end, #84) have been an effective safety blankets and third down weapon for Patterson. Ben Bredeson (junior tackle, #74) and Juwann Bushell-Beatty (senior tackle, #76, questionable with an undisclosed injury) are 2019 prospects on the offensive line, as Michigan is very young at that position. What makes the Wolverines tick, though, is one of the most talented defenses in the country. Rashan Gary (junior defensive tackle, #3), Devin Bush (junior linebacker, #10), Chase Winovich (senior defensive end, #15, questionable with an undisclosed injury), Lavert Hill (junior defensive back, #24), Khaleke Hudson (junior linebacker, #7), David Long (junior cornerback, #22), Bryan Mone (senior defensive tackle, #90), and Tyree Kinnel (senior defensive back, #23) are all locks to be drafted next year, barring any catastrophic injuries. Gary has the most perceived talent of that bunch, but he is still battling an injury and may be out.

Nick Bosa (junior defensive end, #97) may very well be the first overall pick next year, but he is missing the remainder of the season with a core injury. Dre'Mont Jones (junior defensive tackle, #86) and Robert Landers (junior defensive tackle, #67) each have first round aspirations with their strong 2018 campaign. 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. Ohio State’s receivers – Parris Campbell (senior wide receiver, #21), Johnnie Dixon (senior wide receiver, #1), K.J. Hill (junior wide receiver, #14), and Terry McLaurin (senior wide receiver, #83, probable with a head injury) – all have the athletic profile to get drafted, but need to show the production to go along with it to have a real chance to be more than Day 3 prospects. 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, probable with an undisclosed injury), who has outperformed talented true sophomore J.K. Dobbins in the first four games. Prince in particular has been exceptional as a right tackle this season. On the back end of the defense, Damon Arnette (junior cornerback, #3), Kendall Sheffield (junior cornerback, #8), and Jordan Fuller (junior safety, #4) hope to continue Ohio State’s recent tradition of strong play in the secondary. Dante Booker (senior linebacker, #33) and Jashon Cornell (junior defensive tackle, #9) are likely undrafted guys, but should find a camp home next summer.

(20) Syracuse University at Boston College, 12:00 PM, ESPN

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, questionable with a back injury) upright in the backfield. Dungey has had injuries in each of his first three years on campus, and has not had the clean season he has hoped for. 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 by the Notre Dame offense.

A.J. Dillon (sophomore running back, #2) is easily the stud of this BC team. 49er fans should be very interested in this game, as the top-three draftable prospects for the Eagles are Zach Allen (senior defensive end, #2), Lukas Denis (senior free safety, #21), and Chris Lindstrom (senior guard, #4), who are all fits for the 49er system at positions of need and may grade out as Day 2 options. Will Harris (senior strong safety, #8), Connor Strachan (senior linebacker, #13), Wyatt Ray (senior defensive end, #11), Ray Smith (senior defensive tackle, #96), and Taj-Amir Torres (senior defensive back, #24) should all see training camps next year from this BC defense, with Ray having the best chance of the bunch to get drafted. Tommy Sweeney (senior tight end, #89) is a blocking specialist at tight end, but can do enough as a receiver that he will get drafted somewhere as a second tight end. Jon Baker (senior center, #77), Aaron Monteiro (senior tackle, #67), Michael Walker (senior wide receiver, #3), Jeff Smith (senior wide receiver, #6), and Sam Schmal (senior tackle, #73) are late-round prospects that could go undrafted, but will have at least a cup of coffee in the NFL.

Auburn University at (1) University of Alabama, 3:30 PM, CBS

On Saturday afternoon, we get the Iron Bowl, which is generally one of the best rivalries in the SEC. This year, though, it seems that Alabama will run away with the victory after being upset in Auburn last season. For Auburn, Jarrett Stidham (junior quarterback, #8), Ryan Davis (senior wide receiver, #23), Darius Slayton (junior wide receiver, #81), and Eli Stove (junior wide receiver, #12) have their work cut out for them. Prince Tega Wanogho (junior tackle, #76) will look to give Stidham enough time to deliver the ball effectively, even though Stidham has had a tough time of doing that thus far this season. 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. Cox will look to give Kam Martin (junior running back, #9) space to break some big plays. While Dontavius Russell (senior defensive tackle, #95), Andrew Williams (senior defensive tackle, #79), 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, questionable with a wrist injury) are hoping to get their names on draft boards, and a strong performance against Alabama could do just that. Marlon Davidson, though, is suffering from an ankle injury that leaves him questionable for Saturday, so he may be limited even if he is able to play on Saturday. Deshaun Davis (senior linebacker, #57) is another name to note, as he has been rising up boards with his stellar play this season.

The Crimson Tide have perhaps the most talented defense in the country, and an offense to match. 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, and are starting to garner first round buzz themselves. Saivion Smith (junior cornerback, #4), Shyheim Carter (junior cornerback, #5), and Trevon Diggs (junior cornerback, #7) have come on strong this season in the secondary, and would all be drafted if they decide to enter the 2019 draft. On offense, Jonah Williams (junior tackle, #73), Matt Womack (junior tackle, #77), 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, questionable with a concussion) and Joshua Jacobs (junior running back, #8). Irv Smith, Jr. (junior tight end, #82) has almost matched his 2017 production in the first three games, giving Alabama another weapon to play with. He isn’t draft eligible, but Bovada lists Tua Tagovailoa (sophomore quarterback, #13) as the current Heisman favorite and has the potential to be QB1 in 2020.

(24) University of Pittsburgh at University of Miami, 3:30 PM, ESPN

Pitt has been up and down team so far this season, but have somehow managed to secure a spot in the ACC championship game. While they aren’t loaded with talent, the Panthers do have some talent to keep an eye on. Dewayne Hendrix (senior defensive end, #8) and Rashad Weaver (sophomore defensive end, #17) lead the defense, while Qadree Ollison (senior running back, #30) and Darrin Hall (senior running back, #22) form a mighty thunder (Ollison) and lightning (Hall) tandem, with Alex Bookser (senior guard, #78) leading the brigade.

Miami has always had a reputation for being talented but undisciplined, and this year seems to reinforce that stereotype. Miami has perhaps the most talented overall defense in the ACC outside of Clemson, and will rely on that to be successful. Led by Joe Jackson (junior defensive end, #99), Jaquan Johnson (senior safety, #4), Shaquille Quarterman (junior linebacker, #55), Michael Pinckney (junior linebacker, #56), and Michael Jackson (senior cornerback, #28), this defense will give the Eagles a tough game. Gerald Willis III (senior defensive lineman, #9) has been a huge surprise for the Hurricanes, and has moved all of the way up to the mid-second round in the eyes of some scouts with his strong play. Michael Pinckney (junior linebacker, #56), Sheldrick Redwine (senior safety, #22), and Tito Odenigbo (senior defensive tackle, #94) both could garner late round grades with strong 2018 campaigns. On offense, Travis Homer (junior running back, #24) is an explosive playmaker, and Tyree St. Louis (senior tackle, #78) is working his way up the offensive tackle rankings with his consistent and strong play. Malik Rosier (senior quarterback, #12) was benched in favor of true freshman N’Kosi Perry, all but ending his hopes of turning into a professional quarterback prospect.

University of South Carolina at (2) Clemson University, 7:00 PM, ESPN

South Carolina boasts a strong offense, including A.J. Turner (junior running back, #25), Dennis Daley (senior tackle, #74), and Zack Bailey (senior guard, #78). The real stars of the Gamecock offense are their stud receivers, Deebo Samuel (senior wide receiver, #1) and Bryan Edwards (junior wide receiver, #89). Both of these receivers could be top-10 at their position in April, and are sure to be taken before the end of the second day. While South Carolina doesn’t boast a super strong defense, T.J. Brunson (junior linebacker, #6), Javon Kinlaw (junior defensive tackle, #3), Bryson Allen-Williams (senior linebacker, #4), and Rashad Fenton (senior cornerback, #16) are talented enough to get drafted in 2019. D.J. Wonnum (junior defensive end, #8) should be a priority undrafted free agent for a team light in that area.

Clemson is still sleepwalking to an undefeated season. 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), Tanner Muse (junior safety, #19), Isaiah Simmons (sophomore safety, #11), Albert Huggins (senior defensive tackle, #67), 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, questionable with a head injury) 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.

(15) University of Kentucky at University of Louisville, 7:00 PM, ESPN2

Benny Snell (junior running back, #26) is my personal favorite of this running back class, reminding me of Frank Gore whenever he touches the ball. Logan Stenberg (junior guard, #71), C.J. Conrad (senior tight end, #87), George Asafo-Adjei (senior tackle, #64), and Landon Young (senior tackle, #67), along with Snell, give Kentucky an attitude of toughness on offense that is different than most college football programs nowadays. On defense, Josh Allen (senior defensive end, #41) and Derrick Baity (senior cornerback, #8) are the strongest prospects and will at least be Day 2 picks in 2019, although Allen is making noise to be a first round pick with his productive speed rush ability. Jordan Jones (senior outside linebacker , #34), Mike Edwards (senior safety , #7), Chris Westry (senior cornerback, #21), Darius West (senior safety, #25), Lionel Johnson (senior cornerback, #6), and Adrian Middleton (senior defensive tackle, #99) are also solid prospects in their own right, and will look to push their way into draft consideration during the final month of the season.

For Louisville, Jaylen Smith (senior wide receiver, #9) and Micky Crum (senior tight end, #83) are strong weapons for the Lamar Jackson-less Louisville, and G.G. Robinson (junior defensive tackle, #94) will be drafted next April if he decides to declare. Lukayus McNeil (senior tackle, #72) hopes to be training camp fodder next summer.

Brigham Young University at (17) University of Utah, 10:00 PM, Fox Sports 1

BYU learned some bad news with Corbin Kaufusi (senior defensive end, #90), a monstrous 6'9", 285-pound edge rusher, being out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. Sione Takitaki (senior outside linebacker, #6) and Khyiris Tonga (redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, #95) finish up a very strong BYU defensive front. Zayne Anderson (senior linebacker, #23) takes over the “flash” linebacker role previously filled by Fred Warner, and is admirably taking his place. Tanner Mangum (senior quarterback, #12) leads the Cougars on offense, throwing to Matt Bushman (redshirt sophomore tight end, #89) when Austin Hoyt (senior tackle, #71) and Ului Lapuaho (senior tackle, #73) give him a clean pocket. The surprise of BYU’s season is a member of my all-name team, Squally Canada (senior running back, #22, questionable with an undisclosed injury), who has been punishing opposing defenses all season.

Utah has clinched the PAC-12 south, but look to continue their success with a win over in-state rival BYU. They don’t have a ton of talent, but they are always really tough for opposing teams, which is looking to hold true again this year. Chase Hansen (senior linebacker, #22), Bradlee Anae (junior defensive end, #6), Julian Blackmon (junior cornerback, #23), Leki Fotu (junior defensive tackle, #99), are draftable talents on defense, but are all likely late-round prospects. Zack Moss (junior running back, #2) is the strongest prospect for Utah, but is still a mid-round pick at best, and an ankle injury causing him to miss the remainder of the season may push him back to school next season. Jackson Barton (senior tackle, #70) is another late-round guy on the offense. Matt Gay (senior kicker, #97) is one of the best kickers in the country, but his position will devalue him to being a late-round guy. Although, plenty of NFL teams have had kicking woes this season, so maybe some team will reach for him in the third round. Marquise Blair (senior safety, #13), Tyler Huntley (junior quarterback, #1, out with a collarbone injury), and Cody Barton (senior linebacker, #30) are likely undrafted free agents at this point.

(21) Utah State University at (23) Boise State University, 10:15 PM, ESPN

Unfortunately, nobody on Utah State has legitimate hopes of being drafted this year, but they have somehow managed to go on a tear and be ranked coming into the last week of the season.

Boise State had a rough few weeks earlier in the season, but Brett Rypien (senior quarterback, #4) has put the Broncos back on track. 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 end, #55) suffered a season ending calf injury, but Jabril Frazier (senior defensive end, #8), Tyler Horton (senior cornerback, #14), and 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.

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