Here are three games among the many scouts will closely monitor during week eleven of the college season. Included are a pair of match-ups featuring highly rated underclassmen from the offensive side of the ball.
Memphis vs Houston
7PM EST ESPN2
This is a terrific match-up between a pair of top 25 teams from the American Athletic Conference and features the nation’s top quarterback prospect.
Presently Paxton Lynch is everyone’s darling and its understandable. The big armed passer possesses the physical skills NFL teams love and has developed as a passer by leaps and bounds this season. He has the ability to make all the throws, spreads the ball around and does a good job with his reads. He’s not yet shown the ability to carry a team on his back, the way Blake Bortles did as a junior at Central Florida. Still, Lynch justifiably deserves the tag as the number one quarterback prospect in the country.
The Cougars secondary feature a pair of seniors; safety Adrian McDonald (4 ints) and corner William Jackson (3 ints).
McDonald has been very productive the past three years totaling 15 interceptions and 231 tackles but comes up shy in the areas of size and athleticism. On the other hand there are a variety of opinions on Jackson.
Entering the season with late round grades, there is a belief by some area scouts Jackson could end up at the top part of day three. He offers good size (6-feet/190lbs) and solid ball skills facing the action.
This is a huge test for McDonald and Jackson.
Oklahoma vs Baylor
8PM EST ABC
Baylor hopes to stay unbeaten and grab hold of a playoff spot but the Sooners look to play spoiler. Among the many battles in this contest are two highly rated underclassmen facing off in what should be a terrific match-up.
Baylor receiver Corey Coleman is in the midst of a record breaking year, one which many believe deserves Heisman Trophy consideration. The fourth year junior has developed into a true big play threat and has a nose for the end zone. He’s averaging 20.3-yards on 58 receptions this season and has found the end zone 20 times- WOW! As is the case for most underclassmen, Coleman’s true height/weight/speed numbers are the big question. Yes he’s a vertical threat but he looks small and in the day and age of 6-foot corners its tough to decide how early Coleman should be selected if he enters the draft.
Trying to slow Coleman down will be another junior, cornerback Zack Sanchez.
I gave Sanchez high grades entering the season but his play thus far in 2015 has been less than inspired. Several times throughout the year I’ve watched Sanchez, who I initially projected as a top 45 pick, get torched on the field. He’s been beaten on the underneath routes as well as down the field.
Sanchez must be on his game as Coleman has the ability to beat Sanchez across the middle as well as down the flanks.
Utah vs Arizona
10PM EST FS1
Utah hopes to separate from the rest of the field in the southern division of the PAC 12 and ready themselves for an eventual meet-up against Stanford in the conference title game. Arizona needs to notch a win in the hopes of becoming bowl eligible.
Since the summer I’ve spoken about Utah’s highly considered defensive ends, Jason Fanaika (top 75 pick), Dimick Hunter (well regarded junior) and Kylie Fitts (week 10 riser). All are terrific pass rushers with high upside and developing games.
This week it will be the job of Lene Maiava to slow them down.
The Wildcats starting right tackle, Maiava is regarded as a solid last day pick by scouts. There’s some question as to his best position on Sunday. Will he stay at tackle or move inside to guard, which is where I grade him?
The ability to slow down Utah’s defensive ends will go a long way in deciding where Maiva ends up.
Separation Saturday was exactly that as three teams (LSU, TCU and Michigan State) are likely out of the hunt for the national title while Alabama and Oklahoma State made themselves contenders. There was also a nice mix of defensive front seven players along with skill prospects who impressed NFL scouts on the weekend. Along with some major news on the underclassmen front, here are the Risers and Sliders from week ten.
A’Shawn Robinson/DT/Alabama: Everyone will focus on Robinson getting vertical to block a field goal late in the game but his play leading up to that point was incredibly impressive. Robinson proved he could effectively clog the middle of the line and collect blockers or just as easily collapse the pocket by bull rushing opponents off the ball. Robinson posted two tackles for loss, one coming on a twist where he displayed the ability to easily change direction then tackle the ball handler in the open field. The big defensive lineman is proving himself to be a three down, multi-purpose lineman. Everything I’ve heard since September has Robinson entering the 2016 draft where he’s destined to be a top 20 choice.
Nick Vigil/LB/Utah State: In a bit of a shocker Utah State lost to New Mexico by a single point after missing a field goal during the final minute. Despite this, Vigil once again led the Aggie defense which gave up under 250-yards of total offense. Vigil finished the night with 9 tackles, which gives him a team leading 98 tackles this season. The junior also has 9.5 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles to his credit. He’s a tough, two down defender with terrific instincts and tackling ability. I’m hearing Vigil is seriously considering jumping into next April’s draft, where he projects as a middle round choice.
Kylie Fitts/DE-OLB/Utah: With so much headlining talent on the Utah defense its easy to get lost in the shuffle and that’s exactly what’s happened to Fitts. Yet the junior, who sat out last season after transferring from UCLA, has progressively improved this year. His latest outing included 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 pass break up during the victory over Washington. That’s 4.5 sacks this season for Fitts who primarily comes off the bench, to go along with 6 pass defenses. He’s a long, angular athlete with good upside and effectively makes plays standing over tackle or coming out of a three point stance. Several weeks ago I was informed Fitts will consider entering the draft if he finishes the season strong and he’s doing exactly that.
Aaron Burbridge/WR/Michigan State: Entering the season Burbridge was completely ignored by scouts despite posting 51 receptions the prior two years. He’s now in the midst of a career campaign and scouts are intrigued. The senior leads Michigan State in all receiving categories with 62-receptions, 994-receiving yards and 6-scores. Sized well at 6-feet/205lbs, Burbridge is averaging 16 yards per reception and more than 110-receiving yards each game. He’s always been a sure handed wide out and the addition of his vertical pass catching skill plus stepping up as the Spartans top offensive threat will surely push him into the late rounds.
Josh Ferguson/RB/Illinois: Ferguson, who’s been struggling with a shoulder injury this season, returned after a three week absence and dominated the scene. The versatile running back posted 133-yards rushing (on just 12 carries) and added 6 receptions. Ferguson is a three down back and fits somewhere in the middle of the draft’s last day if his medicals check out.
Marquise Williams/QB/North Carolina: The Tar Heels have not lost a game since dropping a four point contest during the first week of the season and Williams is the primary reason. The senior signal caller has improved in all areas and manhandles opponents. Williams had a “wow” game against Duke, throwing for 494-yards and 4 scores. For the year he’s completed 66% of his passes. He entered the season with free agent grades but the ability to make plays with his arm and legs will surely give Williams late round consideration.
*Sleeper Prospect* Cleveland Wallace III/CB/San Jose State: Wallace was a player who caught my eye over the summer when I scouted his teammate Jimmy Pruitt. So impressive was his sophomore film I graded him as a potential late round pick. He’s been even better as a junior, significantly improving his entire game. To date Wallace has 3 interceptions to his credit and has broken up another 6 passes. He comes with a slight build but offers terrific ball skills and the ability to line-up in zone packages or backed off the line of scrimmage at the next level.
*Small School Prospect* Deandre Houston-Carson/CB/William & Mary: Entering the season as a fringe late round pick, Houston-Carson is a small school corner on the rise. The teams leading tackler (71), the senior is also tops on the defense with 4 interceptions and has added 3 more pass break-ups. He’s a solid athlete with next level size (6-feet/190-pounds) and ball skills. I’d expect to see him at the Shrine Game and an invitation to the combine is a real possibility.
Shawn Oakman/DL/Baylor: There’s was much surprise this summer after I reported scouts considered Oakman a middle round pick and to date they’ve been proven correct. During the Bears victory over Kansas State when Oakman faced off against Cody Whitehair, an offensive lineman with a second day grade, he collected just three tackles. He was slow getting off blocks and for the most part really did not seem to chase hard or show a lot of hustle. Oakman has totaled just four sacks this season, one a piece against Lamar, Rice, Kansas and Iowa State. Seven of his eleven tackles for loss came against Lamar (3.5) and Iowa State (3.5). His build, a long 6-feet/7.5-inches with skinny lower legs, also concerns next level decision makers.
Alonzo Russell/WR/Toledo: After his sophomore season of 2013, Russell looked like a big time prospect and potential top 100 pick. He was slowed considerably by injury during his junior campaign last year and has since struggled to get his game back on track for a variety of reasons. In eight games this season he’s caught just 24 passes for 396 yards. Russell has dropped from a potential middle round pick into the late rounds. He possesses the receiving skills necessary to play at the next level but must quickly pull it together on the field before teams expend a draft pick for his services.
I’m told there could be a number of underclassmen entries from Clemson next year. Sources tell me defensive lineman Shaq Lawson, a week eight riser, and cornerback Mackensie Alexander will enter the draft. That said one must remember coach Dabo Sweeney has done a heck of a job re-recruiting highly rated juniors and getting players such as Vic Beasley and CJ Spiller to return for another season. Several people inside the scouting community believe Alexander will be a top three corner if he enters.
Sources tell me they expect a jailbreak of underclassmen from Ohio State to enter the draft once the season is complete. Big names such as cornerback Eli Apple and running back Ezekiel Elliott are expected to opt for the draft but I’m also hearing lesser known players such as receiver Jalin Marshall will also considering making the jump.
South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore is leaning towards entering the draft according to sources. Moore leads the team in tackles (89), tackles for loss (6.5), interceptions (4) and pass break-ups (4). He’s slightly built and may be a scheme-specific, one-gap defender but Moore has been described to me as a freakish athlete.
Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh
12PM EST ABC
Panters receiver Tyler Boyd continues to receive high praise from the scouting community and ranks fourth on most receiver boards around the league after Treadwell, Fuller and Doctson, though a few have Michael Thomas in the mix.
During a four game stretch this season which included Iowa, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech, teams which all possess NFL caliber cornerbacks, Boyd totaled 30 receptions for 301 yards. This weekend’s contest against Notre Dame will be another big challenge for the junior wide out.
Irish corner Keivarae Russell is a highly rated prospect that’s played reasonably well since returning from his suspension. Scouts loved safety Elijah Shumate entering the year and the team’s other safety Max Redfield has shown flashes of next level ability.
Word is Boyd will enter the draft and some are saying he’s already latched onto an agent. The Notre Dame secondary possess good ball skills and likes to hit hard, will look to intimidate Boyd. Expect a physical contest for the receiver, who projects as a top 40 draft pick.
Auburn vs Texas A&M
7:30PM EST SEC Network
Last week I stated Germain Ifedi rates higher on my board than most other. The Texas A&M right tackle is a nifty blocker with the footwork necessary to slide over to the left side as well as the athleticism to be used as a zone blocking guard.
Against Auburn the junior faces off against a resurgent Carl Lawson, who returned from injury last week then dominated highly rated Laremy Tunsil of Mississippi.
Lawson explodes off the edge to make plays up the field. He’s a disruptive force with a large upside. Were that not enough Ifedi must also guard against Cassanova McKinzy, a productive football player with average next level measurables.
But for Lawson and McKinzy, Auburn is not a good pass rushing team yet this is another tough battle for Ifedi, who projects as a first round pick.
LSU vs Alabama
8PM EST CBS
I’d be remiss not to mention what has year in and year out been one of the biggest and most important games in the SEC.
There’s a lot on the line for Reggie Ragland, the senior linebacker many believe will be selected in round one. Ragland is a three down defender that’s stacks well against the run and shows ability in coverage.
He best stack well against the run as the Tigers offer Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette, the large, powerful ball carrier who will be an early first round choice when he enters the draft.