Ordinarily we would bring you a list of games to watch Saturday based on which games the New York Giants are known to have credentialed scouts in attendance (via NFL.com’s College Football 24/7 “Scouting the Scouts” series).
This week they are mum on the Giants’ whereabouts, leaving us on our own.
So, without knowing where the Giants are, let’s take a look at some games to which Giants’ fans might want to pay attention.
Florida at Vanderbilt (Noon ET, SEC Network)
If you like linebacker play, this is the game for you. I’ve already talked at length about Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis. He might be a touch shorter than the Giants have traditionally preferred at linebacker at just 6-feet-1, but he has sideline to sideline range and the all-around game the Giants need at the second level of their defense.
In front of Davis are defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. and defensive tackle Caleb Brantley. Brantley is emerging as a disruptive force in the middle of a very tough Florida defense, using sized and quickness to bully offensive linemen. Cox is a stout defensive end who uses his strength to set the edge in the run game and create movement in the passing game. He is also the son of 12-year NFL veteran Bryan Cox Sr.
Behind Davis are two of the top defensive backs in the nation in Teez Tabor and Marcus Maye. Tabor’s blend of prototypical size, athleticism, and coverage skills have him in the conversation for top cornerback in the draft, if not the country. Maye is one of the top safeties in the country and a versatile player who can do whatever the Gators ask — whether it is to cover deep, play the nickel, defend the run, or rush the passer.
On the Vanderbilt side it’s all about outside linebacker Zachary Cunningham. Cunningham isn’t widely talked about in the national media yet, but that will change once draft season officially arrives. Cunningham arrived at Vanderbilt as a 6-3, 200-pound safety. He has transformed himself into a 230-pound linebacker, and will vie with Davis and Rueben Foster for the title of top 4-3 linebacker in the country come draft time. Cunningham is a true 3-down linebacker who can cover, play the run, and rush the passer.
Wisconsin at Michigan (3:30 p.m., ABC)
To keep this from running too long, the easy answer of who to watch at Michigan is “the whole team.” To focus in a little tighter, I’ll go with TE Jake Butt, DT Chris Wormley, and defensive weapon Jabril Peppers.
Butt is in the conversation for top tight end in the country. He doesn’t have overwhelming measurables, but he boasts a complete game and is a capable receiver and blocker. Scouts are even starting to compare him to noted Giants killer Jason Witten. Wormley is a long 3-technique or possibly even a big 5-technique at the next level, who is stout at the point of attack and has the quickness to be disruptive if he can consistently put his physical tools to work.
Then there’s Peppers. Cornerback, safety, linebacker ... Doesn’t matter what you call him, he is a defensive weapon. He has some injury concerns, but he is an explosive athlete who can wreck an offensive game plan.
Wisconsin’s running back Corey Clement will likely be the focus of the broadcast for the Badgers. Clement is a good running back lost in an almost absurdly deep class. He has good vision and balance to go with very quick feet and played a big role in Wisconsin upsetting LSU.
Louisville at Clemson (8 p.m., ABC)
Was there ever really any question what the marquee game of the weekend would be? This game should be must-see TV.
Lamar Jackson has become THE most exciting college football player, and maybe the most exciting player at any level. He boasts an effortlessly powerful arm and a running ability that calls to mind Michael Vick’s highlight reel. Through just four games Jackson has already thrown or run for a combined 25 touchdowns. Only the entire Michigan football team has scored more.
Louisville also features a ferocious defense that is a lot of fun to watch as they swarm to the ball. EDGE defender Devote Fields is an athletic outside linebacker who could make for an interesting prospect to play SAM linebacker in the Giants’ 4-3 Under scheme. He is athletic enough to be competent playing in space, but his true talent is rushing the passer. A transfer (off field questions) from TCU, Fields was named the Big 12 Freshman Of The Year for a 2012 season that saw him notch 18.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks for the Horned Frogs.
On the other sideline, Clemson has NFL talent just about everywhere you look. Quarterback DeShaun Watson is either the first or second rated quarterback in the 2017 draft (depending on who you ask). Receiver Mike Williams offers the size/athleticism combination of a true NFL “X” receiver, while running back Wayne Gallman is another talented running back lost in the shuffle of this deep class. Tight end Jordan Legget could find himself the conversation for top tight end in the draft, and linebacker Ben Boulware is a blast to watch as a player who lives around the ball.
If you’ve been following my posts on college football, you should know how this works by now. I will make a four-round mock draft based on the Giants’ average position in the power rankings — 17th this week, or picking 16th overall.
I use CBS Sports’ big board [HERE], limiting myself to picking from prospects within five spots of the Giants’ “draft position.”
Round 1 - 16th Overall
Mike McGlinchey (OT, Notre Dame) — This is technically a reach by the board and my rules, but honestly, I think it would be a stroke of luck if McGlinchey happened to fall this far. A former right tackle, McGlinchey is playing well at left tackle for the Irish, helping to anchor their line. While he is replacing Ronnie Stanley, he has the hard-nosed play and temperament that likely drew the Giants to Jack Conklin. He moves well in pass protection and is a downright nasty run blocker. Adding McGlinchey to Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and John Jerry, the Giants might just find themselves with one of the top offensive lines in the league.
I was severely tempted to go with Stanford’s Christian McCaffery here, but putting him in an offense with Odell Beckham Jr. just didn’t seem fair to the rest of the NFL and after a 2016 draft where the Giants didn’t draft a single lineman on either side, it needed to be addressed.
Round 2 - 48th overall
Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida) -- I think if I went and said that Jarrad Davis had the kind of all-around game the Giants need from a linebacker, then went and picked defensive end Sam Hubbard with Davis sitting in my five slot window, the Beezer Brigade might riot on me.
Hubbard would have been a very good pick, but I want to see how Owa Odighizuwa and Romeo Okwara develop before drafting a defensive end highly. Davis, on the other hand, could go a long way toward actually making the Giants’ linebackers a strength.
Round 3 - 80th Overall
Jalen Hurd (RB, Tennessee) — The Giants have re-discovered their running game by employing one-back power runs out of their basic spread offense. The combination of the threat posed by Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz forces defenses to play in their nickel packages, while the agility of both Justin Pugh and John Jerry let the Giants effectively use a power run scheme. Hurd is a big back at 6-4, 230 pounds, but he shows uncommon agility, balance, and acceleration for such a big back. The contrast of Hurd’s power with Paul Perkins’ ability to slip through the cracks in a defense and the Giants’ receiving weapons could make for a very dangerous attack.
Round 4 - 112th Overall
Quin Blanding (S, Virginia) — The Giants always find themselves in need of more defensive backs. Blanding is a free safety in the mold of Darian Thomas. Big for a FS at 6-1, 215, he is a smooth (if not spectacular) athlete who is very productive for Virginia. Not only is he a tackling machine, he has good coverage and ball skills, and high football IQ. Good safety play is important to Steve Spagnuolo’s blitzing schemes, and Blanding at the very least would be a good backup for Darian Thompson and maybe even allow for innovative personnel groupings.