Welcome to your college football Saturday!
This is (already) officially week 3 of college football, and we’re looking forward to the second week of NFL action. I like to use these to get an early look at potential prospects who might interest the New York Giants come draft time. After their performance in the season opener, all draft speculation is likely already turned to the offensive line — That, in fact, marks the match-ups I want to see most today.
Once again the schedule makers gave us a trio of potentially great games, featuring fun prospects, and torture us by putting them on at (essentially) the same time. But let’s start with a match-up of likely first round prospects first.
Boston College vs. Notre Dame
ESPN - 3 p.m.
BC has quietly produced some serious NFL talent over the years. Matt Ryan, Luke Kuechly, Mathias Kiwanuka, Chris Snee... Even Mark Herzlich was considered (pretty easily) the best linebacker in the country before cancer.
Now they have EDGE rusher Harold Landry. Landry has the frame to play either outside linebacker or defensive end, plays with an explosive first step, and has plenty of bend to effortlessly slingshot around the edge. He racked up 16.5 sacks in 2016 and could see comparisons to edge rushers like Von Miller or Khalil Mack by season’s end.
Opposite Landry are Notre Dame left tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson. Had they come out for the 2016 draft that pair of linemen likely would have been the first two offensive linemen selected. McGlinchey is a former right tackle turned left tackle after Ronnie Stanley left for the NFL. He is a long tackle who is adept at using his technique and angles to wall off defenders in pass protection and plays the run game with plenty of “nasty”. Nelson is already being hailed as a future Pro Bowl player. At 6’5”, 325 pounds, he is a powerful, mauling guard, but he also has the sweet feet in pass protection that give him plenty of mobility.
Both players should hear their names called early come the 2018 draft, and the battle between them and Boston College’s star pass rusher should be fantastic.
Mississippi State vs. LSU
ESPN - 7 p.m.
Arden Key vs. Martinas Rankin
Rankin isn’t on many people’s radar, but Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com has said that he started to catch regional scouts’ attention with a strong performance against Louisiana Tech.
Rankin is a good-sized tackle, listed at 6’5”, 315 pounds, but he looks bigger than that on tape. He is generally technically sound, playing with solid footwork, knee bend, and hand-usage, however his pad level will rise a bit. He might not have the pure athleticism necessary to stay at left tackle in the NFL, but his frame, power and good-enough feet should let him play right tackle or guard.
This game could be huge for Rankin’s draft stock because he should be lining up against LSU’s Arden Key.
There have been whispers of questions about Key’s mentality and mindset, but from a purely athletic stand-point, Key has just about everything you can ask for from an edge rusher. Listed at 6’6”, 245 pounds, Key is long, agile, explosive, and bends the edge with ease. When he puts his mind to it, he very well could be the nation’s best pass rusher.
(Though Boston College’s Harold Landry certainly has something to say about that)
Outside of that match-up, LSU running back Derrius Guice is definitely another player to keep your eye on. A compact (5’11”, 220 pound), and explosively powerful running back, Guice is the engine of LSU’s offense. Guice is great at exploding through holes, is rarely tackled on the first attempt, and is consistently picking up those hard yards after first contact.
In the passing game, wide receiver D.J. Chark might catch some eyes. He is a long receiver (listed at roughly 6’4”, 200), with the ability to get open deep. He doesn’t appear to have the quick-twitch athleticism to create in a phone-booth, but his size and ability to get behind a defense are intriguing.
Louisville vs. Clemson
ABC - 8 p.m.
This is the marquee match-up of the weekend and promises to be an entertaining game.
We’ve already talked about the Clemson squad, and the reigning National Champions have plenty of prospects to watch — especially on the defensive side of the ball with defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell. However, all eyes will be on Cardinals’ quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson will undoubtedly be the most polarizing prospect whenever he decides to come out for the draft. He is the most electric and exciting quarterback since Michael Vick terrorized the ACC for Virginia Tech, with unmatched running ability and an uncanny arm. However, accuracy issues, questions about his skill-set’s adaptability to the NFL, and concerns about his size will (and already are) leading some to question whether he should transition to wide receiver.
But that’s an argument for another day. As it stands now, Jackson has amassed 1,010 yards and 8 touchdowns in his first two games of 2017.
The Louisville QB is protected by left tackle Geron Christian. Christian is a three-year starter (since his freshman year), has prototypical left tackle size, and is a long-limbed easy mover on the edge. He has a chance to be riser throughout the process and a strong game against Clemson’s talented defensive line.
Louisville has a pair of talented edge rushers as well in James Hearns and Tavon Young. Young could play outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, but teams will want a careful medical evaluation after a broken and dislocated hip in the 2015 Music City Bowl kept him out of football for the 2016 season.
USC vs. Texas
FOX - 8:30 p.m.
We’ve already mentioned USC in a previous week, so I want to take this time to talk about two Longhorns — OT Connor Williams and LB Malik Jefferson.
Starting with the offensive tackle, Williams is likely vying with Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey for the title of top offensive tackle in the draft. He is a bit light — listed at 290 pounds — but he has the frame to easily handle more weight while maintaining his mobility. Williams is a natural left tackle and plays with good balance, technique, and the requisite “nasty streak”. A consistently reliable pass protector, he also plays the running game with a mauler’s mentality. He is consistently looking to finish off defenders. Williams is an almost certain lock to be a first round pick and likely to go in the top-half of the first round at that. However, with the draft so far away, it’s possible that even with a good season he (or McGlinchey) could slip to the Giants, and should that happen they might have no choice but to select one.
Moving on to the other favorite position of mock draft prognosticators for the Giants: Linebacker.
Other than his position, Jefferson checks a lot of boxes for Jerry Reese. He is young (he won’t turn 21 until Nov. 15th), with prototypical size (6’3”, 240 pounds), athletic, and has the versatility to potentially play both inside and outside.
The problem is that Jefferson has yet to really produce up to his lofty potential. Given his size and athletic ability he should be dominating, but with just 121 tackles and 9 sacks through his first two years, he isn’t yet. Perhaps that is because of the continued turmoil surrounding the Texas football program (and its unstable coaching situation), but the disparity between potential and production will likely give scouts pause.
Who will you be watching in today’s college games?