Week 7 of the college football season is here and that means we have officially passed the halfway point. This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games of the week, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on.
1. Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly vs. Arkansas Defense
*Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas - 7 PM - ESPN *
Many analysts have pegged Chad Kelly to be one of the top senior quarterbacks in the country. He does have notable arm talent, but he still has a ways to go on the field to be ready to be considered a prospect worthy of starting in the NFL. Off the field, he will have questions to answer about his past at Clemson where he was kicked off the team for misconduct. Kelly has a quick release, a strong arm and the ability to create plays for himself outside of the pocket, but needs to prove that he has the consistent poise and ball placement to belong in the NFL.
Kelly faces tough defenses every week in the SEC, and that won't change against the Razorbacks this week. Senior defensive end Deatrich Wise has NFL size at 6-5, 271 pounds. He has three sacks so far in 2016 after being named to the Senior Bowl Watch List this summer. Cornerback DJ Dean is on the smaller end of the NFL scale for his position at 5-10, 195 pounds, but is one of the top cover men in the SEC.
2. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Wake Forest S Ryan Janvion
*Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida - 3:30 PM - ESPN *
Every college football fan knows about the explosive Dalvin Cook, one of the most dynamic players in the entire country. At 5-11, 206 pounds, Cook has elite short-area burst, the ability to make people miss and above-average vision between the tackles. He got off to a slow start this season, but in the last three weeks he has rushed for 557 yards and five touchdowns to go with 11 catches for 137 yards and another score. Cook has been compared to players like Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles in the past, and if he does declare for the upcoming draft he will surely be a player who many analysts project to the Eagles at some point in the draft's first two rounds.
Wake Forest got off to a sneaky good start to the season and now sits at 5-1 going into this trip to Tallahassee. They've only allowed a team to score more than 21 points once all season, and they have a number of defensive prospects who are going to be considered on the third day of the draft. Janvion has started in every game he's played in college (35 total coming into this season). He is a smart, instinctive player with a high motor who projects more as a special teamer at the next level as opposed to a starter on the back end. This will be as tough a test as he's faced in his career, and could help boost himself onto a national stage with a huge outing.
3. Clemson WR Mike Williams vs. N.C. State CB Jack Tocho
*Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina - Noon - ABC *
Cook is one player who analysts think is a perfect fit for the Eagles, and Clemson's Mike Williams is another. I've written about Williams before in this space, and for good reason. He's one of the best wideouts in the country. At 6-3, 225 pounds, Williams has good size and he has speed to stretch the field vertically. More importantly, the fourth-year receiver has great ball skills. His ability to go up and fight for the football in contested situations is what makes him one of the most dynamic receivers in the game.
Williams has a chance to put up a huge game against N.C. State and senior cornerback Jack Tocho, an experienced defender with 31 starts under his belt coming into the season. Tocho is instinctive and has NFL size at 6-0, 198 pounds, but the biggest question mark is his vertical speed. He allowed a number of big plays down the field in 2015. This will be one of the matchups that decides the outcome of this game.
4. Alabama TE O.J. Howard vs. Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
*Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee - 3:30 PM - CBS *
One of the premier matchups of the weekend has nearly a dozen big-time NFL prospects involved, and Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard is one of them. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Why is Fran talking about a dynamic receiving tight end against one of the most productive pass rushers in college football as a matchup to watch?" You should know that Howard is an experienced and effective blocker. It goes without saying that Barnett will be matched up one on one more often than not against highly billed left tackle Cam Robinson, but I would expect that Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin will have Howard stay in to help out whenever possible. Howard has improved in pass protection every year at the Capstone, and the coaches have shown they aren't afraid to leave him isolated against top pass rushers on the back side as well.
It's also worth noting that Barnett, who has been on an absolute tear as of late with five sacks in three games, also drops into coverage from time to time. He did it last year in a different scheme, and this year under Bob Shoop I've seen him drop underneath multiple times. Barnett has shown improved flexibility from his sophomore season to now, and he figures to be one of the first pass rushers off the board in April's draft. A big performance against Howard and Cam Robinson, a former five-star recruit and considered by many a blue-chip prospect at left tackle, will certainly help that cause.
5. Western Michigan T Taylor Moton vs. Akron DE Se'Von Pittman
*InfoCision Stadium, Akron, Ohio - 3:30 PM - CBS Sports Network *
Western Michigan has a receiver who, if you read this article every week or listen to the College Draft Podcast, you know I love in Corey Davis. However, he's not the only notable prospect for the Broncos of Kalamazoo. Right tackle Taylor Moton, who last year played at right guard, is also a very intriguing player in the trenches. In the two games against the best competition this year (Northwestern and Illinois), Moton stood out in a big way, and he has a chance to do so again this week against one of the top defensive fronts in the MAC. Moton's game is based on his power, and he shares a lot of similarities with new Eagles starter Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Every year there's a handful of prospects in the MAC who started their careers in the Big 10, but transferred for any number of reasons and now star in that conference. Pittman is one of those players. The former Ohio State Buckeye redshirted in 2012 in Columbus before transferring to Akron, and three years later he's developed into a big, strong run defender who lines up at a number of spots along the defensive line. While Pittman spends most of his time on the offense's left side, he will go over to the right side at times, meaning he'll get a chance to prove himself against Moton, one of the top senior linemen in the country.
Speaking of transfer players, one prospect who has absolutely blown up out of nowhere also fits into that category. Syracuse wideout Amba Etta-Tawo started 15 games in three seasons for Maryland before graduating and transferring due to the coaching change in College Park this offseason. Etta-Tawo, a native of Oman, picked a good landing spot in Syracuse with its new head coach Dino Babers and his spread attack modeled after former Baylor coach Art Briles. Etta-Tawo has good size at 6-2, 202 pounds and blazing speed along with the ability to attack defenses downfield. His bugaboo has been finishing at the catch point, a problem that has plagued him going back to his days with the Terrapins. Still, you can't question the senior's production, as he now has 51 catches (first in the ACC) for 876 yards (first in the nation) and six touchdowns (first in the ACC) so far this season. I'm excited to study more of the explosive wideout and get a better feel for his game, but his flashes are very, very good. He is earning considerable buzz around the country right now with his numbers.
Last year, everyone's favorite small-school quarterback was none other than Carson Wentz, who lost his first regular season game coming off of a National Championship victory. The quarterback on the other sideline that night was Montana's Brady Gustafson. At 6-7, 235 pounds, Gustafson (who was born about three hours away from the hometown of former Eagles safeties Tim Hauck and Colt Anderson in Billings, Montana) has good size, a pretty good arm and a solid understanding of how to operate in a muddy pocket. As a junior last year, Gustafson made a number of bad decisions that led to interceptions, but his numbers this year have been strong (1,555 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in just five games). Montana is currently ranked in the Top 10 of the FCS at 4-1, and figures to once again be in the hunt for a national title. If Gustafson can put together a run like that, he is sure to end up at the Senior Bowl and help himself in a senior quarterback class starving for star talent.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.