Week 1 is in the rearview mirror and there's plenty to talk about in the world of College Football and the NFL Draft. We covered a good amount of it on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast, but here are the things I'll be keeping my eyes on in Week 2.
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
One game I watched pretty intently last Saturday night was Michigan against Notre Dame. As I wrote last week in this piece, I expected the Wolverines to come out on top thanks to their defensive line, but it was the opposing defense that stole the show. Notre Dame's front seven, led by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te'Von Coney (both of him cracked the Top 20 in my all-senior Big Board last weekend). I'm giving the game ball to Coney, who racked up 10 tackles against Michigan. Last spring, I asked former LSU running back Derrius Guice after his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine who the best player was that he faced in the 2017 season, and Coney was his answer. The senior is instinctive against the run, very aggressive downhill, and is athletic enough to be a three-down player.
PREDICTION: The Irish host in-state rival Ball State this Saturday, and I expect it to be ugly with a big Notre Dame win. Coney will hit double-digit tackles once again in the victory.
This is a player who continues to generate positive attention and has the arrow pointing up with his draft stock at this point in the process.
Last year, one of the most polarizing players in college football was Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. This year, there's another polarizing player of the same name, but this Josh Allen plays linebacker for the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC. At 6-5, 250 pounds, this high school wide receiver from Montclair, New Jersey,was included in a lot of "Too Early Mock Drafts" this spring, so I was very quick to check him out this summer. I did not see a first-round player on tape. Allen is long and a solid athlete. He was used in a variety of ways for Kentucky, but he lacked power on contact and was not a skilled pass rusher at that point in his development. I didn't watch Kentucky's victory over Central Michigan last week, but Allen locked in 10 tackles, three for a loss, a sack, and a quarterback hurry. If he did take the next step physically and technically, he could be a player who matches his preseason hype from the spring. Keep an eye on his production moving forward ... I know I will.
PREDICTION: Kentucky goes on the road to the Swamp this week to take on the Florida Gators. While most expect the home team to win, I think this will be a closer game than people think. Kentucky, known more as a basketball school, actually has a lot of next-level talent this year, and Florida's offensive line is not where it should be. I'm going to take the Wildcats in an upset, and Allen gets another sack in the win to put Kentucky to 2-0.
Best Pro Comparison
Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here's a player with an easy picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.
There is a TON of hype surrounding this Clemson defensive line, and for good reason. My favorite senior in the country is defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and there are a lot of people who like the underclassmen on that line as well. Defensive end Austin Bryant is a good player in his own right, and while he's not a first-round talent in my mind I think he'll find a role in the NFL. The senior pass rusher has an NFL frame, has aligned up and down that defensive front throughout his career, and has a pretty deep toolbox of pass rush moves. His athletic upside is a bit limited, however, and that will be one of the things he'll have to answer at next spring's Scouting Combine. When I watched Bryant on film, he reminded me of is current New York Giants outside linebacker and former UNC pass rusher Kareem Martin. A backup throughout his career with the Arizona Cardinals, Martin signed on with the Giants to be a starter in their new 3-4 scheme. I think Bryant's career may follow a similar arc.
PREDICTION: Clemson takes on Texas A&M this week in one of the bigger matchups of the weekend for a game that Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher had to have circled on his calendar from the day he took the job last winter. Both teams enjoyed blowout victories last week, and Clemson has some questions on offense, but I think that defense will overwhelm A&M and win by at least two touchdowns.
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
I mentioned former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen earlier in this piece, so why not bring up one of his old teammates in defensive end Carl Granderson, who some evaluators think very highly of going into his senior season. Like Bryant, Granderson has impressive size and length as an edge rusher. For his size, he's pretty quick off the ball, and that's the trait I like most about his game. What I need to see from him, however, is a better understanding of how to rush the passer as well as improved urgency and technique in the run game. Something tells me he'll have a chance to work on both against the Drew Lock-led Tigers from Missouri this weekend.
PREDICTION: I think this is a Mizzou blowout, so Granderson will have his shot to rush the quarterback early with an opportunity to prove himself against the run late. The Cowboys have a couple of other senior prospects as well on that defense (watch both of their safeties), but Granderson is the name most people are excited about.
This is a player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles that you should keep a close eye on.
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins has a lot of fans in the scouting community. He's an athletic kid with a solid arm and a quick release, and he also happens to be coached by a former Eagle in Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards. The senior passer has a good opportunity to prove himself this week against Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans.
PREDICTION: The Sun Devils crushed UTSA at home last week, and they're home again this week against an MSU squad that squeaked one out against a lesser Utah State program last Friday night. However, I think Dantonio has his team ready and the Spartans go into Tempe and win. Wilkins struggles in the loss.
Three Matchups To Watch
One of the first things NFL evaluators do when scouting college prospects is watch them against the best competition. How did a wide receiver fare against the best cover corner on his schedule? How did a pass rusher do when he faced a top-flight left tackle? How did a quarterback perform against the best defenses on the schedule? These are the first games scouts will look at, and here are three matchups that fit the bill this week.
1. South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel vs. Georgia CB Deandre Baker
Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina - 3:30 p.m. - CBS
I love Deebo Samuel. He's one of my favorite prospects in the country at any position and he's my top senior receiver. After missing most of the season last year (when he still led the team in touchdowns in just three games played), Samuel bounced back with a score last week in a win over Coastal Carolina. Built like a running back, Samuel is great after the catch, has juice with or without the ball, and is an above-average route runner for a college receiver. He's a high-floor kid with the ability to win inside or outside at the next level.
If you poll 100 evaluators and asked who the top senior corner in the country is, I think most would say it's Deandre Baker from Georgia. A slightly undersized corner with good speed, soft hands, and instincts in zone coverage, Baker can improve at finding the ball down the field and be a more consistent force against the run. This will be one of the games scouts turn on first when studying Baker this fall, as he'll be facing a deep, skilled receiving corps with Deebo at the top of the pecking order.
PREDICTION: Georgia should win this game and I don't think it will necessarily be close, but I do expect a competitive game. Bulldogs come out on top by two touchdowns after pulling away late in the afternoon. Deebo gets his catches though with a 6-100-1 type of line.
2. Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. USC LB Cameron Smith
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California - 8:30 p.m. - FOX
A returning Heisman Trophy finalist, one of the biggest names entering this college football season is Bryce Love from Stanford. For a guy hoping to return to New York in December, however, Week 1 was not kind to him. Love, at 5-8, 195 pounds, posted just 29 yards on 18 carries last week against San Diego State (1.6 yards per carry). To be frank, that's not a good look for a guy trying to be one of the first backs off the board next spring. Love's size is a concern, but he is very quick, can make people miss, and is a competitive runner. He'll have a chance to rebound this week in one of my favorite early games of the college football season every year.
From one undersized player with plus athletic traits to an oversized prospect with limited athleticism, the guy tasked with trying to stifle Love inside is USC middle linebacker Cameron Smith.
PREDICTION: This game is seen as one of the toughest to pick in the weekend. I like Stanford, mostly because it's a senior-laden defense (per usual) and I have a ton of faith in David Shaw as a head coach. I like USC coach Clay Helton as well, but they have a ton of unproven talent on offense (keep an eye on their young receivers and sophomore running back), but this may be too tough a test early. Love gets back on track with over 100 yards and two touchdowns in the 10-point win.
3. Kansas State OT Dalton Risner vs. Mississippi State DEs Montez Sweat/Gerri Green
Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas - Noon - ESPN
One of the biggest names in the senior class along the offensive line is Kansas State's right tackle, Dalton Risner. A four-year starter who has starting experience at center as well, Risner is a smart, competitive kid in the trenches. His versatility will serve him well at the next level, where I think he's more of a swing backup on the inside than a true tackle. This week's test against a talented Bulldog defensive line could go a long way towards proving whether I'm right or wrong on that assessment.
Mississippi State has two senior edge rushers with Montez Sweat and Gerri Green, the latter of which I haven't done a full study on but he's flashed whenever I've watched the Bulldogs over the last two years. Watching Montez Sweat, I see a long, angular, scheme-diverse edge rusher with a good first step and an arrow that's pointed up on his NFL future. I like Sweat's motor, and he's got a toolbox as a pass rusher that he's consistently added to throughout his career (though that's an area where I'd like to see a bit more development). He's not the strongest or most powerful kid off the edge, and he'll benefit from an NFL weight program, but I'm excited about his potential going into his senior season.
PREDICTION: I like the Bulldogs on the road here and by a good margin. They didn't have all of their horses last week, and I think they'll be ready to roll this week in Manhattan. Mississippi State has talent at all three levels of that defense.
What fun is making predictions if we're not keeping score?
Last Week: 0-3
Season Record: 0-3
Last week was ... um ... not a good start for me. Week 1 is always tough to project, I'll try to rebound this week with a wider net of predictions!
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.