It's mid-November, which means the first round of Senior Bowl acceptances have rolled in. While some prospects have already begun their plans for the postseason NFL Draft process, every player still has at least two more games to prove their mettle for NFL scouts. 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 in this weekend's action.
1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson vs. Wake Forest Defense
*BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, North Carolina - 7 PM - ESPN *
Despite dropping their first game of the season last week, the Clemson Tigers still currently hold a spot in the College Football Playoff, but another slip-up will prove fatal for Deshaun Watson's squad. After his coach basically confirmed that his star quarterback would be entering the draft, Watson threw three interceptions in the team's upset loss to Pitt at home on Saturday. A foregone conclusion as a top-five pick entering the season, Watson has been up and down thanks to inconsistent lower body mechanics and some skittishness in the pocket, which have resulted in some erratic accuracy. He'll need to pull it together against a Wake Forest defense that should not be overlooked.
A week ago, Wake Forest held Louisville's explosive offense to three first-half points and just 10 points entering the fourth quarter. The Demon Deacons have a couple of senior prospects who are looking to elevate their stock. Linebacker Marquel Lee isn't the fastest or most athletic linebacker you'll find, but he's instinctive and a thumper inside against the run. In the secondary, safety Ryan Janvion is consistent, productive and extremely competitive in all areas of the field. On the perimeter, Brad Watson is underrated in a strong senior cornerback class, but with his size and ball skills he is a very good prospect in his own right. Look for all three of these seniors when they take the field against Clemson on Saturday night.
2. Baylor RB Shock Linwood vs. Kansas State LB Charmeachealle Moore
*McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas - Noon - ESPN2 *
In a running back class that is absolutely stacked, Shock Linwood had very little margin of error entering the season. Sure, the Baylor Bear has been productive throughout his career, but in a system that forces defenses to spread out to defend the pass, a lot of those numbers came against light boxes. A week ago, the senior was suspended by interim head coach Jim Grobe for an "attitude" problem, but he returns to the field this week against Kansas State. Linwood is undersized, but he is pretty quick and constantly fights for extra yardage. However, he'll have his work cut out for him against the Wildcats.
The player who intrigues me most for KSU is Charmeachealle Moore, a senior linebacker who has made plays for Bill Snyder's defense all season long. In the last two weeks, the senior from Dallas has racked up 20 tackles and half a sack. His range, quickness and physicality have stood out every time I've watched the Kansas State defense. With Baylor looking to stretch this defense horizontally, expect plenty of one-on-one opportunities for Moore downhill against Linwood and the Baylor running backs.
3. LSU WRs Malachi Dupre/Travin Dural vs. Florida CBs Jalen Tabor/Quincy Wilson
Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana - 1 PM - SEC Network
This game originally had to be rescheduled due to severe weather, but Florida and LSU take the field Saturday afternoon with both teams licking their respective wounds. Florida has seemingly half of its starting lineup on the shelf while LSU is coming off of being dismantled by the Alabama Crimson Tide. Still, there are some very interesting matchups in this game despite the Gators' lack of depth, namely on the perimeter. The Tigers have struggled to get consistent production in the passing game, but not because of a lack of talent at wideout. Junior Malachi Dupre (6-1, 195 pounds) has good length and the ability to go up and win at the catch point, while senior Travin Dural (6-1, 219 pounds) has speed to burn. The two talented receivers face off against one of their toughest tests of the season with this vaunted Florida secondary.
Some analysts have declared that Florida's two starting corners, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, are worthy of first-round selections. I'm not quite on that boat yet, particularly with Wilson, but they both present a challenge for LSU. Tabor has every physical trait you can ask for in a starting cornerback. He's long (6-0, 191 pounds), he's quick, he's competitive and he's got very good ball skills. Wilson has better size at 6-1, 209 pounds, and while he may not be the level of athlete that Tabor is he makes up for it with his toughness and competitiveness at the line of scrimmage. With so many stars for the Gators on the sideline, they'll desperately need their two stud corners to come up big in this game.
4. Ole Miss TE Evan Engram vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
*Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee - 8 PM - SEC Network *
Staying in the SEC, two of the hottest names at each of their respective positions go head to head on Saturday night in Nashville. Evan Engram has scored a touchdown in every game but three this season, with 59 catches for 824 yards (14.0 yards per catch) and seven scores. He's a dynamic athlete with great versatility to line up almost anywhere on the field, and his ability to separate makes him a game-changing weapon in the right NFL system.
Junior linebacker Zach Cunningham seems to be making headlines week in and week out for the Commodores. Whether he's making the final game-clinching stop for his 19th tackle of the day in an upset win over Georgia or leaping over an entire defensive front for a field goal block against Auburn, the junior has been consistently productive all season long as one of the leaders of the Vanderbilt defense. At 6-4, 230 pounds, Cunningham is actually bigger than Engram, and he may have the athleticism to run with him down the seam as well. On the plays when these two get matched up one on one, it will be really interesting to see who comes out on top.
5. Ohio State OL Pat Elflein vs. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan - Noon - ESPN
**UPDATE: McDowell will not dress for the game, due to an injury.
College Football fans won't have an issue predicting who comes out on top in this Big Ten matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State, as Sparty (3-7) has really struggled throughout the season. When you look at the Buckeyes as they try to make a playoff run, they'll need to continue getting strong play up front along the offensive line, a group led by senior center Pat Elflein. At 6-2, 299 pounds, Elflein has the ability to move people up front thanks to his natural leverage and technique, and the former guard plays with a mean streak that will serve him well on Saturday afternoon against Ohio State's conference rival.
This will be a big "prove it" game for Michigan State star defensive lineman Malik McDowell, who is seen by many as a potential top-five pick. The true junior has freakish athleticism for an interior defensive lineman. He lines up as the Spartans' nose tackle in their base defense, but he's used in a variety of positions along their front. With his first-step quickness, pass rush skill and ability to anchor in the run game, McDowell certainly looks the part, but the consistency has not been there this season. While many hoped that McDowell would step up as a leader and raise his level of play, that has yet to take place. But against a young Buckeyes offensive line, McDowell has a chance to prove to everyone that he's exactly the player many analysts thought he was entering the 2016 campaign.
The list of the first dozen players to accept invites to the 2017 Senior Bowl was released on Monday, and names will continue to pour in each week as we inch closer to the postseason. Who is the player from the initial list that I'm most excited to see in person? There are quite a few, but here I want to profile Western Michigan's Taylor Moton. At 6-5, 325 pounds, the Bronco has NFL size and experience at both guard and tackle in college. I could see him playing either in the pros (though it's notable that the Senior Bowl is listing him as a guard).
In two games this year against Big Ten competition (Northwestern and Illinois), Moton shined bright, displaying natural power to move people in the run game and the competitiveness you want to see from a grinder in the trenches. A well-rounded player who is pretty refined in terms of his technique for a college prospect, I think Moton could play inside or outside at tackle in the NFL, and he will be one of the best linemen in attendance in Mobile, Alabama late in January.
On that same list, the Senior Bowl announced that Kutztown offensive tackle Jordan Morgan will also attend the game, and before that release I knew absolutely nothing about the four-year starter. Upon further review, I saw a player who clearly dominated competition at the Division II level, displaying quality athleticism and quick, active hands as both a pass protector and a run blocker. I loved Morgan's tenacity, as he consistently looked to bury defenders into the dirt.
The Philadelphia native becomes the second player from Kutztown to ever attend the Senior Bowl (after former first-round pick John Mobley), giving the Bears some good news after losing to California (PA) in the PSAC Championship Game this last Saturday. Keep an eye on Morgan, who could be seen in a similar light to another former small-school offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl, Ali Marpet, who left Division III Hobart College to be a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just two years ago.
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.