One of the first things NFL scouts do when looking at draft prospects in the spring in preparation for the NFL Draft is watch them against the best competition they faced in the previous season. This fall, we're going to take a look at the best head-to-head matchups in this week's slate of college football games. Every week, I'll give you look at some key matchups to keep an eye on across the country, highlight a prospect who is on the rise, profile a small-school player to watch for next year's draft, find a Philly connection, and give out a well-deserved game ball to a prospect who stood out in a big way the previous week.
After a soft open last weekend and some great action on Thursday night with a thrilling Ohio State-Indiana matchup, the first official college football weekend is finally upon us, and there are a couple of HUGE matchups to enjoy with long-term implications. 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.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Wyoming QB Josh Allen vs. Iowa Defense
*Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa - Noon - Big Ten Network *
There's a ton of buzz about this quarterback class, and for good reason. Josh Allen is near the top of the list. At 6-5, 222 pounds, Allen has prototypical size, light feet, and a howitzer for an arm. Allen is a pocket thrower with the ability to create plays on his own while still playing within structure. He flashes greatness at times but also had a lot of interceptions a year ago, including five against the most talented defense on his schedule in Nebraska. Scouts everywhere will be anxious to see how he performs against a tough Hawkeyes defense.
That defense is led by senior linebacker Josey Jewell, one of my favorite players at his position in the country. At 6-2, 230 pounds, Jewell is tough, instinctive, and he's just good enough athletically to be considered a true three-down defender at the next level. Jewell probably won't test that well at next February's Scouting Combine, but he plays fast thanks to his ability to quickly key and diagnose the action unfolding in front of him. Jewell leads a senior-laden linebacking corps, but keep a close eye on underclassmen defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore, a former defensive end, in this game as well.
With players like Allen, Sam Darnold (USC), and Josh Rosen (UCLA), teams in need of a quarterback in round one will have options. Why is this big for the Eagles? Well, the more quarterbacks who get drafted ahead of them in next April's draft, the more talented players at positions of need can slide to their draft slot in round one. As Eagles fans, we want all of these star college quarterbacks to succeed! That's why I'll continue to present those matchups in this space each and every week.
2. West Virginia RB Justin Crawford vs. Virginia Tech's Edmunds Brothers
*FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland - Sunday, 7:30 pm - ABC *
Exactly one week before the Eagles square off against the Washington Redskins on the same field, we'll get a chance to watch one of the most talented senior running backs in the country face a tough defense in prime time. Justin Crawford burst onto the scene a year ago after helping his junior college team win a National Championship the year before. At 6-0 and just over 200 pounds, Crawford looks instinctive and decisive downhill between the tackles and he has the speed to get to the corner and pull away from defenders in the open field. He needs to get stronger and develop more in pass protection, but he's a smooth, creative runner who I believe has the physical skill set to develop into a potential starting ball carrier in the NFL.
Crawford will be matched up against a Hokies defense that always has NFL talent at every level of the field, and that's the case once again this season. It just so happens that two of the players I expect to be around Crawford the most happen to be brothers. Senior safety Terrell Edmunds is a prototypical "box" player thanks to his willingness to come downhill and defend the run as well as how strong he is as a tackler. His younger brother, Tremaine, is a junior linebacker who is perhaps more highly regarded by scouts around the country after racking up over 100 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss in 2016, his first year as a starter.
3. Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster vs. Florida State CB Tarvarus McFadden
*Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta - 8:00 p.m. - ABC *
This wide receiver class doesn't appear to be to the level that we saw this past spring, where three players heard their names called in the first 10 selections, but one player I believe will be in the discussion is Alabama's Calvin Ridley. After bursting onto the scene as a freshman All-America two years ago, Ridley's numbers dipped last year after a change of identity offensively. As quarterback Jalen Hurts develops, the hope is that we'll be able to see more of the explosive receiver's talent down the field. Ridley is the best receiving prospect in the nation, for my money, as a crafty route runner with an innate ability to track the ball downfield. Keep a close eye on senior Robert Foster as well. What the 6-2, 194-pound receiver lacks in production (just 21 career catches), he makes up for in pure size and speed.
I'm anxious to see how the Seminoles decide to defend this receiving corps, and Ridley in particular, because they have one of the most physically gifted defensive backs in the country in Tarvarus McFadden. While McFadden may not be the best corner on the field on Saturday night (that moniker may belong to the Tide's Minkah Fitzpatrick), and he may not be the best defensive back on his own team (Florida State safety Derwin James is one of the best players in the country), he has the size at 6-2, 198 pounds, that teams look for in today's game and he has the speed to run with anyone. He lined up to just one side of the field in 2016, so will it stay that way against Alabama or will he shadow Ridley? If he does man up on the junior wideout, it will make for one of the best man-to-man matchups of the entire season.
4. Tennessee TE Ethan Wolf vs. Georgia Tech SS Corey Griffin
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta - Monday, 8:00 p.m. - ESPN
After what will likely be considered an all-time great tight end class in 2017, it's doubtful that we see the same kind of numbers drafted at the position next spring. There are, howeverm some talented players around the country, and in the SEC you have senior Ethan Wolf from the Volunteers. While his toughness has been questioned, Wolf is a solid receiver and will likely see an increased role in a new-look Tennessee offense this fall.
Griffin led the Yellow Jackets in tackles last season while also racking up a pair of picks and three pass deflections. The senior is entering his second season as a starter, and will likely see a good amount of reps against Wolf in coverage.
5. Western Michigan LT Chukwuma Okorafor vs. USC LB Porter Gustin
*L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles - 5:15 p.m. - Pac-12 Network *
I was a pretty big fan of former WMU right tackle Taylor Moton this past spring, and there are people in the draft community who are even more excited about their starting left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. At 6-5, 330 pounds, Okorafor has an NFL frame and he plays to his size, displaying natural power and the ability to move people in the run game. I don't think Okorafor is as technically refined as Moton was at this time last year, but he has the ability to prove how much he's developed against a tough Trojan front seven.
It could be argued that the best draft prospect in that front seven is the junior linebacker Porter Gustin. At 6-5, 260 pounds, Gustin is a technician as a pass rusher who does a really, really good job at using his hands to attack offensive linemen in a lot of different ways. This is what makes him a huge challenge for Okorafor. Gustin isn't explosive with his first step or a high-end athlete by NFL standards, but he's a really smart, instinctive pass rusher who is moved around the formation and can win in a lot of ways. I expect him to flash in this game.
I mentioned three of the big names at the quarterback position in the matchups section, but another name who could slowly creep into consideration is Nebraska's Tanner Lee. Entering his first year as a starter for the Cornhuskers, Lee transferred to Nebraska after a scheme change at his previous school, Tulane. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Lee certainly looks the part of an NFL passer, and while he's not going to be found on anyone's preseason All-America lists, scouts are buzzing about what he can do in head coach Mike Riley's pro-style system in 2017. Lee has solid physical tools across the board to go with a quick release. If he can take the next step mentally after a year off, he has the ability to put himself in the top 50 conversation with a strong senior campaign.
One Division II player who will likely get some buzz as we get closer to the postseason is safety Max Redfield, who will play this fall at Indiana (PA). A former star at Notre Dame, Redfield was kicked off the team late last offseason and landed at IUP. A great run defender with a high motor, there are questions about the star safety's ball skills and ability to play in the deep part of the field, but keep tabs on his development as the year progresses.
The Temple Owls head to South Bend this week to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. There are plenty of connections to our hometown on the Temple roster, I want to look at the other sideline. Irish left tackle Mike McGlinchey was a star offensive lineman at Penn Charter High School in Philadelphia before joining the Golden Domers.
After beginning his career at right tackle, McGlinchey slid over to the left side last season and performed well, and at 6-7, 312 pounds, he has the body type and foot quickness to start as a blindside protector at the next level. McGlinchey had an inordinate amount of penalties last year, something he'll have to clean up, but I see him as one of the top offensive line prospects in the country and a surefire top-50 selection next April.
While we all watched the Eagles take on the New York Jets in the preseason finale on Thursday night, Indiana put up a hell of a fight against No. 2 Ohio State in the first big game of the season. Indiana, who always plays the Buckeyes tough, got a boost with the return of receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Cobbs caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a score against a talented Ohio State secondary. Cobbs missed the entire season a year ago due to injury, but when you go back and watch him in 2015 you see a hulking target who can go up and win on contested throws in the air with ease.
While the junior wideout is capable of making outstanding one-handed grabs (something he did on Thursday), he had too many drops in his last full season of action. If he can get more consistent at the catch point on routine throws and take the next step as a route runner (where he's already pretty good for a young college wideout) I expect him to be, at least, in the Day 2 conversation if and when he decides to enter the NFL Draft.
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.