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.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. New Mexico State WR Jaleel Scott vs. Louisiana-Lafayette DBs Tracy Walker and Simeon Thomas
Cajun Field, Lafayette, Louisiana - 5 p.m. - ESPN3
Coming into the year, I wrote that this group of senior wide receivers was lacking true star power. That's still the case, but a couple of names have risen to the top of this class after strong seasons this fall. Near the top of that list is New Mexico State's Jaleel Scott.
At 6-6, 215 pounds, the South Carolina native reminds me of former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, and when you watch him go up and fight for the football in the air you can see why. He is a junior college transfer with just two years of Division I experience. Scott plays the ball extremely well in the air, and I think he's a decent route runner for a college player. He's not a burner, and he needs to improve his releases off the line of scrimmage, but I'm excited to see more of Scott moving forward. He has a chance to prove himself at the Senior Bowl in a couple of months. Before that though, he's got a pretty good test this week against the Ragin' Cajuns.
There are two seniors in the Louisiana-Lafayette secondary who are worth watching. At cornerback, Simeon Thomas has the size to battle Scott in the air at 6'3, 190 pounds. He's a press man corner with the ability to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage, which is a weakness for Scott at this stage of his career based on what I've seen so far. Thomas has outstanding length with the ability to battle for the football in the air. It will be fun to watch these two go at it on Saturday. On the back end, safety Tracy Walker's all arms and legs at 6-1, 195 pounds. The former basketball star excels at going up and fighting for the football as well. The Ragin' Cajun often use Walker in the slot in man coverage, so if Scott travels inside I expect he'll match up against the senior safety in this game.
Prediction: This is the first week of the year when we won't see two ranked teams face off against one another, so it's only right that my most highly anticipated matchup comes in a "Group of Five" contest. I like New Mexico State in this game, and not just because of Scott (who I think finishes with a line close to five catches, 100 yards, and a score), but also because of senior running back Larry Rose III. The diminutive ballcarrier ran for over 1,600 yards just two seasons ago as a third-team All-American, and projects as a Chris Thompson-like third-down back at the next level.
2. Miami TE Chris Herndon vs. Virginia S Quin Blanding
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami - Noon - ABC
One of the early announcements for the Senior Bowl, Miami's Chris Herndon is very much on the NFL radar. An athletic option at the position with explosive speed down the seam, Herndon spends a lot of time in-line as a blocker. He isn't a true mauler at the point of attack, but the fact that he practices pretty good technique and has experience doing it will help teams visualize his transition to the next level. Like his former teammate, Cleveland first-round pick David Njoku, Herndon is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and I expect his stock to rise throughout the course of the pre-draft process.
On the back end of the Virginia defense, senior safety Quin Blanding has been patrolling the secondary for the last four years as a starter. At 6-2, 218 pounds, Blanding is one of the best tacklers in the secondary in the upcoming draft class. He spends a majority of his time in the deep part of the field in zone coverage, so expect him to be matched up against Herndon down the field if the Canes run him vertically. That could be a challenge for Blanding, however, because he's not quite the athlete that Herndon is. Still, the senior safety is absolutely an NFL player, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he became a starter down the line for a team that prioritizes players with his skill set on the back end.
Prediction: In recent years, Virginia has played the Hurricanes tight, but this Miami team appears to be a different kind of beast. However, the Hurricanes are staying at home after a gigantic win last week over Notre Dame, so look for the Cavaliers and their talented defense to keep this game within two scores. Herndon finishes with a couple of grabs for around 50 yards receiving, but keep an eye on Blanding, senior defensive tackle Andrew Brown, and linebacker Micah Kiser in this matchup as well.
3. Stanford OL David Bright vs. Cal DE James Looney
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California - 8 p.m. - FOX
I had never studied Bright until earlier this fall when he lined up at left tackle against Rice in the season opener. At 6-5, 299 pounds, Bright is a natural bender with pretty good athleticism, above-average feet, and an understanding of how to play with proper technique in the trenches. He's bounced around from tackle to left guard throughout the year due to injuries up front for the Cardinal, but I think Bright (with some added weight) could potentially develop into a starter at the NFL level (based on the little I've seen so far). This will be a fun matchup for him on Saturday.
Cal's James Looney is a bit of a "tweener" because of his size. At 6'3, 267 pounds, he doesn't project as a typical interior defensive lineman, but the way he plays the game I think he projects best to the inside in the NFL. Coached by former Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Cal, Looney flies off the ball as a defensive end in its 3-4 scheme and uses his hands pretty well both as a pass rusher and at the point of attack in the run game. I don't think he's a pure edge rusher in the NFL, but he could be a nice run-stuffer on the perimeter for a 4-3 team with flexibility to step inside in pass rush downs. He spends most of his time as the right defensive end, so he should see a majority of his reps this week against Bright.
Prediction: I like Stanford in this game by a pretty wide margin (over three scores). The offensive line, including Bright, should help create running lanes for star junior running back Bryce Love as the Cardinal marches to victory.
4. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson vs. Minnesota DL Steve Richardson
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois - Noon - Big Ten Network
There was a lot of buzz entering the season about Justin Jackson out of Northwestern, and for good reason. The senior led the Big Ten in rushing a year ago (ahead of Penn State's superstar runner Saquon Barkley) and has actually run for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first three seasons for the Wildcats. This year, Jackson is averaging a career-worst 4.1 yards per carry, and he's 156 yards away from the 1,000-yard mark with a couple of games left to go. Watching Jackson a year ago, I saw a player who stood out in pass protection, showed enough wiggle to make NFL defenders miss, and a tough runner between the tackles despite the fact that he's just 5-11, 198 pounds. I'm hoping Jackson can finish strong and head into the pre-draft process on a high note.
Jackson will be taking on a Gophers defense with a few underclassmen who are getting some attention, but the senior who most people were talking about coming into the year was defensive lineman Steve Richardson. He is a squatty defensive tackle who is more of a run-stuffer on the inside. Richardson has missed some time this year due to injury but he returned last week against Nebraska to turn in four tackles in the big win for Minnesota.
Prediction: It's Jackson's last time suiting up for the Wildcats at home, and I expect him to go out with a bang in his final game in Evanston. He laid an egg last week against Purdue, but I think he'll eclipse 100 yards in this game to help lead the Wildcats to a 10-point victory over coach P.J. Fleck and the visiting Gophers.
5. Michigan T Mason Cole vs. Wisconsin LBs Garret Dooley/Leon Jacobs
Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin - Noon - FOX
The Wolverines have had their share of struggles this year on offense after a ton of turnover in the offseason. The senior left tackle Mason Cole, who started at center a year ago, hasn't been the source of those struggles, but in my opinion, he is playing out of position. It is good, however, for the senior to have that versatility to play both inside and outside. Cole is a tough kid in the run game and can anchor well in pass protection. I think he'll serve as a solid swing backup at the next level.
Cole has a good test this week with the senior pair of edge rushers for the Badgers. Wisconsin has churned out linebacker after linebacker after linebacker over the last couple of years off the edge, with T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel last year, and Joe Schobert the year before that, so it's only right that they have a couple more seniors ready for the spotlight now. This season, Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs have stepped into the spotlight for one of the biggest surprise teams of the season. Dooley, at 6-3, 246 pounds, has 6.5 sacks on the season while Jacobs, 6-2, 245 pounds, has 2.5 in the last two games alone. They'll both present a challenge for Cole on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Wisconsin is unbeaten, and I do expect that to be the case at the end of this game. After picking against the Badgers last week against Iowa, I won't make the same mistake this Saturday. The Wolverines have put up 30-plus points in each of their last three games (all wins), but I think that streak ends in Madison. Wisconsin wins by at least two scores, and we see a combined 1.5 sacks from the Badger duo off the edge.
A redshirt junior who graduates next month, wide receiver Courtland Sutton is one receiver who some analysts believe could hear his name called in the top half of the first round in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The SMU Mustang, who has already been invited to the Senior Bowl, is a really intriguing option on the outside. At 6-4, 215 pounds, the former high school tight end has a big frame and looks really smooth for his size in the open field. His best traits, however, are at the catch point, where is a natural plucker of the football and plays it really well in the air. Sutton was also a college basketball player who played a handful of games for the Mustangs on the hardwood earlier in his career. That basketball background is evident when he battles with defenders for the football. Going to the Senior Bowl will be a great opportunity for Sutton to prove that he has the skill set to be one of the best prospects in this class after what some have called a bit of a down year statistically for the Texas native.
Senior Bowl invitations and acceptances have begun to filter out, and while they're unofficial, one name that appears to be headed to Mobile is cornerback Siran Neal from Jacksonville State.
At 6-0, 199 pounds, Neal has the size that teams want at the position in today's NFL and for his size, I think Neal moves pretty well. He displays enough speed to run with receivers vertically with the quickness and fluidity in his hips to play man coverage at the next level. Most importantly, Neal plays with an edge, which is so important in an NFL secondary. The senior looks like more of a man coverage player than a zone corner, so he may not be a fit for everyone, but I'm excited to see how he performs in the Senior Bowl.
This player actually has a couple of connections to Philadelphia. His former teammate, Rasul Douglas, was a third-round pick of the Eagles this spring. His brother, Kevin, was drafted by Joe Douglas in the first round by the Chicago Bears. He's also originally from Macungie, Pennsylvania, roughly 90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia. The player is Mountaineers safety Kyzir White.
White is one of the most physically imposing safeties in the country at 6-2, 213 pounds with very long arms and a linebacker's mentality. His role at West Virginia is not traditional. He plays as a "big nickel" player, spending a lot of time in the slot or off the edge as a pseudo-linebacker. If you want a player who can defend the run and be an enforcer near the line of scrimmage, White can be that type of player. White doesn't spend a lot of time on the deep end of the field, so if he can prove himself in that regard at the Senior Bowl in January it will go a long way toward his draft stock. White is a big, physical safety, who I bet some may see as a linebacker down the road. He is one of the more intriguing players at his position in the draft class.
Last week, I predicted three unbeatens to go down, including the Miami Hurricanes. To say the least, I was wrong on that prediction. Miami dominated Notre Dame up front, and senior defensive end Chad Thomas was right in the middle of the action. While he only finished the game with four tackles, Thomas used his size, strength, and advanced technique to disrupt the run game consistently for the Irish early on. The Miami defensive front helped secure the victory to keep the Canes undefeated heading into this weekend.
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.