One of the first things NFL scouts do when looking at prospects 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.
I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games of the week on The College Draft podcast with Ross Tucker, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on this weekend.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. Iowa State
Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma - Noon - FOX
There aren't many players who are more fun to watch in college football than Baker Mayfield. His NFL future is a bit of a polarizing subject, but he is going to be the main attraction anytime the Sooners take the field this fall. Mayfield is an undersized touch passer with a playmaker's mentality. Some analysts see Mayfield as having the "it" factor needed for success at the next level. I'm not quite there yet due to what I view as inconsistent ball placement, limited arm talent, and subpar anticipation as a passer. Mayfield will still be talked about from now until next April's draft as one of the premier talents at the position, and is absolutely deserving of being a contender for the Heisman Trophy.
The best prospect on Iowa State's side is wide receiver Allen Lazard, a big receiver and surprisingly effective punt returner listed at over 6-4. On the defensive side, middle linebacker Joel Lanning and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya are the prospects to watch. Lanning (6-2, 230 pounds) leads the team in tackles and is on the national radar as a member of the Senior Bowl Watch List. Cotton-Moya, on the other hand, was left off the list but has been a player I've watched from afar since being named the Big 12 Defensive Rookie of the Year back in 2014. The senior leads the team with two interceptions thus far this season.
Prediction: Mayfield should lead the Sooners to a big victory by a wide margin, potentially by 30-plus points.
2. Miami RB Mark Walton vs. Florida State LBs Matthew Thomas, Jacob Pugh, & S Derwin James
Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida - 3:30 p.m. - ESPN
Mark Walton is one of the better running backs in the country who not enough people talk about. Why? It could be a number of reasons, but Walton is a very good talent. A great kick returner and special teams coverage player, Walton is a dynamic athlete with the ability to impact the game on all four downs. He's got speed to burn in the open field, the burst to fly through a small crease, and the ability to fit into any scheme at the next level. I'm not sure that he has the size (5-10, 205 pounds) to be an ideal primary ball carrier in the NFL, but he's got plenty of ability and should find a role rather quickly in a pro offense.
Walton is in for one of the toughest tests of the season against a Florida State defense that is loaded with talent at all three levels. I love defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, who reminds me a lot of Tim Jernigan coming out of FSU, but let's focus on the Seminoles' linebackers. Senior Matthew Thomas, last year's leading tackler, returns and he's a very intriguing player in his own right. He is a former five-star recruit who took a couple of years to get on the right path to make a real impact. Thomas is a plus athlete with sideline-to-sideline ability, though I'd like to see him process things quicker in the run game. Fellow senior linebacker Jacob Pugh (6-3, 237 pounds) may be the better prospect overall when it's all said and done, though he has a much more specific role in my mind as a strongside linebacker. Pugh, a former defensive end, can blitz off the edge but also plays in the box and out in the slot. I really like his athletic upside and scheme versatility, but, like Thomas, I'd like to see him see things a bit quicker against the run.
Both players can compete with Walton in the open field, but I expect that he's also going to see plenty of superstar safety Derwin James as well, one of the top prospects in the country.
Prediction: I think Walton turns in a really solid performance and the Hurricanes surprise some with a win in Tallahassee by a touchdown or more. I expect over 125 yards of total offense with a trip to the end zone for the junior runner. Thomas turns in five tackles, Pugh racks up three in the losing effort.
3. Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown vs. North Carolina CB M.J. Stewart
Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina - 3:30 p.m. - ABC
Coming into the year, Equanimeous St. Brown was viewed as one of the top prospects at his position in the upcoming NFL Draft. The junior wideout has pro size at 6-5, 205 pounds, really impressive flash plays, and quite simply one of the best names in the country. On film, I wish I could've seen a more polished player in terms of his route running and ability to get off the line of scrimmage. He's a still-young receiving prospect. His dimensions are always a beacon of hope. It's been a somewhat disappointing season for St. Brown, who has yet to eclipse 80 yards in a game and he reached the end zone for the first time in over a month last week against Miami (Ohio).
An impressive outing for St. Brown against UNC's M.J. Stewart will look good at the end of the year, and vice versa. Stewart is viewed as one of the best senior corners in the country. This group is lacking star power in the upperclassmen ranks, but Stewart is one of my personal favorites. Stewart is a tough, instinctive corner with a feel for playing both man and zone. He lacks top-end physical tools and likely won't light up the Combine next spring, but he's got an NFL future for sure as a potential starter on the outside.
Prediction: Oddsmakers have this as a two-touchdown win for the Irish, and that surprises me a bit. I think this game is closer than that. I think it's a tightly fought battle, but Notre Dame heads home with the win. I expect three catches for 60 yards for St. Brown with a touchdown to boot. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Stewart gets tested enough to reel in his first pick of the year.
4. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki vs. Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois - Noon - ABC
All eyes are on Saquon Barkley when Penn State's offense takes the field, and for good reason, but Gesicki is a fine prospect who will get drafted pretty early (in the Day 2 range) next spring if I had to take a guess right now. At 6-5, 250 pounds, Gesicki is outstanding at going up and attacking the football. Athletically, he reminds me a lot of tight end Zach Ertz coming out of Stanford. He's not a great blocker at this stage of his career, but Gesicki has impressive measurables and never lets a pass hit the ground. He's going to be one of the better options in another strong year for tight ends in the NFL Draft.
Northwestern has lost two of its last three games and has yet to record a conference win this year, but there's some talent on both sides of the ball. On defense, the name to watch is safety Godwin Igwebuike, a downhill thumper who loves to come down and defend the run but also can make coverage plays in the intermediate area of the field. He's not a great athlete, but Igwebuike is often used as an underneath zone defender in Pat Fitzgerald's scheme. He displays good instincts in that role, following the quarterback's eyes to the football. I expect there will be a couple of times where he and Gesicki end up at the catch point together.
Prediction: In the air, Gesicki should win this matchup with his plus ball skills and his wingspan. The senior tight end has four touchdowns this season, but hasn't reached the end zone since Week 2. I think that changes this week as the Nittany Lions roll to victory on the road by two or more touchdowns.
5. Clemson LT Mitch Hyatt vs. Wake Forest DE Duke Ejiofor
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina - Noon - ESPN2
Clemson lost a boatload of talent last year to the NFL Draft at quarterback (Deshaun Watson), running back (Wayne Gallman), wide receiver (Mike Williams and Artavis Scott), and tight end (Jordan Leggett). One top prospect the Tigers didn't lose, however, is Mitch Hyatt, the star left tackle who has been a starter since his true freshman season on the blind side. Hyatt is one of the best tackles in the country. I currently view him as No. 3 based off who I've seen so far. He should be a starter early in his career when he decides to move onto the next level. He is an edgy blocker with a nasty streak and a good feel for playing in pass protection with both his hands and his feet. Hyatt allowed just one sack (by my count) last season. I'm excited about his future in the NFL.
This week, Hyatt will get matched up against a pass rusher who may never truly be viewed as a star in the NFL, but he just "gets it" as a pass rusher. Duke Ejiofor has NFL size at 6-3, 267 pounds, and he used a variety of different pass rush moves to beat linemen for 10.5 sacks a year ago as a junior. He's got three sacks this year, including one last week against Florida State. Ejiofor doesn't have the upside (thanks to limited explosiveness and natural power) that others possess, but he's going to make it in the league.
Prediction: Ejiofor moves around quite a bit, and I do think he ends up with a sack in this football game, but it won't come against Hyatt. He finishes the day with five tackles and a sack in a losing effort for the Demon Deacons, as Clemson runs away with a four-score victory to get Saturday's action started.
Washington State senior quarterback Luke Falk is receiving a lot of attention after last week's upset victory over USC. I think he's the top senior quarterback in the country despite the fact that he comes from a system that rarely produces top-end NFL talent.
This week, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah polled five league executives to ask for a pro comparison for Falk, and five different names were sent back to him (for the record, I like the Matt Hasselbeck comp the most). Falk is a touch thrower who doesn't have a cannon for a right arm but makes up for it in other ways. I enjoy watching Falk because he throws with anticipation and is a tough kid who will stand in the pocket and deliver with bodies around him. Head coach Mike Leach has put more on his plate than any other quarterback he's ever coached, and his intelligence and toughness stand out. He's a great by all accounts away from the field, and while I wish he was a bit more accurate (based on my study from 2015 and 2016), I think he has a shot at turning into a starter down the road.
I mentioned in my profile on the Gesicki matchup against Northwestern that this is another strong tight end class, and based on my studies this summer, I think the name at the top of that class comes from the small-school ranks. South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert (6-4, 255 pounds) has the ability to be the total package in the NFL. A big kid with soft hands, I was enthralled by Goedert's improvement as a route runner as the season progressed in 2016. I think he's got NFL starter written all over him even though he's only had one "big" game this year (11 catches for 132 yards against Montana State). Goedert needs to get bigger and stronger. He may not be a three-down player right out of the box, but he's a legitimate talent in the upcoming NFL Draft.
I've waited this long to get back to my roots as a Temple Owl, and with Haason Reddick coming back to town with the Arizona Cardinals this week, I figured now was as good a time as any to talk about one of their top prospects this year in safety Sean Chandler.
A former corner who will be viewed as undersized across the board for the safety spot entering the draft, Chandler is a very good tackler who exhibits the toughness and intelligence to be a sound run defender at the next level. Athleticism will be the question with him moving forward. It may keep him from being a starter in an NFL secondary, but you can make it in the league when you take good angles, are gap-sound, have a high motor, and can finish tackles consistently one-on-one. Keep an eye on him if you watch the Owls take on ECU this Saturday.
The big upset from last week was LSU getting shocked at home in Death Valley against Troy from the Sun Belt Conference. Senior running back Jordan Chunn led the charge. A physical ball carrier who thrives between the tackles, I don't see starting upside in his future in the NFL ranks, but Chunn churned out over 150 yards on the ground with a trip to the end zone in one of the toughest places to play in college football. He is a sound pass protector who can fill a role on the back end of a depth chart in the NFL. Chunn gets the game ball for turning in one of the best performances of his career.
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.