Week 6 of the college football season is here, and while the weather along the East Coast has turned some of the focus away from the gridiron, there are still a handful of really exciting one-on-one showdowns with NFL Draft implications set for this weekend's action. This week on the College Draft podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on.
1. Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Stanford Defense
*Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California - 10:30 PM - ESPN *
This year in particular, there seem to be a lot of draft-eligible quarterbacks operating in the wide open, shotgun-oriented, Air Raid offensive system. Whether it's Baker Mayfield in Oklahoma, Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech or Davis Webb at Cal, passers are putting up numbers at a high rate. Perhaps the quarterback who impressed me the most from this style of offense during my offseason study, however, was Luke Falk, who plays for one of the innovators of the system in Washington State head coach Mike Leach. At 6-4, 214 pounds, Falk is second in the Pac-12 at 375.2 yards of total offense per game. As a sophomore in 2015, Falk showed pretty good poise and ability to work in the pocket, and a decent arm downfield. He may not be a first- or second-round pick when it's all said and done, but whether it's in 2017 or 2018, I expect Falk to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in his draft class.
Falk and the Wazzou offense will be matched up against a Stanford defense that had its share of issues last week against the upstart Washington Huskies. Can the Cardinal come back against the Cougars on Saturday night? The Cardinal is led by redshirt sophomore defensive end Solomon Thomas, who at 6-3, 275 pounds might be the school's best pro prospect on the defensive side of the ball. Senior safety Zach Hoffpauir leads the team in tackles, while backfield mate Dallas Lloyd has been a playmaker from his strong safety spot. This is a proud defense that will look to rebound from a tough showing last Friday night.
2. BYU RB Jamaal Williams vs. Michigan State LB Riley Bullough
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan - 3:30 PM
Not many experts had Williams on the draft radar coming into the year after he missed all of 2015, but if you weren't aware of him before, you should be now. Last Friday night, Williams put on a show against Toledo to the tune of 286 yards and five (!) touchdowns at nearly 10 yards per carry. At 6-0, 215 pounds, he's a bigger back who likes to hit it up between the tackles in the Cougars' zone run scheme. A natural receiver out of the backfield who excels as a blocker as well, Williams has a history with injuries and may not have the level of athleticism of a starting NFL tailback, but his well-rounded skill set should help him transition to the NFL next season.
Williams has a pretty tough test this week with the Spartans' defense that features one of the best defenders in America in Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell, a potential top-10 pick in a future NFL Draft. However, I want you to also focus on senior linebacker Riley Bullough. At 6-1, 226 pounds, Bullough isn't as big as his older brother (Texans linebacker Max) but he's more athletic, and he uses that quickness to navigate through traffic and find the ball at a pretty consistent rate for the Spartans. With two players who figure to be mid-round picks in the upcoming draft, this will be a very interesting one-on-one matchup in both the running and passing game.
3. USC WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster/Darreus Rogers vs. Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie
*Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California - 4 PM - Pac-12 Network *
Coming into the season you could argue that no wide receiver had more buzz than junior JuJu Smith-Schuster. After just 11 catches through the first three games, many analysts were down on the second-team All-America selection, but he's rebounded with 15 catches for nearly 250 yards and three touchdowns in the last two contests. Smith-Schuster may be more of an athlete that a complete wide receiver right now in regards to his NFL potential, but he can line up anywhere on the field and beat defenders one on one and he has enough speed to take the top off a defense. Senior wideout Darreus Rogers doesn't have the numbers of his teammate (he's failed to reach the end zone this year), but he has very reliable hands and excels in contested situations down the field.
The USC receiving duo will face a hot Colorado team on Saturday and a cornerback who has a lot of people in the media buzzing. Chidobe Awuzie has everything you want in a cornerback prospect from a mental standpoint. He's tough, he's instinctive, he's a team captain and he's a quality special teams player. Listed at 6-0, 195 pounds, the second-team All-Pac-12 performer has 21 tackles and an interception on the year to go along with four pass breakups. Athletically, Awuzie may be just a notch below what you'd want for a starter on the outside in the NFL, but he has a chance to prove doubters wrong against this USC tandem on Saturday afternoon.
4. Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle vs. Alabama S Eddie Jackson
*Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas - 7 PM - ESPN *
Similar to Awuzie at cornerback, Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle does a lot of the little things well despite a lack of top-end physical gifts. Sprinkle isn't the biggest or strongest tight end in the country, but he's a crafty route runner, has reliable hands, and is a very effective blocker both in pass protection and in the run game. A couple of weeks back against Texas A&M, Sprinkle was left one on one against the Aggies' duo of talented pass rushers, Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, numerous times with positive results. I'm excited to see how Sprinkle can do down the seam in this game as a pass catcher versus the Crimson Tide.
Alabama safety Eddie Jackson is a former cornerback who made the transition to safety in 2015 and passed that test with flying colors as one of the best big-play defenders in the nation. Jackson is a smooth athlete with great ball skills and an aggressiveness in the run game that isn't often seen from former corners at the position. Another strong showing against a top-shelf tight end in Sprinkle will only help solidify himself as the top senior safety in the upcoming NFL Draft.
5. Texas A&M T Avery Gennesy vs. Tennessee EP Derek Barnett
Kyle Field, College Station, Texas - 3:30 PM - CBS
In each of the last four NFL Drafts, one thing has been true every time, a Texas A&M offensive tackle heard his name called in the first round. While Gennesy may not be the level of prospect as some of his predecessors, the 6-5, 305-pound senior has NFL ability (going up against a blue-chip talent like Garrett every day in practice surely helps that). A junior college transfer (Gennesy attended East Mississippi Community College of Last Chance U fame), Gennesy is seen by many as a mid-round pick in the upcoming draft, and has a huge chance to improve that status this week.
You'd be hard pressed to find a pass rusher on a better hot streak than Tennessee's Derek Barnett right now. After a two-sack performance in their come-from-behind win over the Florida Gators two weeks ago, Barnett responded with another beastly outing against Georgia a week ago. The All-America candidate notched a pair of sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a huge forced fumble against the Bulldogs, and has propelled himself into the limelight after being a freshman All-America in 2014. A relentless player who can win in multiple ways from various techniques on both sides of the formation, Barnett can rush the passer and defend the run equally well, and is a very dependable player in every facet.
Between Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp and East Carolina's Zay Jones, many of the top wideouts in the senior class come from "directional" programs that always fly under the radar. A prospect who belongs near the top of that list is Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor, a player who has fascinated me since the summer. At 5-11, 198 pounds, Taylor made the Senior Bowl Watch List in August, meaning he caught the eyes of NFL scouts. He made FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman's famous Freak List in July, speaking to his otherworldly athleticism. He was a first-team all-conference player a year ago as a junior, posting the most productive season in Hilltoppers history by a receiver. He's a team captain. He's produced against the top competition year in and year out (9 catches for 121 yards against Alabama this year, 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against LSU last year). On tape you see a polished route runner with very good ball skills and great quickness after the catch. I'll be very surprised if Taylor isn't one of the first receivers off the board once we reach April's draft.
Every year, the Senior Bowl always seems to find talented diamonds in the rough from the small-school ranks, and this year that player may be Bucknell left tackle Julie'n Davenport. The 6-6, 301-pound senior is a two-time team captain, has started every game of his career and has great family bloodlines (his cousin is NBA star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Playing in the Patriot League, Davenport doesn't see a ton of quality competition (though he plays the conference's best pass rusher this week in Holy Cross defensive end Dewayne Cameron), but he'll almost surely get a chance to prove himself in the January all-star game. Keep an eye out for this local kid from Camden, New Jersey.
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.