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.
After a thrilling opening weekend for college football, we've got a ton of great action here in Week 2. 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 here are five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. North Carolina Defense
*Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina - Noon - ESPN *
With Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen taking their share of hits in the media after Week 1, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson had as efficient a performance as one could ask for against Purdue last Saturday. The junior completed 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards and a pair of scores, tacking on 107 yards on the ground to boot. One of the most dynamic playmakers in recent memory, Jackson will be a polarizing prospect when he decides to enter the NFL Draft. One thing to watch against the Tar Heels on Saturday is that he performed more from the pocket against Purdue than we are accustomed to seeing. I saw some improvement from Jackson as a passer although he was a bit lackluster in the red zone and still hurried at times. Can he continue that improvement against this North Carolina team? He's got more than enough arm talent, and while I think there are areas where he still needs to prove himself, I'm absolutely figuring Jackson will be in the quarterback conversation when it comes time to move on to the NFL.
Jackson has a tough task this week with his first in-conference opponent. UNC had a lot of issues last week defending Cal, but there's talent on that unit. Cornerback M.J. Stewart is my favorite Heel who I've watched so far. Senior defensive end Tyler Powell and junior tackle Jalen Dalton lead things up front, but two junior linebackers in Andre Smith and Cole Holcomb have stood out to me throughout their careers. Holcomb is undersized but led the team in tackles a year ago, while Smith is a player to absolutely keep a close eye on as the draft draws closer.
2. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel vs. Notre Dame DL Jerry Tillery
*Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana - 7:30 pm - NBC *
Georgia running back Nick Chubb has been on my radar since his true freshman season in Athens. An instinctive, physical back who can handle the load as a three-down player in the NFL, Chubb suffered a devastating knee injury as a sophomore that he may or may not have been 100 percent all the way back from last year as a junior. Still, the vision and competitiveness were on display in 2016, and I think his skill set translates well to the NFL game as a starting ball carrier. Behind him is Sony Michel, who also deserves plenty of praise. Michel isn't truly explosive, but he's quick, has pretty good vision, and projects well as a No. 2 back and third-down option because of his abilities as a blocker and a receiver. The big issue with Michel will be his ball security moving forward because it's been an issue for him in the past.
There's been plenty of turnover in the Notre Dame front seven, and up front on the defensive line in particular, but one name that was brought to my attention during his true freshman season was Jerry Tillery. At 6-6, 305 pounds, Tillery was seen by some college evaluators as an offensive tackle coming out of Louisiana, but Notre Dame smartly kept him on defense and he's been a stalwart as its starting nose guard. After a four-tackle performance against Temple last week, I expect Tillery to lead the charge against a strong Georgia running game.
3. Missouri WR J'Mon Moore vs. South Carolina CB JaMarcus King
*Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri - 7:00 pm - ESPN2 *
The 2018 wide receiver class isn't particularly strong from what I've seen so far, but one of the most naturally talented prospects I've studied is J'Mon Moore. At 6-3, 190 pounds, he's got drool-worthy measurables as a vertical threat in the Tigers' offense, displaying the giddy-up to attack the ball downfield and the physicality to make plays with the ball in his hands. A high school track and basketball star, Moore can go up and win in contested situations and make some highlight-reel grabs look like child's play. Consistency (or lack thereof) is a major concern, and he's not polished whatsoever when it comes to his releases off the line of scrimmage or as a route runner. That will be an issue moving forward. Moore is gifted, there's no question, but he's a very raw receiver in a lot of ways and will need a lot of coaching upon entering the league. He is still someone to keep a close eye on (he posted a 4-for-187-and-two scores line last week) in this matchup.
South Carolina has an evolving defense with talent at all three levels, but in the secondary try to focus in on cornerback JaMarcus King. At 6-2, 185 pounds, King was one of the top junior college recruits in the country and has the length to match up with Moore. Is he athletic enough to run with him in man coverage out in the open field? That's the big question that he'll need to answer. The senior was added to the Senior Bowl Watch List in August, so he is certainly a name on the radar of NFL scouts.
4. Oklahoma LT Orlando Brown vs. Ohio State Defensive Line
*Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio - 7:30 p.m. - ABC *
You may do a double take when you hear about a hulking offensive lineman named Orlando Brown, and that's because his father, Orlando "Zeus" Brown, was a longtime NFL vet with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The son has eye-popping size at 6-8, 345 pounds (and that last number may be a bit generous), but he's not just your typical oversized college tackle. He's got pretty good feet and I believe he's quick enough to protect the blind side in the NFL. If scouts are going to see him the same way I do, he'll need to have a strong showing this week against what analysts will say is his biggest challenge of the 2017 season.
This Ohio State defensive line is the deepest in the country. I don't consider any of the players to be blue chip prospects, but they come at you in waves. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis has NFL size at 6-4, 265 pounds, and he knows how to use his frame to try and overpower opposing blockers (good luck with that against Brown). The starter on the opposite side, Sam Hubbard, is an underclassman who is more of a developmental-type prospect. Hubbard was a high school safety who arrived on campus as a linebacker who has now fully made the transition to the defensive line. This will be a huge showcase for him. Former top-five selection Joey Bosa's younger brother, Nick Bosa, is a true sophomore (and not eligible for the NFL until 2019), and is extremely disruptive against the run and the pass. The name to keep an eye on, and who I think is the top-eligible prospect for 2018, is defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones. He has a high motor and has impressed me greatly whenever I've watched him play for the Buckeyes. Jones is an athletic interior disruptor who reminds me a bit of Sheldon Richardson coming out of Missouri a few years back.
5. Mississippi State LT Martinas Rankin vs. Louisiana Tech DE Jaylon Ferguson
Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, Louisiana - 7:30 p.m. - CBS Sports Network
Mississippi State left tackle Martinas Rankin made headlines last winter when he told reporters that he was going back to school for his senior season despite receiving a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee. At 6-5, 302 pounds, he has the frame that teams want on the edge, and one of his best traits is his strong set of hands. He's not powerful at the point of attack, but when he latches onto a defender he rarely is shed in the run game. He's got solid feet as well, giving Rankin an intriguing skill set, but I believe that he's got a lot to work on in the finer points at the position before being viewed as a high draft choice. I think he made the right decision in going back to school, and this will be one of the sneakier tests on his schedule this Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
For Rankin, who faces SEC competition on a weekly basis, this won't feel like an out of the ordinary week from a preparation standpoint. For his opponent, Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson, it's a completely different story. Ferguson was a first-team all-conference player last year after setting a school record with 14.5 sacks as a sophomore. At 6-5, 269 pounds, Ferguson certainly appears to be one of the top prospects in the country outside of the Power 5 conferences, so any chance he has against superior competition will go a long way in his final evaluation. I'm very excited to see these two players match up.
There was a lot of talk in media circles this week about USC quarterback Sam Darnold after a lackluster performance against Western Michigan to open the year. The numbers weren't terrible (23-of-33 for 289 yards and two interceptions), but his two picks came off of a jump ball downfield and a tipped throw. I'm not jumping off the bandwagon that pits him as one of the best prospects in the country and a potential top-10 pick. There is some cause for concern after reviewing the tape.
The Broncos got after Darnold early, and USC (who had to replace three starters who went to the NFL along the offensive line) struggled in protection. It appeared that to pressure got to Darnold, and his mechanics suffered as the game wore on. His accuracy and ball placement, which were typically very good, were not what I saw a year ago. He was a bit frenetic in the pocket, and the poor mechanics caused some throws to lose steam on the back end. It's not time to rewrite the scouting reports yet, but it is something that I'll be paying closer attention to as the season progresses because, again, as an Eagles fan, we want ALL of these quarterbacks to go high in the upcoming NFL Draft.
New Mexico State running back Larry Rose didn't get off to the start he would've wanted last week against Pac-12 opponent Arizona State, rushing for just 60 yards and putting up another 40 receiving, but this diminutive ball carrier is a prospect who I'm really excited about. Despite his smaller frame (a generous 5-11, 184 pounds), Rose was a third-team All-America selection two seasons ago and is entering his fourth year as a starter. A really good athlete with quickness, burst, and vision, he reminds me of Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson in a lot of ways. His size could be an issue, but Rose looks to me like the ideal third-down back in the NFL and a definite impact role player.
I alluded to UNC cornerback M.J. Stewart in the matchups section because he's my favorite of the Tar Heels prospects who I've studied so far. A smart, savvy, tough corner with position versatility to play both outside and in the slot, Stewart has a good feel for finding the ball downfield and has all of the mental traits to play the position. The biggest question is his top-end speed and overall athletic upside, but the three-year starter is a good football player and will last in the NFL. And if he had to pick a team to land with? Well, according to his bio page, the Arlington, Virginia native would pick the Philadelphia Eagles.
Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough receives a ton of attention nationally, and for good reason. He's a talented player. Let's not forget, however, the running back who started 12 games for the Crimson Tide last year in Damien Harris. At 5-11, 214 pounds, Harris was the No. 1 running back in the country coming out of high school. He isn't as explosive or powerful as Scarbrough, but he has a lot of translatable NFL traits. Harris' vision, feet, and elusiveness are all very impressive. It didn't shock me at all to see him help propel the Tide to victory over Florida State last week with 73 yards rushing and a touchdown. It wasn't the junior's trip to the end zone that really lit the spark for Alabama. It was, however, his blocked punt with minutes left to go in the third quarter that helped start the rally for the Tide and helped them roll to victory.
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.