It's time to preview Week 5 of the 2018 College Football season and react to another outstanding weekend. We had some instant classics last weekend involving some of the top prospects from coast to coast, and we touched on a lot of it on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast. Here's who you should be watching this week!
Game Ball: Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
In one of the games of the weekend, Notre Dame's Jerry Tillery came through big-time for the Fighting Irish against Stanford. The senior posted four sacks, nearly matching last season's total of 4.5 over his entire junior campaign and tying a record currently held by former Eagle Victor Abiamiri and former New York Giant Justin Tuck. Tillery, who was one of my favorite seniors in the entire country entering the season, absolutely has three-down potential in the NFL as a strong, powerful run defender who offers potential as a pass rusher, as evidenced by Saturday's dominant performance. He has light feet, violent hands, and the first-step quickness to shoot gaps and make plays on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. I'm excited to see how Tillery can expand on this performance in the second half of the season.
Prediction: In a battle between two ranked teams, the Irish travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech. I picked the Hokies in their upset loss against Old Dominion a couple of weeks ago, and maybe I'm still smarting from that, but I really like Notre Dame here, even in enemy territory after an emotional win. The offense has looked great since the switch at quarterback, and despite the injuries, I expect the Fighting Irish to take their show on the road and come away with a two-score win.
Draft Buzz: Miami CB Michael Jackson
This is a player who continues to generate positive attention and has the arrow pointing up with his draft stock at this point in the process.
In a recent Mock Draft released by CBS Sports, Miami cornerback Michael Jackson was taken at the end of the first round. I found this noteworthy because I haven't seen many mocks with the senior's name on it. I don't necessarily believe he'll go that high in the spring, but I had him as my favorite corner in the senior class entering the year. He's got good size, experience lining up inside and outside, has clean feet, and reliable eyes. Jackson has good, not great, speed and this is his only year as a true starter for the Canes. I think he's a high-floor player entering the NFL with starting potential.
Prediction: One of the best rivalry games of the year takes place this weekend with Miami versus Florida State, and while both teams are in a bit of a transition phase, there is still plenty of talent on the field, particularly at the skill positions. Jackson and the Miami secondary will be tested by FSU receiver Nyqwan Murray and the rest of the Seminoles. For the first time in eight years, Miami beat Florida State last season in stunning fashion ... and I expect them to make it a winning streak with a W on Saturday. Miami has flown under the radar a bit after their opening week loss to a dominant LSU squad, and I think they surprise with a two-touchdown victory.
Best Pro Comparison: Mississippi State S Johnathan Abram
Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here's a player with an easy picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.
One of a handful of senior prospects on the Bulldogs' defense, Johnathan Abram has a lot of tools to work with as a potential starting safety at the next level. He's a bit undersized but has explosive traits with the ability to fly off the hash, the fluid hips to both change direction and turn-and-run with receivers vertically, and the burst to run the alley and lay a big hit on a ball carrier. Those are a lot of the same things I wrote about former Texas A&M free safety Justin Evans, now the starter for the Tampa Bay Bucs as a former second-round pick. Like Abram, Evans was a bit undersized, a loose tackler downhill (but an aggressive hitter, nonetheless), and was still coming along with his play recognition and eye discipline on the back end. The two share a lot of similar traits at the same stages of their respective careers.
Prediction: Mississippi State has lost two straight games to Florida and Kentucky. The Bulldogs have been in an offensive rut, managing just 13 points in those contests. This week they host a top-10 squad in Auburn. The Tigers present a multidimensional offense, an upperclassman quarterback, and a ferocious front seven on defense that can get after quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. I'm taking the visiting Tigers here, comfortably, in a win.
Small-School Standout: Elon OT Oli Udoh
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
A four-year starter for the Phoenix at right tackle, Oli Udoh has legitimate NFL size at 6-6, 356 pounds with extremely long arms. I watched him against South Florida and he absolutely did not look out of place against FBS competition. Playing in the CAA (the same conference as Villanova and Delaware), Udoh doesn't get a ton of exposure to a national audience, but you can be sure that scouts have taken notice of this kid. The senior is really strong and is very tough to move off of his spot both in pass protection as well as in the run game. I'm not sure that he has the foot quickness required to be a tackle in the NFL, so he's likely more of a guard, but he'll have a chance to prove that after the season at the Senior Bowl or Shrine Game.
Prediction: Elon is on a collision course with conference favorite James Madison. Both teams are 3-1, and the Dukes have crushed the CAA teams on the schedule so far, drubbing Richmond 63-10 and William & Mary 51-0 the week before. I like James Madison to win the game as they pull away in the second half.
Philly Connection: Texas CB Kris Boyd
This is a player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on.
One of the top senior corners in the country, Kris Boyd has been generating some buzz lately thanks to the Longhorns' early-season success. Listed at 6-0, 195 pounds, Boyd has posted eight pass breakups and a pick so far through five games, and is one of the leading tacklers in the Texas secondary. Having studied him against Maryland, USC, and TCU, Boyd is a physical corner with zone awareness, competitiveness, and potential to transition to the inside at the next level. I worry about Boyd's ability to play on the outside in the NFL and his ball skills are a bit hit or miss down the field, but he has pro ability for sure. One thing he has going in his favor? He has NFL bloodlines, with two cousins having already played corner in the NFL, including former Eagles corner Bobby Taylor.
Prediction: We've got the Red River Shootout this weekend and I expect it to be just that. I think this will be a high-scoring affair with a ton of yards and points on the board. Boyd has a tough test with dynamic quarterback Kyler Murray and an explosive deep threat in Marquise Brown with the Sooners, who are seen as heavy favorites in the game. I expect it that to play out that way, as Oklahoma gets another win over Texas in comfortable fashion. I fully expect that Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley will test Boyd deep.
Three Matchups To Watch
One of the first things NFL evaluators do when scouting college prospects is watch them against the best competition. How did a wide receiver fare against the best cover corner on his schedule? How did a pass rusher do when he faced a top-flight left tackle? How did a quarterback perform against the best defenses on the schedule? These are the first games scouts will look at, and here are three matchups that fit the bill this week.
1. Alabama RB Damien Harris vs. Arkansas LB Dre Greenlaw
Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas - Noon - ESPN
Damien Harris is one of my favorite players in the country.
He does so many little things well at the running back spot, and while he's not as explosive as Saquon Barkley, as powerful as Leonard Fournette, or as productive as Christian McCaffrey when they all came out of school, I think he will be a productive pro. Harris has good vision, balance, make-you-miss ability, and deceptive speed in the open field to bust off long runs. In a talented backfield, he does not need to carry a heavy load, and should have relatively fresh legs when he enters the league in 2019.
Charged with trying to stop Harris this weekend, Arkansas senior linebacker Dre Greenlaw appears to be all the way back from an ankle injury that stole a couple of starts from him early in the season. An undersized linebacker who was ranked by most scouting services as a safety leaving high school, Greenlaw is a very good athlete who makes plays from sideline to sideline. The definition of a "fast-flow" player, Greenlaw flies at the very first thing he sees in the backfield, which makes him a bit of a feast or famine player right now with potential to make, or give up, explosive plays. Expect to hear his name called often in this contest.
Prediction: The Tide have rolled in every game this year and I don't expect them to stumble over a rebuilding Arkansas club. Harris runs for 80 yards and a score in the victory, while Greenlaw notches 10 tackles, one for a loss.
2. N.C. State QB Ryan Finley vs. Boston College DL Zach Allen
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, North Carolina - 12:30 p.m. - ACC Network
Regarded by some evaluators as the top senior quarterback in the entire country entering the season, Ryan Finley is one of the biggest names that not enough people talk about in college football. He's a good-sized quarterback operating a pro-style offense. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but it is certainly good enough to be an adequate signal-caller at the next level. Finley is a timing and rhythm passer with poise to stand in the pocket and deliver under pressure. He does a lot of things well, though nothing great, and I think he'll project as a high-end backup moving on to the NFL.
This Boston College team doesn't make things look pretty. They're a slugfest team that tries to out-physical opponents on a weekly basis with a dominant run game and a tough, talented defense. Last year, pass rusher Harold Landry stole the headlines, but Zach Allen was more than holding his own on the other side. An oversized edge rusher who dominates as an edge setter in the run game and can win with length and effort as a pass rusher, Allen posted a huge game against my Temple Owls last weekend. The senior racked up eight tackles (four for a loss), a pair of sacks, a forced fumble, and two pass breakups in the win. I think he's a first-round talent. Allen isn't the only Eagles defender to watch, as their safety tandem of Will Harris and Lukas Denis should play on Sundays as well.
Prediction: Allen has been on a tear, and against this N.C. State offensive line I think it will continue. He's a disruptor up front, and I think he'll be able to get after Finley. In the end, though, I don't think it will matter. The Wolfpack have some talent on the perimeter and have churned out yards at an impressive rate, and there are a couple of injuries that could loom large with the Eagles as well (keep an eye on the status of sophomore runner A.J. Dillon). Dillon being healthy would potentially change my mind here, but I like N.C. State to win by a touchdown.
3. Maryland OT Derwin Gray vs. Michigan DE Chase Winovich_ Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan - Noon - ABC_
One of my favorite tackles who I've studied as of this point is Maryland's left tackle Derwin Gray. A sturdy blocker with pretty good feet for his size, the senior has a strong anchor, uses his hands pretty well, and is always looking for work. I don't think he projects as a star, but he looks like a rock-solid starter on the blindside at the next level. My one concern is that he's a bit of a waist-bender, but I still feel good about him moving to the next level. The Terps have another senior on the other side in Damien Prince, and he's going to figure into this matchup as well.
Michigan's defense is led by that talented line, with senior Chase Winovich being the real flag-carrier for that group up front. Winovich has a high motor, uses his hands really well, and is able to win at the top of the rush to the point that he's able to mask some of his athletic limitations. Winovich lines up on both sides of the formation, so he will get reps against both Gray and Prince, but his matchup with Gray has me most intrigued.
Prediction: The Wolverines have rolled lately, despite a near slip-up last week in Evanston, Illinois against Northwestern. Back at home, I like Michigan to bounce back against the Terps. They should win easily by three scores or more. Winovich gets a pair of sacks in this one (more than likely off the offensive right side).
What fun is making predictions if we're not keeping score?
Last Week: 8-0
Season Record: 25-10
I know I'm just picking these games straight up ... but 8-0? Picking the biggest games of the week? I'll pat myself on the back for that.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.