There was an interesting matchup in the trenches with Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst taking on Michigan State center Brian Allen. Hurst is a potential early-round talent who has flexibility to play tackle or end. Sources say Allen has received late-round and undrafted free agent grades because he is very undersized, but Allen is a competitive, physical blocker who plays with a chip on his shoulder. This game ended up illustrating why Hurst is an early-round pick and Allen is a late-rounder at best.
In the first quarter, Hurst made a nice play to get a tackle for a loss, but had his play taken away by a penalty. Hurst came close to a sack, but Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke stepped up in the pocket and took off up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown run. Hurst then came close to a sack as he used speed to cross the face of the left guard and collapse the pocket to start a sack for Michigan.
After halftime, Hurst fired his gap by the right tackle and almost started a safety for Michigan. Hurst then fired between the guard and center to cause a scrum that got the ball back for Michigan. Hurst showed an amazing get off with explosion off the snap to fire by the guard and right tackle for a tackle for a loss a bit later. A penalty on a teammate took away the play by Hurst, but shortly afterward, he had another superb play firing into the backfield to blow up a run.
This was a thoroughly impressive tape from Hurst. He was causing major disruption using a tremendous get off to fire into the backfield all night. Hurst was wrecking plays from start to finish and led the way for Michigan's defense to keep the Spartans to 14 points despite the Wolverines' offense turning the ball over five times. This tape will help Hurst to be a first- or second-round pick.
Allen plays hard and blocks through the whistle, but he has some athletic limitations. That was the case for his older brother Jack Allen, who went undrafted a few years ago. At 6-foot-1, and about 300 pounds, Brian Allen is very undersized for the NFL, and he was getting overpowered all night. Allen struggles with heavy defensive tackles and even other smaller defenders push him backward with contact. In the fourth quarter, Allen got rocked into the backfield by a linebacker on a third down, and that set up a tackle of no gain for Michigan. He also struggled with fast defensive linemen like Hurst.
Against the Wolverines' tough defense, Allen couldn't get a push at the point of attack. At his size, Allen doesn't present the flexibility to play guard in the NFL. He is a good college player, but with his skill set, he would be fortunate to be a late-round pick.
Alabama 27, Texas A&M 19
The top draft matchup in this game was Alabama's NFL secondary taking on a potential No. 1 receiver for the pros in the Aggies playmaker Christian Kirk. Crimson Tide free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is a potential top-16 pick. Strong safety Ronnie Harrison is a first-round talent, while cornerbacks Tony Brown and Anthony Averett are second-day prospects. As one can expect, Alabama limited Kirk, but he still made his presence felt, as he is too good to shutdown completely.
In the second quarter, Kirk moved the chains getting open in zone coverage using his speed to quickly find a soft spot. Kirk later made a great catch on the sideline to for a 2-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal. He did a good job of breaking off his route to get open and help his scrambling quarterback. Kirk used strong hands to secure the ball leaning over the sideline and had superb footwork with balance to gain control before falling out of bounds.
Kirk had four receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. Considering he was seeing a lot of double coverage, it wasn't surprising that Kirk was kept from a huge night. Alabama has excellent safeties that will be starting in the NFL very soon, so getting bracket coverage from defenders like that over the top opens things up for other players, but the Aggies couldn't capitalize enough as Alabama won at the point of attack. This tape should help to confirm Kirk as a first-rounder.
When his team needed some big plays in crunch time, Fitzpatrick showed once again why he is a great player. Early in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick made a huge play for his team. Texas A&M was down 24-10, but the Aggies were only a few yards away from the end zone and cutting the lead to seven. On a third down, Fitzpatrick read the play to get underneath a route and pick off a pass in front of the end zone for a huge turnover that changed the momentum in the game. Fitzpatrick later recovered an onside kick to clinch the win for Alabama.
This tape will help Fitzpatrick's draft grade and illustrates why he is worthy of going in the top 16. He is a do-it-all safety who can be the deep center fielder, cover receivers in man, tackle running backs, and use rare instincts that put him in position to make splash plays. Fitzpatrick is one of the top defenders for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley is another likely first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ridley was on his way to a big night, but in the third quarter, he left the game with a knee injury and didn't return. Ridley finished with five receptions for 68 yards.
In the first quarter, Ridley was wide open in the middle of the field, but the pass from Jalen Hurts was wildly off the mark for an incompletion. It would have been a nice gain for Ridley with the potential to be huge if he broke or dodged a tackler or two. Ridley then caught a stretch pass behind the line of scrimmage but was quickly cut down by Armani Watts for a loss of one. He made a few receptions to move the chains. Then, after the half, Ridley got wide open in busted coverage for a 30-yard reception. He left the game shortly afterward.
Ridley is a thin receiver who needs to gain weight for the NFL. With him being a lighter and thinner build, scouts do have some durability concerns with Ridley holding up to the hitting and physicality of the pro game. Making a quick return to the field is necessary for Ridley to help address injury fears.
Alabama nose tackle Da'Ron Payne was dominating at the point of attack, and he led the way to shut down Aggies running back Trayveon Williams. Payne is a future first-rounder as a nose tackle with a rare combination of size, speed, and strength. Sources across the league are raving about Payne.
Alabama running back Damien Harris continued his tremendous season. Harris ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run. He totaled 124 yards on 14 carries with the score. On top of running well, Harris showed impressive blitz protection skills. Harris looks like a potential second-day pick if he enters the 2018 NFL Draft.
Texas A&M senior safety Armani Watts was around the ball and made some good tackles in space. However, Watts struggles with deep speed, and that could be seen on Harris' 75-yard touchdown run as the Crimson Tide back pulled away from Watts in the open field. Watts doesn't have great size or speed, but he could be a mid-rounder who turns into a nice value pick because of his instincts and versatility.
Miami 24, Florida State 20
Florida State safety Derwin James is a likely top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Seminoles cornerback Tarvarus McFadden is another first-round talent. They were seeing some dangerous wide receiving talent against Miami, led by talented sophomore Ahmmon Richards. It turned out to be a very eventful day for McFadden with the game going away from James.
Richards went against McFadden for most of the afternoon. In the early going, Richards beat McFadden on a slant underneath, but dropped the pass. Shortly later, McFadden had tight coverage on a slant to slap a pass away. In the third quarter, McFadden was challenged deep down the field by Richards and interfered with the wideout to prevent a reception. McFadden was correctly called for the penalty. McFadden then released Richards in cover 2, and the throw was fit in between the coverage to convert a long third down. That play was on the safety for being late coming over the top.
To end the drive, McFadden broke up a pass to force a field goal for Miami. McFadden got away with a holding on Richards in the fourth quarter, and that forced a punt for Miami. The Hurricanes then threw downfield twice at McFadden, but he held up the receiver both plays to force incompletions. With just seconds left in the game, Miami targeted McFadden and beat him for a 23-yard touchdown with a back-shoulder throw. McFadden was in good position, but didn't play the ball well as it floated by him to the receiver. He made the catch and then fought off McFadden to get into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Overall, this tape will hurt McFadden in his draft grade. He is very physical with receivers, and in the NFL, he is going to get called regularly for pass interference and holdings if he doesn't stop getting so handsy with wideouts. McFadden is a big press man corner, but it looks like he needs to have a lot of contact in order to prevent separation. McFadden is a first-round talent, but this tape will not suggest that he is a shutdown corner.
Florida State defensive end Josh Sweat has an early-round skill set, but has a problematic knee that is hurting his draft grade. Sweat helped himself with a strong game against Miami.
Early in the first quarter, Sweat showed nice play recognition to see a screen and break it up. Sweat almost controlled the ball for an interception. Sweat then did well to break down in space and take down the quarterback for a loss on a zone read run. Just before the half, Sweat notched a sack, as he used speed to fly by the right tackle and chase down the quarterback. Sweat later added another knock down of a pass. Throughout the game, Sweat was getting other pressures, using his speed to get upfield. This tape will help Sweat, as he showed real edge-rushing talent against the Hurricanes.
Miami junior Mark Walton is a running back prospect for the NFL, but this tape won't help his draft grade. The talented Seminole defense kept Walton in check, as they didn't allow rushing lanes to open up and Walton didn't have the size or power to get through tackles. He totaled 25 yards on 12 carries. Walton should probably return for his senior year.
LSU 17, Florida 16
LSU defensive end Arden Key is one of the top talents for the 2018 NFL Draft. Key was battling a quality offensive tackle prospect with Florida's Martez Ivey. Key missed time recovering from offseason shoulder surgery to start the year, and has been working his way back into playing shape since then. Ivey had a rough start to the season against Michigan, but has played better since then. Overall they each had positive performances.
On the first play from scrimmage Florida had a screen behind Ivey go for 12 yards with Ivey getting a block on Key before Key peeled back to make the tackle downfield. The back fumbled the ball and Ivey jumped on the loose ball to save the Gators. At the end of the first half, Key flew by Ivey to force Felipe Franks up in the pocket and then get in on the sack of the Gator quarterback. Key had a mental mistake midway through the third quarter with a late hit way out of bounds to gift the Gators 15 yards. Ivey returned the favor with a holding penalty in the fourth quarter. It was a questionable call when he rode a defender down the field before pancaking him.
Overall, both players had solid performances and this tape should help each of them. Key was active, using his speed to get pressure in the pocket. He had more success against the right tackle, but also had wins against Ivey. Ivey also had good plays keeping Key from getting to the quarterback and stopping other rushers. In the ground game, Ivey had some good blocks to help open holes for LaMichael Perine and Malik Davis.
LSU running back Derrius Guice has missed action with a leg injury lately, but he returned to the field versus the Gators. In the second quarter, Guice made a nice reception in the flat and dodged a tackler to get upfield for 15 yards. Aside from that play, Guice was held in check by Florida, totaling 50 yards on 17 carries. Guice isn't the same runner that he was last year. He doesn't have the same speed and burst to hit the hole. With the lack of speed, Guice also isn't as violent and physical of a runner. With a lot of running backs having breakout seasons, Guice's draft stock could decline if he is unable to start producing some big games.
Another draft matchup in this game was LSU wide receiver DJ Chark going against Florida cornerback Duke Dawson. In the first quarter, Dawson was called for a holding and that hurt his defense by gifting LSU a third-down conversion. On the next play, the Tigers got a 30-yard touchdown run with Chark hitting a good block in space to spring is back. Chark followed that up by making a mistake on special teams as he fielded a punt at the 5-yard line rather than letting the ball land to see if it would roll into the end zone.
In the second quarter, Dawson almost jumped a route for a pick-six, but the ball went just past his fingertips. A few plays later, Dawson couldn't control a deflected pass that hit him in the chest. It later looked like Dawson had an interception, but Chark was able to get a hold of the ball and the officials awarded LSU possession for a 47-yard gain. LSU hurried to get the next play off to prevent a review, and that was the only reception for Chark.
This tape won't help either player. Dawson had some missed opportunities for big plays along with a penalty, while Chark wasn't getting consistent separation from the Gators defensive backs. Both will need better performances to help their draft stock.
Auburn 44, Ole Miss 23
This game had two potential early-round cornerbacks for the 2018 NFL Draft in Ole Miss' Ken Webster and Auburn's Carlton Davis. Both players were sound in coverage and didn't get burned to allow big separation, but each one had some lowlights that allowed points.
In the first quarter, Webster missed a tackle in space on Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, and that allowed the Tigers back to coast into the end zone from about 20 yards. Shortly later, Webster was blocked by an offensive tackle on a bubble screen and that ended up helping to allow a 75-yard touchdown. It is hard to knock Webster on that play, as an offensive tackle has a massive advantage to get a block on a defensive back.
Webster came within inches of a pick-six in the second quarter, as he broke on the ball on an out route, but the ball went just past his hands to fly incomplete. Webster showed nice speed and burst to close on the play.
Webster was solid running with his receivers overall. He has quality size to him with quick feet and the athleticism to prevent separation. Sources from multiple teams say they see him as a potential first- or second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Davis was challenged deep on one of the first plays of the game, but he had blanket coverage with the pass falling incomplete. There were a few other plays where Davis had perfect coverage with passes going incomplete when Ole Miss threw his way. Early in the third quarter, however, Davis allowed a nine-yard touchdown. He was lined up with a cushion of seven yards. After a quick pass, Davis ran up but overpursued, and that let the receiver spin away from him to dart into the end zone.
Davis is a big corner who has quickness and length to him. It will be interesting to see how he performs in drills in terms of his hip flexibility and the ability to turn and run. If Davis shows that skill, he could end up being a first-round pick. If he looks stiff in pre-draft workouts, Davis could end up slipping to day two.
After transferring to Auburn, quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a tough debut against Clemson where the offensive line was dominated to allow double digit sacks in the game. Since then, Stidham has shown improvement week by week while Auburn's offense has gotten a lot better.
Stidham continued his strong play against a weak Ole Miss defense as he looked comfortable in the pocket and illustrated improved field vision and accuracy. He had some easy throws go for big plays like a 75-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen. Stidham completed 14-of-21 for 235 yards and two touchdowns in this game. If Stidham continues to improve, he has early-round potential in his draft class.
Penn State 31, Northwestern 7
There were two potential offensive franchise players playing in this game: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson. Barkley is on his way to being a top-five pick next April, while Thorson is a rising prospect with some NFL sources saying he has first-round potential. Both teams had their defenses selling out to stop those offensive weapons, and the game plans worked into the second half. In the first half, Thorson had three turnovers, though all three were the result of his offensive line and wide receivers making terrible plays. The top Heisman contender Barkley had minus-1 yards rushing on eight carries at halftime.
While Barkley didn't get rolling in the first half, it was only a matter of time before he would break out. In the third quarter, Barkley had a short touchdown run, jumping over a scrum to get into the end zone. That gave him a score with zero yards rushing. He fell back into the negatives before he got in the black for good. He took a run up the middle, juked a few defenders, and then bounced to the outside to race down the field for a 53-yard touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter, Barkley got open running a while route but couldn't reel in a diving touchdown. As Penn State pulled away, the starters were pulled early.
Barkley finished with 75 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. This game won't impact his draft stock, as he is an elite running back prospect in the same mold of Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, whom he's graded better than. Unless Barkley has an injury or off the field issue, he's a lock to be a top-10 pick next April. Walt has him second overall to the 49ers in his 2018 NFL Mock Draft.
Unlike Barkley, Thorson couldn't eventually break out, and that is because his weak offensive line was getting dominated by Penn State's defense from start to finish.
On the first drive of the game, Thorson got the Wildcats moving when he converted a fourth-and-8 with a 24-yard strike to Macan Wilson. After moving into Penn State territory, the drive didn't end well, as Thorson was hit as he threw, and that let a 50-50 jump ball fall a little short. The Penn State cornerback beat the receiver for the pass and came down with an interception. Thorson's line allowed pressure from a few defenders on the play, and the wideout did a terrible job of playing the jump ball.
Later in the first quarter, Thorson was sacked from the blind side as he threw. It was a close call that looked like Thorson's arm was coming forward, but it was ruled a fumble for Penn State. The left tackle was killed on the play, and Thorson didn't hold the ball too long as the tackle was beaten cleanly off the snap.
Thorson came back to throw a bullet for a critical conversion across midfield as his throw was fit into a tight window to beat good coverage. That drive ended with a failed option fourth-down run. Late in the second quarter, Thorson made a great play to convert a third down, dropping back to pass in his own end zone. He surveyed the field, dodged two tacklers, and rolled out before lofting in a perfect throw between a group of defenders for a 32-yard gain. Thorson also made that throw into a the wind in some gusty conditions in Evanston. The drive ended with Northwestern having time to attempt a Hail Mary as time expired before the half. A Penn State corner caught the pass, as the Northwestern wide out didn't even turn to look for the ball when he was at the goal line. It is hard to put into words just how pathetic Northwestern's wide receivers are, and the offensive line is just as bad.
Thorson completed 19-of-36 for 142 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. NFL sources are well aware of how bad Thorson's supporting cast is, and they feel he has a lot of potential for the next level. Despite the talent around him, Thorson has shown a good skill set this season. He has good size and a strong arm, amd he throws accurately, is smart, happens to be a leader, and has some mobility for a big quarterback. However, to help Thorson's first-round chances, he needs to have some tapes of dominance down the stretch. Sources tell me that Thorson will declare for the 2018 NFL Draft if he hears that he is a first-rounder from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. If they project him to after the first round, he probably will decide to return for his senior year.
N.C. State 39, Louisville 25
Louisville junior quarterback Lamar Jackson has beaten up on some weak opponents this season, but had an underwhelming game against the Clemson Tigers with their tough defense comprised of future NFL players. Jackson was seeing another real challenge in the N.C. State Wolfpack, as their defensive line has a lot of NFL talent, led by defensive end Bradley Chubb. Chubb is on his way to being a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, so the Wolfpack were going to be a tough test for Jackson. Overall, Jackson played pretty well but his offensive line and wide receivers gave him no help as N.C. State kept Jackson from controlling the game.
The biggest hinderance to Jackson against N.C. State was his wide receivers. They dropped a lot of passes that Jackson threw accurately. He hit them on the run, yet too many balls ended up falling to the ground. The receivers also struggled to get open at times, and that tight coverage really restricted what Jackson could do with his arm. The struggles of his receivers caused Jackson to be impatient at times, and he scrambled into a sack as a result, despite having a clean pocket.
In the second quarter, Jackson made a beautiful throw. He lofted in a well-placed touch pass to the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown pass. The Wolfpack held him in check for a lot of the middle portion of the game, but in the fourth quarter, Jackson used his legs to move the chains and then had a short scramble for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Shortly later, Jackson hit a receiver in stride with a bullet to let him break free downfield for a 65-yard gain. Jackson finished the drive with a short touchdown run.
Louisville got the ball back down seven with just under three minutes remaining backed up deep in its own territory. Jackson picked a bad time to make a critical mistake, throwing an inaccurate pass behind his receiver. The ball fired to a defensive back, where it was tipped into the air. It was picked off and returned for the game-clinching touchdown. Jackson finished having completed 26-of-47 for 354 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 73 yards on 19 carries with two scores.
There clearly is a lot of room for improvement for Jackson as a passer for the NFL. The main issue is accuracy. Jackson can miss too high on throws, and his footwork fundamentals can get out of whack, which leads to inconsistent accuracy. He can make some perfect throws with excellent ball placement and then miss wildly on his next throw. More than anything, Jackson needs work on his accuracy for the next level.
That being said, there is no doubt that Jackson has a starting skill set for the NFL, and that could be seen in this game. He has elite arm strength, possessing a powerful gun like other strong-armed prospects like Pat Mahomes or Jared Goff. Jackson's arm is so strong that he can make throws off platform that other quarterbacks have to have their feet set to make. With just a flip of the wrist, the ball explodes out of Jackson's hand, and he can beat good coverage with perfect throws that very few quarterbacks can make. When Jackson's in the NFL next year, his arm will be one of the strongest in the league, in the same ballpark as Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco.
On top of elite arm strength, Jackson is a great athlete with incredible mobility, speed, and moves to rip up defenses with his feet. From a skill-set perspective, Jackson is very similar to Michael Vick. With his physical talent, I think Jackson will rise throughout the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft and end up being a first-round pick with high first-round potential.
Chubb continued his excellent 2017 season with this outing. On the second play of the game, he used his speed to get upfield and slap down the hands of the tackle to get free while chasing Jackson down for a sack. Shortly later, Chubb notched a tackle for a loss on a quarterback-option run by Jackson. Chubb got the better of the Louisville offensive linemen all night. He came close to a number of other sacks, but Jackson would scramble away or get the ball off. Against other quarterbacks who aren't the elite athlete that Jackson is, Chubb would have had more sacks. He used his speed to constantly blow by blockers and his active hands to keep them from getting a block on him. If Chubb continues his current level of play while avoiding injury or off-the-field concerns, he looks like a top-25 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Louisville defensive end James Hearns is a prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft as well. In the first quarter, Hearns made a big play for his defense, falling on a fumble to get his defense off the field when they were backed up inside their 10-yard line. To start the second quarter, Hearns stuffed a run for no gain after working off a block from the tight end to make the stop. Hearns later made a mental mistake, tossing a ballcarrier to the ground hard after the whistle during the third quarter. That penalty gifted a first-and-goal situation to N.C. State. Hearns was benched after the play for a time. When he came back into the game, the outcome was already decided. Hearns has some speed and athleticism on the edge, but he could stand to be more consistent. As a result, he looks more like a second-day prospect or mid-round pick.
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels is a listed as a tight end, but for the NFL, he is more of a receiving back. One scout told me earlier this season that they thought Samuels could be a Bryan Westbrook-type dynamic weapon in the NFL passing game. Against Louisville, Samuels illustrated why the scout views him that way.
Samuels made a huge play in the second quarter, catching a short hitch route about 10 yards downfield. He spun away from a would-be tackler and then exploded down the field. Samuels weaved around defenders, ending up with a 79-yard gain. That one play exhibited Samuels' route-running, speed and elusiveness. In the third quarter, Samuels created more problems for defenders, splitting two would-be tacklers to get a few more yards and a first down for the Wolfpack. Samuels ended up catching seven passes for 104 yards against the Cardinals.
Samuels is a receiving back for the NFL who also can tolerate some traditional carries. He could play some fullback as well. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder could be a real weapon in the pros and looks like a future second- or third-round pick.