02 Dec 2021 NFL Draft Watch: Top 3 Week 14 College Football Games
With two weeks left in the regular season, we are nearing the end of the college football season. This also means this column will be wrapping up soon as we begin to turn our attention to the NFL Draft, and the new XTB NFL Draft Book! More to come on that later.
We will have some coverage of the bowl games but that will be slightly different than what we have been putting together over the last few months.
In an attempt to highlight as many prospects and schools as possible, we will focus on some “under the radar” matchups this week. Those who have followed this series closely know that programs like Clemson, Notre Dame and Alabama have been heavily featured, so there is no need to beat a dead horse. Let us take a look at some guys people might not know about.
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#19 Iowa at Illinois
Iowa may not play the most exciting brand of football, but they are one of the most underrated programs in the country, and this year is no different with a 4-2 record and top 25 ranking. On the other hand, it feels like Illinois has been rebuilding for years. However, former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is slowly turning things around in Champaign after leading the team to a bowl game last year, the school’s first since 2014.
On the outside for the Hawkeyes is an absolute speed demon in Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The wideout has homerun hitting speed and can be a weapon on special teams in kick coverage and the return game. But there are questions surrounding his functional strength and ability to beat press coverage. Smith-Marsette will likely be a fifth-round pick and limited to special teams duties as a rookie.
In the trenches, Iowa has an absolute mammoth of a man in potential third-round pick Alaric Jackson. At 6’6” and 320 pounds, the tackle has the size and power to move defensive linemen and create wide rushing lanes. However, he does have some sloppy footwork and mobility issues that give him trouble in pass protection.
On the other side of the ball is edge defender Chauncey Golston, who has the length and strength to win with power as a pass rusher. Golston does lack some athletic ability that limits his pass rush arsenal and suggests he may be better suited to play on the inside at the next level. Regardless of position, the defensive lineman is looking at a late Day 3 projection.
Squaring off against Golston will be Illinois offensive tackle Alex Palczewski. With some impressive power at the point of attack, Palczewski would be a good fit in a gap running scheme, but he bends at the waist and has poor timing with his punch in pass protection. In a pass-heavy league, that is going to hurt the big man on draft day as he will like be a priority free agent with the potential to be selected in the seventh round.
A slightly more high-profile player for the Illini is wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, a fifth- to sixth-round prospect. His reliability and strength at the catch point give him the tools to be a solid possession receiver at the next level, but Imatorbhebhe lacks the breakaway speed to capitalize after the catch.
Arkansas at Missouri
It has been a while since Arkansas was relevant in the SEC, but they have sent some quality players to the NFL and that should continue this year. As for Missouri, they have managed to make two conference championship games in eight years and are riding a two-game win streak heading into this one.
Rakeem Boyd opted out on Tuesday so technically he is not a “player to watch,” but the running back plenty good enough to deserve a call out in this column. The former ‘Last Chance U’ star has impressive straight-line speed and power, but he needs to become more elusive and improve as a receiver. Boyd has a chance to be a late Day 2 pick but will likely come off the board in the middle of Day 3.
Creating space for Boyd is Arkansas offensive tackle and potential third-rounder Myron Cunningham. Cunningham currently projects best as a right tackle prospect in a zone-heavy scheme, though he has shown the versatility and overall skill set to play at either guard or tackle spot. While he has the build to function well in a gap-heavy scheme, his mobility and ability to stay square at the second and third levels will provide more value to zone teams.
Standing in Boyd and Cunningham’s way this weekend will be Nick Bolton from Missouri, a three-down linebacker who can destroy blockers at the point of attack and take away running backs man-to-man. He does tend to get fooled by misdirection plays and is not the most agile in zone coverage, though. On draft day, Bolton has a chance to be a first-rounder and the second linebacker off the board after Penn State’s Micah Parsons.
With good ball security, speed, and a solid all-around game, Tigers running back Larry Rountree III will be one of the safer picks in this year’s NFL Draft class. The problem is, he does not have an elite trait that makes him stand out from the rest of the pack. That means he could easily get lost in the shuffle in April and will probably be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Finally, there is wide receiver Damon Hazelton. A massive catch radius is Hazelton’s calling card to go along with some strong hands to make highlight-reel plays at the catch point. Mizzou is the third school he has attended, which will lead to some questions throughout the draft process, but he still should hear his name called no later than the fifth round.
Nebraska at Purdue
This has been an absolute nightmare of a season for Nebraska, and head coach Scott Frost might need the draft prospects below to step up to save his job. Purdue has plenty of talent, which lead to some high hopes at the beginning of the year, but a three-game skid has the Boilermakers closer to the bottom of the Big Ten than the top.
Offensive tackle Brenden Jaimes is the most notable prospect for the Huskers. The four-year starter projects as a mid-Day 3 pick due to his size, length and mobility. However, Jaimes leans with his shoulders and has a slow punch in pass protection, leading to some questions about his anchor.
Nebraska also has a potential late-round pick in cornerback Dicaprio Bootle. With good strength, body control, and scrappiness, Bootle would thrive as an outside corner in a press-heavy man coverage system at the next level. The problem is his size – 5’10” and 195 pounds – better fits the profile of a slot corner. He lacks the change of direction skills to be effective in that role.
Likely slated to see plenty of reps against Bootle is Rondale Moore. The wideout is a quick-twitch, crafty route runner who has elite speed and received some first-round buzz over the summer. However, injuries have limited Moore to just six games over the last two years combined, and thus his NFL Draft stock has started to slip into the second- or third-round range.
Shifting the focus to the other side of the ball, the Boilermakers have an NFL legacy player at defensive tackle in Lorenzo Neal Jr., whose father shares the same name and had a 15-year career as a fullback in the league. Junior can defeat blocks with a club or swim move and has the athletic ability to create chaos when slanting.
He is a bit top-heavy and plays with bad pad level, which is significantly hurting his NFL Draft stock as a potential late-round pick.
Derrick Barnes is a linebacker who has the versatility to play either on the edge or as an off-ball linebacker. The downside of that is he is a bit of a tweener who is not really great at either role and may struggle to find a position in the NFL. With that, he will likely be a priority free agent and will have to earn his stripes on special teams as a rookie.
- A Bay Area native who has a dysfunctional relationship with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
- Matt played college football and was a recruiting assistant at Division 3 Willamette University, where he received his BA and MBA.
- He has worked in the industry as a journalist, film analyst for PFF, and graduated from the Scouting Academy.