28 Oct 2021 NFL Draft Watch: Top 3 Week 9 College Football Games
Last week, the Big 10 came back with a couple of loud statements and reminded us why the conference is so important to college football. Indiana pulled off a huge overtime upset over Penn State by literally the slimmest of margins, as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. broke the plane on a two-point conversion with the nose of the ball.
Not to be outdone was Ohio State signal-caller and top NFL Draft prospect Justin Fields, who looked like a legitimate top-five pick and only had one incompletion on the day.
While the excitement of another conference starting up won’t be around this week, this Saturday brings even more matchups that feature several NFL Draft prospects. Below is a look at some of the best games on the schedule and a few names to keep an eye out for.
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#15 North Carolina at Virginia
Do not look now, but Mack Brown is pushing Roy Williams as the best coach on North Carolina’s campus. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the Tar Heels are 4-1 and are putting themselves in a position to play for the conference championship.
Virginia, on the other hand, has struggled to rack up some W’s but has plenty of talent to make this an interesting contest.
Running back Michael Carter is one of UNC’s top prospects due to his vision, patience, and elusiveness. However, he does struggle to absorb contact and stay on track when bouncing off defenders. At 5’9” 195 pounds, it is hard to see that changing at the next level. Carter will likely be an early-to-mid Day 3 pick and a complimentary back in the NFL.
On the outside for the Tar Heels is Dyami Brown. The wideout has proven to be a legitimate deep threat with a career average of 17.5 yards per catch, and he displays some impressive body control in contested catch situations. Come April, Brown should expect to hear his name called in the later rounds as he has some work to do as a route runner and needs to increase his repertoire of press releases.
Shifting the focus to the defense, linebacker Chazz Surratt is an impressive athlete who excels in coverage, fitting the description of a modern-day linebacker to a T. His instincts are not up to par yet since he is a converted quarterback and is still learning the nuances of the position, but Surratt’s athletic ability makes him a late second- to early third-rounder in the NFL Draft.
Squaring off against Surratt will be Virginia tight end Tony Poljan. Also a converted quarterback, he has a high football IQ and a significant understanding of passing concepts, but the switch also means he needs to learn the subtleties of the position and has some room for growth as a blocker. Poljan is clearly a project tight end but has the physical tools to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Defensively, the Cavaliers have linebacker Charles Snowden who is projected to be a late-third to early-fourth round pick. He is very good against the pass as he excels in coverage and can be an effective pass rusher, but his lack of play strength and knee bend limits his ability to shed blocks against the run. Snowden should have a role as a hybrid linebacker/nickel back at the next level.
On the back end, safety Joey Blount is an impressive athlete who shows discipline in zone coverage and is a willing run defender. Despite his athleticism, he struggles to cover wide receivers man-to-man, which is hurting his draft stock. Blount is best for a team that uses a zone-heavy scheme, and he’ll likely be a late Day 3 pick.
Missouri at #10 Florida
The status of this game might be hanging in the balance as Florida announced six new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, but as of right now the game is on so we will still highlight the NFL Draft prospects.
The most notable player on Missouri’s roster is linebacker Nick Bolton. As a downhill thumper who has three-down ability, Bolton currently projects as a second-round pick and has the potential to slide into the back end of Day 1. At 6’0” and 232 pounds, size and strength are what is preventing him from making that leap, but another year of good tape will outweigh those concerns – no pun intended.
Offensively, the Tigers have an impressive wide receiver in Damon Hazelton. A massive catch radius is Hazelton’s calling card, and he has 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.
Larry Rountree III is a one-cut back with a solid all-around game for the Tigers. ‘Solid’ is the keyword in that statement as he falls in the “jack of all trades, master of none” category, meaning he does not have a trait that makes him stand out from the rest of the pack. With that, he will likely be a fifth- or sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft.
Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller will be in charge of slowing Rountree. Miller is extremely strong which helps to overcome his size deficiency – 6’0” and 222 pounds – when taking on blocks from offensive linemen. However, he has some questionable instincts and can be a beat slow to read his keys, pushing his draft stock down into the early Day 3 range.
Trey Dean III is an interesting prospect because he primarily played outside corner and took some snaps in the slot in 2019, but he might be better suited as a safety in the NFL. He shows the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes when playing zone and struggles to turn and run in man coverage. Dean will be a seventh-rounder come April.
I would be remiss to not mention Kyle Pitts when talking about the Gators draft prospects. The tight end is a huge threat as a receiver but has some work to do in the blocking department. Regardless, Pitts has a strong case to be the first player off the board at his position during the NFL Draft.
#3 Ohio State at #18 Penn State
Penn State will be looking to rebound this week and they could not have drawn a worse opponent to do that against then Ohio State. Both squads are loaded with NFL-level talent, but the latter of the two seems to be playing as more of a cohesive unit.
Dubbed “Baby Gronk,” Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth has some high expectations to live up to this season. He might be the most complete player at the position in this NFL Draft class as he can block and is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties as a receiver.
With only 935 career receiving yards, Freiermuth does not quite have the production other prospects have, but he still has a good chance of being a first-round pick.
As a projected Day 2 pick, edge defender Jayson Oweh is another athletic freak for the Nittany Lions. Oweh has insane speed off the edge and the bend to go along with it. However, he still is a little raw and needs to refine his technique, which should improve over time with more experience.
Tariq Castro-Fields is an aggressive man coverage cornerback who flashes high-level aggression and solid ball skills. He dealt with a lingering arm injury last season that hampered his production down the stretch, so this year it will be important to show that he has fully recovered and bounced back from that ailment.
As of now, Castro-Fields projects as a Day 3 NFL Draft prospect but that could change dramatically if he performs well in an expanded role this season.
As mentioned above, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields put together an outstanding 2020 debut. It might be impossible for Fields to supplant Trevor Lawrence as the number one pick, but his athleticism and accuracy will make any QB-needy team happy.
One of Fields’ top targets is speedy receiver/deep threat Chris Olave. The speed demon can eat up a cornerback’s cushion and force defenses to roll a safety over to his side, but he struggles to change direction and win at the line of scrimmage against press coverage. Expect to see him come off the board in the second or early-third round in the NFL Draft.
I know LSU and Florida get some attention in this regard, but let me be clear about this – Ohio State is “DBU” – and any other argument is invalid. Cornerback Shaun Wade looks to become another first round Buckeye in April, and his fluid hips and press coverage skills are a big reason why. Wade does need to improve his ball skills and show that he can be effective on the outside to cement his first round status.
- 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.