09 Dec 2021 NFL Draft Watch: Top 3 Week 15 College Football Games
Between a delayed start, game cancellations, and opt-outs, it has been one hell of a year. But we have finally reached the end of the college football regular season. This means NFL Draft prospects are running out of opportunities to put some quality film out there and earn some money.
For all of the players listed below, this week will be crucial for their draft stock. For a lot of them this will be the last time they put pads on as an amateur.
Washington at Oregon
[Update: This game has been cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Washington]
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like this could be a matchup of two undefeated teams battling it out for the Pac-12 North Championship. While the latter part of that statement is true, this game lost a bit of its luster with Oregon getting upset in back-to-back contests and Washington falling to Stanford. Regardless, it is still a rivalry with a conference championship hanging in the balance. You cannot ask for much more than that.
One of the most notable prospects for the Huskies is cornerback Elijah Molden. The slot corner has the quickness and lateral agility to mirror receivers in man coverage, but at 5’10” and 191 pounds, he is a little small for NFL standards and will struggle against bigger, more physical receivers. As far as the NFL Draft goes, Molden will likely be an early Day 3 pick.
On offense, U-Dub has a couple of impressive interior offensive linemen in Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg. Kirkland has been playing tackle this season but at the next level, his future is at guard as he will likely be an undrafted free agent. He does have some long arms and good athleticism but is still learning how to apply those traits to his pass protection skills.
Wattenberg is a similar type of player who has NFL-level size – 6’5” and 300 pounds – but his pass blocking is far behind his run blocking. Position versatility might be his biggest and best calling card as he’s played all three positions along the line and projects as a potential seventh-round pick.
Facing off against Kirkland and Wattenberg will be Oregon defensive tackle Jordon Scott. This should be an interesting battle as Scott is also a potential late-rounder. He has very impressive strength to hold his ground and get off blocks against the run, but he offers little to nothing as a pass rusher.
On the outside for the Ducks is cornerback Deommondore Lenoir, a potential fourth-round pick. Lenoir has the change of direction skills and play-making ability to play man coverage competently on Sundays. He does need to get some more reps in press coverage and show some better instincts, but the framework is there for him to be an effective corner.
C.J. Verdell hopes to become the next Oregon running back to hear his name called in late April, and his vision, footwork, and instincts will likely make that a reality. However, he is not very elusive in the open field and struggles in pass protection. Verdell currently projects as a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
#17 North Carolina at #10 Miami
The ACC Championship game is already set in stone but do not be fooled, this is still one hell of an interconference matchup. North Carolina has been up and down this season but still sits at 7-3 and they have plenty of talent. Meanwhile, Miami’s only slip-up this season came against Clemson, and while their playoff chances are very slim, the back door is still open for them to slide in.
Running back Michael Carter is one of the Tar Heels’ best offensive weapons due to his elusiveness, vision and patience. The problem is, he does not absorb contact well and is not much of a power back. Carter projects as a potential fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Dyami Brown is a mid-Day 3 NFL Draft prospect and another homerun-hitter for UNC. The wideout has the speed to win vertically and has the ball tracking skills to complement that skill set. However, he needs to improve his releases off the line of scrimmage and shore up his hands.
Shifting the focus to the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Chazz Surratt might be North Carolina’s most notable draft prospect. As an impressive athlete who excels in coverage, Surratt fits 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 still learning the nuances of the position, but the Tar Heel’s athletic ability makes him a late second- to early third-rounder.
Matching up with Surrat will be Miami’s tight end Brevin Jordan. As a dynamic athlete with a well-rounded game, Jordan has the potential to be a late first- or second-round pick. Heading into this year, his biggest issue was a lack of consistent production but with a much more stable quarterback situation, he has managed to rack up 24 catches for 340 yards and four touchdowns in just six games.
Another 2020 riser for the Hurricanes is Jaelan Phillips. The edge defender has managed to accumulate seven and a half sacks and 14 tackles for loss, both of which are more than double his previous career-highs. Phillips has all of the tools – quickness, length and bend – to be in the second-round discussion, but his rather long injury history may scare some teams away.
At safety is Bubba Bolden, who has good range, can cover slot receivers man-to-man, and provide run support. The problem is, he only played in ten games before this season and has a checkered past that includes off the field issues and injury concerns. That is holding back his NFL Draft stock as Bolden currently projects as a third-rounder.
#15 USC at UCLA
The ol’ battle for L.A. that nobody cares about outside of L.A. USC is just one win away from securing a spot in the Pac-12 Championship and potentially regaining the conference supremacy they had back in the early 2000s. As for UCLA, they are quietly having a solid year at 3-2 with close losses to Oregon and Colorado, and they have a chance to make their first bowl game three years.
Coming off a four-touchdown performance, everyone will be watching USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The wideout almost exclusively lines up in the slot and checks just about every box in the passing game, but he has some room for growth as a blocker, specifically taking better angles. St. Brown projects as a second-round pick and could easily hear his name called in the latter half of round one.
Toting the rock for the Trojans is Stephen Carr, a potential late Day 3 selection. Carr excels in the passing game as both a receiving threat and a pass protector against blitzing linebackers. However, he has ball security issues, average long speed and is not very powerful, so it will be tough for NFL GMs and scouts to see him as much of a threat on the ground.
Paving the way for Carr is Southern Cal’s most notable prospect and potential late first-rounder, Alijah Vera-Tucker. In the run game, the guard holds the point of attack well but does not generate much of a push. As for pass protection, he has a stout anchor and recognizes line games well but has heavy feet and lacks the agility to smoothly move laterally.
Squaring off against Vera-Tucker will be Osa Odighizuwa, a potential Day 2 pick. Odighizuwa wins with some impressive play strength as a run defender and a quick get-off as a pass rusher. If he can add a few finesse moves to his pass rush arsenal, he will become a quality player at the next level.
UCLA safety Quentin Lake is a versatile defender who can cover the slot in man coverage or take away the middle of the field from a deep one-high alignment. The problem is his traits and production do not line up as he only managed to accumulate 93 total tackles and two interceptions the last three seasons. As it stands, Lake will likely be a fifth- or sixth-round pick, as his production in 2020 has not taken off like a lot of scouts would have hoped.
In the trenches for the Bruins is center Paul Grattan who is a potential sixth- or seventh-round prospect. Grattan is a tone-setter along the offensive line and has some nastiness to finish with defensive linemen on the ground. The problem is he has short arms to handle explosive interior defenders and stiff hips, limiting his effectiveness in a zone-heavy rushing scheme.
- 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.