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Solak | 3 NFL Draft prospect battles to watch in Week 5

SEP 08 Oklahoma State at South Alabama
Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire

NFL Draft

Solak | 3 NFL Draft prospect battles to watch in Week 5

If you missed it, here’s my post on Draft prospect battles to watch in Week 4. I only bring this up because, in the opening piece, I called for a weekend of bedlam. I wanted college football madness, and in return, #16 TCU beat #6 Oklahoma State, #4 Penn State took Iowa in the last second, Cal played #5 USC tight, Boston College threatened #2 Clemson (for most of it, at least), Baylor surged back against #3 Oklahoma, and Bradley Chubb spat on the Seminole logo after NC State upset #12 Florida State.

So, clearly, the opening blurb before the prospect battles is a sacred space of truth and divination.

“With the 32nd overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles select Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State University.”

What? I’m just covering my bases.

Washington State QB Luke Falk v. USC CB Iman Marshall

This battle is almost as much about the stage as it is the players proving their mettle against one another. Falk is a QB prospect with a lot of traction to gain, in my opinion. He’s a redshirt senior in a class highlighted by QBs with more eligibility left, should they elect to take it. And, by many accounts, the presumed top guys of the class (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen) haven’t blown expectations out of the water this year. Personally, I’ve been perfectly impressed with Rosen so far, but that’s a different conversation.

Falk has put up his characteristically mind-boggling numbers (76.9% completion, 344.5 yds/game, 14 TDs, 1 INT), but he found the bench in a Boise State game during which he couldn’t get the offense moving. His backup, Tyler Hilinski, stepped in and lead the Cougs to a thrilling triple-overtime victory.

Now, Falk bounced back to the tune of 11 TDs and 0 INTs over two games, but the system has undeniably helped make the man–Hilinski’s success proves that. Falk throws with great touch and placement, but the strength necessary to reach the boundary and downfield remains a question mark. Tonight, he gets a USC squad allowing only 49% completion, 216 yds/game, and 6 TDs while hauling in 7 INTs of their own. Something’s gotta give.

Iman Marshall, one of my early Draft darlings, headlines the Trojan secondary. Coming into the season, Marshall impressed with his physicality, length, reactionary quickness, and ball skills. Overshadowed by Adoree’ Jackson in past seasons, he needed to cash in on his time in the spotlight as CB1.

Mixed reviews so far, as Marshall’s physical play has drawn a few too many flags (or at least, flag-worthy plays). The interceptions (0) haven’t been there as much this season, though 4 PBUs over 4 games is nice production. If Marshall continues to resort to over-aggression down the field, Falk would be savvy to throw his way and force the issue with the referees.

For as long as Louisville’s CB Jaire Alexander is injured, there are waves to be made in the CB class. Marshall has a prime opportunity tonight to capitalize.

Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds v. Clemson Offense

Talk about making waves, man. Edmunds had a productive sophomore season with the Hokies, posting 16.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks from an OLB alignment. The junior campaign proves last year was no fluke, as he’s on pace to hit 107 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, and 5 sacks. Tack on an ACC-leading 2 forced fumbles in 2017, and we’ve clearly got an impact player in the front seven.

The tape backs up the box score production. Edmunds has insane range for his size (6-4, 235 lbs), with the ability to drop into space and mirror RBs and TEs down the field. His length creates an absurdly large tackle radius, but his short area quicks don’t seem to suffer. Edmunds has that ‘freak athlete’ moniker over which defensive coordinators will salivate when they see him work out.

Virginia Tech faces their toughest test of the season in a Clemson team powered by the run game. Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant leads the team in rushing yards, attempts, and touchdowns, while freshman RB Travis Etienne has looked as dangerous as any collegiate running back on his way to a 12.7 yds/carry start to his career.

The Clemson offense runs a ton of looks: speed option, quarterback power, quarterback counter, read option, RPOs. Edmunds’ athleticism makes him the likely choice to spy Bryant, tackle him in space, and force the Tigers to throw the football. If he can trust his keys, play with good instincts, and make some big plays, the Hokies have a chance to win this football game–and Edmunds’ stock will skyrocket.

Remember our mantra in the prospect battles post: There’s money to be made tonight.

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph v. Texas Tech Defense

Yes, that says ‘Texas Tech Defense.’ Just trust me and read on.

Rudolph is a divisive player, man. Some folks just love him, some folks don’t see it, and only a few folks fall in between. Me personally? Not sold. He freezes if his first read isn’t open, he isn’t challenged much by tight windows, and I’m not sure he throws with sufficient anticipation and placement. Not unlike Falk, some have claimed that the system, more than the talent, produces the success of Mason Rudolph. Having James Washington catching footballs for you doesn’t hurt either.

The narrative that draws me to this matchup: Rudolph’s ability to lead a team back from a tough loss. Even more so, I need Rudolph to return to form after a poor performance in general. Gary Patterson and TCU They forced Rudolph to move through his progressions and take checkdowns, and he really struggled there. I anticipate Texas Tech employs a similar strategy for clipping the Cowboys’ wings, and Rudolph must prove his resiliency to keep his team in the race for the Big 12.

We’ve got to take a second to talk about Texas Tech playing defense, because we haven’t been able to talk about a Texas Tech defense since the turn of the millennia. It actually kept them in a game last week against Houston. They’re 2nd in the FBS with a +2.33 turnover margin per game. Are you reading this? Texas Tech?!

This game is still likely to be a shootout (read: it’s going to be a shootout), but any resistance Tech can put up against Rudolph, who’s thrown his 3 INTs over the past two games, keeps them in this ball game.

Call this my sneaky fun game of the week.  It’s the Big-12, man. We’ve seen crazier things happen.

Benjamin Solak

Ben Solak has been a football fan and film junkie for all of his life, and has the pleasure of serving as a National Scout for NDT Scouting. He also covers the Philadelphia Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation and co-hosts the Locked On Eagles podcast. Ben takes many things far too seriously, including fishing, Captain America, grammar, and Game Of Thrones.

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