‘Sup, family? Welcome to Week 7 of college football, which–speaking plainly–does not look terribly exciting.
That’s okay–the prospect battles for this week are particularly fun. Even if these matchups don’t tickle your fancy, the NDT staff just put together our Midseason All-Draft Eligible Team. Three of the players on that list are featured in the battles this week–but there are 19 other names as well, worthy of a watch. While premier games may be in short supply, premier performers will not be–if you know where to look.
And today, I’m looking to the SEC. In a conference always rife with talent, these particular battles stand out this weekend:
Arkansas C Frank Ragnow v. Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there’s nothing better in football than trench battles. You can keep your one-handed interceptions and flea flickers and highlight reel hit sticks–just give me four quarters of trench warfare and I’m a happy camper. Keep in mind, the dude writing this is 140 lbs after a big lunch. Body of a place kicker; soul of a 3-tech.
I don’t have any sort of Big Board or rankings of which to speak, but right now, Ragnow and Payne unquestionably look like Top-32 players for me; probably Top-20. Ragnow, a lone bright spot in Arkansas’ rocky season, was the unanimous top center on the Midseason Team–and with good reason. He excels climbing into space, generates excellent movement with great lower body power and flexibility, and plays with a mean chip on his shoulder. You can’t find an interior lineman playing better than Ragnow right now.
Ragnow has yet to see the likes of Payne, however. Da’Ron Payne, like so many Alabama defensive linemen before him, only saw rotational reps before this year. Now a full-time starter, he has terrorized interior offensive linemen with elite upper body strength, great situational awareness, and a hot motor. And, not unlike Frank, he seems to have a deep-seated, personal issue with whomever lines up across from him.
Playing with appropriate leverage remains Payne’s biggest issue coming in to the contest–he plays particularly upright, while Ragnow excels at getting underneath defenders. On the flip side, Ragnow can struggle with his hand fits, while Payne has some of the strongest paws in the business, and is likely longer as well. =
Both players look to dominate for the majority of the year–but, to put out dominant tape against such stiff competition could truly propel these players to the pinnacle of their draft stock. Oh boy, I’m excited.
Quick bonus: Arkansas CB Henre’ Toliver v. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley.
LSU WR D.J. Chark v. Auburn CB Carlton Davis
Carlton Davis is a name to know sooner rather than later. I wrote about him here, and I’ll chat about him again in a moment–but let’s talk D.J. Chark real quick.
Chark, like many LSU receivers of classes past, simply hasn’t seen the opportunities a player with his upside should see. An anemic LSU offense, headlined by downright ugly QB play, caps Chark’s potential for putting up any significant numbers. Sure, they force feed him the football on jet sweeps, but Chark’s got more than that to offer.
Chark’s got the long speed to threaten you over the top and the catch radius to do damage in the short to intermediate areas of the field. He struggles to separate, so you need a quarterback who can put the ball in a tight spot and tell Chark to do the rest. Chark, of course, has never had that quality of thrower at LSU.
That struggle to separate? That’s why I’m really interested in the matchup with Carlton Davis. Davis is one of the best in college football at the line of scrimmage–he’s long, instinctive, and physical. I really like his ability to play press-man coverage; I really worry about Chark’s ability to release off the line of scrimmage.
LSU will work Chark into the slot to avoid Davis, but on those reps during which they’re lined up across from each other on the boundary, I need to see Chark utilize his length to fend off Davis and give his QB a throwing window. Chark’s opportunities are so limited, every rep is correspondingly magnified.
I expect Davis to give him fits at the line and the catch point all day; but this is still one of the tougher matchups either will see all season.
Florida CB Duke Dawson v. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Duke Dawson is quickly becoming one of my dudes. He made it onto the Midseason Team, though he wasn’t unanimous and there were more than a few names drifting around the CB position. But I really like what he brings to the table.
Dawson has played both boundary and slot corner for the Gators, depending on their matchup and personnel–so, check off the valuable box of versatility there. He lacks that ideal length and height of a boundary corner, but he’s a nice combination of quick and thick (NFL Draft Scout: 208; probably plays closer to 200). So he holds up well against physicality, but he can also mirror quickness in space. Add in experience from press- and off-man, as well as some zone looks, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded defensive piece.
Lining up across from Dawson is Christian Kirk–and while Dawson is becoming one of my dudes, I still find myself wanting more from Kirk. I like him as a straight-line athlete, and he has made some truly spectacular plays this season with the Aggies, but the lack of twitch on tape really glares. I’m not sure if the physical ability isn’t there, if Kirk’s playing lazily, or if it’s a combination of both–but I can’t shake the feeling there’s more to Kirk’s game that I’m not getting from him.
Alabama’s big, tough corners bullied Kirk at the line of scrimmage all game last week; another tough challenge awaits in Dawson. If Kirk continues to struggle releasing against college football top corners, NFL decision-makers will have to worry about his effectiveness at the next level.