Okay, not the entire slate, but close enough.
The usual plug is three prospect battles to watch on the entire CFB slate, going in-depth on what makes each battle important for the parties involved. However, it’s Rivalry Weekend, and there are far too many fun games and important match-ups to possibly select only three. As such, we’ll go by the television schedule–as I’m sure you’ll bounce from channel to channel–and highlight a good battle to watch from an NFL Draft perspective.
Early Afternoon (12-3)
Ohio State C Billy Price v. Michigan DT Maurice Hurst. There’s an embarrassment of goodness in this one–you can find NFL talent all over the trenches for both teams, whether Draft-eligible or not. But my eyes go to the two potential first rounders. Mo Hurst will undoubtedly go in the top half of the first round, while Price is more so a fringe Round 1 player who may drop due to the devaluation of his position. Either way, this could be 2018’s OC1 v. 2018’s DT1. Boy oh boy.
Maurice Hurst has elite penetration ability, with a lightning-quick first step and great upper body strength. Billy Price has sound technique, quick hands, and a strong grip. Hurst is most commonly the 3-tech for Michigan, so he won’t see too much of Price–but when they battle, it’ll be one for the ages.
Florida CB Duke Dawson v. Florida State WR Auden Tate
Duke Dawson has seen a slew of good Draft-eligible pass-catchers this season: D.J. Chark, Christian Kirk, and Javon Wims all will prove a nice litmus test for the Florida corner, who has acquitted himself well overall. His stiffest test, however, may await him on Rivalry Weekend: Auden Tate is big, strong, fast, and good at catching footballs. In Florida State’s atrocious season, he has been the lone bright spot.
Dawson is undersized, and likely projects to slot play in the NFL. That doesn’t preclude him, however, from facing off against large, powerful slot receivers. He must show how effectively he can play when out-sized; Auden Tate must prove he can separate against a sticky, fearless corner like Dawson. Tate may excel as a jump-ball target, but you’re only so effective as a WR when your QB has to throw you open.
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson v. the entire Kentucky defense
Because you should always want to watch Lamar.
Late Afternoon (3:30-6:30)
Auburn OG Braden Smith v. Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne. Remember how special Hurst v. Price may be? This may be OG2 v. DT2 when all is said and done.
I’m very high on Smith, who has an OT frame and OT skill at OG, and seems widely slept on by national Draft media. He’ll have his hands full with Da’Ron Payne, who looks to be a devastating 0- or 1-tech with lower body power and surprising explosiveness. Payne is a known quantity by evaluators–but Smith can burst onto the national scene with a statement performance in the Iron Bowl.
West Virginia DB Kyzir White v. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. Of course, this is assuming Baker gets to play. *insert massive eye roll here*
White’s another player who’s going to get hot during the Draft process. Playing the SPUR in WVU’s 3-3-5, Kyzir White has a WR frame, pure speed, and a physical brand of play. He’ll likely be called a strong safety, but he can do more than that, and it’s his versatility that will get him drafted early.
Really, I’m interested to see White against the entirety of the Oklahoma offense, as it’s one of the most dangerous in CFB. White will likely have to deal with excellent playmakers across the board, from TE Mark Andrews to WR Hollywood Brown and RB Rodney Anderson. My biggest questions for White is man coverage, and he’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate his skills against Oklahoma’s pass-happy attack…once Baker enters the game.
Maryland WR D.J. Moore v. Penn State CBs Grant Haley, Christian Campbell, and Amani Oruwariye
D.J. Moore has fallen to the wayside a bit, as a depressing QB carousel in Maryland has hindered his production. That being said, the speedster is also only 7 receptions away from breaking the single-season reception record for the Terps. The Moore hype train may have slowed as other WRs break on to the scene, but Moore’s still as talented as ever.
Penn State’s corners really interest me. In my opinion, the best of the three is the third on the depth chart–that’s Oruwariye. However, he gets a decent amount of boundary looks per game, as he thrives on the boundary, while Haley and Campbell can play well in the slot. Both Haley and Campbell will declare–I like Campbell the better of the two–but neither has done much to blow me away.
Moore should separate and thrive when facing Haley and Campbell–it’s the battles with redshirt junior Oruwariye that I’m most psyched to see.
Texas A&M LB Otara Alaka v. LSU RB Derrius Guice
I’ll be frank: I don’t have much on Alaka. He’s been oft-injured and off my radar, but I’ve heard that he’s worth a watch and has a fast, physical style of play. Alaka plays on the edge and off-ball, which will put him a ton of unique situations against Matt Canada’s multiplicitous attack. Alaka must play true to his instincts to avoid being embarrassed.
Derrius Guice, arguably on Saquon Barkley’s level as a RB prospect coming into the season, has finally made it back from an ankle injury that hampered him for most of the season. Tackling Guice in space is never fun–he’ll test Alaka’s athleticism and tackle radius.
Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown v. Stanford CB Quenton Meeks
St. Brown, not unlike Moore, has fallen out of the national spotlight due to the overall uninspiring play of QB Brandon Wimbush. He still has a very exciting physical profile, crisp routes, and strong 50/50 ball skills, and may look to declare early and escape a disadvantageous situation in South Bend.
He also has Quenton Meeks opposite him. A heady, physical, and quick corner, Meeks can and should blanket a player like Equanimeous, who isn’t the greatest separator. When the ball’s in the air, however, however, Equanimeous has the advantage. Both players have an opportunity to fill some gaps in their evaluations on Saturday evening.
Utah WR Darren Carrington v. Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver
The bigger opportunity here belongs to Carrington, who has never lived up to his physical potential. Oliver plays such a refined game that he could spend the entire evening suffocating Carrington at the line of scrimmage, as Oliver excels in the press. Utah will manufacture touches for Carrington in space, but his downfield influence could disappear under Oliver’s blanket.
While Oliver has many likable qualities, I still need some convincing on his full game. There’s too many inconsistencies, too much variance. He has the speed, length, and skill to eliminate Carrington all evening. Will Carrington break a play? If he does, we may need to take a harder look at Oliver’s production.