NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
Some weekends just have a playoff feel to them, and week 12 is certainly one of them. Teams are playing a game of musical chairs for one of the playoff spots, while prospects are running out of time to build their resumes for the 2015 NFL draft. Week 12 has two mammoth SEC match ups, in which all four teams playing all have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Will you be camped in front of a television Saturday? I know I will. Here are the biggest matchups of the weekend broken down.
#1 Mississippi State vs #5 Alabama 3:30 CBS
Game of the year? Yes. Two best teams in the country? I believe so. Mississippi State has been the most consistent team all year long with by far the best resume to date. Their quarterback Dak Prescott is the front runner for the Heisman trophy, and they are near unanimously the number one team in the country. So how in the world are they 7 point underdogs? Here’s why: Alabama is just that good. Even when their rush attack faltered last week, the Tide found a way to scratch and claw into overtime, and eventually win in Death Valley. That is a characteristic of a championship team. Mississippi State comes in confident, and they should be. Already this year, the Bulldogs have knocked off three top ten teams. I can’t wait to see how the zone read attack, particularly how MSU RB Josh Robinson does against one of the best run stuffing defenses in the country. Prescott will receive all of the praise, but Robinson has been in my opinion the most important offensive weapon thus far for the Bulldogs. His physical presence and bowling ball style I think can be the difference Saturday. It is well documented that Nick Saban coached defenses’ struggle against mobile quarterbacks. It’s even more documented that Alabama owns Mississippi State (76-18-3). Something has to give. This year could be different for the Cowbell Faithful, but I’m just not buying it. There isn’t a defensive back on the Bulldogs roster who can stop Alabama WR Amari Cooper. Even worse, I think Alabama will be able to run against MSU with their two back system of Yeldon and Henry. I think Mississippi State still will be a playoff team if they can win out, but I just don’t see them getting it done on the road against the Tide. I’ll take the Tide by 3.
SS Landon Collins: I’ve had him inside my top 10 mock every week. You can’t ignore the Ole Miss tape however. He was burned in that game twice for touchdowns and overall was just under impressive. Can Collins cover bigger, faster receiving tight ends in the NFL? I wonder about that. I do believe he is the best safety in the class, but I think comparing him to Eric Berry or Earl Thomas is premature. Settled down and played well vs Tennessee and LSU last week – I’m hoping to see some more consistency out of the #1 defensive back in the country.
WR Amari Cooper: His stock has just soared. There really isn’t one thing in his game that he doesn’t do at least well, rare for a JR receiver. Seeing the impact of Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin in their rookie stints could entice teams to draft Cooper even higher than he may deserve. I have him at 4th this week, mocked to the New York Jets.
TJ Yeldon: Not the physical presence Derrick Henry gives you, but nonetheless the junior is averaging over 5 yards per carry in a solid 2014 campaign. I have him currently as my fourth running back behind Gurley, Gordon, and Abdullah.
OG Arie Kouandjio: Big, strong, and nasty. A top 5 interior offensive line prospect. A projected late first round pick if all goes well.
Other prospects: RB Derrick Henry*, DT Brandon Ivory, OT Austin Sheppard, WR Christion Jones, RB Kenyan Drake (Hurt, possible solid UDFA), C Ryan Kelly, DT Darren Lake, ILB Trey DePriest, ILB Denzel Devall
OLB Benardrick McKinney: An every down linebacker who makes his presence felt throughout the game, what’s better than that? McKinney is a first round talent to me without question. He’s a legitimate weapon as an edge rusher, is solid in the box with quick instincts, and has shown the ability to drop in pass coverage and not be a liability.
RB Josh Robinson: Currently my 6th ranked draft able running back. Tough runner who normally doesn’t go down on first contact and does a great job of getting lateral up the field. I expect a 20+ carry workload for the junior on Saturday. If he turns in a workman like effort against ‘Bama as he did vs LSU and Kentucky, he could launch himself into the mid round grade.
QB Dak Prescott: It goes without saying how crucial this game is. Remember the 2012 Texas A&M vs Alabama game where Johnny Football took the world by storm by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa? I believe this game could have a similar impact for the Heisman contender. Can Nick Saban finally contain a dual threat quarterback not named Everett Golson?
Other prospects: WR Jameon Lewis, CB Jamerson Love, Justin Cox, TE/FB/ATH Malcolm Johnson
#16 Nebraska vs #20 Wisconsin 3:30 ABC
While the National Championship game, I mean Mississippi State vs Alabama are squaring off on CBS, keep the controllers ready during commercial breaks for this critical Big 10 tilt. From a Patriots perspective, two of the top 5 running backs in the country will be squaring off. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – I believe Ameer Abdullah will be a better pro running back then Melvin Gordon. There is a possibility that the Patriots don’t take a running back in the draft next year. If Shane Vereen is re-signed, you then have a back field of Vereen, Jonas Gray, James White and 2014 6th round pick of the Carolina Panthers Tyler Gaffney. Not bad. However Gordon or Abdullah would substantially upgrade that unit, so what a great match up to watch Saturday. Abdullah will be running against (statistically) the number 1 defense in the country (251.1 ypg). The contest also allows a national stage for top edge pass rusher in the draft Randy Gregory. The jury is out on Gregory, no question. On film he is explosive off the edge, however often tries to use his speed to just go around blockers – something that may not be possible for him at the next level. Also, Gregory for some reason seems to be a second slow in reacting to the snap on film. Nonetheless, should be a great matchup of big time college football prospects. As for the actual game, I like Wisconsin at home. Abdullah should be healthy, however after leaving last week’s game with a knee injury you just never know. I think it will be a close, low scoring affair. If Abdullah is healthy and Nebraska doesn’t go Nebraska on us and have a turnover fest, they could very well get this road win. I see a score of 20-17, Badgers
RB Melvin Gordon: Great speed and vision, what more is there to say about this guy? He’s already at 1,501 yards and 19 touchdowns with three games to play. I do anticipate Gordon being a first round pick this spring, however I don’t see the Patriots pairing him up with 2014 4th round pick James White in the first round.
OT Tyler Marz: Has played well this season, surpassing some preseason expectations. He has a draftable grade on my board. Good in run blocking, but his pass blocking (especially footwork) has issues.
DT Warren Herring, TE Sam Arneson, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Dallas Lewallen
RB Ameer Abdullah: Some guys just have that knack to make the big play in the big moment for their team. Wisconsin is the better team, but I can see a Nebraska win if they control the clock and give the Badgers a steady diet of #8. Abdullah has been dominant as he’s been over 200 yards three times already this year.
DE / OLB Randy Gregory: Dominant speed edge rusher. Beats OT with his first step quickness yet isn’t afraid to bull rush smaller linemen as well. Needs work on run defense, disengaging from linemen, and getting off the snap.
S Corey Cooper: Has exceeded expectations so far this year. He is a good solid run defender as well as an improving pass coverage safety, and I see him as a middle (3-5) round prospect.
Other prospects : WR Kenny Bell
#9 Auburn vs #15 Georgia 7:15 ESPN
The return of Todd Gurley. A rematch of one of the wildest games I’ve ever seen one year ago. And oh by the way, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. A lot on the line Saturday night between the hedges as a two loss Auburn bunch will try to remain alive in the playoff race by beating Georgia. Last week Auburn had a collapse unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Two self-inflicted fumbles (zone read communication & bad snap) late in the fourth quarter cost Auburn a win vs Texas A&M. They must rebound, as the beast is back for Georgia in the backfield. Freshmen RB Nick Chubb has done a great job in Gurley’s absence, yes, but this team is completely different when #3 is in the game. He’s averaging over 8 yards per carry on the season for goodness sake. As Georgia gets their star back, Auburn looks like it will be without WR Duke Williams who’s still injured. If Todd Gurley wasn’t playing, I’d feel differently about this game. He’s just that good. I hope to see a 25+ carry outing for #3, and if Georgia can control the pace of play I believe they are going to win this game and stay alive in the SEC East race. Georgia, for the upset, by 7.
RB Todd Gurley: He’s back. Gurley would have coasted to the Heisman if he never got suspended. On 94 carries, Gurley has 8 scores averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
OLB Leonard Floyd: Explosive speed rusher with a high ceiling. Watching his tape vs Missouri in particular Floyd was extremely impressive making plays all over the field. If the draft was today he wouldn’t get past the late teens in the first round.
OLB Jordan Jenkins: He’s been solid for Georgia, but with the size (6’3 250) and speed that he has, it can be frustrating watching Jenkins at times. Tends to get lost in the shuffle, but he has the ability to make big time, impactful plays.
ILB Ramik Wilson: Not a better prospect then Leonard Floyd, but he is my favorite prospect on the defense to watch. Wilson is a gap plugging, hard hitting ILB with the ability to go sideline to sideline. He’s all over the field for the UGA defense every Saturday. I would have a spot for Wilson on my team any day.
Other Prospects: CB Damian Swann , DE Ray Drew
RB Cameron Artis-Payne: Has been the steady rock of consistency all year for Auburn. In a loss last week, CAP ran the ball 30 times for 221 yards and two touchdowns. How much of it is system though? That’s the big question surrounding CAP as regards to the draft.
OLB Cassanova McKinzy: Isn’t a guy who’s highly talked about. However every time you put on an Auburn game, you hear the name Cassanova McKinzy over and over. He has flaws in his game, (not great at disengaging from blocks, not always the most consistent tackler) but he’s always around the ball and is just a good solid football player all the way around. A potential late round steal here.
WR Sammie Coates: Without Williams, it will be the Sammie Coates show Saturday for the passing game. A week after flashing the first round talent we all know he has, Coates once again was boom or bust against Texas A&M. Had a ridiculous 52 yard catch in traffic, but other than that one amazing play was not a factor in the game. Is that really what you want out of a first round pick at WR?
Other prospects: WR D’haquille Williams(Hurt), C Reese Dismukes, DT Gabe Wright, S Robenson Therezie, OLB Cassanova McKinzy, RB Corey Grant, TE C.J. Uzomah, QB Nick Marshall
1) Oakland Raiders: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: Some suggest Oakland won’t go quarterback in the first round, and maybe they shouldn’t with David Carr atleast showing glimpses of hope. Then again, Oakland would really be betting big on Carr to pass on the two top quarterbacks in this class. I see Mariota here, with Winston not too far behind.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars: USC DL Leonard Williams. In reality, I’m looking to trade this pick to the highest bidder for Jameis Winston in the hopes of moving down only a few slots. Why not add extra picks to a team who needs them and still add a dynamic player like Amari Cooper, Landon Collins, or Todd Gurley? But for this scenario, I’m giving JAX the top non-quarterback on my board.
3) Tampa Bay Buccanears: Florida State QB Jameis Winston: Jets fans may have been excited with the upset win over the Steelers last week, but they shouldn’t of been. With arguably 5 of the top 6 teams (draft order of date) potentially in the market for one of the two top shelf quarterbacks any win added to your record will make it that much harder to land the potential franchise caliber quaterback come spring time. Tampa Bay I believe will not hesitate to draft a quarterback come spring time, even with the recent investments of Mike Glennon (3rd round pick) and Josh McCown.
4) New York Jets: Alabama WR Amari Cooper: A quarterback would be preferred, but if that option isn’t available they should do the next best thing with the best playmaker in the draft. Cooper is the entire package at WR. Great hands, runs good routes, phenomanal with the ball in his hands after the catch and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty blocking in the run game. Raise your hand if you think Percy Harvin will be a Jet for more then two years. Cool. Put your hands down. A trio of of recievers in the Jets future of Cooper, Decker, and Kerley is a pretty solid tandem for when (if) they get their franchise QB down the road.
5) Tennessee Titans: Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: An upgrade at pass rush is severly needed in Nashville. Drafting at 5, I’d say the Titans would be happy landing my top edge rusher in the class.
6) Chicago Bears: Alabama S Landon Collins: No brainer pick right here. Of desperate, desperate need for talent in the secondary, Collins would come in and be the leader of that unit from day 1.
7) New York Giants: Missouri DE Shane Ray: Sort of a weird pick here, as the scheme fit isn’t ideal. That being said, Ray is the best player on the board and that’s the kind of pick the Giants tend to make. Ray and JPP could mean many sleepness nights for opposing coaches.
8): Atlanta Falcons: Georgia RB Todd Gurley: Could use help on the defensive line as well as in the secondary, but what an opportunity to land a back like Gurley. Stephen Jackson has all but worn down, and their isn’t another starting caliber running back on the roster. Gurley, in my opinion, is the most complete and NFL ready running back prospect since Adrian Peterson.
9) Washington Redskins: Stanford OT Andrus Peat: Not often the top OT in the class is on the board still at 9. Washington needs to get help protecting RGIII, Peat would fit the bill and then some.
10) St. Louis Rams: FSU CB P.J. Williams: The Rams are in the QB sweepstakes, but instead of recieving the Kings’ Ransom of picks to move down, they will have to be the team to pay up this year if QB is truely a priority. In this situation, I see the Rams taking the best CB on the board to fill their biggest need on defense.
Potential Patriots: New segment here, just giving readers an individual prospect on a weekly basis who could be a potential 1st round draft selection of the Patriots come spring time.
Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong: He could finally be the big, fast, physical receiver that fans have waited for out of the draft. Then again, they may want to avoid drafting this position completely based on their recent WR top selections. Strong could opposite Lafell as bigger, stronger, faster targets with Edelman and Gronk working the middle. Could mean devastation to opposing defenses. Then again, this pick would ultimatly mean officially giving up on Aaron Dobson, which is something I don’t think the Patriots are ready to do. Also, I see a real oppourtinty for New England to aquire LB depth in the top 3 rounds, but Strong is certainly on the wish list.