NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
College Football is here (at last)! Opening weekend is full of cupcakes, unknowns, and major point spreads. However, these four games loaded with 2016 NFL Draft prospects will be worth your attention.
UNC vs South Carolina THURSDAY SEPT 3 ESPN 6:00 Charlotte, NC
In years past, UNC has been overwhelmed in this matchup – that won’t be the case Thursday. South Carolina is only returning 12 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad (maybe a good thing), and is a team I’m quite frankly not high on in ’15. Quarterback concerns, defensive worries, and relatively unknown faces in key positions – that describes South Carolina in a nut shell. I expect a shootout, and I’ll take the Tar Heels (+2) to win a close one. 34-30.
North Carolina Prospects
OG Landon Turner : Dominant in short spaces, struggles with flexibility in space. Great frame, but needs to work on technique. Shows good explosion at the point of attack. Turner should have his way vs the Gamecocks.
OG Caleb Peterson – Inconsistent at times, but can be just as good if not better than turner. Holding has been an issue , mainly because of overall inconsistent technique with his hands.
WR Ryan Switzer: (5’10, 185) 5 PR TD as a freshmen, 0 last season. Lined up all over the field last year and caught 61 passes for over 750 yards and 4 touchdowns. Projects as a slot guy. Lacks ideal size but makes up for it with unique
WR Quinshad Davis (6’3 210) Waiting for a leap here. Had 41 catches for 470 yards and 6 touchdowns in ’14. Large catch radius, has legitimate 4.6 speed, and good at high pointing the ball. He isn’t the best route runner, and overall needs to polish up his game, but Davis has immense potential.
RB Romar Morris DE Jessie Rogers LB Jeff Schoettmer, QB Marquise Williams
South Carolina Prospects
WR Pharoh Cooper: It all starts with Cooper for the Gamecocks. One of my favorite players in college football, Cooper is lethal from any spot on the field. Last season in the SEC he was second in receiving yards (1,136), third in receptions (69) and ninth in all-purpose yards per game (108.5).Cooper wasn’t asked to run a huge variety of routes in ’14, which I look to change this year. Another year developing as a true wide receiver could do wonders for Cooper, and he is the main guy to watch for South Carolina in 2015.
ILB Skai Moore : A lethal weapon in the middle of the field for the Gamecocks. I doubt he stays at ILB, or even LB for that matter at the next level, but Moore will likely find work on Sundays. His quickness seperates him, and is rarely squared up on by an incoming blocker. He excels in coverage which leads me to think he could possibly be a safety at the next level, time will tell.
RB Brandon Wilds: I feel like he’s been at South Carolina for a decade, and I also think he’s one of the more underappreciated players in college football. He’s averaged 5.0 ypc throughout his career, although in limited touches. He’s the guy now (Marcus Lattimore, Mike Davis) and should thrive in the spotlight. He’s out of the draft picture for now, but if Wilds can remain healthy he can catch steam throughout the season.
OT Brandon Shell: Most experienced Gamecock lineman, and is switching from RT to LT this season. Better in the run game, Shell has struggled in the past against explosive edge rushers. Plays too tall and has lazy feet, however the move to the blindside as well as another year in college could help fix these issues.
TE Jerell Adams,DT Phillip Dukes, DT Gerald Dixon, SS TJ Gurley
Louisville @ 6 Auburn 3:30 CBS Georgia Dome
Will Muschamp : Average head coach, top tier defensive coordinator. Unlike Texas A&M (Chavis, discussed later) Auburn has athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Muschamp’s arrival, combined with Malzahn’s offense (led by my Heisman pick Jeremy Johnson) should be a major player in the playoff chase. I don’t think this will be a game, so I won’t even discuss Louisville as a team. I will watch Sheldon Rankins however to see how he handles the relentless dive/zone read attack. Auburn, points. Louisville, far less points.
DT Sheldon Rankins: Led the Cardinals in tackles for loss (13.5) as well as sacks (8) in 2014, although his teammate Lorenzo Mauldin was much more talked about. He has the ability to clog the hole as well as penetrate, something he must do early and often against Auburn. He must show up big for Louisville to have a shot.
DE Devonte Fields: Similar to Rankins, Fields must have a supreme effort for the upset. I expect Auburn’s relentless downhill rushing attack as well as quick-hitch passing game to stunt Field’s stats in this one, nonetheless Fields must impact this game one way or another. A TCU transfer, all eyes will be on Fields to see how he does in his debut.
RB Brandon Radcliff : It’s simple here. There were many mouths to feed last year (Michael Dyer, Dominique Brown) and now Radcliff is the last one still at the table. A bowling ball style runner (5’9, 214), Radcliff will get fed early and often as ball control is critical against the Tigers.
WR James Quick, WR Kai De La Cruz, QB Will Gardner, ILB Stacy Thomas ILB James Burgess
QB Jeremy Johnson: Let’s get the ball rolling with Johnson. As Nick Marshall was great for the Tigers for multiple seasons, Johnson gives the Tigers a significant boost. He’s had limited opportunities, but the overall arm talent combined with outstanding athleticism (6’5 240, 4.7-8 40) leads me to believe Johnson will have a monster season. Gus Malzahn will have Johnson put up unreal numbers, but I’ll be watching to see if Johnson can develop into a true pro prospect.
WR Duke Williams: He’s raw, and it was probably a wise decision to return to school for his senior year. However, I struggle to name too many receivers better than Williams in college football. He lined up mainly inside last year, but I expect that to change. Look for a big day / year from Williams.
DE/OLB Carl Lawson: Did you forget about him? A freshmen All-American in 2013, Lawson tore his ACL in the following spring and missed the 2014 season. Phenomenal get-off as well as fluid through blockers, Lawson could shoot up draft boards. I’d like to see him hold the point of attack against the run better, but overall there isn’t much to complain about with this top tier pass rusher.
ILB Cassanova McKinzy: One of my overall favorite players in college football. Always around the ball, and has played a variety of roles for the Tigers through his career. He’ll be inside this year, and therefore will be considered undersized. Keep an eye on McKinzy, as I see him being one of the more talked about prospects next spring.
OLB Kris Frost,RB Jovon Robinson, DT Montravius Adams, OT Avery Young
15 Arizona State vs Texas A&M 7:00 ESPN – Houston, TX
This will be a track meet. Longtime SEC defensive coordinator will improve A&M’s defense immensely, I just don’t see it happening on opening night. Point blank: They both will score a bunch, but Arizona State will stop A&M more than A&M can stop Arizona State. No need to overthink it here. The Sun Devils are actually an underdog in this game, so I’ll take the ‘upset’. ASU 41 A&M 31.
Arizona State Prospects
WR DJ Foster: One of the more versatile players in college football, Foster (former RB) will be the main playmaker to watch in this up and down shootout. He needs to touch up his route running and ball tracking abilities to be a NFL receiver, but Foster is certainly worth a look. Expect a big night.
CB Lloyd Carrington: A versatile player with an aggressive style, Carrington has a shot to be a solid pro. A&M can be a nightmare for cornerbacks, but Carrington’s ability to come up through blocks and make tackles leads me to believe he will do well Saturday.
C Nick Kelly, OG Christian Westerman, OG Vi Teofilo, ILB Salamo Fiso
C Mike Matthews: A strong centerpiece to the offensive line, although undersized. He is athletic in tight spaces and can hold his own against bigger defenders. He is key to A&M’s attack.
OT Germain Ifedi: Great build, long arms and can be punishing while run blocking. Needs to improve overall hand placement/skills.
WR Ricky Seals-Jones :Great size (6’5 235) and good enough athleticism, Ricky Seals-Jones looks to improve on what can be considered an up and down year. He is Kevin Sumlin’s best weapon outside of sophomore Speedy Noil, and should have a big year if healthy. Needs to get more consistent catching the ball, and could polish up the route running (not sure if that will happen while in A&M’s system).
P Drew Kaser, OGJoseph Cheek,RB Tra Carson
#20 Wisconsin vs #3 Alabama 8:00 PM ABC Arlington, Texas
The marquee game of the weekend. The last time we saw the Crimson Tide they were defeated by eventual National Champion and Big 10 opponent Ohio State. The last time we saw Wisconsin they beat up on SEC foe Auburn. What do I make of this? Not much. Bowls are fluky, but it does show that Big 10 teams can stand up every now and then against the SEC. The main prospect matchup I’ll be keeping my eyes on are Badgers’ C Dan Voltz and RB Corey Clement vs the interior of the Alabama front (A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed). This will be a major key to the game, and a matchup I believe Alabama will win. I’ll probably be taking the points (WIS +10), but I do see Alabama winning this one. I’ll say 27-24.
DT A’Shawn Robinson: Versatile defender best suited for the inside, but can play anywhere along the line. Can’t wait to see his matchup vs the Wisconsin line, particularly Dan Voltz.
DE Jonathan Allen: Can be a handful off the edge, First Team All-SEC as a sophomore. Allen is sometimes lesser talked about, but has all the tools to be a potential late day 1 pick.
RB Derrick Henry: The 6’3 240lbs back led Alabama in rushing last season with 990 yards scoring 11 touchdowns averaging 5.8 ypc. With Yeldon gone, it is truly his show now. Henry is one of the top running backs in conference loaded with top tier talent at the position.
RB Kenyan Drake: Drake (finally) will be a legitimate part of the Alabama offense as the pure RB2. He’s multi-dimensional and is an excellent complement to Derrick Henry. Whenever he’s had opportunities in the past, he’s excelled. He now will have a true chance to make a major impact.
TE O.J. Howard: He could be the nation’s top tight end. Does Alabama know he may be the nation’s top tight end? The freak athlete caught just 17 passes last season, I’m looking for Lane Kiffin to find a way to get Howard more involved in 2015.
OLB Ryan Anderson, CB Cyrus Jones, ILB Reggie Ragland, DL Jarran Reed C Ryan Kelly
RB Corey Clement: It was James White, then Melvin Gordon, and now Clement. Even with Gordon’s absurd 2,587 yard season, Clement made an impact with 949 yards himself at 6.5 yards a pop. He’s a patient runner and attacks the line aggressively – something he must do to find success against the Crimson Tide.
LT Tyler Marz Has struggled in the past vs superior athletes off the edge, so I will be watching Marz closely to see how he handles the Alabama front. A solid player, however not outstanding in any one attribute.
C Dan Voltz : Will have his hands full Saturday night, as it should be a great test for the redshirt junior. Has the perfect opportunity to elevate his stock with a solid showing vs the Crimson Tide.
TE Austin Traylor, OLB Joe Schobert, WR Alex Erickson, CB Darius Hillary, CB Sojourn Shelton
Tags: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Brandon Radcliff, Brandon Shell, Brandon Wilds, Caleb Peterson, Carl lawson, Cassanova McKinzy, Corey Clement, Dan Voltz, Derrick Henry, Devonte Fields, DJ Foster, Duke Williams, Germain ifedi, Jeremy johnson, Jonathan Allen, Kenyan Drake, Landon Turner, Lloyd Carrington, Louisville, Mike Matthews, North Carolina, O.J. Howard, Pharoh Cooper, Quinshad Davis, Ricky Seals-Jones, Ryan Switzer, Sheldon Rankins, Skai Moore, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tyler Marz, Wisconsin