Week 2 offers some choice matchups in college football, and that includes a few impactful games for some 2020 NFL draft prospects.
Here are five players we’ll be focused on this weekend:
LSU QB Joe Burrow at Texas
We heard from Tigers fans who were irritated that we neglected to mention Burrow’s incredibly efficient work in LSU’s opening-week win over Georgia Southern in our Week 1 Draft Winners and Losers. (We apologize to all of you fine Tiger folks, naturally. No harm intended.)
Burrow completed 23 of 27 passes for 278 yards and five TDs — all in the first half — in the 55-3 trouncing. Yes, that’s more touchdowns than incompletions, which is always a good thing.
Beyond the numbers, too, Burrow mostly looked sharp and confident executing the Tigers’ new offense. This was perhaps his best throw of the game:
Carrying over from last season, Burrow is on a nice little hot streak and has improved his standing in the minds of NFL folks. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound QB now has a 15-1 TD-INT ratio over his past five games. This test in Austin will raise the stakes for this simmering prospect.
Texas has a good defense with NFL talent on all three levels, including lineman Malcolm Roach, linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch and — the best prospect of the bunch — safety Brandon Jones.
First-year LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady has helped reconfigure the offense with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, giving the team a no-huddle, RPO-heavy spread scheme with NFL concepts mixed in. Brady came from the New Orleans Saints’ staff, borrowing a lot of Sean Payton’s playbook to kick-start things for Burrow and the passing game.
LSU stayed in “11 personnel” (one back, one tight end, three receivers) for the entire game last week but figures to throw some four- and five-WR looks at the Longhorns to see how they respond when spreading them out. In the opener, a whopping 14 different pass catchers hauled in at at least one reception, and seven of them had two or more catches, so it’s clear Burrow is comfortable throwing to anyone who is open. He’s also a threat to run, but that element of his game was mostly kept under wraps last week.
Incredibly, only one LSU quarterback (JaMarcus Russell in 2007) has been drafted in the first three rounds over the past 29 NFL drafts. If Burrow can keep his streak going and complete a strong final season, he might end that dubious streak.
Texas A&M WR Kendrick Rogers at Clemson
The 6-3, 210-pound Rogers possesses all the physical traits sought in a receiver: length, speed, catch radius and great leaping ability. But his production to this point has been a tease, with huge flashes followed by no-show performances.
Last season’s game against Clemson (the closest the Tigers came to losing) was his coming-out party; he had seven catches for 120 yards and two incredible touchdown grabs, including a 24-yarder in traffic off a deflection that gave the Aggies a chance to tie with 46 seconds left.
No matter who Clemson put on Rogers last year — primarily A.J. Terrell and Mark Fields — Rogers made plays. With Fields off to the NFL, you’d figure Terrell earns this assignment against Rogers as the senior member of the Tigers’ secondary.
The odd pattern in Rogers’ brief career (15 games) has been for him to show up for big contests and disappear in lesser matchups, with easily his two most impressive performances coming last season against Clemson and LSU.
Well, Saturday’s game at Death Valley certainly qualifies as a whopper — and the Aggies likely will need explosive plays in the passing game to keep up. QB Kellen Mond has been raising his draft profile as well.
Interestingly, Rogers has been slow to rebound from a leg injury he suffered in the offseason and had a quiet 2019 debut (one catch, 12 yards) in the opener vs. Texas State. If he can muster the strength to go in this one, there will be a press box loaded with NFL scouts who are fascinated to properly measure his talent.
Ohio State LB Malik Harrison vs. Cincinnati
Harrison was terrific in the Buckeyes’ opening win over Florida Atlantic, making big plays against the run ...
… and against the pass.
Oh hai, Malik ... pt. 2!— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) September 4, 2019
(shocked this wasn't flagged for targeting, but it's beautifully timed) pic.twitter.com/jmzUOmsmsH
Great googly-moogly. That — along with a sack — is how you earn co-player of the week honors for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s run defense was a hot mess many times last season, but it showed up in a big way last week — led by Harrison and edge Chase Young — in holding the Owls to a net 33 yards on the ground on 22 carries. (Of course, those statistics were inflated for sacks totaling 42 negative yards; why college football still counts sack yards off rushing totals remains an esoteric mystery, but that’s another matter.)
The Buckeyes held FAU’s top two backs to a net of 47 rush yards on 21 carries with a long run of 9, and neither did much in the passing game.
The challenge for Harrison and Co. this week comes in trying to slow down Cincinnati RB Michael Warren II, who ran for a score and caught a TD pass last week in the Bearcats’ win over UCLA. Warren reminds me a little of Jordan Howard — a big, downhill runner with good vision and subtle foot quickness — and he might even be better than Howard. Cincinnati also has a talented tight end in Josiah Daguera, whose tremendous tackle following an interception last week earned a spot in our Week 1 draft winners column.
Expect Harrison to be busy again Saturday, and another standout performance might earn the 6-3, 245-pound linebacker more buzz. We spoke with a scouting director who made his way through Columbus this summer and was impressed in what he saw in Harrison and what the team had to say about his offseason work. Harrison is a first-team all-conference candidate, even with the Big Ten loaded with talented linebackers.
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs vs. Rutgers
This mention is less about the opponent (sorry, Rutgers) and more about where Wirfs is lining up. The Hawkeyes’ normal starter at right tackle (21 career starts) was forced mid-game against Miami (Ohio) last week to kick over to the left side when Alaric Jackson went down with an injury. The transition was seamless, and Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said this week he thought Wirfs “clearly played his best game since he's been here.”
It appears that Wirfs will be filling in for the injured Jackson at left tackle again this Saturday against the Scarlet Knights, which will be his first start at that position since the Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College as a true freshman in 2017. (That first year Wirfs became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start a game for Ferentz at Iowa, a noted OL factory.)
NFL scouts want to see how the 6-5, 320-pound Wirfs handles the move this week with the next level in mind. Although the difference in value between a left and a right tackle isn’t what it’s sometimes believed to be, there’s added value in having a player who can handle both. And Wirfs will get a nice test from Rutgers’ solid pass rushers, Elorm Lumor and Mike Tverdov.
Wirfs became a sensation in the college football world this spring when he smashed what was thought to be an unbreakable school record: four reps of a 450-pound hang clean, previously set by former Hawkeye and current Washington Redskins OG Brandon Scherff.
When we asked Ferentz about Wirfs’ weight-room and football exploits this summer at Big Ten Media Days, the coach sounded like a man who was trying to quash the hype around his player. But Ferentz’s comments this week suggest he’s pleased with how his tackle — a possible 2020 first-rounder — has started the season.
California S Ashtyn Davis at Washington
Davis’ season got off to a rough start last week when he lost a fumble on the game-opening kickoff in the Bears’ eventual win over UC-Davis. He made up for it later with a fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter to help Cal ice a close game.
The 6-1, 200-pound redshirt safety has been a popular name in scouting circles this summer, as Davis possesses elite athleticism and is starting to blossom as a player. He’s a late bloomer, having elevated from former unknown walk-on to a possible All-America candidate this season. Davis had four picks a year ago, running one back for a score, and he added an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Now that Davis has given up track and field for the Bears, he’s solely focused on football and is an elite athlete for the position, even while lacking ideal size and sometimes playing out of control. But it’s easy to see why some have issued lofty comparisons for Davis, including to the Vikings’ Harrison Smith. Davis might not be there yet, nor be quite as big as Smith, but the potential is there.
Saturday will provide an excellent test for Davis from his deep-safety spot because the Huskies have weapons to attack both the seam and the sidelines. New QB Jacob Eason caught our attention in his Washington debut with more than one NFL-caliber throw vs. Eastern Washington last week. Vertical threat Aaron Fuller caught two touchdowns last week, and TE Hunter Bryant led the Huskies with six grabs, kicking off what should be breakout seasons for both.
Davis will have his hands full Saturday night in Seattle, and a few big plays either way in this showcase game could shift Davis’ eventual draft standing. Cal’s secondary looks to be a very strong group overall, but the Washington skill-position talent is undeniable, which will be a great test for Davis.
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