Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft? This weekly column breaks down the best matchups to watch on Saturday and what players to watch.
By Charlie Campbell.
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UCLA vs. Arizona State Thursday, 11:00 ET Fox Sports 1
This is one of the top games in the Pac-12 this year as the 11th-ranked Bruins visit the 15th-ranked Sun Devils. There will be some good draft matchups in this game, including UCLA’s defense led by linebacker Erik Kendricks taking on Arizona State’s potent offense with running back D.J. Foster. If Kendricks can shut down Foster, that will help Kendricks’ chances of being a first-round pick. Another draft prospect who will play a role in that is defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy.
Arizona State junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong also has early-round potential. He needs to show he has the speed to separate in order to be a first-round pick.
UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley is expected to play after leaving the last game against Texas with an elbow injury.
Tennessee vs. Georgia 12:00 ET CBS
There is a really good draft matchup in this game as Tennessee senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson will have the tough task of keeping Georgia star running back Todd Gurley in check. Johnson has the speed, but he’ll need to show the instincts, ability to read his keys and toughness to bring down Gurley. If Johnson can do a good job of defending Gurley, that could give his draft stock a real boost.
Colorado State vs. Boston College 12:30 ET ESPN3
This an under-the-radar draft matchup that NFL evaluators will be watching. One general manager told WalterFootball.com that Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson is their sleeper quarterback who they think will rise like Blake Bortles or Jimmy Garoppolo last year. Boston College is coming off an upset over USC, so the Eagles should provide a better test for Grayson compared to the typical defense he faces in the Mountain West.
Another draft prospect to watch in this game is Rams left tackle Ty Sambrailo. He’s been out the past two games after spraining his knee against Colorado in the season opener.
Minnesota vs. Michigan 3:30 PM ESPN 2
This game features another under-the-radar draft matchup. Minnesota cornerback Eric Murray is a tough defender, and he’ll be challenged by Michigan tight end-turned-wide receiver Devin Funchess. Murray is a junior who could consider entering the 2015 NFL Draft. If he shuts down Funchess, that could boost his draft stock.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M 3:30 PM CBS
Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has had a lot of easy opponents thus far, but that will change now that the Aggies are getting into conference play. Ogbuehi will see his first test from Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers. Flowers didn’t impress against Texas Tech, but he could make up for it by playing well against Ogbuehi.
Stanford vs. Washington 4:15 PM FOX
This is a great game for draft evaluation. Washington cornerback Marcus Peters is one of the top corners in the Pac-12, and the Huskies will need him to step up against Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery has been phenomenal this season. Two years ago, Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant had a great game against the Cardinal to lead an upset, and that helped push Trufant into the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Peters needs that type of performance.
The Washington defense also features the nation’s leader in sacks as defensive tackle Danny Shelton has seven sacks thus far. Shelton has been dominant, and Stanford’s offensive line will be his best opponent of the season thus far.
Cardinal left tackle Andrus Peat is a potential top-10 pick next May. He probably won’t go against Shelton, but Peat has a hard edge-rush challenger in outside linebacker Hau’Oli Kikana. Kikana had 13 sacks in 2013 and already has six sacks this season. He is tied for second in the nation in sacks behind Shelton. If Kikana does well versus Peat, don’t be surprised if that propels Kikana into the first-round discussion.
Stanford junior quarterback Kevin Hogan needs to play more consistently and get the ball to Montgomery. Against these talented defenders, Hogan needs to show improved poise, ball security and accuracy. It’s time for Hogan to step up if he’s going to become an early-round prospect.
On the other side of the ball, Cardinal cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons could be tested by Washington wide receiver Kasen Williams. After an injury last year, Williams has yet to break out this seasonm but doing it against Stanford’s cornerbacks would be big for his draft stock.
Missouri vs. South Carolina 7:00 PM ESPN
Missouri has a lot of talent on its defensive line led by edge rushers Markus Golden and Shane Ray. South Carolina left tackle Corey Robinson could struggle against their speed. The Tigers also have some talented youngsters at defensive tackle who should challenge Gamecocks senior guard A.J. Cann.
While South Carolina could struggle to pass block, the Missouri defenders need to show they can stop the Gamecocks’ power running attack led by running back Mike Davis. The junior Davis has three-down starting potential for the NFL.
Oregon State vs. USC 10:30 PM ESPN
Beavers senior quarterback Sean Mannion lit up a lot of teams in 2013, but had some inconsistent play in the second half of the year when he had better opponents. Mannion worked to improve his accuracy in the offseason, and that will be put to the test by the Trojans. USC just was embarrassed by Boston College, so the Trojans’ defense should be poised to redeem themselves.
Trying to limit Mannion will be USC star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He should get plenty of pass-rushing opportunities against Oregon State. Putting up a big sack total this season would be huge for Williams’ draft stock.
USC wide receiver Nelson Agholar will see a quality test in Oregon State cornerback Steven Nelson. Nelson could be a mid-round pick, but he could rise if he can shut down Agholar.
Another rising player to watch is USC running back Buck Allen. He’s been excellent thus far in 2014.
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