Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2016 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. Stanford; Thursday, Oct. 15, 10:30 PM ESPN
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan will have a tough test with a gritty Bruins defense led by tackle Kenny Clark. Hogan has a NFL skill set with lots of experience in a pro-style offense, but Hogan has to play well consistently to get consideration as an early-rounder.
Alabama vs. Texas A&M; Saturday, Oct. 17, 3:30 PM CBS
There is a nice draft matchup in this game at the point of attack with Aggies center Mike Matthews and right tackle Germain Ifedi going against a tough Alabama defensive line led by tackle A’Shawn Robinson and defensive end Jonathan Allen. Whoever gets the better of their battles should see their draft grade improve.
Crimson Tide linebacker Reggie Ragland will be put to the test by the Aggies spread offense. Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s defense will be challenged with stopping Alabama running back Derrick Henry, a potential first-rounder.
This tape also will have a big impact on the 2017 NFL Draft with Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett going against Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson. Texas A&M junior defensive end Daeshon Hall also is a fast edge rusher who could be in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Michigan State vs. Michigan; Saturday, Oct. 17, 3:30 PM ABC
Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook, a potential high first-rounder, will see a defense that is playing tenacious football. The Wolverines have put up three-straight shutouts, and the Spartans’ offense has been underwhelming in some recent outings. If Cook is going to grade out as a high first-rounder and franchise quarterback, playing well against Michigan is a necessity.
The Spartans have potential first-round picks in left tackle Jack Conklin and defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Calhoun is really putting together an excellent senior year. Michigan tight end Jake Butt has played really well in 2015 and looks like a future NFL tight end.
Florida vs. LSU; Saturday, Oct. 17, 7:00 PM ESPN
There is a ton of pro talent going head-to-head in this SEC battle. Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreavess III is in the running to be the first defensive back selected next year, and he will be facing two talented LSU receivers in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupree. Florida also has a future NFL safety in junior Keanu Neal. Neal could be a second-day pick if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.
The hard-hitting Neal and senior linebacker Antonio Morrison will have their toughest test of the season with LSU star running back Leonard Fournette. The sophomore Fournette would be a top-10 pick if he could enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Morrison is a mid-round prospect.
Blocking for Fournette is LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander. The senior looks more like a guard for the NFL and he will be tested by some good edge defenders in Jonathan Bullard, Bryan Cox Jr, and Alex McAllister. The senior Bullard in particular is having a strong 2015 season.
On the other side of the ball is another good matchup with Gators wide receiver Demarcus Robinson taking on LSU cornerback TreDavious White. That could be a battle of future first-round picks.
USC vs Notre Dame; Saturday, Oct. 17, 7:30 PM NBC
USC junior quarterback Cody Kessler is coming off an ugly game against Washington, and his job won’t get easier facing a tough Notre Dame defense led by linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith is a possible first-rounder and is all over the field for the Fighting Irish.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day is future pro and could have had a great draft matchup against USC center Max Tuerk. However, Tuerk suffered a knee sprain versus Washington and is out for the season.
USC linebacker Su’a Cravens is also an early-round prospect to watch. He will be tested by Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise.
Penn State vs. Ohio State; Saturday, Oct. 17, 8:00 PM ABC
A year ago, Christian Hackenberg and Penn State almost beat Ohio State. Some terrible calls by the officials played a huge role in spotting the Buckeyes two scores that were critical in their winning that game in overtime. Hackenberg looked better against Indiana this past week, but he will be tested by a lot of NFL talent at the Horseshoe. Defensive end Joey Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington should overwhelm a weak offensive line. Bosa hasn’t been as impressive this season, but the Nittany Lions’ offensive line could be the remedy to his meager sack total (1.5). Hackenberg needs to show he is a potential franchise quarterback and rise to the occasion.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has also shown improved play in the last few weeks. Jones has a first-round skill set, but needs to show consistency.
Buckeyes junior running back Ezekiel Elliott is a future first-rounder if he can avoid injury. He’s carried Ohio State the past two seasons. Elliott has a strong offensive line led by left tackle Taylor Decker. Decker is going to be challenged by Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, who has a sack in every game this season and leads the nation with 10 sacks. Another future NFL player on the Penn State defensive line is tackle Anthony Zettel. Nassib and Zettel could make life tough on Jones.
Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas is also an early-round talent to watch.
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