2017 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – Week 1

Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2017 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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Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina; Thursday, Sep. 1, 8:00 PM ESPN

South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore is out for the season with an injury, but there is an even better linebacker prospect in this game with Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham. NFL sources said they are eager to watch the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder. He could be one of the top inside linebacker prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Appalachian State vs. Tennessee; Thursday, Sep. 1, 7:30 PM SECN

Tennessee has big expectations this year, and part of that is because the Volunteers have a ton of NFL talent on their roster. Defensive end Derek Barnett is a potential top-20 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cornerback Cam Sutton, running back Jalen Hurd, and running back Alvin Kamara all have the potential to be second-day selections next April. Quarterback Josh Dobbs is a wild card who could rise if he shows improved pocket passing this season. Defensive back Evan Berry – younger brother of Eric Berry – is also an intriguing talent to keep an eye on this season.

Kansas State vs Stanford; Friday, Sep. 2, 7:00 PM FS1

Kansas State doesn’t project to have a lot of NFL talent this year, but the Wildcats are always a well-coached, disciplined team under Bill Snyder. Thus, they shouldn’t be a cake walk for Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey. The junior tailback was a dynamite play-maker last year and almost won the Heisman Trophy. His game is similar to Reggie Bush, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against the heavy run fronts that teams will undoubtably employ.

Other Cardinal prospects to watch include offensive tackle Casey Tucker, center Graham Shuler and linebacker Peter Kalambayi.

Oklahoma vs. Houston; Saturday, Sep. 3, 12:00 PM ABC

This game is loaded with players who are going to be scouted for the NFL this fall. Sooners cornerback Jordan Thomas is a top player to keep an eye on. Thomas was a ball-hawk last year and has an excellent skill set. Other Oklahoma draft prospects include defensive tackle Charles Walker and running back Samaje Perine. Both could be potential second-day picks. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was tremendous to close out the 2015 season. If he can improve as a pocket passer, he could rise this season.

Houston has a surprising eight players on the Senior Bowl watch-list. These talents to watch this season are: quarterback Greg Ward Jr., wide receiver Chance Allen, cornerback Brandon Wilson, linebacker Steven Taylor, defensive tackle B.J. Singleton, defensive end Cameron Malveaux, linebacker Tyus Bowser and fullback Tyler McCloskey.

UCLA vs Texas A&M; Saturday, Sep. 5, 3:30 PM CBS

Along with Leonard Fournette, Myles Garrett could be in the running as the top prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft. The Aggies speed rusher Garrett will see a nice test to open his final college season with UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott. If McDermott does well at keeping Garrett from getting to star quarterback Josh Rosen, that would be massive for McDermott’s draft stock.

Texas A&M also features other draft prospects to watch like defensive end Daeshon Hall, safety Armani Watts, wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and wide receiver Speedy Noil. UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes is a talented player, but he missed the 2015 season after tearing a knee ligament while celebrating a touchdown in that season’s opener. Vanderdoes could use a big year to put his draft stock on the map.

LSU vs. Wisconsin; Saturday, Sep. 3, 3:30 PM ABC

It will be exciting to see college football at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but when you add in perhaps the best college player in the nation with LSU running back Leonard Fournette, it should be a very fun game to watch. Fournette starts his campaign for the top of the 2017 NFL Draft against a quality Badgers team. Staying healthy is really the biggest hurdle for Fournette’s draft hopes.

LSU has a ton of other NFL talent to watch. Wide receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre are early rounders. Center/tackle Ethan Pocic was very good in 2015. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, defensive end Lewis Neal, and linebacker Kendall Beckwith are candidates to be selected on the first two days of the draft as well.

The Tigers also have the best safety prospect entering the season with Jamal Adams. NFL sources already say they see Adams as a future top-20 pick. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is another early rounder to watch.

Last year was a lost season to injury for Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, but he can send a charge into his draft stock if he runs well against LSU.

Georgia vs. North Carolina; Saturday, Sep. 5, 5:30 PM ESPN

The Bulldogs will welcome the return of Nick Chubb to the field. The junior running back is coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2015 season after five games. Over the course of this season, Chubb needs to show teams he is the same player he was before the injury.

North Carolina has a bruising back of its own in Elijah Hood. Other prospects to watch include Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter and safety Dominick Sanders. Sanders needs to improve his tackling, so Hood should be a good challenge.

USC vs. Alabama; Saturday, Sep. 3, 8:00 PM ABC

As one can expect, there are some great draft match ups in this game. Alabama junior left tackle Cam Robinson will see a good test USC sophomore edge rusher Porter Gustin. Trojans junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson will be tested by Crimson Tide star sophomore wideout Calvin Ridley. Ridley and Gustin aren’t draft-eligible, but Jackson and Robinson need strong performances against them to help their respective draft stocks.

One great matchup for the 2017 NFL Draft will be USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taking on Alabama redshirt sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Sources say Humphrey is a potential high first-rounder. Smith-Schuster also is a possible Thursday night pick. Whoever wins this matchup could see a huge benefit in their respective draft stock. Crimson Tide senior safety Eddie Jackson could also be called on to help contain Smith-Schuster.

Alabama has a ton of defensive line talent to watch with defensive end/tackle Jonathan Allen and edge rusher Tim Williams looking like future first-rounders. They will see some quality offensive tackles with USC’s duo of Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner. Trojans guard Damien Mama is another road-grader who will challenge Allen and defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Crimson Tide senior linebacker Rueben Foster and tight end O.J. Howard are two more pro prospects who could be selected in the first couple of rounds next April.

Clemson vs. Auburn; Saturday, Sep. 3, 9:00 PM ESPN

Clemson has perhaps the top quarterback prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft with Deshaun Watson. He will be tested by some quality defensive talent at Auburn led by defensive tackle Montravius Adams. Adams has great potential, but he needs to be more consistent. Watson needs to continue to show progress as a pocket passer.

Clemson also has other potential first-round picks in wide receiver Mike Williams and cornerback Cordea Tankersley. Other second-day draft talents include running back Wayne Gallman, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and linebacker Ben Boulware.

Notre Dame vs. Texas; Sunday, Sep. 4, 7:30 PM ABC

Notre Dame lost Ronnie Stanley to the NFL, but scouting sources say they see another potential first-round offensive tackle from the Fighting Irish in Mike McGlinchey. It will be interesting to see how McGlinchey handles the move from right tackle to left tackle this season. Notre Dame also has a good defensive tackle prospect to watch in Jarron Jones.

Texas doesn’t have as much talent for the 2017 NFL Draft, but defensive tackle Paul Boyette, safety Dylan Haines and guard Kent Perkins are on the Senior Bowl watch-list and are worth monitoring.

Ole Miss vs. Florida State; Monday, Sep. 5, 9:00 PM ESPN

To close out Week 1, this game has some excellent draft matchups. Florida State left tackle Roderick Johnson is in the running to be one of the top tackle prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft, and he will see a dangerous edge rusher in Marquis Haynes. Haynes needs to show improved run defense, and that will be a real challenge with Florida State superstar running back Dalvin Cook. Cook is a possible top-20 pick next April and is a dominant runner capable of taking over games with his talent to beat elite defenses.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly is one of the top 2017 quarterback prospects. He needs to display improved accuracy and decision-making in his second season as the starter for the Rebels. Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram and safety Tony Conner are potential second-day picks. Another second-day prospect is Florida State defensive end Demarcus Walker. Florida State junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph is another candidate to go on the first two days of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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