Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2018 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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Ohio State vs. Indiana; Thursday, Aug. 31, 8:00 PM ESPN
Once again, Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes loaded with NFL talent, and the program will have another flood of early entry prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Sources from multiple teams from across the league have stated that players like redshirt sophomore defensive tackle DreMont Jones, wide receiver Parris Campbell, defensive end Sam Hubbard and running back Mike Weber could end up grading out as first-rounders with their skill sets. Sources say linebacker Jerome Baker has been overhyped, but he still could be an early round prospect. Other NFL prospects to keep an eye on include offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, center Billy Price and safety Damon Webb.
Indiana has some NFL talent to watch as well. Linebacker Tegray Scales has a nice buzz about him, and he could go in the mid-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. One team scout said he thought Scales was a similar level of prospect to the Buckeyes’ Baker. Indiana junior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. was impressive in 2015 before a suspension and injury cost him almost all of the 2016 season. A couple other Hoosiers to watch are senior cornerback Rashard Fant and quarterback Richard Lagow.
Washington vs. Rutgers; Friday, Sept. 1, 8:00 PM FS1
Washington has one of the top prospects in the nation with offensive tackle Trey Adams, a potential franchise left tackle prospect. Rutgers defensive end Kemoko Turay collected 7.5 sacks as a freshman, but was quiet for the past two years. He could send a jolt into his stock by playing well versus Adams. Huskies junior quarterback Jake Browning puts up big numbers, but doesn’t have a big skill set. Continuing to produce and lead the Huskies to wins will help his cause to get teams to look past the physical attributes. Washington has other skill position talent to watch in wide receiver Dante Pettis, running back Myles Gaskin, running back Lavon Coleman and linebacker Azeem Victor.
Maryland vs. Texas; Saturday, Sept. 2, 12:00 PM FS1
There is a lot of buzz around Maryland as an improving program on the rise. Thus, it will be interesting to see how the Longhorns’ draft prospects perform in the season opener. Longhorns offensive tackle Connor Williams is a potential first-round pick and starting left tackle for the NFL. Williams will see a good test in Maryland defensive end Jesse Aniebonam, who had nine sacks last year.
Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson has a ton of physical talent and has been moved around the field a lot in his first two years. This year, he is supposed to be a more traditional inside linebacker, and it will be interesting to see if that allows Jefferson to use his great skill set to generate serious production.
Michigan vs. Florida; Saturday, Sept. 2, 3:30 PM ABC
Perhaps the player with the best physical skill set for the NFL on either team is Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway. The gifted wideout has massive off-the-field issues, however, and those problems have him suspended for this game. Other Gators to keep an eye on include left tackle Martez Ivey, edge rusher CeCe Jefferson, cornerback Duke Dawson and running back Jordan Scarlett. Among those players, Ivey stands out as a player with the pro skill set to be an early round pick.
Like the Gators, the Wolverines lost a lot of talent to the NFL last year but still return some prospects for the next level. Center Mason Cole, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and linebacker Mike McCray will all be competing in NFL camps a year from now.
Western Michigan vs. USC; Saturday, Sept. 2, 5:15 PM PAC12
USC quarterback Sam Darnold is the early favorite to be the No. 1-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Darnold will get his season started against the Western Michigan Broncos, who have some Senior Bowl watch-list candidates with cornerback Darius Phillips and linebacker Asantay Brown. USC cornerback Iman Marshall could be one of the top cornerback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Edge defender Porter Gustin and linebacker Cameron Smith are also pro prospects to watch from the Trojans.
Florida State vs. Alabama; Saturday, Sept. 3, 8:00 PM ABC
This is the marquee game of Week 1 in college football, so as one can expect, there are some great draft matchups in this contest as both teams are stacked with NFL talent. The best preview will come with Alabama star junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley going against Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and safety Derwin James. James and Ridley both could go in the top-10 picks next April, and McFadden also has first-round potential. This will be an elite matchup to watch.
James is also going to need to contribute to limiting the Alabama rushing offense. Power back Bo Scarbrough finished the 2016 season in dominating fashion before an injury. Scarbrough could be poised for a massive year, and there are other talented ball-carriers in the Crimson Tide’s backfield as well. James’ pass defense and run defense will be tested by Alabama.
James isn’t the only elite safety prospect in this game as Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick was phenomenal in 2016. Fitzpatrick is an instinctive play-maker who will be needed to limit the Florida State offense led by strong-armed sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois.
There a lot of other defensive players in this game who also have early round skill sets. Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne could be one of the top defensive linemen in the country. Strong safety Ronnie Harrison has a first-round skill set as well. Cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Tony Brown are potential early rounders, too. Additionally, linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans are worth watching.
Florida State has potential early round talents in linebacker Matthew Thomas, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and defensive end Josh Sweat. Sweat has major durability concerns, according to NFL sources, so staying healthy is vital to his draft stock.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech; Sunday, Sept. 3, 7:30 PM ESPN
Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander is a good cover corner prospect for the NFL. He will see some talent as West Virginia typically fields a dangerous offense. Senior wide receiver Ka’Raun White could be a challenge for Alexander. Hokies cornerback Brandon Facyson is also a late-round prospect.
Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech; Monday, Sept. 4, 8:00 PM ESPN
This is the final game of the weekend, but there are still a few players to watch. Tennessee lost a lot of talent to the NFL recently, but there are a few prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft from the program. Tight end Ethan Wolf, safety Todd Kelly Jr. and safety Evan Berry all have potential. Berry is a great returner, but he needs to show he can contribute on defense. Georgia Tech safety Corey Griffin is worth watching for the Yellow Jackets.
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