This section breaks down many college football games each week and highlights how 2018 NFL Draft Prospects have performed. Or look at the 2018 NFL Draft Stock page.
By Charlie Campbell.
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USC 28, Utah 27
In the first quarter after making some nice passes to move down the field, Darnold made a mistake on a read-option play, fumbling the ball away at the mesh point after being indecisive about giving the ball to his back or keeping it himself. On the next drive, Darnold was under heavy pressure and forced a ball down the field that floated to a safety like a punt. Darnold got lucky that the safety dropped the easy would-be interception. The poor ball security continued on the next drive as Darnold was running on a zone-read carry and was stripped of the ball. Utah scooped it up and returned it about 20 yards for a touchdown.
After those two fumbles and what should have been his 10th interception of the season, Darold rebounded on the next possession, finding a wide-open tight end in busted coverage to hit him in stride down the seam for a 52-yard touchdown. It was a good read and pass by Darnold.
Darnold made a big-time throw early in the third quarter. Dropping back in his own end zone, he rolled to his left while multiple rushers bore down on him. Despite knowing he was going to take a shot, he threw a perfectly placed dart to a receiver on the sideline for a first down that moved the chains away from the danger zone. Later on the drive, Darnold made two great plays to escape rushers and make money throws on the run. The second was a 17-yard touchdown strike to his receiver in a tight window in the end zone. It was a gem of a play by Darnold.
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Darnold showed great pocket presence to step up in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield to throw a perfect pass for a gain of about 20 yards. He finished that drive by rolling out and finding a receiver open for a short touchdown pass. Darnold contributed to another touchdown drive that ended with the game-winning score, coming on the ground.
Versus the Utes, Darnold completed 27-of-50 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns. He showed good arm strength, athleticism, an ability to throw on the run, and moxie. Darnold shook off his early mistakes and poor opening to lead his team to a comeback win over a good opponent. He still needs to improve his ball security and cut down on turnovers, but this performance, overall, should help his draft stock.
Late in the first quarter, Marshall was all over a receiver downfield. Marshall tipped the pass, but the receiver snatched it to escape down the field for a gain of 40 yards. Marshall was flagged on the play for a pass interference. Midway through the second quarter, Marshall slapped a pass away on a slant. A few plays laterm he committed an obvious pass interference that helped move Utah close to midfield.
Just before the half, Marshall had blanket coverage on a deep pass down the field. He didn’t read the receiver’s hands or eyes, however, failing to turn to locate the ball. The pass hit Marshall square in the back, and if he had turned, it would have been an easy interception. Marshall’s struggles this season suggest he should return for his senior year rather than entering the 2018 NFL Draft.
Texas A&M 19, Florida 17
The announcers were comparing 6-foot-4, 295-pounder Bryan to J.J. Watt, and in terms of style of play, Bryan is reminiscent of Watt. Bryan has a tremendous get-off with serious explosion off the snap. He has developed strength with active hands to shed blocks. With his length, Bryan can play end or tackle while being a perfect fit as a five technique. This tape was the performance of an early-round talent for the 2018 or 2019 NFL Draft.
In the first quarter, Dawson had tight coverage on Kirk in the slot and knocked away a slant attempt on a third down to force a field goal attempt. Dawson then had a tackle for a loss on a stretch run, and a play later, he had a clutch open-field tackle on a back that prevented a huge run. Dawson got burned on an out route in the third quarter, and that allowed a 33-yard gain for the Aggies.
Surprisingly, the normally sure-handed Kirk dropped a pass late in the third quarter. He then came back to torch a corner and get vertical for a 40-yard reception. Later on the drive, Kirk had a step on Dawson, running a corner post into the end zone, but Dawson was able to slap the ball away. Kirk got open on a crossing route on the next Aggie possession, but he dropped the pass.
With less than five minutes remaining, Kirk made a huge play on special teams with a 43-yard punt return into Gator territory. It wasn’t a banner game from Kirk, as he caught only two passes for 44 yards, but this tape shouldn’t have a real impact on his draft stock.
While Dawson allowed that one 33-yard reception, he had a good performance running with Kirk and showing that he could run with a speedy receiver like Kirk. For the NFL, Dawson looks like a slot corner, and he could be a mid-round pick.
In the first quarter, Watts came downhill to break up a pass on a slant attempt. Watts then made a tremendous play, tracking the ball in the back of the end zone on a bomb. While falling to the ground, he secured the ball for an incredible catch. Texas A&M gave the ball right back, and then Watts went out of the game briefly with an injury. It looked like a rib or chest for Watts, and he wasn’t same after that play.
Watts, playing through some pain, had running back LaMichael Perine run through him on a 15-yard touchdown. At the end of the third quarter, Watts overpursued a run by quarterback Feleipe Franks and that let Franks cut back to break into the open field for a 79-yard run. Watts, however, had a key block on Kirk’s 43-yard punt return.
This tape should serve to confirm Watts as a potential second-day pick.
Alabama 41, Arkansas 9
That was the only real poor instance for Ragnow, but he wasn’t getting a push in the ground game. Ragnow held up well against Payne in a one-on-one passing situation in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide pulled their starters shortly after that.
This tape had Ragnow looking more like a third- or fourth-rounder. He is similar to former Arkansas offensive lineman Travis Swanson. Payne is a first-round talent and showed that he can rush the passer when Alabama gives him the opportunity.
Oklahoma 29, Texas 24
Mayfield loaded up and lofted in a 54-yard touchdown catch on the first play from scrimmage, as his receiver did a great job to snatch the pass in front of the cornerback. Mayfield had plenty of time to scan his targets before finding the receiver running open deep. The pass was thrown a little late and the receiver had to hold up and wait for the ball rather than being led. That allowed the cornerback to close the separation and almost break the pass up, but Sooners wide out Jeff Badet made the play for his quarterback.
On the next drive, Mayfield made a nice throw finding tight end Mark Andrews in a window in zone coverage to get 20 yards. Mayfield made a number of nice plays with his arm and legs to move the ball with 20 points at halftime for the Sooners. Mayfield did heave his first interception of the year late in the second quarter. It was a fourth-and-3, and Mayfield was blitzed. He panicked and lofted a pass out to the flat, assuming his back would be uncovered, but the ball was undercut for a pick.
Mayfield showed poor field vision on a third-quarter play, as he had a receiver running a crossing route. A safety in zone coverage was right there and had the ball bounce off his chest in what should have been an easy interception for Texas. A little bit later, Mayfield showed nice presence and strength to break a tackle in the backfield to avoid a sack and then run for seven yards to turn a negative into a positive play.
Down by a point in the fourth quarter, Mayfield found Andrews wide open in busted coverage along the sideline. After catching the pass, Andrews raced down the field for a 59-yard touchdown.
Mayfield completed 17-of-27 for 302 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran for 27 yards on seven carries. Mayfield had an efficient game, and that has been the word that summarizes him as a quarterback. He is a good athlete with mobility. He has enough arm strength and can throw the ball accurately into tight windows. Mayfield is a gamer, and even though he doesn’t have a first-round skill set, he could end up become a starter in the NFL as a second-day pick.
Oklahoma went behind Brown for a 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Brown was then called for a holding penalty that took away a touchdown pass. On the play, Brown was knocked to the ground, and he hugged the defender to drag him down.
Brown should move to right tackle or guard for the NFL. One team source thinks he should be a guard. At about 6-foot-8, Brown can play too high at times, and he could have issues with NFL rushers bending underneath him. I think Brown looks like a potential second-rounder.
Throughout the game, Jefferson had a lot of good run fills to limit the Sooners ground offense. However, Jefferson got out of position to allow a cutback lane for a 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Jefferson had a sack waiting for him when he came unblocked on a blitz, but Mayfield dodged him in the pocket to scramble downfield for a nice gain. Jefferson totaled a number of tackles, but didn’t impress in pass coverage. His instincts aren’t that impressive. Jefferson is a first-round athlete, but he should be a second-day pick because of his instincts, production and need for development in pass coverage.
LSU 27, Auburn 23
It didn’t start well for Chark, as he had a painful mistake. Davis released Chark running deep down the field and that let Chark get open for a long reception. Davis got lucky that his safety forced a fumble that Davis recovered. It was a mental mistake by Davis to run with Chark, but then pull up thinking he was passing him off to a safety when Auburn was in man coverage.
In the second quarter, Davis drove on the ball but misjudged the timing so he just missed a diving pass breakup on a completion to Chark. Chark then spun to get down the sideline for 39 yards. Chark later made a nice catch downfield for about 20 yards, working back to the ball and securing a leaping grab.
Chark came up with a huge play in the fourth quarter, as he took a punt return 75 yards for a touchdown to cut Auburn’s lead to 23-21. Shortly later, Chark secured a huge reception, getting late separation and having the ball fall into him for a gain of about 40 yards.
Chark totaled five receptions for 150 yards. This tape will help Chark, as he showed the speed to separate and make big plays. He also ran some nice routes with impressive skill to get late separation to make receptions. This tape is going to help Chark to grade out as an early-rounder, even with the fumble.
Davis, meanwhile, had an underwhelming performance. Chark illustrated that Davis can have problems with deep speed and receivers making big plays against him over the top. Davis has an early-round skill set but has room for improvement in technique to help handle those plays downfield.
In the second quarter, Toliver made a nice play to break on the ball and knock the pass away for a third-down incompletion. Toliver then had tight press man coverage to force an incompletion on a pass that came his direction. At the start of the fourth quarter, a receiver got a step on Toliver, but the wideout dropped a well-thrown pass from Jarrett Stidham. Tolver got lucky on that play.
Toliver needs to improve in the second half of the season in order to have a shot at being a first-round pick. He grabs too much on receivers and needs to improve on running with them. Otherwise, he could have a lot of issues with holding and pass interference penalties in the NFL.
In the first quarter, Key was lining up inside and Auburn guard Braden Smith was able to push him back. Key then came close to a sack using speed to run the loop. Key had a roughing-the-passer infraction in the third quarter that was a frustration penalty. Key had a nice rush on the play with speed and a rip move to close, but he should have pulled up rather than planting Stidham into the turf. In the fourth quarter, Key had a good run fill to make the play a short gain. Key then fought through the right tackle to stuff a back for a loss of one. On the final play of significance, Key had a fourth-down sack to clinch the win for LSU. Key used a spin move to the outside and then cut back in to get to Stidham for the sack.
In some ways, Key is having a similar junior season to Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett. After prolific sophomore years, both of those edge rushers had less production as injuries and double teams kept their stat lines down. Key is a dynamic defender with speed, pass-rushing moves, size, and length. Even if his sack total is marginal this year, he’ll be a future first-rounder. The question is only how high he will go.
Boston College 45, Louisville 42
On his first throw of the game, Jackson rolled out but threw too high for an open receiver in the flat. Later on the drive, Jackson lofted in a pass to a wideout in the end zone and it bounced off the fingertips. A pro receiver probably makes the catch, but Jackson led the wideout just a little too much. However, to end the drive, Jackson made a great play-action fake on a fourth-and-1. He held the ball behind his back, showing patience to let his tight end peel out to the flat and then throwing a rope to him that let him break down field for a touchdown from about 20 yards out.
Shortly later. Jackson made a pretty touch throw downfield to beat tight coverage with a perfectly placed pass for 48 yards. Jackson then took a zone read to dart downfield and dive through an ankle tackle for a 20-yard touchdown run.
Jackson was being failed by his supporting cast routinely in the third quarter. He made a nice play to avoid sacks with fancy footwork and throwing the ball away. However, Jackson didn’t see a linebacker fall back into a throwing lane on the next play, and that led to an interception for Boston College. That was the one big mistake from Jackson.
Jackson came back to loft in a 48-yard touchdown. It was a rare instance where his receiver bailed out Jackson, as the ball sailed and almost went out of bounds in the front corner of the end zone, but his freshman wideout made a superb catch while getting a foot inbounds before falling over the line. Jackson used his feet to carve up Boston College on the next Louisville possession, and he finished it with a 9-yard touchdown run. He continued to rip up Boston College with a 41-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 42 with five minutes remaining.
Jackson completed 19-of-39 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran for 180 yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns.
There clearly is a lot of room for improvement for Jackson as a passer for the NFL. The main issue is accuracy, and that could be seen with a number of throws with poor placement against Boston College. Jackson can miss too high on throws, and his footwork fundamentals can get out of whack, leading to inconsistent accuracy. He can make some perfect throws with excellent ball placement and then miss wildly on his next throw. More than anything, Jackson needs work on his accuracy for the NFL. Gaining weight to get thicker in his frame is another important task for him.
That being said, there is no doubt that Jackson has a starting skill set for the NFL, and that could be seen in this game. He has elite arm strength with a powerful gun than other strong-armed prospects like Pat Mahomes or Jared Goff. Jackson’s arm is so strong he can make throws off platform that other quarterbacks must have their feet set to make. With just a flip of the wrist, the ball explodes out of Jackson’s hands, and he can beat good coverage with perfect throws that very few quarterbacks can make. When Jackson’s in the NFL next year, his arm will be one of the strongest in the league in the same ballpark as Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco.
On top of elite arm strength, Jackson is a great athlete with incredible mobility, speed, and moves to rip up defenses with his feet. From a skill set perspective, Jackson is very similar to Michael Vick. With his physical talent, I think Jackson will rise throughout the lead up to the draft and end up being a first-round pick with high first-round potential.
N.C. State 35, Pitt 17
On the first play of the game, Samuels took a carry around the right side for a gain of more than 10 yards, and on the next play, he got open in the flat for another first down, this time on a reception. Samuels was then quiet for some time, but early in the fourth quarter, he took a goal-line carry into the end zone. Samuels then took off on a 40-yard touchdown run. Samuels totaled 62 yards on six carries with two touchdowns with four receptions for 28 yards through the air.
Samuels projects as a receiving back who also can take carries as a running back. He could play some fullback as well. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder could be a real weapon in the pros and looks like a future second- or third-round pick.
Defensively, in the first quarter, Whitehead came up short to make a diving tackle, and that allowed the back to explode down the field for an 83-yard touchdown.
In the third quarter, Whitehead got turned the wrong direction in coverage and ran into the cornerback to allow a reception downfield of about 30 yards. Whitehead made the tackle to prevent a score, but if he turned the right way, he could have been in position for a break up or interception. To end the drive, a receiver got in the back of the end zone with Whitehead getting there a hair late to break up the pass. It actually was a pretty good play by Whitehead because he had been in man coverage on another receiver, but wisely broke off to try to bail out a teammate who blew coverage on a boot action. Shortly later, Whitehead had a receiver blanketed downfield to force an incompletion.
This was an OK performance that wasn’t especially positive or negative for Whitehead. Playing him on offense is hurting his ability to impress on defense because he is on a snap count and his opportunities are decreased. For the NFL, Whitehead looks like a nice free safety candidate who could be a second-day pick if his off-the-field concerns aren’t too much of a weight.
On his first play from scrimmage for the Wolfpack defense, Chubb easily shed the block by the left tackle and fired into the backfield to tackle the back. Chubb then made a good tackle, showing effort to sprint down the field for the stop. Chubb had a number of other pressures showing quickness to close and active hands to shed blocks.
Early in the third quarter, Chubb came close to a sack as he kept his feet after the tackle tried to cut block him and then he closed on the quarterback to force a throwaway. Chubb then went down with a hand injury and was writhing in pain. It turned out to be a dislocated finger, but Chubb showed serious toughness, coming back into the game shortly later. He also used his hand to break up a pass intended for a back in the flat as Chubb showed nice athleticism to blanket the check down target.
Pitt was very cognizant of Chubb in its game plan. Chubb didn’t have a big stat line, but he had a big impact on the game. They constantly went away from him with rollouts to the other side along with double teams. If Chubb continues his current level of play while avoiding injury or off the field concerns, he’ll be a top-25 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
In the early minutes, Hines had an 83-yard touchdown run through the middle of Pitt’s defense. Hines then fielded a punt and exploded down the field for a 92-yard touchdown. Early in the second quarter, Hines made another impressive play on special teams, this time on punt coverage. As a gunner he used his great speed to fly down the field and catch the ball near the end zone to save it from a touchback.
Hines totaled 135 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown and his punt return score. The 5-foot-9, 197-pounder isn’t the biggest of backs, but he has NFL speed. He could be a rotational back, receiving back, and returner in the NFL. If Hines enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he could have mid-round potential.
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