Along with Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral is one of the favorites to be a high first-round pick and potential franchise quarterback. While Rattler had a mixed start to the season against Tulane, Corral cruised over Louisville moving the ball at will with his arm and legs to lead the Rebels to an easy victory.
On the first snap of the year Corral showed great patience to let a receiver get open and then he showed his quick release to fire the ball to his wide out to lead him for more yards and a gain of about 35. Later on the drive he converted a third down with a check down, fired another strike for a gain of over 20, and set up a short rushing touchdown. He was 4-of-5 for 80 yards on the opening drive of the year.
Corral led a field goal drive, and then in the second quarter finished the possession with a six-yard touchdown run. Corral showed his running burst and athleticism to dart into the end zone. In the third quarter Corral threw a touchdown pass that was called back by a penalty, and once again Ole Miss settled for a field goal. In the fourth quarter Corral threw a dart for a 37-yard touchdown, but once again the score was negated by a penalty. However a few plays later he tossed a short touchdown pass. Corral completed 22-of-32 passes for 381 yards with a touchdown. On the ground he ran for 55 yards and a touchdown.
This tape will help Corral as he showed his excellent skill set and guided the Rebels offense up and down the field. Corral threw the ball accurately firing passes to hit receivers on the run and lead them for more yards. With a quick release and patience in the pocket, Corral was dangerous to rip up the Louisville secondary. Along with his arm, Corral was dangerous with his feet taking off for good yardage on the ground and showing his athleticism to weave through the defense. Perhaps most importantly for Corral’s draft grade, he made good decisions and protected the football. Corral’s field vision and recognition was spot on leading to him avoiding mistakes. This was a fine start to the season for Corral.
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson is one of the top returning receivers in college football and he gave proof of that against the Badgers. While there was no scoring in the first half, that should not have been the case. In the second quarter Dotson burned Wisconsin coverage to get wide open for an 87-yard touchdown but quarterback Sean Clifford missed the throw. Throughout the first half Clifford and Penn State did a terrible job of getting the ball into Dotson’s hands.
Things changed in the third quarter as Dotson was open again, but a cornerback knocked him to the turf and drew a pass interference. The very next play Dotson got wide open for a 49-yard touchdown as Wisconsin had blown zone coverage and forgot to cover the speedster. This time Clifford didn’t miss and Dotson coasted in with his first touchdown of the year.
Late in the third quarter Dotson ran a great route again to get wide open running deep down the field. It should have been a 70-yard touchdown but Clifford missed the throw again.
Early in the fourth quarter Dotson ran by the Badgers safety and was wide open for a 42-yard completion. Dotson had to slow up and wait for the ball and if the pass hit him in stride it would have been a touchdown of over 60 yards. The state line of five receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown does not tell the story as Dotson was phenomenal. If Clifford were more capable, Dotson would have had a game of 250-300 yards receiving with three or four touchdowns.
For the NFL, Dotson is an interesting prospect. While he has game breaking speed, Dotson is also strong for his size and wins on contested catches. Dotson is an ultrafast wide out that stretches defenses vertically and is a threat to score on any reception. This tape is going to help his draft grade.
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson had a strong start to the 2021 season. Late in the first quarter Ferguson made a really nice play breaking three or four tackles on a short reception to get a good gain and set up a first down conversion for the Badgers. During the first half Ferguson made a handful of short catches on quick outs.
In the third quarter Ferguson had a great catch with an expected pass that tipped off his finger tips and then he controlled the deflection to dive ahead and set up a first-round and goal at the one. The next play Ferguson had a good run block to help open the hole for a game tying touchdown. He totaled nine receptions for 52 yards against Penn State.
This tape will help Ferguson as he showed the ability to be a contributing receiver and blocker. Ferguson is not overwhelming athletically with rare speed or agility as a receiver, or strength as a run blocker, but he is a solid well-rounded player in both phases.
On NFL team’s preseason watch list, Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith had the highest grade of any non pass rushing linebacker. In the shortened 2020 season, Smith was all over the field and did an excellent job as the replacement for Micah Parsons. Smith played well in the season opener making a number of good tackles in the ground game. In the third quarter Smith had an excellent short-yardage stop in the hole on a third-and-1. In zone coverage Smith did well moving in space and running down receivers in the flat to make tackles.
Smith looks like a future three down starter at middle or outside linebacker. He is big, fast, physical, and has quality instincts. With his excellent skill set, Smith has the ability to be a three down starter. It would not surprise this draft analyst if Smith becomes a hot prospect for the 2022 draft.
Penn State left tackle Rasheed Walker is another potential early-round pick but unlike Dotson and Smith, Walker did not look like it versus Wisconsin. Walker had an awful start to the 2021 season. In the first minute of the game Walker had a false start, and a few plays later Walker was late to react to stunt and the tackle that looped around him sacked quarterback Sean Clifford. There were other plays where Walker had poor hand placement and got knocked to the turf after losing his balance to allow pressures on the quarterback. Walker has a good skill set, but he needs to develop his technique and improve significantly in the weeks to come.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson returned to the field after missing the vast majority of the 2020 season. Hutchinson had a very good 2019 season in his first year as a starter and a year ago he was dominating opponents prior to his season-ending injury. Hutchinson entered the year looking like a future first-round pick with high first-round potential.
In the first quarter Hutchinson shed the left tackle using an arm move to the inside and he buried the quarterback just after the ball was released. Shortly later he used a swim move to cut to the inside of the right tackle and joined a few teammates to produce a tackle for a loss on a third down run.
Midway through the third quarter Hutchinson got his first strip-sack of the season. He smacked down the hands of the right tackle and closed on the quarterback to slap the ball out of his hands while taking him to the turf.
Against Western Michigan, Hutchinson played well but was not dominating like he did at the start of the 2020 season. Hutchinson looked a little stiff when he was standing up like a 3-4 outside linebacker. He had a quality first step but did not look as explosive off the ball as he did against Minnesota in the season opener of last year. Hutchinson has excellent technique with superb hand usage and a variety of moves to go along with physicality. Hutchinson also has a fantastic motor with relentless effort. In the NFL, he might be more of strong, tough, hold the point of attack and contribute some rush rather than a prolific sack producer. Hutchinson could be a good end that produces in the 6-10 sack range rather than a dynamic rusher that puts up totals in the teens.
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave is one of the top receiver prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft and he had a solid beginning to his 2021 season. It didn’t start well as Olave drew a false start, but it was clear from the beginning that the Gophers secondary was really struggling to cover Olave.
In the first quarter Olave drew a pass interference deep downfield as the cornerback had to hold Olave to keep him from breaking free to the end zone. Shortly later Olave had a pass thrown behind him by C.J. Stroud, and after reaching back the ball deflected off Olave’s hand for an interception.
At the start of the third quarter Olave made a huge play running across the field before making a leaping grab in zone coverage and then turning down the sideline to dart into the end zone with a touchdown from 38 yards out. To put the game away in the fourth quarter, Olave ran a deep out and after catching the ball he jetted down the sideline setting up blocks to score from 61 yards out. Olave totaled four receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
This game illustrated what makes Olave special. He is quick receiver showing speed through his route with sudden cutting ability to create separation. While Olave is not a big receiver, he is well rounded and has good technique. Olave might be a Calvin Ridley style receiver in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Ohio State cornerback Sevyn Banks did not make the start as he has been nursing an injury. Hopefully Banks returns to the field against Oregon in Week 2 to be tested by Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown and wide receivers Johnny Johnson and Jaylon Redd.
Minnesota right tackle Daniel Faalele is a monster of an offensive tackle with an early-round skill set. The Australian product Faalele checks in at 6-foot-9, 380-pounds and received favorable preseason grades from advance scouts. It was interesting to see how Faalele would play after he opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic.
In the second quarter Faalele stood up too high on a third-and-3 run and the defender got underneath his pads to drive Faalele back and make a tackle short of first down yardage. Shortly later though he made up for it on the goal line as he pushed the defensive end to the inside and that helped open a hole for a touchdown run. Faalele helped on another touchdown run in the third quarter tying up his blocker and giving his back time to spring into the open field.
For the NFL, Faalele will have to play right tackle or guard as his feet are too slow for left tackle. In pass protection sometimes Faalele’s feet seem to get stuck in the ground. He has excellent size and length that makes him tough to run around, but Faalele has some limitations in speed, athleticism, and movement.
In the ground game Faalele can be very tough when he plays with good leverage. He can push defenders around and shows strength to tie them up with an ability to manipulate defenders away from the play.
Faalele might need some development to take on NFL speed rushers, but he has the ability to play at the next level and this was a respectable start to the 2021 season.
A player that really helped himself in this game was Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim. The power back was a downhill physical runner that totaled 162 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns. Unfortunately Ibrahim left the game early with an injury, but this performance will definitely help him as he showed a burst to hit the hole, quality vision, knee bend, and power to run through arm tackles and finish runs well. If Ibrahim runs like this all year he could really rise in the lead up to the 2022 draft.
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell enters the 2021 season as an interesting prospect. Some in the media have projected him to be a high first-round pick, but some NFL advance scouts gave Howell a day three projection heading into the season. Howell has produced huge numbers for the Tar Heels in 2019 and 2020, and quarterbacks can rise so Howell is definitely a player to watch as a junior. Howell’s performance against Virginia Tech in the 2021 season opener gave support to the scouts view that Howell is not an early-round candidate as Howell struggled in this loss to the Hokies.
In the first half Howell threw a few nice passes showing some accuracy to hit slants in the intermediate level of the field. Howell threw the ball with precision into some tight windows showing a compact delivery. Midway through the first half Howell had a nice play using his legs to run for 14 on a third-and-10. On the negative side, Howell held onto the ball too long on a number of plays and that led to some sacks and throwaways that killed drives. Surprisingly, North Carolina was shutout in the first half.
Early in the third quarter Howell used his legs again to run for about 15 yards before absorbing a hard hit, but later on the drive Howell threw to the sideline to a blanketed receiver and the cornerback out wrestled the Tar Heels receiver for the ball. It wasn’t a horrible pass by Howell but resulted in his first interception of the year. Howell came back to throw a bubble screen behind the line of scrimmage that his receiver turned into a 37-yard touchdown.
Midway through the fourth quarter Howell had his second interception and once again it wasn’t a bad play on his part as a defensive tackle did a nice job of tipping the pass and the Hokies defenders were able to snatch the deflection. At the end of the fourth quarter with around 40 seconds remaining, Howell was being spun to the ground by a defensive tackle and he heaved the ball downfield in desperation and it was picked off. Howell finished completing 17-of-32 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
To rise up for his draft class, Howell will need to play a lot better in the weeks to come. He throws accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field, but Howell is not a dynamic dual-threat quarterback that is en vogue with NFL teams. Howell (6-0, 220) also does not have an elite arm with a cannon that makes dynamic throws based off of arm strength. For the NFL, Howell has more of a backup caliber skill set.
The top rated prospect on either team according to NFL team’s preseason watch list was Virginia Tech edge rusher Amare Barno and he had a big presence in helping to shutdown the previously prolific Tar Heels offense. In the first quarter Barno got started with a tackle in run defense on the perimeter for a loss of two yards. Later on he joined a teammate for another tackle for a loss. Just before halftime Barno raced to the flat to strip the ball from Howell as he scrambled to the outside. Luckily for Howell, the ball rolled out of bounds but it was Barno’s first sack and forced fumble of the season.
On the first play of the third quarter Barno was blocked, but as Howell rolled out to his left Barno ran away from the tackle to sack Howell in the flat. Barno continued to get some timely pressures including late in the fourth quarter when he almost had another sack after chasing down Howell in the flat.
This was a very good start to the 2021 season for Barno. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Barno is fast and athletic for a long edge rusher. He shows quickness off the edge, a burst to close, length to fight off blocks, solid vision, decision-making, and agility. Barno has the potential to rise into being a pick in the opening night of his draft class.
Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis is considered one of the top interior defensive line prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. Davis is a massive tackle that has surprising quickness and athleticism. With Davis in the middle, Georgia completely shut down the Tigers rushing attack. In the third quarter Davis pushed by the left guard to get a tackle for a loss on zone read run. Shortly later he got some heat and hits on the quarterback to help produce some change of possessions for Georgia. Midway through the fourth quarter Davis darted past the center and pushed through the right guard to start a sack of Uiagalelei. This tape will help Davis to be an earl-round pick next April.
Entering this season, some NFL advance scouts had Georgia outside linebacker Adam Anderson as their highest graded player on the preseason watch list. Georgia has rotated Anderson with a very talented group of edge rushers in past years and a heavy rotation is being employed again this year. Still, Anderson came through with some big plays for the Bulldogs.
Early in the second quarter Anderson showed his speed coming around the back side of the play to tackle Uiagalelei from behind on a third down run and that tackle got his defense off the field. Later before halftime Anderson got some pressure and a hand on the quarterback after a bull rush through the left tackle. In the third quarter Anderson fired off the ball and shed the right tackle to rip down Uiagalelei for his first sack of the season. Anderson added more pressure and chipped in on run defense in the final quarter.
Anderson has a ton of potential for the NFL. He is extremely fast off the snap and he has functional strength and length to fight off blocks. For the NFL, Anderson would be a great fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Clemson star wide receiver Justyn Ross missed the 2020 season with a congenital neck issue that required surgery, so it was great to see him make his return to the field in the 2021 season opener. With Georgia’s defensive line overwhelming the Tigers blocking front, Clemson had a hard time getting Ross the ball. Midway through the first quarter Ross ran a go route down the sideline and drew a holding penalty. He caught a few short passes, and in the third quarter he drew another pass interference. Ross had four receptions for 26 yards, but he should breakout in the weeks to come. Georgia’s front seven really deserves the credit for shutting down Clemson’s offense.
This game was loaded with future NFL talent and one player that really jumped out was Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean. He was all over the field for the Bulldogs showing fantastic closing speed. Dean made tackles to keep the Tigers rushing attack completely impotent and Dean was doing a nice job in zone coverage. In the third quarter he was called for a pass interference for holding Justyn Ross, but Dean staying somewhat close with a receiver like Ross was impressive. Shortly later he came close to a sack and then he got home later for a big sack that forced a punt.
Dean is a heat seeking missile on the field. He is a physical tackler with excellent speed. The fast linebacker looks like a future three down starter in the NFL. Dean (6-0, 225) might fit best as a Will (weakside) linebacker in the NFL, but he has a ton of upside and is a player to watch this season after his standout performance against Clemson.
Florida State was fortunate that edge rusher Jermaine Johnson chose the Seminoles after deciding to transfer from Georgia. Some NFL advance scouts gave Johnson a preseason first round projection, so adding a talent like Johnson was a steal for head coach Mike Norvell. Johnson made his presence felt immediately on the opening drive with a coverage sack of Jack Coan as he chased down the quarterback when he stopped up in the pocket.
Later in the first quarter he flowed down the line to stuff a run for a short gain and later on the drive Johnson had a tackle for a loss of four after coming unblocked to snuff out an end around. Late in the first quarter on a third-and-2, Johnson got off a block from the right guard and stuffed the back a yard short of the first down. It was a superb play by Johnson.
Midway through the second quarter Johnson added another coverage sack that mirrored his first one. Johnson was blocked initially, but as Coan stepped up Johnson redirected to hunt down the quarterback.
In the second half, Johnson went quiet as Notre Dame did a good job of blocking him in the final two quarters. However Johnson was commanding attention and that helped other Seminole defensive lineman to produce some big plays. It was a hot, long game and Johnson played a lot of snaps.
Overall, this was a strong debut for Johnson with the Seminoles. He showed quickness to get upfield with a burst to close. He also was strong to fight off blocks, take on guards, and make physical tackles. This tape should help Johnson’s draft grade.
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton entered the season as the consensus top safety prospect and a future first-round pick. In the first quarter Hamilton did not take a great angle on a long touchdown by the Seminoles. There were a couple of other tackling efforts that were underwhelming, but late in the second quarter Hamilton showed his special ability with an interception along the sideline. It was great play where Hamilton ran the route on a receiver and prevented separation before cutting in front of the wide out to make the pick.
At the start of the third quarter Hamilton was playing deep free safety and he was late going to the sideline as a receiver streaked past the corner to race down the field for a 60-yard touchdown. Shortly later he made up for it playing deep free safety again. This time he undercut the receiver on time to get his second interception of the game.
While this wasn’t a perfect game from Hamilton, it still was an impressive performance showing his dynamic playmaking ability. Hamilton is a well-rounded safety that can play free safety, strong safety, is able to play some man coverage, and has ball skills. Early in his pro career, Hamilton could be an impact starter in the NFL.
Even though they lost a pair of wide receivers to the first round of the NFL Draft over the past two drafts, Alabama has a pair of future NFL receivers again in Jameson Williams and John Metchie III. Both of them dominated Miami in the season opener.
On the first drive of the game Metchie got open down field to convert a third-and-long, and to end the drive Metchie sat down in busted coverage without a defender close. After making the reception he darted down the field before diving into the end zone with a 37-yard touchdown. Metchie caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Metchie is not a big receiver, but he has dangerous speed and runs good routes. He could end up grading out as a future NFL starter.
In the third quarter Williams burned Miami cornerback D.J. Ivey and Bryce Young lofted in the ball perfectly to hit Williams in stride. Williams raced for a 94-yard touchdown in a statement play for his new team. Versus Miami, Williams caught four passes for 126 yards and a touchdown.
In 2020 Williams was buried on the depth chart at Ohio State recording only nine catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes. The 6-foot-2, 189-pounder showed some serious speed in his 2021 debut and Williams could become a serious pro prospect during his junior season with Alabama.
Miami safety Bubba Bolden was a breakout player for the Hurricanes in 2020, and he decided to return for 2021. Unfortunately Bolden only played the first quarter versus Alabama, but it was an eventful 15 minutes. Bolden made a quality tackle in run support, but he missed a tackle on a blitz up the middle as Bolden whiffed on Bryce Young. Shortly later Bolden covered a receiver well in the end zone and broke up a pass to force a field goal. At the end of the first quarter Bolden was hit with one of the stupid targeting penalties that diminish college football, and that slapped Bolden with an ejection. Bolden needs to improve his tackling and avoid taking bad angles, but he has the potential to be a day-two pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
With Alex Leatherwood in the NFL, Alabama moved junior Evan Neal from right tackle to the left side for the 2021 season. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal is a massive blocker that is tough in the ground game and moves well for his size. In his debut at left tackle for the Crimson Tide, Neal performed well being rock solid in pass protection and generating movement in the ground game. Miami lost Jaelan Phillips to the NFL and their young edge rushers were not a very difficult test for Neal. Last year Florida’s edge rushers gave Neal problems in the SEC Championship, so it will be interesting to see how Neal performs in the rematch later this month.
Miami junior left tackle Zion Nelson really struggled against the Alabama edge rushers. Nelson was getting pushed around, reacting late, and losing his balance. This was an ugly game that saw Nelson and the rest of the Hurricanes offensive line allow their quarterback D’Eriq King to take a beating. If Nelson does not have a complete turnaround the rest of the year he should definitely return for his senior year.