Lots of defensive linemen to check out Saturday
While Week Two of the College Football season lacks some of the star power Week One had, there are still plenty of intriguing games and NFL Draft prospects for Las Vegas Raiders fans to tune into. We’ll get a couple of top-15 matchups and a handful of potential Day One and Day Two picks facing off against each other.
#12 Oregon at #3 Ohio State
At this time last week, I would have called this game the marquee matchup of the weekend. However, after watching Oregon struggle and only beat Fresno State by seven while Ohio State took care of business on the road against Minnesota, I think this one could get ugly fast. So make sure you’re ready to go for the 9:00 am PST kickoff because the first half might be where most, and maybe all, of the action is.
The biggest and most significant NFL Draft prospect the Ducks have is edge defender, Kayvon Thibodeaux. The potential top-five pick is an excellent run defender who is stout at the point of attack and excels at turning speed to power as a pass rusher. Now, Thibodeaux did suffer an ankle sprain last week and is currently considered “day-to-day” for Saturday, but regardless, he’s someone you should know about heading into draft season.
On the back end of Oregon’s defense is a versatile defensive back in Verone McKinley, who has experience playing as a nickel and deep safety. He has the change of direction and overall athleticism to be effective in man coverage, and he has the awareness and football IQ to play in a zone-heavy scheme as well. Listed at 5’11” and 194 pounds, McKinley’s size could hinder his draft stock, but RiseNDraft.com’s Ryan Roberts still has him slated as a potential third-rounder.
Mykael Wright will be next to McKinley, another potential Day Two pick. Wright is a physical corner who has the athletic ability that scouts look for in an NFL cornerback, but he can be too aggressive and could afford to be a little more patient in coverage. Also, Wright needs to add some size to his 180-pound frame to play at the next level.
Ohio State has a couple of wideouts in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave that certainly challenge the Ducks’ defensive backs.
Wilson is basically a lock to be a first-round pick and has the speed and route-running prowess to develop into a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He could afford to add some size and strength to be more effective against press coverage and physical defenders, but there are very few flaws to his game.
As for Olave, he’s a similar type of player as his running mate. Wilson is probably the better route runner, but Olave has stronger hands and might be a step or two faster, though I’d honestly have to see them race against each other to know for sure. The San Marcos, California native will also be a Day One pick and coincidentally, also could afford to add some size and strength.
In the trenches for the Buckeyes is Thayer Munford. Munford played tackle during his first four years in Columbus but is transitioning to the inside this season. That should help his draft status as he’s a strong and physical blocker who can move people in the run game and anchor in pass protection, but he lacks the nimbleness to be an effective NFL tackle. NFL Mock Draft Database currently has him slated as a late second- or third-round pick.
#10 Iowa at #9 Iowa State
Now, this is the marquee matchup of the week.
Iowa State is coming off their best season in school history and is a lot of people’s sleeper pick to win the Big 12, but they haven’t beaten their in-state rivals since 2014. As for Iowa, they’re coming off a 34-6 drubbing of a good Indiana team and also is a significant contender in their conference. Two good teams that are rivals and each has a handful of NFL Draft prospects, what more could you ask for?
By far the most notable prospect for the Hawkeyes is center, Tyler Linderbaum. With how many zone runs the Raiders are expected to run this season, Linderbaum would be a great fit for the Silver and Black due to his impressive movement skills and athleticism. He might need to add some size and strength to be a better gap-run blocker, but he has little to no flaws in his game and will likely be the first interior offensive lineman off the board.
Running back Tyler Goodson will be reaping the benefits of Linderbaum’s blocking. Goodson is a shifty back who has solid vision and can be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. However, he’ll likely be a Day Three pick due in large part to his sub-200-pound frame and inability to absorb contact.
Shifting the focus to the other side of the ball, Zach VanValken is currently projected to be an undrafted free agent but has a chance to climb up some draft boards this season. After transferring from Division II Hillsdale College, last season was VanValken’s second in Iowa City and he was overshadowed by fellow defensive linemen Dayvion Nixon and Chauncey Gholston, both of whom were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
However, the Division II product will have the spotlight all to himself this year, and after putting up four pressures and a PFF run-defense grade of 82.4 in the season opener, he’s made the most of the opportunity so far.
VanValken will be chasing down Brock Purdy, Iowa State’s quarterback.
Purdy is an interesting prospect because his biggest strength is also tied to his biggest weakness, and that’s keeping plays alive. He’s mobile enough to scramble around and make plays outside of the structure, but he also makes a lot of poor decisions when doing so and is susceptible to turning the ball over. Finding the balance between keeping plays alive and knowing when to live for the next one will be an important factor for him to improve on the current late Day Three projection he’s facing.
Next to Purdy is Breece Hall, who has a chance to be the first running back off the board in April. Last season, Hall took the college football world by storm, rushing for 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns while adding two more scores as a receiver. His contact balance and ability to break tackles were the primary reasons for that success and moving forward, the biggest concerns about him are speed and how much tread he has left on the tires.
Greg Eisworth lines up at safety for the Cyclones and has been a force against the run when playing in the box over the last few seasons. He could have declared for the draft last season but opted to return Ames to work on his man coverage skills. The defensive back is currently looking at a late-round projection.
Washington at Michigan
After a very ugly loss to Montana, Washington will be looking to bounce back in Ann Arbor. The Huskies have plenty of NFL-level talent so they should eventually get back on track, but that will be tough to do against the Wolverines, who have a long list of pro prospects as well and took care of business last week.
One of the most notable draft prospects for the Dogs is Trent McDuffie. The cornerback has the combination of athletic ability and intelligence to be the next great defensive back to come out of Washington, as he’ll likely be a late first-round pick. Listed at 5’11” and 195 pounds, McDuffie’s frame is less than ideal and can cause some issues against the run, which is the main reason why he’s not in the top cornerback conversation at the moment.
Shifting the focus to the offensive side of the ball, Cade Otton projects to be one of the best tight ends in this year’s draft class. Otton is a smart route runner and has the athleticism to create mismatches against second-level defenders, and he’s a competent blocker in the run game. However, there are questions about how well his speed will translate to the next level, which could impact the second-round projection he’s attached to.
Jaxson Kirkland is another potential first-rounder for Washington, due to his excellent technique and athletic ability for an offensive lineman. He could afford to add some strength to help as a run-blocker at the next level, but that hasn’t been a major issue for him in college.
Squaring off against Kirkland will Michigan edge defender, Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson is another guy who could have declared last year, but injuries and being overshadowed by Kwity Paye caused his draft stock to dip so he returned to school. Now, the defensive lineman has the spotlight on him and he’ll look to build off of his impressive four-pressure and one sack season debut.
Next to Hutchinson will be defensive tackle Christopher Hinton, who is an excellent run defender but has questions about his athleticism. The defensive tackle could be a space eater at the next level but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, evidenced by him generating just seven pressures all of last season. Hinton is facing a fourth-round projection as of right now, but he could slide if he can’t find a way to start affecting the passing game.
On the backend of the Wolverines’ defense is a potential third-round prospect in Daxton Hill. However, I have a feeling Hill will start climbing up draft boards as we move further into the process since his biggest weakness right now is simply a lack of experience. He has the ability to be a three-level impact type of player, it’s just a matter of proving with a larger sample size.