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NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in College Football Week 1

With the college football season primed to kick-off, not only will fans get an opportunity to cheer on their favorite teams, but NFL scouting departments will get to continue evaluating those eligible to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. Future NFL stars will be developing before our very eyes, and fans will have a chance to debate which should be suiting up for their favorite franchise.

With that in mind, I will be posting my weekly “Draft Watch” articles highlighting the top game, one-on-one matchup, and player that scouts are sure to be keeping an eye on for that particular week. Scouting departments go through tons of film every year, but I want to single out games that will likely be the first tape scouts want to pick up when assessing a particular player’s draft stock. Here are my selections for the upcoming slate of college football games.

clemson college football
Credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

College Football Games to Watch for NFL Scouting

Game of the Week:

#5 Georgia vs. #3 Clemson, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina, Saturday, September 4, 6:30 p.m. (CT) on ABC

Georgia:

Georgia enters the season with a ton of draft-eligible talent, even without George Pickens, who is still recovering from a March surgery to repair his ACL. If he can prove healthy at some point in 2021, Pickens should be one of the favorites to be the top receiver drafted next April. The Bulldogs may also be without safety Tykee Smith, who is recovering from minor foot surgery.

On offense, J.T. Daniels enters the year with the proper weapons around him to make a huge jump in development. He’s a pocket passer that shows good touch and ball placement on his throws, and Daniels could be a dark horse to challenge for the Heisman Race.

Joining him in the backfield are a pair of athletic runners in Zamir White and James Cook. Both have big-play ability, whether it’s White’s combination of size and athleticism or Cook’s three-down versatility. Either could be in the conversation for the first running back selected with a stellar year.

On defense, Adam Anderson and Nacobe Dean are two of my top eligible defensive prospects. Anderson is one of this class’s top edge rushers as a stand-up linebacker with exceptional flexibility, acceleration, and length.

Dean is an undersized linebacker whose quickness and instincts make him a challenging task for any blocker. It also helps playing behind Jordan Davis.

Davis has tremendous size that is often too much to handle for opposing blockers one-on-one. Nolan Smith is a former five-star recruit that may finally be ready to break out rushing opposite of Anderson.

I’m also keeping my eyes on Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick, who should get the chance to face his former team. He’s a tall, physical corner that was an All-ACC selection each of his two years after moving to the defensive side of the ball.

Clemson:

The Tigers lost quite a few players to the draft a year ago, but that doesn’t mean they will be any less talented. For starters, Clemson has plenty of skilled pass-catchers, starting with Justyn Ross, who is returning after a spinal fusion surgery threatened his career.

Now that he’s fully cleared, I want to see if Ross returns to the same form that made me think he could be the top receiver in the 2021 class before the issue was diagnosed. He’s a huge target with outstanding straight-line speed that has made some extraordinary catches during his career.

In addition, Joseph Ngata teased a similar skillset to Ross, but injuries slowed him a year ago in his first chance to break out. Still, he should see plenty of opportunities this season. Frank Ladsen was also a top recruit in the 2019 class, and the 6’3” target could be another receiver primed for a big year.

Tight end Braden Galloway is another big pass-catcher that Clemson has at their disposal. The coaches have raved about his potential, although like Ngata and Ladsen, we’ve only seen glimpses.

On defense, Andrew Booth is one of the top draft-eligible corners in the country, thanks to his size, hips, and ball skills. I’m also looking forward to seeing Tyler Davis, who has been making plays since he was a freshman.

Davis is an explosive defensive tackle off the snap, with the strength to finish. Braylon Spector and James Skalski are also a pair of linebackers that teams will be keeping their eye on this fall.

My Two Cents on the game:

While both teams are immensely talented, Georgia has more experience returning to their roster, including Daniels at quarterback. I’m not saying D.J. Uiagalelei can’t hit the ground running after getting a pair of starts a year ago.

Still, Daniels has 16 games under his belt between his time at USC and Georgia, with 25 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Considering it’s the first game of the season, I think Daniels and the Bulldogs’ experience give them the edge.

Look for the two teams to trade blows for most of the night, with Georgia pulling away late for the victory.

Matchup of the Week:

Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele against #4 Ohio State’s Zach Harrison, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thursday, September 2, 7 p.m. (CT) on FOX

Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota, Fourth-year Junior, 6’9″, 380:

Daniel Faalele started 19 games in his first two years on campus before opting out last fall. Still, the fact that he played right away for the Golden Gophers is impressive, considering his senior year of high school was his first year as a starter and only his second playing organized football.

He’s a monstrous player at right tackle, but with that size comes limitations. Football is a game of leverage, and being 6’9” can be an issue if Faalele doesn’t learn to play with better pad level.

However, rumor is he’s had a great summer in the strength and conditioning program, which is essential to keeping his weight under control. That should help his mobility and pad level this fall, and he’ll need it when matched up against Harrison.

There are questions about whether Faalele will fit better at guard or tackle in the NFL, and facing off with the former five-star recruit will be a big test in that debate. Of course, it’ll be important to take an objective approach considering he is still learning the game.

Still, I’m more interested in seeing if he’s physically capable of competing with Harrison, and not whether or not his technique is on par.

Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State, Third-Year Junior, 6’6”, 272:

Harrison has an incredible blend of size and athleticism that led many to believe he was the next great pass rusher to dawn a Buckeyes’ jersey. Still, his 5.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss across 17 career games are less than impressive.

It’s time for Harrison to finally blend the proper techniques with his impressive physical gifts for a breakout campaign. Starting against Faalele will be a heck of a test, considering he’s quite an imposing specimen himself.

If Harrison wants to have consistent success against this mountain of player, he’s going to have to use his hands appropriately, mix his pass-rush speeds, and play with balance and leverage. That should help his physical gifts shine.

My Two Cents on the game:

While the matchup between Faalele and Harrison should be competitive, Ohio State has much more talent that Minnesota. If Faalele and that running game can have consistent success, it could put them in position for the upset.

Still, I’m not sure the Golden Gophers can consistently move the ball through the air if the Buckeyes stack the box, and that could lead to short drives for Minnesota. This Ohio State offense has too many weapons to be kept quiet for long.

If Minnesota can’t sustain drives, this game will get out hand quickly. That’s a likely scenario come Thursday.

D’Eriq King college football
Credit: John Raoux/AP Photo

Player of the Week:

#14 Miami’s D’Eriq King vs. #1 Alabama, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, Saturday, September 4, 2:30 p.m. (CT) on ABC

D’Eriq King, QB, Miami, Sixth-Year Senior, 5’11”, 195:

D’Eriq King has made quite a few headlines during his collegiate career. At Houston, he started as a versatile offensive weapon that lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver while also returning kicks.

In 2018, he became the Cougars’ top signal-caller and put up impressive numbers on par with Heisman finalists Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins. Still, after a hot start in 2019, he chose to sit out the rest of the season and redshirt in a decision that shocked many.

King chose to transfer to Miami, where he was immediately named a captain and eventually earned All-ACC Honorable Mention. Thanks to the NCAA’s decision to allow players an extra year of eligibility following the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, King will be a sixth-year senior in 2021.

No matter where he’s played, King is a dynamic athlete that can make plays with both his feet and arm. While he will measure south of six feet and 200 pounds, the NFL has become a league where that’s not the detriment it once was for quarterbacks.

Against Alabama, he’ll face perhaps the toughest defense he’s seen in his time in college, and scouts will want to see how he stacks up. Are finding passing lanes going to be an issue against a big defensive line that includes D.J. Dale, LaBryan Ray, and Phidarian Mathis?

Will his ability to get free for big runs be hindered by the speed of Christian Harris, Henry To’o To’o, and Jordan Battle? Does he possess the arm talent to squeeze passes by Josh Jobe and Daniell Wright?

Most importantly, will he show the poise to match the amount of pressure Will Anderson and Christopher Allen provide?

My Two Cents on the game:

While I think King can make plays against any defense in the country, there is a big difference in the talent that Miami’s roster possesses and that of Alabama. I’d love to see King keep the Canes in past halftime, but he’s only one player.

The Crimson Tide are breaking in new players at several spots, including Bryce Young at quarterback. Perhaps that leads to a sloppy start that allows Miami to push them early. Still, Alabama should eventually pull away for the victory.


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