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NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in College Football Week 8

Another week of college football and another top-ranked team dropped as the Purdue defense handcuffed the Iowa Hawkeyes for most of the night. Meanwhile, Georgia and Oklahoma State got big wins over ranked opponents, and BYU and Florida suffered losses that will likely drop them from rankings.

In my games from last week, North Carolina State dominated Boston College, fueled by a 21-point third quarter. Linebacker Terrel Bernard and Baylor helped shut down BYU’s Tyler Allgeier to pull off the upset.

Also, Charles Cross and the Mississippi State offense ran into a buzz saw against the Crimson Tide as turnovers and sacks stymied Mike Leach’s team. With November right around the corner, we are nearing closer to the initial release of the College Football Playoff Rankings.

That will give us a clear view of the front-runners for those four spots. However, until then, we have plenty of football that will help decide things on the gridiron. Let’s take a look at some of the top matchups this week.

college football betting
Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Game of the Week: Oregon at UCLA

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California, Saturday, October 23, 2:30 p.m. (CT) on ABC

Oregon Football

The Ducks tumbled down the rankings following a loss to Stanford, but that doesn’t change the fact they are still one of the top teams in the country. Kayvon Thibodeaux missed a month following an injury he suffered against Fresno State in the season-opener. He is one of the top prospects in the country, but the injury has limited him to just the three games thus far. This week, he will face off against one of the better offensive linemen in my draft rankings in UCLA’s Sean Rhyan. While the injury didn’t hurt his stock, Thibodeaux needs to show further development as a versatile pass rusher if he’s going to be the top overall prospect. This game could help in that effort.

Cornerback Mykael Wright is one of my top corners in this class. His best fit in the NFL may come in the slot because of his size. Still, Wright has exceptional athleticism that makes him tough for quarterbacks to test. Verone McKinley is also a versatile safety that can excel in zone and man coverage. He may be a bit undersized, and his range is limited, but McKinley is smart and makes up for his shortcomings with a nose for the football.

On offense, C.J. Verdell was lost for the season to an injury. He’s the better of the two draft-eligible prospects I wanted to watch. His small stature with a lower-body injury on his record could put his stock in jeopardy. I’ll also be keeping my eye on Johnny Johnson. He’s always had the upside to be a star for the Ducks and had somewhat of a breakout season in 2019 (57/836/7). Still, he’s digressed in the past two seasons, and with only 14 catches in five games, he needs to step up in Verdell’s absence.

UCLA Football

The Bruins started the season in an impressive fashion, but losses to Fresno State and Arizona State have slowed their momentum. Still, they’ve got plenty of draft-eligible talent themselves. Rhyan will see plenty of time against Thibodeaux as UCLA’s left tackle. He’s an athletic player with a big frame and a thick lower half. I lean towards him playing guard in the NFL because his length and size are average at best, but this could be a statement game for his ability to stay outside.

Greg Dulcich is another player I am big on. He’s a versatile tight end that shows nice balance in his routes and as a blocker. Dulcich also has surprising big-play speed for his size and currently averages 17.8 yards a catch for UCLA.

Zach Charbonnet has also shot up my running back rankings this year. He’s a powerful, north-south runner with leg drive that helps him consistently fall forward. He may be a bit stiff in his hips, giving him less-than-ideal lateral quickness. Still, his combination of play speed and play strength give him a shot to be a top-100 pick.

I’m also keeping an eye on defensive end Mitchell Agude. A former-JUCO transfer, he’s just starting to realize his potential as an edge rusher. He had eight tackles for loss in seven games a year ago, and while he’s only had 2.5 thus far in 2021, Agude has already forced four fumbles.

My Two Cents on the game:

While UCLA isn’t ranked, this should be an exciting matchup. It’s the second time Chip Kelly has faced his former school since taking over the Bruins and the first time he’s had a winning record going into that game.

Emotions will be high in this one, and the rushing-trio of Charbonnet, Brittain Brown, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson give them a fighting chance against Oregon. Still, the Ducks are impressive on both sides of the football, and I think it gives them the edge.

Look for this to be a slugfest for most of the night, with Oregon pulling away in the fourth quarter for the victory.

Matchup of the Week: Northwestern’s Brandon Joseph against Michigan’s Daxton Hill

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Saturday, October 23, 11 a.m. (CT) on FOX

Brandon Joseph, S, Northwestern, Third-Year Junior, 6’1”, 192

After tying for the most interceptions in the country a year ago, Joseph has just one in six games this fall. Still, he continues to show a nose for the football as he ranks second on the team in tackles. He has limited long speed which could force him to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the NFL, but I like his physicality and nose for the ball. Michigan has one of the more balanced offensive attacks in the Big Ten, so Joseph will have plenty of chances to make plays against the pass and run.

It will also give scouts a chance to see an uber-athletic safety for Michigan and compare them side by side. There’s no doubt Joseph is a playmaker, but the Wolverines have some talented runners in Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The pair have run for over 1,100 yards on 198 carries, and Joseph will often be tasked with helping in run support. However, Jim Harbaugh loves to run play-action, and it will take a keen eye from Joseph to keep his deep responsibilities while still being able to impact the run.

Daxton Hill, S, Michigan, Third-Year Junior, 6’0”, 192

While Joseph succeeds despite his average athleticism, Daxton Hill is a terrific athlete that was one of my sleepers coming into the season. He’s got the ability to cover like a cornerback, and he could probably find a home as a slot corner in nickel situations.

However, he’s also a terrific safety with impressive range that can make him dangerous roaming deep. My questions lie within his skill set in run support. Hill can get too aggressive and run himself out of plays, and his angles, in general, need to improve. He also has a slighter frame, and Hill needs to add weight for the NFL. Northwestern will put his physicality and pursuit angles to the test as a run-heavy offense. I’d also like to see him get his hands on more passes, considering his ability in coverage. Still, he’s an essential piece for a defense that ranks near the top of the country in most categories.

Kenny Pickett college football betting
Credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazett

College Football Player of the Week: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett vs. Clemson

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Saturday, October 23, 2:30 p.m. (CT) on ESPN

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh, Fifth-Year Senior, 6’3”, 220

While most of the top quarterback prospects entering the season have trended downward in 2021, Kenny Pickett has taken his game to another level. Last spring, he could have declared and competed in Mobile with a chance to push his draft stock into the upper half of the third day. Instead, he took advantage of the NCAA’s ruling on eligibility for the 2020 year and returned this fall.

It’s not completely unforeseen that his numbers have shot up. For instance, he completed 61 percent of his passes in 2019 and 2020, but the Panthers also led the country in dropped passes during that span.

Pickett has always had sound mechanics with a strong arm that can provide well above average accuracy. Still, he also made some poor decisions that resulted in turnover-caliber throws. That might be the area he’s improved most. Pickett is making outstanding decisions and only has one interception compared to 21 touchdowns.

The competition hasn’t exactly been easy either. Western Michigan is 5-2 for a reason, while Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech have proven to be quality opponents. Still, Pickett is completing 70 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating (181.8) that is sandwiched between Heisman candidates C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young for third in FBS.

However, Pickett is about to face his toughest test of the year in a Clemson defense that sits second in the country in points allowed. Throwing windows are going to be tight, and the pocket is going to be far from ideal. Still, I want to see Pickett continue to use the right combination of his arm, legs, and head to produce the consistency we’ve seen from him thus far.

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