Hey, nothing against the first two weeks worth of appetizers in college football, but Saturday marks a notable step forward in the quality of action, with some choice matchups on the docket.
There are several draft-worthy prospects who will be on display this weekend, including a number of really exciting pass-rush players who could end up being selected fairly high in the 2021 NFL draft.
Here are key draft prospect matchups in Saturday’s games:
North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt vs. Syracuse
One Surratt brother already has opted out for the 2020 college season, but the other will be raring to go in what could be an All-America type of season. The Tar Heels’ Surratt has successfully made the transition from quarterback to linebacker over the past year-plus, and his 2019 season displayed some fascinating upside.
The runner-up ACC Defensive Player of the Year is a highly athletic and energetic playmaker who has an opportunity to be a major disruptor in the opener against a Syracuse team that had its top two running backs opt out this season and has last year’s starting tight end now starting at left guard.
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said Surratt’s transition has been impressive.
“I see a quarterback playing defense that’s hard to fool and plays with fantastic effort,” Babers said glowingly of Surratt. “The guy just doesn’t miss a lot of tackles. It’s really impressive to see a quarterback come over there and have that type of impact from a tackling standpoint that early in his career on defense.
“And then, from the mental part of it, you can just see him, whether he’s getting a tackle for loss or making an interception, he just thinks like a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball.”
We’ll disagree with Coach on one thing: Missed tackles were, in our minds, a big area of concern from last season with Surratt. But we’re chalking it up to the newness of the position and believe he’s poised for a big final season. Right now, he’s in the third- or fourth-round range.
Louisiana Lafayette RBs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas vs. Iowa State
The Ragin’ Cajuns’ dazzling duo gets a fantastic test out of the chute. Mitchell is the more well-rounded back. Ragas is a powerfully built inside runner. Together, along with talented QB Levi Lewis (a sleeper favorite of ours), they form a really tough offense to defend.
The 5-foot-10, 218-pound Mitchell has natural hands and could be used more as a receiver. In the past, he has struggled with pass protection but reportedly has spent a lot of time this offseason learning to shoot his hands more in that department. Mitchell also has worked on not running as upright inside.
The 5-10, 222-pound Ragas hasn’t been used much as a receiver and wants to showcase that element of his game more. He’s been a bit more of a one-dimensional back to this point as a north-south runner, but NFL teams absolutely believe he and Mitchell can play in their league. Touchdowns last season of 75 and 45 yards, plus his relatively low usage, make him attractive.
This is a program that has produced two NFL draft picks at running back the past few seasons: Elijah McGuire (sixth round, 2017) and Raymond Calais (seventh round, 2020). It also had two offensive linemen drafted last season in second-rounder Robert Hunt and fourth-rounder Kevin Dotson.
Losing those two OL pieces up front could hurt in the opener against the Cyclones. But that veteran defense, which returns eight starters, will have its hands full with the talent of Mitchell and Ragas. Both were earning draft grades in the fourth- to fifth-round range this summer.
Duke EDGE Chris Rumph vs. Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg
This should be a heavyweight battle, even if Rumph and Eichenberg truly are in two different weight classes. Rumph is listed at 235 pounds (even if he might be closer to 225), and Eichenberg checks in at 302 pounds. In a game chock full of future NFL draft picks, these two potentially make for a great head-to-head matchup.
Rumph has every pass-rushing tool you can imagine. He’s extremely gifted in that department and overcomes his lack of bulk with electric quickness off the edge, great leverage and hand work and tenacity. He seems to play bigger than his size, too, and can win by converting speed to power very effectively.
Eichenberg cut down on his pass-blocking lapses a year ago and stays light on the balls of his feet. Athletically, he might be average by NFL offensive tackle standards, but Eichenberg is a technically sound operator who uses his length and hand placement to keep rushers at bay.
In the 2019 matchup between these teams, Rumph and Eichenberg didn’t go head-to-head a lot, with Rumph rushing more from the other side (or operating on stunts inside). But we’re hoping Rumph, who spent more time last season rushing against left tackles than right tackles, will have a few chances to face off against the Irish’s best tackle.
Rumph, a junior, could be on the verge of a breakout season. Right now, Eichenberg is considered an early Day 3 prospect who could vault into the back end of the top-100 picks with a strong final campaign.
Florida State DT Marvin Wilson vs. Georgia Tech
With the Seminoles’ talented safety, Hamsah Nasirildeen, out for this game as he continues to work his way back from the left knee injury he suffered last season, many eyes will be focused on the talented Wilson as he embarks on his final season at FSU.
Some were surprised Wilson returned to school, but he wasn’t the first-round lock many believed a year ago. In order to land in the first 32 picks this season, Wilson must show he can be a tick quicker off the ball and be more disruptive in the passing game. Right now, he’s a force inside because of his incredible strength and great hand work inside.
The Jackets’ offensive line was a weakness a year ago, suffering from the growing pains you might expect with the switch from a triple-option offense to more of a pro-style scheme. But this group, despite some new faces, is being pegged as a unit that could improve markedly in 2020. With RB Jordan Mason leading the way, Tech’s offense should be better.
But Wilson could prove to be very tough to stop in this one.
Wake Forest EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. vs. Clemson OT Jackson Carman
Basham returned to school and could end up a first-round pick in 2021 with a strong final season. Carman returns as the most accomplished protector for QB Trevor Lawrence and appears to be a late Day 2 or early Day 3 prospect at this stage.
In last year’s matchup, Basham seemed to get washed out on a lot of run plays as Clemson established control of the line of scrimmage early, and he had a little trouble finding the ball in the ground game, especially when the Tigers went with the read-option. Basham flipped sides all season but saw about 35 of his 55 snaps that game, with Carman winning more head-to-head battles than he lost.
The Clemson game was one of Basham’s least impressive of the season a year ago, even with a few impressive reps early on. But as a scout mentioned to us this summer, Basham showed some grit by coming back and playing lights out in his final three games of last season immediately after the loss to the Tigers.
Basham is an explosive end with excellent run-stopping ability at 275 pounds with long arms, and he flashes as a pass rusher. Carman’s mass (a well-built and powerful 345) is his best trait, but he moves better than you might think.
A lot of NFL folks will be watching this tape to evaluate these two highly regarded prospects.
Western Kentucky EDGE DeAngelo Malone vs. Louisville
Malone might not yet be a household name in draft circles, but he’s one you’re going to want to remember this season. The 2019 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year (and 2020 conference preseason DPOY pick) had a standout game last season against the Cardinals, logging 10 tackles (1.5 for loss), half a sack and one QB hurry.
Malone did struggle at times in that contest with the length and power of Mekhi Becton, the eventual No. 11 overall pick of the New York Jets. But now Malone, who rushes from both sides (and drops into coverage, too) will face some new challenges up front.
Adonis Boone — great name — is the expected left tackle, with Renato Brown believed to be the Cardinals’ right tackle. Only Brown played a handful of snaps in last year’s game vs. the Hilltoppers. Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield has admitted that his offensive line is a question mark entering the season until proven otherwise.
The 6-4, 235-pound Malone is a slippery, electric rusher with a chiseled frame and some real pass-rush savvy. He might lack elite strength at the point of attack, but Malone compensates with a great get-off, a hot motor and some impressive edge-bending ability.
We could see him making some eye-opening plays in this game. Malone enters the season as a top-100 prospect who could rise into the second-round spectrum with another big season. He’s also expected to be a standout at the NFL combine down the road with his terrific athletic profile.
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