A top-10 matchup, top-12 and a little Pac 12 after dark
With the Las Vegas Raiders playing on Monday night this week, save your weekend chores for Sunday and start taking notes on a few NFL Draft prospects this Saturday. We’ve got a couple of top-12 matchups and a Pac 12 after-dark game to tune into.
#7 Cincinnati at #9 Notre Dame
Cincinnati is looking to make a statement that they can hang with the blue bloods of College Football and are deserving of a playoff spot, while Notre Dame faces a tough matchup for the second week in a row.
We’ll start things off with the Bearcats’ quarterback, Desmond Ridder. As a dual-threat quarterback, Ridder can make plays with his legs and is a threat to throw on the run as he does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield and changing arm slots. He’s currently looking at a late-second or third-round projection according to NFL Mock Draft Database’s consensus big board, but improving his ball placement will help him climb up the rankings.
On the other side of the ball, Myjai Sanders lines up on the edge for Cincinnati, who is a speed rusher with impressive athleticism and use of hands to get after the quarterback. However, he’ll need to add some size and strength to his frame because he struggles to hold up at the point of attack against the run. Sanders will likely hear his name called at the very end of round one or early on during Day Two.
Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is probably Cincy’s best and most notable prospect, as he’s projected to be a late first-rounder. Listed at 6’3” and 200 pounds, Gardner has excellent length and size for an NFL corner with the ball skills to put his long limbs to use. Sauce doesn’t have a true “weakness”, more of just areas he’s solid in, and that’s proven to be true through three games this year, as he’s been targeted ten times and only allowed two completions, per Pro Football Focus.
Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan will be the one testing Gardner this week, and while Coan did leave last week’s game early, his ankle injury is “making progress”, per Brian Kelly. The Wisconsin transfer has made the most of his new opportunity so far, proving to be a sound decision-maker who doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way very often. However, he does fall into the “game manager” category rather than “game-changer”, so he’ll likely be a late Day Three guy who can be a quality backup.
Protecting Coan will be Josh Lugg, who has experience playing literally every position on the offensive line. The big man has been playing right tackle for the Irish this season and is solid as a pass- or run-blocker with an NFL build at 6’7” and 315 pounds. The problem is he’s not overly athletic or strong, so he has limited upside and that’s why he’s looking at a sixth- or seventh-round projection.
Running behind Lugg will be Kyren Williams, who has the combination of patience and explosiveness to let the hole develop in front of him and hit it hard for chunk plays on the ground. He does have some ball security issues after putting the ball on the turf five times last season and twice through four games this year. However, Williams is still projected to be one of the top backs in this year’s draft class and is currently looking at a third-round projection.
#12 Ole Miss at #1 Alabama
Since Thursday was the anniversary of Al Davis rolling out the infamous overhead projector to explain why he was firing Lane Kiffin, I figured there’s no better time to check in on the former Raiders head coach.
Defensively, the Rebels have an impressive defensive end in Sam Williams. Williams is strong at the point of attack and can set the edge against the run, but he’s not a dynamic athlete and lacks a plan as a pass rusher. Also, the charges were eventually dropped but he was charged with sexual battery this summer and that’s part of the reason why he’s projected as a seventh-round pick right now.
Behind Williams is Chance Campbell, who is impressive as a pass-rushing linebacker. Campbell primarily lines up as an inside backer and already has 12 pressures on the year. In coverage and against the run, he’s solid overall but lacks that defining trait and that could cause the Maryland transfer to go undrafted.
Ben Brown is on the other side of the ball for Ole Miss who is another potential late-round pick. The interior offensive lineman has plenty of experience playing both guard and center and has a mean streak as a run blocker to finish blocks with defenders on the ground. However, he does need to work on his pad level and he does have issues with his punch timing in pass protection.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see some one-on-one battles between Brown and Alabama defensive tackle LaBryan Ray. Ray suffered an injury over the summer and returned to the field against Florida, but it looks like he’s been a pitch count as he’s only participated in 18 snaps this season. When on the field, he’s a very productive interior defender who can make plays against the run and as a pass rusher but unfortunately, injuries have been an issue throughout his career and limited his playing time.
On the second level for the Tide’s defense is a third-round prospect in Henry To’oto’o. The linebacker has excellent lateral agility to make plays sideline-to-sideline against the run, however, he could afford to add some size to be able to get off blocks more frequently.
At cornerback, Josh Jobe has improved his draft stock from being a projected seventh-rounder last year to a potential early Day Two pick in this year’s class. Jobe is a physical corner who excels in press coverage and can help in the run game. However, he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie, is a little tight in the hips and his physicality has led to quite a few pass interference penalties in the past.
Arizona State at #20 UCLA
Arizona State was a lot of people’s preseason pick to win the Pac 12 South and they’re off to a 3-1 start with a win in their first conference game last week. UCLA didn’t have as many expectations heading into the season, but a 3-1 record and top-25 ranking has Chip Kelly and Co. thinking they could be the ones headed to Allegiant Stadium in December.
The Sun Devils are led by their center, Dohnovan West, a potential mid-Day Three pick. West is an impressive athlete for an interior lineman and would fit well into a zone-heavy rushing attack but lacks some strength to move defensive linemen off the ball. In pass protection, he’s about as solid as they come and hasn’t allowed a sack since 2019.
Behind West is a dual-threat quarterback, Jayden Daniels. With a rocket arm and plenty of athleticism, NFL offensive coordinators should be very intrigued about Daniels’ potential. However, he is certainly a project and has a handful of mechanical issues that affect his accuracy, and that’s why the San Bernardino native willy likely be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Tyler Johnson lines up on the other side of the ball for ASU, and he’s a beast as an edge rusher as evidenced by his five sacks in four games last season. The problem is Johnson has a long injury history and stepped away from the game because he was so banged up. Obviously, he’s back on the field now but the Sun Devil fell off a lot of people’s radar after briefly retiring and is currently working his way back on the map of the draft landscape.
As for UCLA, safety Quentin Lake warmed up for last week’s game but ended up sitting out due to an injury from the week before, so he’s questionable against ASU but is still someone you should know about regardless.
Lake has great instincts that take him to the right spot against the run, and he’s extremely versatile in coverage as a defensive back that can play deep, in the low hole and at nickel corner. Unfortunately, those traits haven’t translated to enough production for him to stand out which, combined with an injury history, might cause him to go undrafted.
Offensively, the Bruins have a notable tight end in Greg Dulcich. As a converted wide receiver, he still has some kinks to work out as a blocker but his athletic ability could help create mismatches in the passing game at the next level. Dulcich is looking at a late-round projection right now, but I could see a team gambling on his potential and taking him off the board a little earlier.
At running back, UCLA has a legitimate home-run threat in Zach Charbonnet, who is currently averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 15.1 yards per catch. The Michigan transfer not only has the speed to take it to the house but also some solid contact balance to stay upright and break tackles. He’s currently looking at a fourth-round projection but could be a late riser if he keeps this pace up.