NFL Draft

NFL Draft Roundup: Florida Gators cornering the market on cornerbacks

October 1, 2016: Florida Gators corner back Quincy Wilson (6) and Florida Gators corner back Jalen Tabor (31) after a 13-6 win by Florida over Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire)
Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire

The playoff picture is starting to come into focus in college football. Ohio State almost lost to Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes’ overtime victory keeps Ohio State vs. Michigan as a virtual playoff game, assuming the winner doesn’t slip up in the Big 10 Championship Game. Washington had the week off, but are in control of their own destiny in the Pac 12, and Clemson surviving in overtime against North Carolina State means they still have a clear path to the playoffs.

Despite Alabama’s dominance, it is the SEC that is most in play this week. The Crimson Tide matchup against an undefeated Texas A&M team, and while the schedule isn’t necessarily a cakewalk the rest of the way, they will have already beaten Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and the Aggies. Auburn and LSU still wait on the schedule, but those programs look like shells of their former selves at the moment.

For the Aggies, a win in Tuscaloosa would give them arguably the best win in the country with the toughest part of the schedule behind them, with LSU and Ole Miss posing the biggest threats to an undefeated regular season before a matchup with Florida or Tennessee in the SEC Championship.

It is hard to image Alabama won’t win the SEC with all that talent, but the Tide haven’t made it through the conference undefeated since 2009, and Texas A&M has given them problems with mobile quarterbacks and playmakers on offense before.

Three big things

  1. Florida’s Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are still battling for the distinction of best cornerback prospect: With each player taking an interception to the house for defensive scores, it has become an interesting debate at the top of the cornerback group of the 2017 NFL Draft class. Tabor was widely considered to be the top prospect coming into the season, but between off-the-field issues and questions about his speed, his spot has been threatened. Interestingly enough, it is Wilson who has stepped up to threaten it. Wilson has been a shutdown corner and has the ability to get his hands on the ball, making it basically a coin flip at this point as to which will be the higher-rated prospect in a strong group of corners.
  2. Mike Williams and JuJu Smith-Schuster are trying to carry this year’s group of wide receivers out of mediocrity: The strong group of corners has a weak group of receivers to cover, but despite disappointing starts for the top-two prospects, Williams and Smith-Schuster have come back strong, particularly last week. Williams exploded in his first game back from an injury that forced him out last season for Clemson, but had been relatively quiet before grabbing 12 balls for 146 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ overtime win against North Carolina State. The term “relatively quiet” would have been the nicest way to describe Smith-Schuster, who put up the emptiest 11 catches for 99 yards imaginable in USC’s first three games. At the time, this very roundup begged to get him a competent quarterback. The prayers were answered. As Sam Darnold took over at QB for the Trojans in their fourth game, Smith Schuster has 29 catches, 466 yards and six touchdowns, including three consecutive 100-yard games.
  3. Soloman Thomas might not be Jonathan Allen, but he isn’t far behind either: When talking about guys getting after the quarterback in NFL Draft circles, normally we talk about those outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid types who can terrorize the QB from multiple spots. Or they talk about Alabama defensive lineman Allen. Stanford’s Thomas is more along the lines of Allen as a player, as a versatile piece who can rush from the interior or hold up on the edge in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. However, he shouldn’t be second fiddle to Allen, as he is following up a sophomore season where he recorded 3.5 sacks with four sacks already this year. And while the Cardinal’s defense hasn’t been great the past few weeks, they held strong against DeShone Kizer and Notre Dame on Saturday. Thomas was a big reason, recording 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and was in Kizer’s face all game.
October 17, 2015: Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during the Alabama Crimson Tide vs Texas A&M Aggies game at Kyle Field, College Station, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

October 17, 2015: Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during the Alabama Crimson Tide vs Texas A&M Aggies game at Kyle Field, College Station, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Standout senior

Although Wisconsin lost to Ohio State in overtime, running back Corey Clement gave the Buckeye defense problems they hadn’t previously seen this year. Urban Meyer’s defense has been able to force teams to throw the ball all season, with only Oklahoma going over 100 yards and 2.5 yards per carry, which is an inflated total at least partially due to a 35-yard run on a fake reverse from wide receiver Dede Westbrook and a 31-yard scamper from backup running back Joe Mixon with the game already in hand.

Opponent Attempts Yards Average
Bowling Green 28 69 2.5
Tulsa 37 61 1.6
Oklahoma 36 177 4.9
Rutgers 38 83 2.2
Indiana 40 99 2.5

Clement managed to get to 164 yards on 25 carries for a robust 6.8 yards per attempt. It wasn’t enough to get Wisconsin a win, but it was his best game in what has been a relatively disappointing senior season. And he did it against one of the best teams in the country.

Small-school star

Finding a 5-foot-11, 190-pound receiver from a non-Power 5 school and declaring him an NFL Draft prospect is difficult. Often these players begin to resemble each other, particularly if they don’t run extravagant 40-yard dashes or have something else they can rely on. Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson is not someone people have been banging the table for so far, but catching 12 passes for 326 yards and five touchdowns last week has at least put him on the radar.

It is especially impressive that he barely outproduced himself from a week earlier when he roasted Western Kentucky for eight catches, 232 yards and three touchdowns. Louisiana Tech has put their guys into the pros before, and while Henderson might decide to stay for his senior season, he has made a statement about his ability to produce big plays.

Sneak peek: 2018 draft

Florida State pass rusher Josh Sweat has been awfully quiet so far this season, but he did register 1.5 sacks in a low-scoring win over Wake Forest. Sweat had a lot of hype coming into the season after being named as one of the best true freshmen in the ACC last year, but the production hasn’t been there.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he is the type of athlete that should be threatening double-digit sacks, but a slow start saw him record his first sack of the season two weeks ago against Miami. If he is able to build momentum, he could be in a spot to join Arden Key of LSU as one of the best edge prospects in the country next season.

Week 8 matchup to watch

It was teased last week when we talked about Cam Robinson going up against Derek Barnett, but the Alabama left tackle goes from a really, really good opponent who will likely be a top-15 pick to Myles Garrett. No offense to Barnett, but there is a reason Garrett is being penciled in as the first non-quarterback taken. Against Tennessee, the Crimson Tide negated Barnett’s effectiveness by continually running the ball away from him, and then countering back after he began to cheat over.

While Garrett has improved as a run defender, he will make his money getting after the quarterback. Robinson played well against him last year, even though he surrendered a sack. In this matchup of two undefeated teams, the insistence to run the ball will leave Garrett with limited opportunities, but Robinson should get enough chances to show he can handle elite competition as a pass protector.

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