Forget about the NFL Draft for one second and let’s talk some good ol’ college football. Not to discount the wishes of fans in College Station, but the football gods delivered a welcome upset with Mississippi State knocking off the Aggies and dismissing Texas A&M from their fraudulent position amongst the elite in the top four. Again, I don’t want to wish unnecessary ill on Texas A&M, but their placement by the selection committee was very much out of order based on what we’ve seen, even if they have some very good wins against a competitive SEC schedule.
To be placed ahead of one-loss Louisville and Ohio State teams was peculiar, but leaving an undefeated Washington team on the outside looking in just seemed off.
It isn’t that there wasn’t an argument.
The Pac-12 is in a down year, and Washington’s schedule doesn’t compare to some of the other conferences with both Stanford and Oregon struggling mightily heading into those matchups. Yet, Washington has looked very good on both sides of the ball, and while conventional wisdom would point to Clemson as the most likely team to dethrone Alabama — they nearly did a year ago — the Huskies actually make a case to be the biggest competition for the Crimson Tide.
Clemson has been hot and cold, and as good as Michigan’s defense has been, it is difficult to imagine Wilton Speight mounting an offensive attack that could hurt the Tide downfield. Ohio State has the recent head-to-head advantage and Louisville has Lamar Jackson, but there is a reason Alabama is the heavy favorite.
Washington however has the defensive personnel and scheme at all three levels to most closely mimic what LSU did to an Alabama offense that struggles under pressure when Jalen Hurts doesn’t make plays for himself.
With the Huskies’ ability to rush the passer with multiple bodies and be stout up front, Washington could have just as much NFL Draft talent on that side of the ball as the two Big Ten favorites.
On offense, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin provide some real upside to move the ball where LSU came up short, and the receivers should be capable of beating one-on-one coverage with big plays. Alabama still would have a distinct advantage with its pass rush, but that is what separates the Tide from every other team in the country.
Chris Peterson has stacked his roster with NFL Draft talent, and Washington has a few competitive games to prove it belongs in the conversation with every team in the country.
Three big things
- Leonard Fournette deserves a pass against Alabama: A year after rushing for 31 yards on 19 carries against Alabama, the best pure runner NFL scouts have seen since Adrian Peterson improved his yards per carry to the tune of 35 yards on 17 carries. For the math adverse, that makes for 66 yards on 36 carries, putting him just over 1.8 yards per tote. Hot takes everywhere note that a running back of his stature should play better, and that this is proof that Fournette is overrated. A fun generic tweet is to see “Imagine what will happen against NFL defenses that are even better than Alabama,” which was posted in many ways across the Internet. This is both untrue and unfair. While NFL defenses are better — even if the Crimson Tide defenders carry first-round grades throughout the depth chart — there will likely never be a talent gap in the NFL like there was in that game. The equivalent would be if the All-Pro defensive team lined up against the Browns’ backup offense plus Leonard Fournette in a highest-possible-stakes situation. And the All-Pro defense was coached by Bill Belichick while the Browns ‘backup offense was coached by Ed Orgeron. Fournette, Barry Sanders or Jim Brown would have bad games there. Frankly, it was just another game tape for the LSU back who will be the first runner taken.
- Sydney Jones and Malik Hooker continue to make the big plays to help their draft stock: Jones of Washington and Hooker of Ohio State have a few things in common. Both are potential first-round picks. Both were recently praised by me on this site. Both made big plays this weekend. Jones was targeted 13 times on Saturday, allowing only four catches for 51 yards while picking off two passes and knocking away a third, according to Pro Football Focus. Hooker picked off his fifth pass of the season, and returned it for his second score this year. They just keep getting better every week.
- Mason Rudolph and Luke Falk are still alive in a very uncertain quarterback class: Rudolph has led Oklahoma State with his huge arm, and throwing for 457 yards and five touchdowns this past weekened was among his more impressive performances, even with the two interceptions. He only has four on the season, and his willingness to continually target receivers downfield will give him a leg up on players like Deshaun Watson, who hasn’t shown the ability to consistently attack that area of the field. Falk has been impressive in a different way, working the entire field with precision accuracy we may have never seen from a college passer. A lot gets dismissed as part of Mike Leach’s Washington State offense, but Falk completed 32-of-35 passes this past weekend in a huge win. After Pro Football Focus adjusted for a batted pass at the line and a drop, they credited him with a 33-of-34 day on aimed passes and an adjusted completion percentage of 97.1% on aimed passes. With a big arm and physical skills above the baseline for a passer in that offense, he makes for an intriguing prospect this draft season.
Senior pass rusher Dawuane Smoot of Illinois also gets mentioned as a note in that last link right above this paragraph. He wasn’t a note to Michigan State, whom he tormented for nine hurries, a sack, and a hit. Smoot started off slow after needing a productive campaign to burst into the elite group of pass rushers in this class. However, he has come on strong down the stretch with three sacks in his last four games. Against Wisconsin this week ,he should get some snaps against Ryan Ramczyk, one of the best tackle prospects in the country. Although he does the majority of his work against right tackles, it would be great to see what he can do head-t0-head with a fellow top-50-caliber player.
It isn’t a surprise to look to the San Diego Aztecs to find a big performer outside the Power Five conferences, but this week it isn’t Donnel Pumphrey, who gets the spotlight (he had 21 carries, tying a season low in a 55-0 victory; he also had 21 carries in a 31-0 win in week one). Instead we will turn to cornerback Damontae Kazee, who graded extremely well against Hawaii on Saturday, according to Pro Football Focus. Kazee picked off two passes and turned one of those into a score, breaking up another pass as well. He is slightly undersized at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, but the senior is a playmaker who figures to be a mid-round pick in a strong class of corners.
Sneak peek: 2018 draft
DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant headline Clemson wide receivers in the NFL. Jaron Brown and Adam Humphries add depth to the position as valuable pass catchers with the potential to break out. Charone Peake exists and is employed, which is something. Mike Williams figures to add his name to that list in April as the first receiver off the board in the upcoming draft. Looking forward to the 2018 NFL Draft, and Deon Cain looks to continue this tradition. Cain has five catches, 125 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson’s blowout victory. He has eight touchdowns and is averaging over 20 yards per catch on the season. He was one of Watson’s best targets as a true freshman last year, and with good size and great speed, he is yet another Tiger receiver who should play on Sundays once he is eligible.
Week 11 matchup to watch
Obviously, I want to see Smoot and Ramczyk line up against each other in the Illinois-Wisconsin game, but I won’t be holding my breath. There is a much more exciting game to focus on anyway, with Washington facing an extremely underrated USC team. The Trojans had a miserable offense to start the season under Max Browne, scoring only six points in an opening loss to Alabama and a mere 10 against a Stanford team that hasn’t looked good while beating up on Utah State in between. Since Sam Darnold took over at quarterback, they lost a tight game to a really good Utah team before ripping off five big wins in a row, scoring more than 40 in four of those contests.
There is perfect symmetry in the individual matchups.
Jones will be covering JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was thought to be in contention for the best wideout in the country and has been tearing defenses apart lately before a quiet game in a big win against Oregon. On the other side, USC corner Adoree Jackson has played well at corner even if his technique doesn’t match his athleticism. He will need every bit of that speed and agility to keep up with Washington receiver John Ross, who has been a big play machine and is currently tied for second in the country in receiving touchdowns.
First-round grades could hinge on the matchups of future pros all teetering between going on day one and day two of the draft.