4 NFL draft prospect matchups to watch in Week 3

Steve Palazzolo shares his NFL draft watch list for this Saturday's slate of college football games.

| 9 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

4 NFL draft prospect matchups to watch in Week 3

There’s never a lull in college football, though certain weeks offer more intrigue than others. Hello Week 3.

It’s a full tilt of awesome this weekend as top teams match up across the country, some kicking off conference play while others make for great non-conference matchups between powerhouses. As always, the game within the game will be the individual battles and there are plenty to watch in this week’s action. Here’s what I’ll be watching in Week 3.

Prospect matchups to watch

1. Chad Kelly vs. Alabama Defense

Kelly got off to an up-and-down start against Florida State in Week 1, alternating between big-time throws and turnover-worthy plays, but he’ll have to be sharp against a loaded Alabama defense. When scouts go back and evaluate Kelly, this may be the first game that is watched, so it’s incredibly valuable from a draft evaluation standpoint. Ole Miss usually does a good job of creating open downfield throws, but those windows will tighten against Alabama and that’s where Kelly will be tested. Also keep an eye on Kelly’s work when pressured where his adjusted completion percentage of 36.8 percent ranks 129th out of 149 qualifiers so far this season, well below his 63.1 percent mark that ranked 34th in 2015.

2. Oklahoma RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon vs. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan

Two great runners going up one of college football’s best tacklers; something has to give. Perine and Mixon should be relied upon heavily as the season progresses, especially if Oklahoma has learned anything from their Week 1 loss to Houston in which they combined for only 11 carries. They got back on track against UL Monroe last weekend with a combined 175 yards on 23 carries and they will need similar production to beat Ohio State. McMillan is one of the nation’s top linebackers and he’s only missed 14 tackles on 180 attempts over the last three years, good for one of the best tackling efficiencies in the country. Last season, Perine ranked 12th in the nation with an elusive rating of 79.8 Mixon didn’t qualify for the leaderboard, but he was even better at 97.7. Both players have bested last year’s mark through two games – 81.3 for Perine, 105.3 for Mixon – so when they meet McMillan in the hole, it’s a battle of future NFL players.

3. Michigan State DT Malik McDowell vs. Notre Dame LG Quenton Nelson

If you’re looking for a battle in the trenches, pay close attention when Michigan State DT Malik McDowell is lined up at “3-technique” to the outside shoulder of Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson. McDowell moves around the defensive line and he’ll play on both sides, so we may only see a handful of matchups, but it will be an entertaining one nonetheless. McDowell is one of the top interior defensive line prospects in the country, capable of shedding blocks and disrupting in the run game while providing a strong interior pass rush. Nelson is a powerful run blocker, both at the line and on the move, and he’s improved in pass protection, allowing only one pressure on 64 attempts through two games. McDowell ranked 23rd in the PFF College 101 coming into the season while Nelson ranked 94th.

4. Nebraska S Nate Gerry vs. RB Royce Freeman and Oregon offense

Last week we highlighted Virginia safety Quin Blanding going up against Oregon’s offense and things did not go smoothly for him. Gerry has graded out better than Blanding over the last three seasons and this will be one of the biggest tests of his career. The same theory applies to Gerry as Oregon’s offense will challenge him in space, getting running backs to the second level and isolating him on tight ends and running backs in the pass game. This is a game where Gerry can showcase his ability to work downhill in the running game and close on the ball quickly on the back end. Keep an eye on his tackling in space as he’s missed 25 tackles on 189 attempts over the last three years.

As for Freeman, we’ll give him some love after we merely lumped him into the Oregon offense last week. His performance against Virginia earned him a spot on the Team of the Week after rushing for over 200 yards and forcing seven missed tackles on only 20 carries.

Now that we’ve highlighted the top matchups for Week 3, let’s see how Week 2 turned out.

Week 2 prospect recap:

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

What we said: “Expect a Pac-12esque late-night shootout between the two teams with Mahomes being tested much more than he was a week ago”

How it played out: We got our shootout as Texas Tech and Arizona State posted a score that would make a defensive-minded basketball coach pull his hair out. He played a solid game though his fourth-quarter interception is one he’d like back and it solidified Arizona State’s 68-55 win.

Mahomes INT2. Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn

What we said: “If Lawson is going settle in that first round range, he must show that he can maintain his dominance on a weekly basis, and it starts right here against Arkansas State.”

How it played out: Lawson made the most of his 35 rushes as a pass rusher, picking up a sack and three hurries on only 19 rushes. He also jumped offsides one. Overall, it was a good effort and we’ll continue to monitor Lawson’s weekly production.

3. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

What we said: “In coverage, Oregon’s offense keeps safeties and linebackers on a string with their play action game, so Blanding will be challenged in all facets of his game.”

How it played out: As expected, Blanding was challenged quite a bit and it was not a good game. He whiffed on a tackle that led to a touchdown and had his eyes caught in the backfield on another whiff on RB Royce Freeman and again on a wheel route for another touchdown.

Blanding MT

4. Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech

What we said: “Tennessee has two talented true sophomore defensive tackles in Shy Tuttle and Khalil McKenzie, so keep an eye on their battle as Teller looks to establish himself as one of the best draft-eligible guards.”

How it played out: Teller lasted only 24 snaps after picking up two penalties and apparently getting benched for the majority of the game.

Week 2 matchups recap

1. Forrest Lamp, OT, Western Kentucky vs. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, edge rushers, Alabama

This was a huge win for Lamp who surrendered only one QB hit on 40 pass blocking attempts and it came on a blitz from a safety. Lamp held his own against Williams and Anderson, and you can throw Jonathan Allen in that mix as well. Williams, Anderson, and Allen had a strong game as a trio, combining for two sacks, two QB hits, and six hurries on their 76 combined rushes but none of them came when matched up against Lamp.

2. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State vs. Desmond King, CB, Iowa

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of this matchup as Lazard was only targeted twice when lined up against King, catching one pass for 11 yards. It was a good overall day for both players as Lazard finished with 111 yards on seven catches while King finished with his usual solid overall grade both in coverage and against the run.

3. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech vs. Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee

Another matchup that didn’t get a lot of play, Ford caught one of his three targets when lined up against Sutton for just nine yards. Ford finished with 51 yards on five catches for the day while Sutton allowed just 21 yards on four catches and seven targets. It certainly wasn’t a bad day for Ford, but it was a better one for Sutton in the Vols’ win.

NFL draft news & notes

  • We already highlighted five prospects (and more) who have caught the eye through two weeks of the season. I’ve also included a reason to watch Wake Forest football this fall.
  • Arkansas edge rusher Deatrich Wise played a career-high 71 snaps last weekend against TCU (previous high was 52) and his workload will be something to monitor this season. He’s remained productive with the added snaps, but coming into the season, he had only 583 career snaps to his name and he’s already sitting at 118 on the season. His ability to maintain his pass rush productivity while holding up in the run game will go a long way toward determining his first round potential. So far, he’s off to a good start.
  • North Carolina DT Nazair Jones put up a strong effort in the run game against Illinois, posting one of the week’s top grades in that department. We’d like to see more pass rush out of him as he has only four hurries on 56 rushes this season.
  • Wisconsin LT Ryan Ramczyk has had a good start to the season, particularly in pass protection where he’s yet to allow a pressure on 67 attempts. He looks like a smooth-mover who may not really get challenged in the pass game until Wisconsin plays Michigan in Week 5








| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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