NFL draft prospect matchups to watch in Week 8
The biggest game of the weekend – Texas A&M vs. Alabama – features a plethora of great matchups, many with NFL draft implications. There are others around the nation as well, particularly with two rising cornerbacks going up against two of the nation’s best playmaking wide receivers. Here’s a look at the top matchups around college football for Week 8:
Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett vs. Alabama OT Cam Robinson
One of the most anticipated matchups of the season, the top player on the PFF Draft Board squares off against an offensive tackle many consider to be a lock for the top-10 in the draft. Garrett has been outstanding since stepping onto campus in 2014, getting after the quarterback as well as any edge rusher in the nation and showing continued improvement against the run. He has the top overall grade among Power-5 edge defenders at 89.9 to go with an 89.6 pass-rush grade that consists of four sacks, 11 QB hits, and 19 hurries on 169 rushes.
As for Robinson, we’ve been hard on him in the past, at least when looking at him through the lens of a top-10 “lock” as most assume. He’s yet to play at that level in his three years, though he’s certainly flashed that potential (his 2014 game against Florida is one of the best you’ll see from a true freshman). This season, Robinson has taken a step forward, while he still ranks 60th among the nation’s tackles to go with a solid, yet non-first-round-worthy 77.5 grade as a pass-blocker.
While the total surrendered pressures don’t look bad with one sack, one QB hit and six hurries, it’s the speed at which he’s giving them up that is concerning. We’ve yet to see Robinson pass protect like a future first-round pick, so games like this against Garrett and last week’s matchup with Tennessee’s Derek Barnett are crucial for his evaluation. Of course, Barnett got the better of Robinson for a sack in last week’s matchup, and we’ve already seen Garrett beat Robinson for a sack in last year’s game:
If Robinson is going to prove his first-round status, these are the games he needs to do it.
Texas A&M WR Josh Reynolds vs. Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
Texas A&M has a few key areas that they need to take advantage of in order to have a chance against Alabama, and Reynolds creating big plays against Humphrey is one of them. Reynolds has been one of the best deep threats in the country, catching 50.0 percent of his deep targets (fifth in nation) and picking up 294 yards (10th) and two touchdowns.
His 6-foot-4 frame and downfield ball skills will be a challenge for Humphrey, who did check in on our latest draft board, but has given up a lot of big plays throughout his career. He’s given up 47 catches the last two years and they’ve averaged a whopping 17.2 yards per reception, well above the national average. So while Humphrey is a solid cornerback overall, he’s susceptible to the big play, and this matchup could be a game-changer for Texas A&M.
It’s also an important one from a draft evaluation standpoint, as both players are vying for draft position. There is a wide-open class of wide receivers, leaving room for Reynolds to make a move, and a deep class of cornerbacks that puts Humphrey in danger of falling behind if he can’t put together some top-level performances against his toughest competition.
Washington WR John Ross vs. Oregon State CB Treston DeCoud
Washington’s big-play receiver Ross versus up-and-coming Oregon State CB DeCoud is an underrated matchup to watch this weekend. Ross has the speed to get behind the defense, as he’s done with six receptions for 176 yards and four touchdowns on his deep attempts this season. His small 5-foot-11, 179-pound frame makes for an interesting battle against DeCoud, who is listed at 6-foot-3 208 pounds. The NFL’s infatuation with long corners will have scouts traveling to the Pacific Northwest to see DeCoud, whom PFF Pac-12 analyst Jordan Plocher has been banging the drum for every week since he shut down Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen.
DeCoud has definitely put his name on the map this season, allowing only 41.0 percent of passes to be completed into his coverage for 160 yards (4.1 yards per target) to go with two interceptions and three passes defensed. Keep an eye on this matchup when Ross lines up on the right side, as DeCoud has played 92 percent of his snaps at left cornerback. It will be a clash of styles with the smaller, faster Ross going up against DeCoud’s length, but an important one in the evaluation of both players.
East Carolina WR Zay Jones vs. Cincinnati CB Mike Tyson
Jones is leading the nation with 84 catches to go with 840 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll move around the formation, playing on the outside and in the slot while Tyson spends the majority of the time in the slot — there will be a few opportunities to see this matchup. Tyson has burst onto the scene like it’s 1985, so look for him to go for the early knockout against Jones when to do match up.
Jones has the No. 6 receiving grade in the nation at 85.1, so he’s a contender to slow down Tyson’s great start that includes the No. 6 coverage grade – it’s a brewing heavyweight title fight in the making. With 15 missed tackles forced after the catch, Jones brings some elusiveness to the offense, while Tyson has been a sure tackler with only one miss on his 22 attempts. Keep an eye on Tyson making plays on the ball, as he’s used his 6-foot-2 frame to knock away five passes and intercept three more, so he brings a downfield physicality. Jones has gone through a gauntlet of lesser talents, but now faces his biggest test going up against Tyson on primetime on Saturday night.