NFL draft: Pac-12 QB, plus two standout wideouts top our prospects to watch this week

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Week 7 in college football is back on the upswing with some terrific matchups, and we tried to dig from the wealth of those quality contests to come up with our list of NFL prospects to watch this weekend.

Here are some of the great individual battles we’ll be dialed in on:

Colorado QB Steven Montez at Oregon

It’s been a minute since we discussed Steven Montez. Back in August, I got to attend the first day of Buffaloes camp and speak with Montez about things he wanted to improve upon — namely, the sketchy footwork he watched of himself on tape.

It has been an interesting final season for the senior QB, as he has overcome a slow start to string some impressive games together.

Possessing all the raw tools you’d love in a franchise quarterback, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Montez has flashed his big arm in the past two games against Arizona State and Arizona and has done it with star WR Laviska Shenault Jr. banged up. Tony Brown has become the star in that offense in the interim, along with K.D. Nixon, and Montez really hasn’t missed a beat. That appears to be as much a sign of the QB’s growth as it is one of Brown finally getting his shot as a featured weapon.

Steven Montez throws a pretty deep ball.
Steven Montez throws a pretty deep ball.

This week, the Buffaloes take on Oregon in what appears to be a sneaky-good game with two NFL QB prospects, along with Justin Herbert. Don’t look now, but the Ducks’ defense is ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring (9.8 points per game allowed) and total defense (261.4 yards per game). They’ve been tough against both the run and pass, so Montez and Co. will face their stiffest test to date.

Montez told us in August he believes he has “one of the strongest arms in the nation,” and we agree. He can spray it all over the field. The difference this season has been Montez keeping the backbreaking (and head-scratching) interceptions to a minimum. Pressure can still rattle him at times, but Montez is thriving when he’s given time to throw. If Oregon’s pass rush doesn’t get home, Montez might be able to sting the Ducks a few times.

LSU WR Justin Jefferson vs. Florida

Last week was a showcase for Justin Jefferson, who torched Utah State. Even failing to haul in one pass Jefferson said after the game he should have had, the junior wide receiver caught nine passes (on 11 targets) for 155 yards and two scores. Earlier in the season, he had an even bigger statistical night: nine grabs for 163 yards and three TDs.

The 6-3, 195-pound Jefferson is impressing with his production, but to me it’s where he’s catching passes that should be noted: over the middle. Twenty-seven of Jefferson’s 30 grabs on the season have been inside the hash marks, according to Pro Football Focus. There was talk entering the season that the thinner-framed wideout was best as a deep-ball and double-move specialist. But his work settling underneath zones and working in crowded parts of the field has been very impressive.

Jefferson is developing into a more well-rounded wideout, and his danger as a playmaker hasn’t been reduced at all. He’s separating better against man coverage, using leverage to get free of press coverage and varying his routes nicely.

LSU WR Justin Jefferson put on a show against Utah State and faces a great challenge on Saturday night. (Getty Images)
LSU WR Justin Jefferson put on a show against Utah State and faces a great challenge on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

The test this week vs. Florida is a good one but also an opportunity to thrive. Gators CBs CJ Henderson, Marco Wilson and Trey Dean III all have strong reputations and are talented cover corners, but each has endured his share of struggles at times, too. Henderson just returned from an injury last week, and he struggled with a couple of missed tackles and two big pass plays allowed.

We expect Henderson, the Gators’ primary left corner, to see a lot of Jefferson, who is often lined up to the offense’s right side split wide. That should be a fun matchup in a great battle between two top-10 teams with a lot on the line. Jefferson has become QB Joe Burrow’s most trusted target, so you can bet they’ll try connect several times in this one.

Texas WR Devin Duvernay vs. Oklahoma

Overlooked by many entering the season, Longhorns WR Devin Duvernay is having a breakout season — and he’s been one of the most pleasant surprises on an offense averaging 41.6 points per game and a passing offense that ranks 11th in FBS in yards per contest. It has been remarkable that Texas has generated as many big plays as it has this season, ranking 26th in yards per offensive play.

Last season, that ranking was 74th. The Longhorns were one of two teams in FBS last season (Central Michigan was the other) that didn’t log a single play — run or pass — of at least 50 yards. This season, they already have three plays of 50 or more.

Although Duvernay’s long catch on the year is only 44 yards, he has been an invaluable element to the offense, especially with Collin Johnson banged up much of the season. More than one third of the passes Texas has completed this season have gone to Duvernay, and he has a chance — at a nine-catch-per-clip pace so far — to become only the third receiver in school history to log a 100-grab season.

It’s been a great week for Duvernay, who was named a team captain by head coach Tom Herman. It’s clear that Duvernay is well respected by the staff and his teammates for his work and leadership.

The 5-11, 210-pound Duvernay now stands as a Day 2 draft possibility, built in the Deebo Samuel (or perhaps Randall Cobb) mold. Part of Duvernay’s emergence has come with a move inside. A 14-game starter at the “Z” spot outside last year, Duvernay now has moved into the “H” spot in the team’s slot role. This has allowed Duvernay to use his quickness, toughness (watch his tackle breaking against LSU) and terrific hands to keep the offense flowing.

The Sooners have used a few players in the slot this season, including CB Jaden Davis and S Delarrin Turner-Yell. Both could have their hands full when matched up with Duvernay.

Oklahoma DL Neville Gallimore vs. Texas

We wrote in depth about Jalen Hurts separately this week, so please check that out for a look at one of the most fascinating quarterbacks in the 2020 draft picture right now. But I also wanted to look at the Sooners’ defense and a player whose reputation is starting to bubble up on the national scene with each passing game.

Neville Gallimore is one of the most impressive athletes for his position, and that is starting to translate into big, eye-opening plays for the Oklahoma nose tackle. The 6-2, 301-pound fifth-year senior has always flashed high-quality burst as an interior penetrator, but you had to mine a bit for tangible production at times in the past.

That’s less the case this season, especially lately. Yes, it’s true that Gallimore has only one sack and 11 tackles (three for loss) so far in five games. But last week we saw Gallimore make the kind of stunning displays that surpass any kind of statistical measure. Take a look:

Plays such as this have Oklahoma DL Neville Gallimore on the rise in the eyes of NFL draft scouts.
Plays such as this have Oklahoma DL Neville Gallimore on the rise in the eyes of NFL draft scouts.

Not only was Gallimore the first player off the ball, beating the center, but he defeats the running back’s initial block, takes another hit from the back, runs from five yards back to make an incredible strip from behind. Stunning stuff from such a big man on the interior.

It’s quite clear that Gallimore’s 30-pound weight loss in the offseason — about 10 percent of his body weight — has completely changed his body makeup. I don’t think Gallimore makes this play last season. But this is a player who also has said he can bench press 475 pounds and squat 675, and he’s planning on running a sub-5.0 40-yard dash by NFL combine time.

Gallimore’s pass-rush ability has taken a step forward this season, as seen in his 13 hurries (he had only 18 all last season). He also doesn’t get washed out of plays as easily, he converts power to speed better and I think we’ve seen clear evidence that his motor is running hotter this season.

It’s interesting to note that the Sooners have kept his weekly snap count to around 30 per game, which is down from an average of 48 last season. Some of that might be because the Sooners have yet to really be tested this season; some of it could be that the staff felt Gallimore was more effective if he wasn’t as taxed physically. But you can expect him to be out there more than 30 snaps this week, we believe.

The matchup this week against Texas LG Parker Braun and C Zach Shackleford, two very good interior offensive linemen, is an excellent test, but we expect they’ll have their hands full with Gallimore at times. Even if one of the Longhorns’ O-line mates disagrees. This game — and this matchup — should be fun.

Alabama CB Trevon Diggs at Texas A&M

Trevon Diggs rates as one of Pro Football Focus’ top cornerbacks in all of college football. There has been some buzz for him because, well, he plays at Bama. But we felt it was worth highlighting him this week for just how good he has been.

In five games, Diggs has allowed six receptions, per PFF (on 16 passes with him in coverage). After allowing a 37-yard grab in the opener, Diggs hasn’t allowed one longer than 16 yards. He’s also picked off two passes, tackled well and committed only one penalty thus far. You can say that the Crimson Tide’s defense provides so much pressure, but it shouldn’t mean we overlook Diggs’ coverage ability as a result. He’s been fantastic so far this season.

In our initial mock draft last week, we placed the 6-2, 207-pound Diggs at No. 22 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but I am already regretting not having him higher — perhaps even sniffing the top 10 when it’s all said and done, assuming he keeps performing near this level.

Alabama CB Trevon Diggs is having a fantastic season. (Getty Images)
Alabama CB Trevon Diggs is having a fantastic season. (Getty Images)

This week Diggs’ challenge will be in facing the intriguing batch of receivers at Texas A&M. The Aggies have the 6-2, 218-pound Jhamon Ausbon as a breakout star in their system, catching six or more passes in all but one game so far. Another standout has been the 6-2, 200-pound Quartney Davis, who leads the team with four TD grabs. And then there’s 6-foot-4 Kendrick Rogers, who has been a disappointment (zero TDs, no 100-yard games this season) so far but who can break out in a big game — see the LSU and Clemson games last season — at a moment’s notice.

Davis has lined up mostly in the slot, with Ausbon and Rogers more often lined up wide. We’ve seen Diggs slide into the slot a handful of times this season, but he’s typically Bama’s left corner, so we expect him to see a lot of matchups with Ausbon and Rogers. If you like watching long, athletic and instinctive corners go head to head against long, athletic and instinctive receivers, well, this one certainly is for you.

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