It wasn’t a banner weekend for college football, with a limited schedule serving as a soft opening in this expectedly strangest of seasons.
There still were notable performances among the nine games, including a few by players expected to compete for jobs on NFL Sundays. Here were a few NFL draft prospects who caught our eye in the week that was.
Memphis QB Brady White
SMU’s Shane Buechele was probably the highest-rated NFL prospect to lace up the cleats this past week, but White really caught our attention against Arkansas State. Granted, the Red Wolves’ defense allowed a lot of points and yards last season, but White’s strong performance — 26-of-36 passing, 275 yards, four TDs, one pick — had us sitting up in our chair a few times.
White delivered some nice anticipation throws with touch (such as his corner-of-the-end-zone TD pass to Sean Dykes), manipulated defensive backs with his eyes a few times and displayed his knack for scrambling for first downs. He has to be careful with some of his tight-window once the competition gets stiffer, but White seems to maximize his limited physical skills.
Still, White has made big strides since arriving as an Arizona State transfer and battling injuries along the way, and he is a player we’ll be watching this season. His 454-yard bowl game against Penn State last season wasn’t as clean as the numbers suggest, but he showed some gumption in that one.
BYU QB Zach Wilson
Wilson is a polarizing prospect with fascinating potential, but his regression in 2019 caused some folks to cool on him. In the opener, Wilson — who beat Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney for the starting job in camp — looked phenomenal. The “Mormon Manziel,” as some have called him, completed 13 of 18 passes for 232 yards and two TDs in an abbreviated night of work in the blowout of the Midshipmen.
Wilson threw an interception and had a fumble, but the pick was excusable in that his target had his feet tripped up by a defender right when Wilson let go of the pass.
He makes plays that make your heart skip a beat or two (such as a risky shovel pass on fourth-and-goal), but overall it was an impressive season debut for the junior.
Not everyone is enamored with his skills as he earned Day 3 grades coming into the year, but there’s no doubt that Wilson threw the ball Monday night with better zip and confidence than he appeared to most of last season. Doing so without standout tight end Matt Bushman, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles, made it all the more impressive.
SMU WR Reggie Roberson Jr.
Roberson had a nice, efficient game Saturday in the win over Texas State, hauling in six passes (on eight targets) for 99 yards and a touchdown. If there was a knock I had on him coming into the season, it was that he was a bit hot and cold a year ago (and really for the past two seasons). Part of that had to do with the presence of James Proche, a Baltimore Ravens sixth-rounder in this past spring’s draft.
Now with Proche gone, Roberson should be the volume receiver in the Mustangs’ offense. Shane Buechele did a good job of working the ball around in the first game — eight pass catchers saw two or more targets — but Roberson was the man he looked for in key spots. His 51-yard TD grab was a nice adjustment to an off-target throw without gearing down, displaying some of his nice ball skills.
Roberson is a potential third- or fourth-round pick this season if he can keep progressing.
BYU OT Brady Christensen
One reason the Cougars blew Navy out of the stadium was an insane rushing attack that set the tone for the game. And the offensive lineman who stood out — on a good BYU line — was the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Christensen.
He’s entering his third year starting at left tackle for the Cougars and he showed some nice athleticism on some kick-out blocks on a few of the many long runs Monday night. Christensen isn’t a dominant blocker, per se, but he’s a good mover in space and mirrors well in pass protection.
BYU Offensive Line last night:— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 8, 2020
▪️ Pass-blocking snaps: 21
▪️ QB pressures: 0
▪️ Run-block grade: 82.8 pic.twitter.com/lTcEPyIXqj
The summer grades on Christensen weren’t as high as those on his OL teammates, James Empey and Tristen Hoge, but it wouldn’t be a stunner if he ends up landing in the middle of Rounds 4 or 5 in the 2021 draft.
North Texas DT Dion Novil
Novil was on our list of players to watch this summer, but we admittedly never got around to it. That will change.
Yes, the level of competition needs to be taken into consideration, as the Mean Green’s opening-game win came against Houston Baptist. But the 6-foot-4, 335-pound Novil flashed on a few of the plays we watched of the game, and he’s coming off a 13-TFL season a year ago.
No TFL on this play, but watch as Novil dominates his man and blows up this play:
The school hasn’t produced as many NFL prospects as it did a generation ago. Novil is the kind of prospect who might change that. He switched from end to tackle before last season, added good mass and is a player we’re interested in seeing more of.
South Alabama LB Riley Cole
Cole helped fuel the upset over Southern Miss — the Jaguars’ first FCS road win in 15 tries — with a 12-tackle effort. Seven of those takedowns came at or near the line of scrimmage, with gains of zero or 1 yard. Cole also flashed his blitzing potential on a nice hurry and hit to force a third-down incompletion.
Cole is a blast to watch. He’s playing linebacker this year again after spending time as an edge rusher a year ago, although he’s a jack of all trades who also can cover fairly well. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound fifth-year senior should test very well in the strength department, too, come NFL scouting combine time.
Where we expect Cole to make his money in the NFL is as a special-teams demon. He possesses the perfect mentality and full-tilt style to win on fourth downs and thrive in a specialized role in the league.
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