This week doesn’t feature the high-profile showdowns we saw in Week 10. A Big 12 clash between high-powered Baylor and Oklahoma highlights the slate of games.
Among individual matchups, we do get to see South Carolina wideout Pharoh Cooper and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves square off in a battle between two premier talents at their position. Arizona’s Nick Wilson and Utah’s Devontae Booker will also share the field in a late-night matchup. Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott, two of the more underrated quarterback prospects, are highlighted, as well.
In this series, we take a look at NFL prospects with a focus on the offensive skill positions to help those of you in developmental (devy) leagues. We’ll give you several games to watch, along with some key devy players who will be in action. For those in regular dynasty formats, this gives you a chance to start checking out some of the players who will be available in 2016 (and beyond) rookie drafts.
Wake Up and Watch: No. 11 Florida at South Carolina (ESPN, 12:00)
As I mentioned above, the highlight of this game will be the 1-on-1 battle between Hargreaves and Cooper.
Hargreaves is a cinch first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, assuming he declares early. In a majority of prospect rankings, either Hargreaves or Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is listed as the top corner. Ramsey may eventually wind up at safety, but either way, Hargreaves is looking like a top-10 or top-15 selection. On Hargreaves’ resume from this year is a solid performance against Laquon Treadwell, where he held Treadwell to five catches for 30 yards.
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Sure, it’ll be fun to watch an elite prospect like Hargreaves, but for us in the devy world, Hargreaves presents us with an opportunity to get a better reading on Cooper. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound junior is our No. 7 wideout for the 2016 class. He’s made 48 catches for 665 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. Last season, Cooper finished with 69 grabs for 1,136 yards and nine scores. His numbers this year have been torpedoed by poor quarterback play.
Cooper has done a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks. He’s played receiver, running back and even thrown a couple passes. He also excels in the return game, which should help him get on the field early in his NFL career. This versatility is a nice asset, but it also may be a reason he’s unrefined as a receiver. He’s sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. Still, he’s likely going to end his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in the SEC, so there’s certainly a lot of potential here.
Cooper isn’t the only receiver prospect in this game as Florida boasts DeMarcus Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior. Robinson has enviable size, but he appears to lack speed. It’ll be interesting to see what he runs in the 40 this spring. A good time could do wonders for his stock.
Like Cooper, Robinson’s stats have been hurt by his quarterback play. Through nine games, Robinson has made 45 receptions for 477 yards and two scores. He flashed more big-play ability last year, when he averaged 15.3 yards per catch on his way to a 810-yard, seven-touchdown season.
Other teams in action around the noon hour, along with some players to focus on, include:
- Maryland at No. 2 Michigan State (Connor Cook, L.J. Scott, Macgarrett Kings), ESPN2, 12:00
- Kansas at No. 4 TCU (Josh Doctson is questionable, Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green), FS1, 12:00
- Georgia (Keith Marshall, Sony Michel, Terry Godwin, Malcolm Mitchell) at Auburn (Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas), CBS, 12:00
- No. 3 Ohio State (Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller) at Illinois, ABC, 12:00
- North Carolina State (Jacoby Brissett) at No. 16 Florida State (Dalvin Cook, Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson, Ermon Lane, Everett Golson, Auden Tate, George Campbell, Jacques Patrick), ESPN3, 12:30
Midday Marquee: No. 2 Alabama at No. 17 Mississippi State (CBS, 3:30)
Alabama has been a mainstay in this weekly article, so I’ll focus on the Bulldogs. If you need information on Alabama’s top prospects, you may want to find a new hobby check here.
Mississippi State is having the exact opposite season it had a year ago. Last season, the Bulldogs started fast, jumped to No. 1 in the polls and faded as the season progressed. In 2015, they’ve flown under the radar in the loaded SEC West and sit at 7-2 with one of those losses being a two-point defeat to LSU.
Senior quarterback Dak Prescott, I feel, is an underrated prospect. It seems as if Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg and Jared Goff (also Cardale Jones, to some extent) have been seen as the first tier of signal callers, but I put Prescott right there with them. Plus, none of those quarterbacks have played like an early first-round pick this year.
Prescott has superb size at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and he has good mobility. Most importantly, he’s shown great improvement over the past three seasons. After completing just 58.4 percent of his passes as a sophomore, Prescott upped his completion percentage to 61.6 percent a year ago, tossing 27 touchdowns to 11 picks. This season, he’s completing 66.7 percent of his throws for 18 scores and one interception. He’s also the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 418 yards and seven touchdowns. Most of Prescott’s yards come from designed runs. He appears much more comfortable working through progressions in the pocket than he was a year ago, although Alabama will put that to the test.
Not without flaws, of course, Prescott can be inconsistent with his footwork. The Bulldogs don’t ask him to make a lot of passes down field, so it’s hard to get a feel for his deep ball. Overall, they’re fairly conservative in the passing game, going with a lot of short throws, which has helped him achieve his pristine touchdown-to-interception ratio. He gets compared to Tim Tebow quite a bit because of their bruising running styles and similar college offenses, but Prescott has a lot better arm strength and fluidity in his motion.
Prescott will face no stiffer challenge this year than the Alabama defense. He’ll have to make some big throws from the pocket if Mississippi State is going to pull off the upset. A good showing in this one will validate his rising stock, which is likely to end up in an early Day 3 selection. Prescott will certainly need time to develop in the NFL, as does every rookie quarterback, but I like what he brings to the table.
Prescott’s top weapon is junior De’Runnya Wilson, who we have as the No. 11 wideout for 2016. Wilson has made 37 catches for 626 yards and eight scores. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Wilson can win jump balls and is fairly good after the catch. As you would expect for a wideout with that size, he’s a proven red-zone weapon with 17 scores over the past two seasons. Like most college wideouts, his physical ability allows him to overcome mediocre route running, and he tends to catch balls with his body instead of his hands.
Wilson, who will see a lot of Alabama corner Cyrus Jones, is just tapping into his football career, though. He only played one season of varsity football in high school. He actually committed to Mississippi State with the intention of playing football and basketball, which he did during his freshman year. It’s hard to pin down what his ceiling is, since this is just his second year as a football-only athlete. That makes him a little enticing.
Other teams in midday action, along with some players to watch, include:
- Washington at Arizona State (D.J. Foster, Demario Richard), PACN, 3:00
- No. 1 Clemson (Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Deshaun Watson) at Syracuse, ESPN, 3:30
- Wake Forest at No. 4 Notre Dame (Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, DeShone Kizer), NBC, 3:30
- Miami (Joseph Yearby, Brad Kaaya, Stacy Coley) at No. 23 North Carolina (Quinshad Davis, Elijah Hood, Bug Howard, Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins), ESPNU, 3:30
- No. 8 Oklahoma State (David Glidden, James Washington) at Iowa State (Allen Lazard), ESPN, 3:30
- No. 14 Michigan (Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith) at Indiana (Nate Sudfeld, Jordan Howard), ABC, 3:30
- Kentucky (Stanley Williams, Patrick Towles) at Vanderbilt, SECN, 4:00
Primetime Play: No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor (ABC, 8:00)
After losing to Texas, Oklahoma was removed from the playoff discussion, but the Sooners still have Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State on the schedule. Three straight wins over those teams would vault Oklahoma right back into the mix. Oklahoma boasts two of my favorite prospects in quarterback Baker Mayfield and senior receiver Sterling Shepard.
Mayfield, a junior transfer from Texas Tech, wasn’t really much of a prospect before the year. In fact, he was in a camp battle with Trevor Knight for the starting job. Not only did Mayfield win the job, he’s been one of college football’s best quarterbacks. He’s completing 70.2 percent of his passes for a whopping 28 touchdowns to just four picks.
Maybe I’m biased because I think he’s really entertaining to watch, but I can’t figure out why he’s not rated more highly. He reminds me of Ryan Fitzpatrick in that he’s a lot more mobile and athletic than he appears to be. Also similar to Fitzpatrick, he’s not afraid to take chances with some of his throws, which can be a positive and negative. He is extremely accurate, can throw on the run and tosses a nice deep ball.
Shepard, Mayfield’s top target, has made 47 receptions for 826 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s 5-foot-10, 191 pounds of pure football player. He’s been a contributor from day one in Norman, recording at least 600 receiving yards in all four seasons. Shepard reminds me of a not-quite-as-athletic Jarvis Landry. Both have reliable hands, run good routes and are really competitive after the catch. Like Landry, he will likely operate out of the slot quite a bit in the NFL. I think Shepard has an excellent chance to be a productive NFL receiver.
In the backfield, Oklahoma has a pair of prospects in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Perine, a sophomore who is 5-foot-11, 237 pounds, burst onto the scene last season with 1,713 yards and 21 scores. He’s following it up with 806 yards and 10 touchdowns while splitting some work with Mixon. Rivals’ No. 1 back in the 2014 class, Mixon is in the midst of his debut season after sitting out his freshman year due to suspension. He’s an elite athlete and has amassed 519 yards on 78 carries (6.7 YPC) with five touchdowns. Mixon has added 22 catches for 313 yards and four scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
For Baylor, this is the Bears first big test of the season and their first hurdle in a tough three-game stretch. Following the matchup with the Sooners, Baylor plays road games at Oklahoma State and at TCU.
This is a clash of the nation’s premier offense against a stout Oklahoma defense. Baylor’s offense ranks first in yards per game (666), seventh in passing yards per game (356.8) and first in points per game (57.4). Oklahoma’s defense ranks 17th in passing yards allowed per game (178.6) and 16th in points allowed per game (18.1).
With Seth Russell (neck) out, true freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham has taken control of the Bears’ potent attack. Stidham, who is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, was a highly-coveted recruit who Rivals rated as a four-star and the No. 6 quarterback in the 2015 high school class. He originally pledged to Texas Tech before flipping to Baylor. Stidham lit it up in his lone start, a win at Kansas State last week, going 23-for-33 for 419 yards and three scores — not a bad debut.
Stidham has no shortage of weapons with which to work. Receiver Corey Coleman will be one of the top picks in 2016 rookie drafts and ranks third in the country with 1,178 yards in eight games. He has an incredible 20 touchdowns and is averaging 20.3 yards per catch. Coleman had his best game of the year a week ago, hauling in 11 passes for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sophomore KD Cannon is our No. 5 wideout for the 2017 class. He’s made 29 catches for 487 yards and four scores. Senior Jay Lee (26-568-6) is no slouch and starts with Cannon and Coleman in Baylor’s three-wide sets.
In the backfield, junior Shock Linwood is raising his NFL stock with a monster season. Linwood has racked up 1,046 yards and nine scores on 134 carries (7.8 YPC). This is his second straight 1,000-yard campaign. He went for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago.
Other teams with evening games, along with some players to focus on, include:
- No. 21 Memphis (Paxton Lynch) at No. 24 Houston, ESPN2, 7:00
- Western Carolina at Texas A&M (Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk), ESPNU, 7:00
- Arkansas (Alex Collins) at No. 9 LSU (Derrius Guice, Leonard Fournette, Travin Dural, Trey Quinn, Malachi Dupre), ESPN, 7:15
- BYU (Tanner Mangum) at Missouri (Nate Brown), SECN, 7:30
- Oregon (Royce Freeman, Kirk Merritt, Johnny Mundt, Taj Griffin) at No. 7 Stanford (Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey), FOX, 7:30
- No. 10 Utah (Devontae Booker) at Arizona (Nick Wilson), FS1, 10:30
- Oregon State (Jordan Villamin) at California (Kenny Lawler, Jared Goff), PACN, 10:30
- Washington State at No. 19 UCLA (Josh Rosen, SoSo Jamabo, Paul Perkins, Jordan Payton), ESPN, 10:45