The Big Ten is back and so too are a number of talented NFL draft prospects aiming to improve their film resume. While we are still a few weeks away from welcoming the Pac-12 back to action, it was the busiest weekend in college football to date in 2020. Here’s who helped their draft stock in Week 8.
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
While the college football world has been oohing and ahhing over Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence to start the season, Justin Fields took his 2020 debut as an opportunity to remind the nation that he too is an outstanding player. In Ohio State’s 52-17 rout over Nebraska, Fields was nearly perfect in completing 20-of-21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns while adding another touchdown on the ground and leading the Buckeyes with 54 rushing yards.
Showing no signs of rust, Fields was decisive and in complete command of the Ohio State offense, drilling throws to all levels of the field and making things happen with his legs. Fields was poised, accurate, and proved he’s a whole lot more than a “consolation prize” for the team that misses out on Lawrence.
Marlon Williams, WR, UCF
There’s simply not enough buzz around Williams and it doesn’t make sense considering he’s racked up 750 receiving yards and six touchdowns in five games so far in 2020. His dominant season continued on Saturday against Tulane, where he hauled in nine receptions for 174 yards and three touchdowns in UCF’s 51-34 win over Tulane. To put into perspective how productive Williams has been this season, those nine receptions tied a season low for catches.
Williams is a versatile prospect that has terrific ball skills and vertical receiving skills but he’s also highly productive working after the catch. He features a stocky frame and has a physical playing style to match. For an NFL team looking for a “big slot”, Williams can fill that role.
Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin
The Badgers and Jake Ferguson got the Big Ten started on Friday Night, taking care of Illinois by a 45-7 margin. While the story of the game was Wisconsin freshman quarterback Graham Mertz completing 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns, Ferguson was on the receiving end of that passing output with seven catches for 72 yards and three touchdowns.
Ferguson had no issues finding space in the Illinois defense and making himself available for his freshman quarterback making his college football debut. Ferguson illustrated his soft hands, ball skills, and ability to make catches in traffic and hang on through contact. The rising crop of tight ends is loaded with talented prospects and Ferguson reminded the nation that he cannot be overlooked.
Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
On the heels of an embarrassing loss to Florida State where North Carolina was ranked No. 5 in the nation, the Tar Heels bounced back with a decisive 48-21 win over rival NC State. Racking up 578 yards, 34 first downs, and 48 points, the UNC offense was balanced and in control of the football game from start to finish. The catalyst for the offensive success was Williams, who gained 160 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns.
Williams wasn’t just the beneficiary of great blocking, he forced an astounding 17 missed tackles against the Wolfpack according to PFF. Williams combines with Michael Carter to form one of the best backfields in college football and it has been a joy to see them feed off each other to carry the Tar Heels’ rushing attack. While Carter was terrific on Saturday with more than 150 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, it was Williams’ day this time. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, Williams has ideal power components that he blends with terrific contact balance, decisiveness, elusiveness, and burst to make him the total package. He keeps getting better and better.
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
The 2021 crop of edge defenders is loaded with several intriguing prospects and has a chance to be among the strongest positions groups in the draft. With that said, given how raw many of the prospects are, stacking the group is a challenge right now, but watching the season unfold will help provide clarity. The Big Ten starting its season is extremely helpful given how many of the projected top edge defenders hail from that conference.
The pass-rusher that made the most noise this weekend was Paye, who logged two sacks and three tackles for loss in Michigan’s 49-24 win over Minnesota. Paye’s blend of size, power, and athleticism jumped off the tape as he harassed Gophers’ quarterback Tanner Morgan all night long. If Paye continues this level of play, he should be among the first EDGE defenders off the board next spring.