College Football Week 4: Prospect Battles To Watch

Big shout-out goes to Jon Ledyard who stole the big time QB match-ups to talk about this week. Fortunately, he did a wonderful job, so I forgive him. Go read it.

Old Dominion EDGE Oshane Ximines v. Virginia Tech RT Yosuah Nijman (3:30 EST, CBS)

If you're a Group of 5 prospect with preseason or even early-season buzz, scouts will immediately go to your schedule and circle your big Power 5 opponent. It's inevitable. For Ximines, a player who has been getting whispers since last season, Virginia Tech will weigh hugely in his eventual evaluation.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, as well plugged-in as anyone to what scouts are discussing at this time of the year, shared some Ximines hype and even went so far as to say Ximines' tape was Top-32 worthy. I'm not as sold on Ximines there yet, though the idea that he could rise up to Day 2 prospect isn't out of the question at all.

Ximines has nice hands, especially for a small school prospect, and has the ability to initially win leverage points to soften the corner; on top of that, he will re-work his hands into counters when the initial strikes don't land, which is really cool to see. I think he'll have a technical advantage over Nijman, who's a hulkin' beast of an offensive tackle at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, but struggles in the technical aspects of the game.

NFL teams are apparently excited for Nijman's eventual declaring, because he has such a positive physical profile -- but the tape, as it stands, is very rough. Nijman is a project in all stretches of the imagination, while Ximines has more polish and is more NFL ready. You would expect the opposite roles to be filled by Virginia Tech and Old Dominion players.

I think Ximines is gonna beat the pants off of Nijman, to be frank -- and when he does, his buzz is going to start to become louder and more mainstream. Either way, this is the battle to watch, as Ximines' fate as a prospect -- not to get crazy here -- kinda hangs in the balance.

Oregon EDGE Jalen Jelks v. Stanford LT A.T. Hall (8:00 EST, ABC)

Goodness am I ready for Oregon to play someone.

In that QB piece aforementioned, Ledyard laments the weak competition that Oregon QB Justin Herbert has faced thus far -- Bowling Green, Portland State, San Jose State. The Ducks are predictably rife with prospects, and the same suspended evaluation applies to them as well.

Perhaps none more so than Jelks, who is currently Top-10 in the Pac-12 in both sacks and tackles for loss after feasting on lesser opponents. Jelks added a good amount of mass to a gangling 2017 frame, and is spending his time more frequently on the outside instead of the interior. Both of those transitions are good news for his pro future.

They're also good news for his upcoming performance against Stanford -- Jelks had some great tape in 2017, but Stanford was one of his worst games. The large, brutish Cardinal line tossed around the smaller, out-of-position Jelks -- he was widely unable to recruit his speed, quickness, or length to affect the passing game.

On the outside, Jelks should find a softer test than last season's David Bright and Nate Herbig. A.T. Hall is a great athlete on the outside, but he still needs some technical refinement in pass protection. Hall loves to win as the aggressor, attacking early with his length and flexibility to rag-doll his opponent. In a phone both, Hall beats Jelks at a decent clip.

If Jelks is the early-round selection I think he is, he must shed the tweener label -- that effort truly begins on Saturday night. Hall is a good college tackle, who is beatable if you study the film and have the rush moves to beat his initial attack and soften the edge. Expect Jelks to be extra-motivated at home, in his first conference play of 2018, remembering what Stanford did to him last year.

Arizona State WR N'Keal Harry v. Washington CB Byron Murphy III (10:30 EST, ESPN)

Yes, I included two (2) Pac-12 games. That's because both of them are great, important match-ups that include potential first-round players. That is not because I am a Pac-12 homer, as some Draft Network employees would lead you to believe (lookin' at you, Trev).

I'm not sure for whom this is a more important game. I'd probably edge Murphy, in that he's not as well recognized nationally as Harry is; though Harry (junior) is more likely to declare this season than Murphy (redshirt sophomore) anyway, so maybe it only ends up mattering for Harry.

Regardless, I've written extensively on both of these players, and how they compete on Saturday night fascinates me. I'm lower on Harry than most, due in large part to the concerns I have regarding his technical acuity and diligence -- I think he gets lazy, always assuming he physically outclasses his opponent. His releases get sloppy, his breaks round off, and he lets himself get bullied into the sideline.

Against a corner as aggressive and ball-oriented as Murphy, that just won't fly. That extra half-step you give up on a slant route? Murphy's gonna take that window and get a paw on the football when other corners would just arrive for the tackle. That space you give up downfield on the deep ball? Murphy's gonna use it to leverage you out of bounds, get his head turned, and pick that puppy off.

And Murphy's hot so far this season, on a pass break-up pace so disruptive, it stands only with Kansas Jayhawk Aqib Talib in the college football annals. He comes into this contest with a lot of swagger after a dominant performance against Utah, as their short-area passing attack allowed Murphy to play downhill from his Cover 3 alignment, flying into the football to deliver punishing blows and jar the ball loose.

Murphy is indeed a downhill player, so deep tests remain a question mark for the young player. He's got good length (6-foot) but lacks the ideal size (175 pounds) to deal with big-bodied alphas like N'Keal Harry (6-foot-3, 216 pounds). If Murphy, who seems quite the dog, can hang with a jump ball and leverage specialist like Harry, then he checks almost every major box you look at for corner prospects. It's a huge win.

Don't sleep on the rest of this match-up in the air: Senior QB Manny Wilkins and Junior WR Kyle Williams both have some good buzz as prospects (especially Williams), while junior CB Myles Bryant remains nationally slept on after acquitting himself decently well against Harry in last year's match-up (Murphy was out with an injury).

Fun fact: Murphy and Harry are high-school teammates and totally best buds. They've been talking smack about this game for a while now.

Other interesting match-ups



Written By:

Benjamin Solak

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Deputy Editor of Bleeding Green Nation. Undergrad at UChicago.