Can you believe it's already week nine of the college football season? I mean, we're only about three months away from it officially being 2020 NFL draft season. We're starting to see the marquee college football matchups we've been waiting for all year, and with that, comes the most important individual matchups in regards to next-level projection. With that being said, here are the five head-to-head matchups between 2020 prospects that I believe NFL scouts will have their eyes on this weekend.
This is a matchup between two players who are having the best seasons of their respective college careers, in regards to NFL draft projection. Jonathan Taylor is Heisman favorite for the Badgers, and he’s showed a different side of his game in 2019 to scouts, specifically as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s caught four touchdowns this year – after failing to log a single score in his previous two seasons as the starter. With his athleticism and what he’s shown on tape, I think Taylor has separated himself as the RB1 in the 2020 NFL draft. As for Ohio State’s Baron Browning, he is probably one of the top five most talented linebackers in the entire country. He is a legit 4.5 athlete who has always had an excellent combination of power and range, but he’s finally starting to accentuate those traits by relying more on his instincts and reads, as opposed to just his athletic gifts. Browning has been banged up a little bit in recent weeks, but he’s expected to play in this marquee Big 10 matchup. It will be interesting to see these two naturally-gifted athletes go toe to toe both in between the tackles and from sideline to sideline.
This is probably my favorite one-on-one 2020 NFL draft prospect matchup of the week. If you think about it, Prince Tega Wanogho and K’Lavon Chaisson share many parallels in their projections to the next level as long, physical standouts, but in need of technical refinement to fully maximize their potential. Both Wanogho and Chaisson are flash players with a ton of promise, but not a whole lot of consistency. Chaisson’s bread and butter is his juice off of the edge as a speed rusher. It just looks so easy for him to get the corner, and he also has a deadly long-arm move. However, Wanogho’s strength mirror the skill set of Chaisson in that his best trait is his fluidity and foot quickness as a pass protector. In addition, Wanogho has the length to neutralize the length of Chaisson. So it should be fascinating to see these two go against each other on multiple pass rush reps.
Sticking with the same game, this might be the most important week nine matchup for an individual 2020 NFL prospect – LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry. His production this season as the leader and anchor of the LSU offensive line is a big reason why this offense is hitting on all cylinders. But he has yet to face a talent like Auburn’s Derrick Brown this year. Brown, a likely top-20 pick next April, has been tossing OL like rag dolls week after week, but if Cushenberry can hold his own, this game will be the most valuable asset of his 2020 NFL draft resume for scouts. The interior OL class is relatively thin after the top prospects, so Cushenberry has a prime opportunity to shine and separate himself from the rest of the pack Saturday.
This matchup between Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg and Michigan edge defender Josh Uche will be a huge test for both prospects in the scouting world. At 6’6, 304, Liam Eichenberg is a long, efficient blocker who thrives at the point of attack, but struggles maintaining the corner against speed rushers because of his sloppy footwork in pass sets. On the other side, Josh Uche, who stands at just around 6’2, is an undersized pass rusher who thrives on quickness and explosion off the edge with his flexibility. So in this matchup, two contrasting styles will meet. Either Eichenberg will stonewall Uche with his length, or Uche will expose Eichenberg’s stiff movement skills around the corner. We could end up seeing both of these scenarios – this will certainly be a matchup that scouts go back and evaluate next spring.
This is best against best. Brandon Aiyuk has established himself as the PAC-12’s best wide receiver this season with gaudy numbers as a premier deep threat and YAC playmaker. He was shut down by Utah’s Jaylon Johnson last week, which was a matchup we previewed, but that game looks like an anomaly on his 2019 resume. Aiyuk thrives on the ability to keep cornerbacks guessing in man coverage because of his ability to instantly change speeds at any point in the route. This week, he gets another huge test – UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes. Now, Holmes hasn’t had the year he hoped for, but when he’s at his best, there is no doubt that he is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the country. Holmes is also possibly the fastest cornerback in the nation, as he has legit sub-4.3 speed. He has experience shutting down deep threats, as he went toe to toe, stride for stride last year with Hollywood Brown. A strong performance by Holmes could get his confidence and draft stock back on track, while Aiyuk needs to prove that last week’s performance against Jaylon Johnson was a fluke. There’s a lot on the line here for both of these talented prospects.