There are some teams with only one regular season game remaining on the schedule. As the season draws to an end, the opportunities for NFL prospects to impress and put things on tape to bolster their draft stocks are also dwindling down.
This column is usually dominated by offensive prospects, but several defensive players caught my eye on Saturday. Here’s who helped themself in Week 12.
Tanner Muse, S, Clemson
Since narrowly escaping North Carolina by one point at the end of September, Clemson has been plowing through its schedule and have won its last six games by at least 30 points each. Clemson’s defense has allowed two scores or less in 11 of 12 games this season and its most dominant performance of the year arguably came against Wake Forest on Saturday.
Normally a potent offense, the Demon Deacons were held to just three points, five first downs and 105 total yards in the Tigers 52-3 rout. The defensive star of the game for Clemson was senior safety Tanner Muse who record four tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry and hauled in an interception. Racking up the splash plays like he did this weekend are big for Muse’s draft stock.
AJ Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Minnesota is undefeated no more after losing 23-19 to Iowa on Saturday while falling to 9-1 on the season. Major credit is due to the Hawkeyes defense who limited Minnesota to just 63 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Everyone knows late season Big Ten football games are won in the trenches and AJ Epenesa was the tone-setter up front for the Iowa defense.
While the box score doesn’t fully tell the story of how he controlled the line of scrimmage, Epenesa did rack up four tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry in the win. Epenesa hasn’t been achieved the production many expected of him this season, but performances like the one he had against Minnesota serve as a good reminder of his playmaking upside.
Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Florida
Entering Saturday, Missouri has been one of the best teams in the nation at home this season and the Gators defense rose to the occasion to limit the Tigers to just six points and 256 total yards. The Tigers routinely found itself behind the chains, mainly due to the big plays Jonathan Greenard made behind the line of scrimmage.
In an unblockable performance, Greenard racked up a team-high six tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry in a dominant outing for the unit as a whole. Greenard has been impressive all season and Saturday’s win over Missouri was his best outing of the year.
Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
Georgia’s defense has quietly been outstanding all year long despite the perception that it lacks “big names”. No, there isn’t a Roquan Smith-caliber presence on the unit, but it plays cohesively as a unit and generally plays good situational football. With that said, Monty Rice probably doesn’t get enough credit for the caliber of player and skill set he brings to the table and I loved the way he performed against Auburn.
In a game of monumental implications for Georgia, Rice produced a game-high ten tackles while showing off his impressive processing skills, range, motor and ability to finish. Georgia limited Auburn to 36 rushes for 84 yards and Rice was the neutralizer.
Zack Moss, RB, Utah
Moss is a familiar name but I think he’s an under-appreciated back in the rising class. The workhorse back for the Utes since 2017, Moss has always showcased a nuanced skill set with an impressive blend of burst and power.
Moss trampled through the UCLA defense on Saturday, racking up 127 rushing yards with two touchdowns on 17 carries. Moss also added four receptions for 73 yards. He was the focal point of the Utah offense that raced to a 28-3 halftime lead. Moss has plenty of mileage on his tires, but he continues to show the makings of a lead back in the NFL.
Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
They key to beating a team that is dominant at running the football but can’t pass is to pounce on them early and force them to throw it. That’s exactly what Notre Dame did to Navy on Saturday and WR Chase Claypool had over 70 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. Finishing the game with seven receptions for 117 yards and four touchdowns, Claypool matched a school record for receiving touchdowns in a game.
Claypool is enjoying the best season of his career, and is heating up over the last three weeks. His blend of size and ball skills make him an appealing prospect.