Week 14: NFL Draft Prospect Stock Up

Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Conference Championships, Army versus Navy and bowl games are all that is left on the 2019 College Football Schedule. There is nothing like a full slate of college games on a Saturday and I truly hope none were taken from you this year by a fall wedding.

Rivalry games are always the theme of the final weekend of the season, providing ideal stages for NFL prospects to impress. Let’s examine the NFL hopefuls that helped themselves this weekend.  

Bryce Perkins, QB, Virginia 

Somebody must have forgotten to tell Bryce Perkins it was legendary Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s final Commonwealth Cup and last regular-season game before retirement because he unleashed on the Hokies. Perkins, who helped snap the Cavs' 15-game losing streak to the Hokies, passed for 311 yards and touchdown while rushing for 164 yards and scoring twice on the ground. 

Perkins was responsible for 475 of the team’s 492 total yards, showcasing arm talent and athleticism while leading Virginia to the ACC Coastal Division Title. Perkins is not likely to be an early-round prospect, but he is an intriguing developmental quarterback that could thrive in the right opportunity. His performance against the Hokies was a resume game. 

Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin

In snowy conditions, on the road with a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game on the line, Zack Baun did his part to bring in a 38-17 win over No. 8 Minnesota. Baun tallied nine tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, and gave the Gophers’ offensive line fits trying to slow him down. 

Enjoying a career-year as a senior, Baun is now up to 11 1/2 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss on the season. The Badgers’ defense has been dominant at times in 2019, and Baun is a big reason why. His versatility and gap-shooting ability give him a chance to carve out an important role in the NFL. His showcase against Minnesota was one of his top performances. 

Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue 

Brycen Hopkins, who is arguably the best tight end in the rising class, has been unstoppable in recent weeks. While his eight catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana on Saturday came in a losing effort, the traits that would make him such an appealing receiver in the NFL were on full display. It was his second performance in as many weeks of eight receptions, over 100 yards and two touchdowns. 

Hopkins has been a steady option for the Purdue offense all year, cashing in at least five receptions or a touchdown in 10 of 12 regular-season games. He has six outings of at least 75 receiving yards. If your NFL team is in need of an upgrade at tight end, check out his work against Indiana. 

A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa

In a year of high expectations, the season got off to a slow start for A.J. Epenesa but he turned in the best defensive performance by any player in College Football against Nebraska. In a 27-24 victory over the Cornhuskers, Epenesa tallied 14 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss. 

Epenesa is closing out the regular season with 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over the final five games. He has also reminded evaluators why many considered him a top first-round talent entering the season. His power, length, hand usage and urgency will make him a coveted prospect. 

Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

Regardless of what happened on Saturday, Derrick Brown is a likely top-15 selection and first defensive tackle off the board in April. His blend of size, power, burst and urgency makes him a dynamic prospect that has wrecked SEC offensive lines for multiple seasons now. Brown completely took over with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter when the Crimson Tide threatening to score a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, a batted pass and big plays behind the line of scrimmage by Brown forced Alabama to settle for a field-goal attempt that was not successful. 

The seven tackles and 3.5 for loss in a win against Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium was the perfect regular season finish for Brown. 

Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Bowl-eligible for the first time in program history, 2019 has been a significant season for the 49ers and Charlotte is primed to produce its second-ever NFL draft pick in Alex Highsmith. In Charlotte’s 38-22 win over Old Dominion on Saturday, Highsmith tallied 12 tackles, five tackles for loss, 4 1/2 sacks and a pass breakup. 

Highsmith now finishes the regular season with 21.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks,  recorded at least one sack in 10 of 12 games this year. He may not be the longest or more flexible pass rusher, but his repertoire of moves, hustle and techniques gives him a chance to carve out a role in the NFL. 

Written By:

Joe Marino

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Joe Marino is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst at TDN. Marino comes to TDN after serving as a draft analyst for NDT Scouting, FanRag Sports and Draft Breakdown dating back to 2014. In 2017, Marino became a Huddle Report Mock Draft Champion when he produced the most accurate mock draft in the world.