Week 1 of the college football season is upon us, so it’s a time when promise and hopefulness fills the air. The members of The Draft Network recently filed our preseason Top 100 Big Board and positional rankings, but each came with a disclaimer. Evaluations are fluid, always changing as more information and film is gathered.
Part of building a preseason Big Board is being able to project development, and a lot of times that projection goes awry. Rankings will be adjusted as each prospect exceeds or fails to live up to expectations.
Early on the football season, some evaluations could be altered more significantly than others, especially if NFL-quality prospects are getting matched up against each other.
While some college teams look to load their early season schedule with “sure” victories, others schedule aggressively and create prospect matchups out of thin air. Those are valuable for prospect analysts, as it is a closer look at how they’ll respond in a setting closer to the NFL.
Week 1 officially kicks off tomorrow, so let’s look at the best wide receiver against defensive back matchups that will take place this weekend.
Liberty vs. Syracuse (Antonio Gandy-Golden vs. Christopher Fredrick)
While Syracuse might deploy Ifeatu Melifonwu to cover the bigger Gandy-Golden, when Liberty drops back to pass, there will be future NFL players competing on both sides.
“AGG” is blessed with size, strength and is a bully at the catchpoint. There was speculation that he would enter the 2018 NFL Draft, but he returned to school seeking to improve as a route runner.
Syracuse redshirt senior cornerback Christopher Fredrick enters the season on a streak of 31 consecutive starts for the Orange. The versatile cover man provides solid tackling and a nose for the football. While he gives up some size to Gandy-Golden, Fredrick is the Orange’s best coverage player.
Pittsburgh vs. Virginia (Taysir Mack vs. Bryce Hall)
Pittsburgh’s redshirt junior wide receiver Taysir Mack posted an absurd 22.3 yards per reception last season, good for second in the nation. The 6’2 and 205 pounder actually produced over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman at Indiana before transferring to Pitt prior to last season.
While Mack is an intriguing combination of size and downfield prowess, this matchup is really about Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall. Currently a projected first-round pick, Hall has a rare combination of length and athleticism. Mack is one of the first tests that Hall will see this season, but the preseason all-american looks primed to lock down one side of the field all year for the Cavaliers.
USC vs. Fresno State (Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. vs. Jaron Bryant and JuJu Hughes)
No matter how the matchups are sorted out between these two teams, there will be competition between future NFL players on a nearly snap to snap basis.
USC has one of the strongest wide receiver corps in college football, highlighted by senior Michael Pittman Jr. and junior Tyler Vaughns. On top of that, sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown comes from an NFL pedigree and incoming freshman Bru McCoy was the high school national player of the year.
While USC is deep and talented at wide receiver, Fresno State will counter with two potential NFL cornerbacks themselves. Jaron Bryant has an intriguing mix of size, coverage and run support. He’s been a preseason favorite of both mine and Jonah Tuls.
On the other side is JuJu Hughes, who is smaller but a twitchier athlete. Hughes projects well to slot reps, and should see time there against the Trojans loaded group.