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NFL Draft

3 CFB Players Hurt Most By Conference-Only Schedule

  • The Draft Network
  • July 13, 2020
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In an expected and understandable move as the college season approaches, three of the five Power 5 conferences have officially announced that they will only be playing in-conference opponents this season. This is a good scheduling move, giving time into the fall for the spread of COVID-19 to slow, and closing the loop on opponents to potentially limit the spread.

The ACC, Pac-12, and Big Ten have accordingly knocked some games off of their schedules, with more potentially to come in other conferences. Some of these individual contests stand out as critical misses for prospects who had big matchups. These players now have missed opportunities to fill out their NFL Draft profile against those top opponents. Here are the three I think lost the most in potential stock.

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Game(s) lost: 

  • at Oregon

Tough to claim anyone took a bigger hit than Lance, a potential Round 1 quarterback losing a game against the Pac-12 favorites and their star-studded secondary. Only a redshirt sophomore this upcoming season, Lance has yet to play a team even at the Group of 5 level, let alone a Power 5 team or Power 5 contender. For anyone hoping to see Lance declare at the end of the 2020 season, this game—and a strong performance in it—mattered more than perhaps any other game for any other prospect.

Lower-level quarterbacks have still gone high in the draft without standout performances against Power 5 programs. Lance’s predecessor at North Dakota State, Carson Wentz, had an 18-for-28, 204-yard, zero-TD outing against Iowa State in his junior season as the biggest feather in his college cap before attending the Reese’s Senior Bowl—an avenue not available for Lance this year. Wyoming QB Josh Allen was a top-10 pick despite actually getting a game against Oregon, and then playing poorly in it: 9-for-24, 64 yards, and a pick.

But there’s no springboard for Lance to declare. In a QB class with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, Lance would be, at best, a dominant two-year starter at the FCS level. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to corroborate his high caliber of play with such a degree of certainty that you’d take him over the two quarterbacks above. Why risk it, when you can just go back to school? And what happens if he regresses just a smidgen, throwing a couple of picks and getting banged up on a couple scrambles?

The next Power 5 game schedule for the Bison is against Arizona in 2022—Lance would be a redshirt senior. Projecting anything beyond this year is a tricky proposition, as who knows what will happen with college football. But without the Oregon game on his schedule, it seems less likely that Lance enters the 2021 NFL Draft.

Don’t sleep on the fact that LT Dillon Radunz, another future NFLer, loses a matchup against freshman phenom EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux. 

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Game(s) lost: 

  • vs. Ohio State

So North Dakota State lost a critical game against Oregon—well guess what? Oregon lost a critical one against Ohio State.

Elite pass rushers don’t often make their way through the Pac-12. The best they’ve got in the conference now is Thibodeaux, who Sewell gets in practice, but never in a real game. Besides that, it’s Washington’s Joe Tryon and Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed Jr., both of whom are risers in the 2020 class, but aren’t yet top-flight options.

And of course, the same thing could be said for Ohio State, who has lost Nick Bosa and Chase Young in consecutive seasons, and accordingly does not have a huge name at EDGE right now. But the simple reality is that Ohio State EDGE rushers have a far better reputation than any out of Washington or Oregon State. If there’s any school that a scout wants to see an offensive tackle face, it’s Ohio State. This year, that rusher that Sewell would square off against is Tyreke Smith, another physical freak who still needs to catch up with Bosa and Young on the technical aspect of the game.

Sewell will, without a doubt, face questions on his evaluation because of the caliber of competition he got in the Pac-12. Few defenses in Pac-12 football put traditional, hand-in-the-dirt five-techniques opposite tackles and ask them to win one-on-one pass-rushes. They rely on games, slants, and wide, stand-up subpackage rushers on whom Sewell has nearly a 100-pound advantage. The Ohio State game was a big gut check opportunity for Sewell, and he lost that in the cancellation this season.

Also lost in that game: Oregon CB Thomas Graham against Ohio State WR Chris Olave. A big game from Graham could have meant millions.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

Game(s) lost: 

  • vs. Alabama

The stage is set for Amon-Ra St. Brown to explode onto the draft scene. Rising sophomore QB Kedon Slovis is fearless and brimming with talent. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is in his second season of installing the Air Raid offense at USC. Top-40 draft pick WR Michael Pittman has left, vacating tons of downfield targets. St. Brown has every opportunity in the world to springboard from a dominant 2020 season into an early draft pick.

And the opening of his breakout season? That was supposed to be against Alabama in Week 1.

Much like Sewell and the OT gut check in facing the Ohio State EDGE factory, Alabama has been generating first-round defensive backs for years. The likely next candidate is Patrick Surtain II, a rising true junior and outside corner for the Crimson Tide. That was the opponent waiting for St. Brown in the long-awaited USC/Alabama season-opener.

Losing Surtain and Alabama doesn’t hit as hard when you consider the draftable corners in the Pac-12 that St. Brown will likely face when a new schedule is built: Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor at Washington, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir at Oregon, Paulson Adebo at Stanford, and Chase Lucas at Arizona State are all future NFLers. But currently, none is viewed as equal to Surtain’s ceiling, and with so many vacated Pittman targets up for grabs, a big performance in Week 1 for St. Brown could have led to more opportunities down the road.

It’s still a great season and a great setting for St. Brown to catapult himself into the larger conversation of the top WR prospects for 2021, in which he does not yet belong. But losing the Alabama game is a missed opportunity either way.

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The Draft Network