Insiders

NFL Prospects To Watch on Saturday

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Lost in all the hype of college football is the fact that each game is basically a resume builder for each player who hopes to continue onto the NFL. While many aspects of the draft process get hyped up every year, the most important aspect of player evaluation is what each player does on the field on gamedays.

Each player has the opportunity to improve his draft stock with each performance. No player will put up a great game every week, but if they have more positives than negatives than it will do nothing but help them in their journey to the NFL.

Ultimately, there will be players who are highly ranked now that will see their draft stock tumble come draft time. Also, there will be players whose draft stock is nonexistent right now, but will see their draft stock take a meteoric rise.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some players you should keep an eye on this weekend in college football.

Devontae Booker, Utah

The 2016 running back class has been largely dominated by Ezekiel Elliot and Derrick Henry; however, there is a running back in the Pac-12 who deserves some attention as well. Devontae Booker isn’t as flashy or powerful as Elliot or Henry, but he makes up for it with vision, balance and nuanced understanding of how to play running back.

Last week, Booker had tough sledding against Michigan as the Wolverines front seven dominated the trenches. Nevertheless, Booker showed well, despite what the box score might say. Booker routinely got the most out of each carry and reception while not having much room to work with.

This week, Booker may have an easier time as Utah State isn’t as talented up front as Michigan. This will be a great opportunity for Booker to show his full range of skills. Booker will likely have a big game as a runner and a receiver this week, which should be the beginning of Booker receiving more attention by draft analysts.

Carl Lawson, Auburn

There weren’t many players who had a better first week than Carl Lawson had against Louisville. He was a dominant pass-rusher who set the edge and made plays against the run as well.

Lawson has always been extremely talented, but he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy since he’s gotten to Auburn. When healthy, Lawson is a fiercesome pass-rusher who can win with speed or power. Furthermore, he is an extremely stout run defender who plays with leverage and great hand usage to stack and shed blocks.

This week will be a showcase week for Lawson as he is pitted against Jacksonville State’s offensive line. Lawson has shown the versatility to make an impact from defensive end or defensive tackle, which is great for his NFL prospects. Look for Lawson to have another big week, which should lead to Lawson receiving first-round hype.

Tyler Johnstone, Oregon

In 2013, Tyler Johnstone was thought to be a top-tier offensive tackle prospect; however, a torn ACL has significantly hampered the hype surrounding his pro prospects. Last week, Johnstone made his return against Eastern Washington after a year absence. While he didn’t look to totally regain his old form, Johnstone put together a very encouraging performance together.

This week, Johnstone hopes to build off that performance against a very good defensive line at Michigan State. Johnstone will play a significant amount of snaps against highly-touted defensive end Shilique Calhoun. While Calhoun won’t test Johnstone’s foot speed, he will test his anchor and punch timing.

This week will be a very good indication as to how good Johnstone can be following his injury. While most people will have their eyes on the multitude of playmakers on Oregon’s offense, the real matchup to watch is in the trenches.

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

If you asked draft analysts who their No. 1 prospect is at this moment, a good portion of them would say that linebacker Jaylon Smith was the top guy. While that may not hold up as the year goes along it doesn’t mean that Smith isn’t a fantastic football player.

Smith is a mixture of explosiveness and intelligence that is rare for a player in college. Smith’s defining trait has to be his closing speed as he looks like he was shot out of a canon once he has the ball carrier in his sights. Furthermore, Smith uses his physical gifts to make plays that most players couldn’t even dream about.

Smith exhibits great intelligence with the way he plays in coverage. Smith is rarely ever fooled with crossing and option routes as he routinely makes the right decision and does his job correctly. He has a great feel for his drops and he gets his eyes to the right spots, which set him up well on any given play.

The only thing Smith needs to work on is playing downhill with more consistency. All too often Smith meets blockers four or five yards off the line of scrimmage, which limits his ability to make a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, this limits Smith’s ability to create enough power and leverage to beat blocks.

Pay close attention to how Smith moves at the beginning of each play against Virginia this weekend.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com