Like we did last year, we will take an in-depth look at some of the most talked-about NFL draft prospects from each week. Below, NFL Draft expert Matt Richner recaps Week 9 and looks ahead to Week 10. As the season progresses, we will highlight prospects who are rising up the draft boards along with others who are starting to fall off the radar due to their poor performances.
Player of the Week: Danny Shelton (DT, Washington):
Few players in college football have the sheer strength and size of the mammoth defensive tackle, Danny Shelton. A clog in the middle, Shelton has been a key leader for the Huskies' defense this year. As a commander along the defensive line, Shelton rarely takes plays off and is a mainstay even in passing situations.
At 6'2” and 330 pounds, Shelton has been a three year starter for the Huskies. He has been one of their biggest difference makers in elevating the Huskies' pass rush this season. Shelton is ranked 9th in FBS with 7.5 sacks this season.
The game against Arizona State this past weekend turned out to be an old school football matchup with Mother Nature pelting the players with rain and wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. Arizona State starting quarterback Taylor Kelly returned to action this past weekend for the first time since sustaining a foot injury in mid-September.
Though the Sun Devils' game plan was to run the ball, Shelton was a consistent clog in the middle of the defensive line, plugging up running lanes and pushing his blocker into the backfield. Arizona State came into this weekend's matchup averaging 199.3 rushing yards per game, 5.1 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns per game. Shelton and the Husky defense held Arizona State to 105 yards on 43 carries, with an average of 2.4 yards per carry and no rushing touchdowns.
While Shelton won't be called upon to be a pass rusher in the NFL, showing an improved skill set in that area of his game will impress scouts and coaches alike. The most impressive part of Shelton's game is his durability and stamina. It is not very often that a player of his size and position are called upon to play over 90% of their defensive snaps and Shelton does so with great effort and consistency. Opponents quickly learn that running right at Shelton is not the best plan of attack, but running to the outside doesn't mean you get away from his grasp.
On a few occasions against Arizona State, Shelton was able to disengage from his blocker, quickly get to the outside and force the ball carrier back towards the middle of the field. Few players of his size are readily available to come into the NFL and start right away. While statistically they might not be similar, scouting-wise Shelton compares favorably to former first round selection Star Lotulelei.
If Shelton can continue to impress scouts throughout the rest of the season, don't be surprised if he ends up being a top-15 pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Shaq Thompson (RB, Washington):
Showing the versatility that intrigues so many scouts, Shaq Thompson, who normally is the Huskies' starting outside linebacker, started and was the primary tailback this past weekend. The Huskies were down their top two ball carriers and Thompson, who was a standout running back in high school, was called into action.
With only nine carries all season coming into this weekend's matchup against Arizona State, at 6'2” and 230 pounds, Thompson is well-equipped to shoulder the workload of an every down back. Showcasing a power running style, he finished the game with 98 rushing yards on 21 carries, with an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Thompson showed scouts that he has the power to run through arm tackles with a powerful stiff arm that he utilized on a few occasions to pick up significant yards after contact.
Thompson is still a raw talent, but the versatility, speed, and power that he brings as a running back is intriguing to almost any NFL roster. He is projected to be one of the top outside linebackers in college football, but a few scouts that I have talked to believe that his best position could be as a running back in the NFL.
It remains to be seen which route Thompson will take, but showing a selfless style of play and demonstrating the leadership needed to step up and play a position with little practice and still excel shows just what a truly special player he is.
Benardrick McKinney (ILB, Mississippi State):
McKinney is one of the key leaders on the Mississippi State team that has risen to the number one ranking in the polls and third in the Prediction Machine Power Rankings
. One of the reasons for the success of the Bulldogs is their standout inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Though they might rank last as a unit in their conference, Mississippi State has played a bend but don't break style of defense that has allowed them to rank fifth in sacks, first in red-zone defense, and ninth in opponents' third down conversions.
McKinney is one of the more imposing linebackers to have come through the scouting circles this season. At 6'5” and 249 pounds, he certainly looks and plays the part of a possible Butkus Award (Nation's Top Linebacker) winner. Displaying outstanding athleticism and abilities, McKinney flies around the football tracking down ball carriers from all angles.
Against Kentucky this past weekend, McKinney was able to use his long arms to come up with a touchdown saving tackle by just tripping up the Kentucky ball carrier as he was just getting into the second level of the defense. His speed and size make him a valuable commodity in pass coverage; he can match up with most tight ends in coverage. In zone coverage, McKinney showed good awareness and took adequate depth in drops.
A downhill type of player, McKinney is at his best when he can read and react. As a pass rusher, he will try to run through a blocker versus around them. This is also the case in terms of his tackling ability; he is looking to make the big hit with his shoulder versus wrapping up the ball carrier.
McKinney had a difficult time slipping past his blockers, with his size and strength he should have little issues shedding blocks. His inability to shed a blocker in the third quarter resulted in a 48 yard gain for Kentucky.
While the measurables are first round caliber, his level of play is that of a fourth or fifth rounder who needs to work on his technique and refine his skill set. While only a redshirt junior, McKinney will likely be a much talked about prospect leading up to the draft.
David Cobb (RB, Minnesota):
The stocky power back for the Golden Gophers has started to rise up the draft boards with his early season performance so far this year. At 5'11” and 229 pounds, Cobb is a load to take down and it usually takes two or three defenders to bring him down. He has a physical, punishing running style that some scouts have begun to compare with a young Marshawn Lynch.
As one of college football's top rushers this season, Cobb has gained 1,131 rushing yards on 211 carries, with an average of 5.4 YPC, and 7 TDs. He is more suited to run in between the tackles, though he has good initial quickness and is a speedster who can bounce it outside quickly and get upfield.
Last weekend against Illinois, Cobb had a difficult time getting anything going early on in the game. Illinois' defensive game plan was to stack the box and stop Minnesota's rushing attack. Cobb finished the game with 118 rushing yards on 22 carries, 5.4 YPC, and two touchdowns. The bulk of his yards came on a 67 yard run, followed by a 13 yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Up until these two long runs, Cobb had only 36 rushing yards, averaging just 2.3 YPC.
Some running backs are always looking to hit the homerun, they like to bounce it outside if there isn't anything up the middle. Cobb is one of these backs; unfortunately he doesn't have the speed to bounce it outside and he was tackled for a loss on five carries this past weekend.
Ball security is going to be a major issue with Cobb as scouts begin to pour over his film. As he was getting tackled this past weekend, Cobb failed to secure the ball with both hands and fumbled it which resulted in an Illinois touchdown
. This was Cobb's fourth fumble so far this season.
While he might not be an every-down back in the NFL, Cobb has the makings of a solid backup who is capable of picking up a blitz and is a capable receiver coming out of the backfield.
Who to Watch This Week
P.J. Williams (CB, Florida State):
Building upon a great 2013 season that saw Williams record three interceptions, seven PB, and 35 tackles, Williams has been one of the Seminoles' best defenders so far this season. Though opponents are trying to avoid him, Williams has one interception, six PB, and 25 tackles so far in 2014. On Thursday, Williams will be matched up against DeVante Parker, who just might be the best wide receiver in college football when he is healthy. Parker has just returned to action after breaking a bone in his foot right before the season started. Scouts will be watching this matchup to see who wins out. Parker stands at a little over 6'3”, so Williams will have his hands full. Watch for Williams to challenge Parker at the line of scrimmage.
Ty Montgomery (WR, Stanford):
In what will surely be a tough matchup, Stanford goes on the road this weekend and takes on Oregon. Oregon, blessed with speed and quickness at seemingly every position, will have to keep their eye on Montgomery who is a deadly returner and one of the more physically imposing wide receivers in college football. At 6'2” and 215 pounds, Montgomery can physically impose his will on smaller defensive backs, especially as a run blocker. Oregon will match up Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on Montgomery; both of these players will likely be first or second round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft and a lot scouts will be on hand for this matchup.
Tyler Kroft (TE, Rutgers):
Kroft is a hybrid TE/WR type of player, similar to a Jimmy Graham role for Rutgers. With a weak class at the tight end position, look for Kroft's name to start cropping up as one the top prospects at the position. At 6'5” and 240 pounds, he is a matchup problem for smaller linebackers and most defensive secondary players. A first-team all-conference last season, Kroft led Rutgers in receptions and receiving yards. Kroft's numbers have taken a downturn this season due to an upper body injury. He has amassed 12 receptions for 127 yards and no touchdowns. Look for him to have a breakout performance this week. With some of his teammates garnering more attention, Kroft should have some opportunities to exploit the weakness in the Badgers secondary and find some soft spots in their zone coverage.