Like we did last year 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 covers Week 2. 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: Eric Kendricks (ILB, UCLA):
A tackling machine, Kendricks has led the Bruins in tackles for the past two seasons. Against the University of Virginia, he accumulated five solo tackles and 11 assisted tackles with no broken or missed tackles. In addition to clogging running lanes, Kendricks was a major factor in coverage. He had an interception return for a touchdown where he undercut the crossing route and made a tough grab. For the game, he was targeted six times, and gave up one reception for minimal gain. Kendricks was called for one pass interference penalty. As captain and leader of the defense, he has total command on the field and looks to get his teammates lined up correctly. During the first half, he caused a fumble which resulted in a UCLA touchdown. For the game, Kendricks was either directly or indirectly involved in two touchdowns. At 6'0” and 230 pounds, he had a hard time disengaging from offensive lineman once they were able to get their hands on him. Kendricks doesn't back down from taking on bigger players, but he will need to work on separating from opponents in traffic.
Jay Ajayi (RB, Boise State):
Last season Ajayi finished in the top 20 in almost every major rushing category. At 6'0” and 220 pounds, he has a perfect combination of size and speed with the ability to break through arm tackles and the quickness to gain separation in open space. Against Ole Miss, with a much improved defensive front seven, Ajayi was still able to consistently pick up yards and grind it through the teeth of the defense. For the game, he finished with 20 attempts, 86 yards and one fumble. In taking a deeper look into his numbers, Ajayi had 50 yards-after-significant-contact and 61 yards-after-contact. A tough runner to bring down, he finished the game with a total of 18 broken tackles.
While Ajayi did have a fumble on the goal line, he was able to recover the ball. Ball security will be something that he will have to work on if he wants to be considered a top tailback in next year's NFL Draft. Down on the goal line, he tried to bounce the ball outside versus running it up the middle which caused him to lose a few yards as well as a chance for his team to score a touchdown. For the game, 12 carries went up the middle, four to the outside right and four to the outside left.
As a quality pass catcher out of the backfield, Ajayi was targeted 13 times, coming away with 12 receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown. He had a total of 75 yards after the catch and just one drop for the game. Most of his targets were check-downs by the quarterback, but Ajayi did a good job finding space and making himself open for his quarterback.
We will have to see how the rest of the season unfolds, but if Ajayi can produce at the same rate and develop better ball security, he could quietly climb some draft boards and be a second round pick.
La'el Collins (OT, LSU):
Despite being a highly coveted left tackle, Collins opted to return to LSU for his senior season. If he can stay healthy he will most likely be a potential first round prospect. At 6'5” and 315 pound, he shows nimble feet to defend and negate outside speed rushers. He has the strength evident by the 150-plus knockdown blocks during his career. Against Wisconsin this past weekend he had four knockdown blocks, but most importantly he didn't give up a QB hit, pressure, or sack.
LSU is still trying to sort out the quarterback position with two young players battling it out. Collins and the rest of the LSU offensive line just might be the best offensive line in the SEC. He has the speed to quickly get to the second level and pick up a key block to spring his teammates.
On runs designed to Collins' gap responsibilities, LSU gained 44 yards on 11 carries with an average of four yards per carry. He still needs to work on his technique; too often he lunges and won't bend at the knees and relies on his strength to overpower smaller opponents.
With a productive senior season, Collins will be in discussion as one of the top offensive tackles in next year's NFL Draft.
Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin):
While he sustained a hip injury during the game, the Badgers' star running back quickly showed the vaulted LSU defense that there is speed and power outside the SEC.
Gordon finished last season as one of the top 10 running backs in the country in rushing yards, and led the nation in yards-per-carry on all backs with over 200 carries. He is efficient with his moves in the open field. He does little dancing in the backfield, just picks his hole and almost effortlessly glides right through it. A rare combination of power and speed at 6'1” and 213 lbs. Gordon is almost never caught from behind or tackled on the initial contact.
Against LSU this past weekend, Gordon amassed 140 rushing yards, 35 of which came after contact and one touchdown. In the subjective stat yards-after-significant-contact, he had 33 yards. Not afraid to run in between the tackles, ten of his 16 carries were in between the tackles, including a red zone situation where he was able to accelerate past defenders in for the touchdown.
Gordon is an electric offensive weapon each time he touches the ball. With a career average of 8.1 YPC and only 304 career carries, he will be viewed as a dynamic runner who has little wear and tear on his body. He runs with great balance and a pad level that allows him to pick up the crucial yards after contact. He reminds me of current Kansas City Chiefs' running back, Jamaal Charles.
With only four career receptions, Gordon does not have a complete body of work and it remains to be seen how effective he can be in the passing game. He should start to see more action and take on more responsibility in the passing game as the season continues. With his speed and quickness, he could be a lethal weapon in the screen and short passing game.
Next Week Top Targets:
Andrus Peat (OT, Stanford):
Peat will be going up against USC All-American defensive end, Leonard Williams. Peat should be able to show scouts that he is the complete package at the left tackle position by being both a road grader and a pass protector. Williams, who had five sacks and 12.5 TFL last season, will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Peat. These two prospects will likely see their names called early next year in the NFL draft. This is a game that a lot of scouts will be watching to see who comes out ahead between these two titans.
Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan):
This big body wideout is a matchup nightmare for almost any defensive secondary. At 6'5” and 230 pounds, Funchess was able to use his length and athleticism to its fullest advantage last week against Appalachian State. He finished the game with seven receptions for 95 yards and three touchdowns. Last season Notre Dame finished in the top-15 in pass defense and Funchess will be matched up against Cody Riggs (5'9”, 190lbs), a smaller defensive back who will be called upon to stop one of the country's best wide receivers.
Michael Bennett (DT, Ohio State):
Despite his reputation as one of the top defensive tackles in the country, Bennett couldn't display his interior pass rushing skills against the Navy offense. He should see more opportunities to display these skills during this week's matchup against Virginia Tech. Not a prototypical run stuffer, last weekend Ohio State give up 370 rushing yards and two touchdowns to the Midshipmen. At 6'2” and 288 pounds, Bennett uses his quickness and speed to get past slower offensive lineman. He sometimes loses sight of the ball and will run himself out of plays and will also give up his gap responsibility. With Virginia Tech allowing 33 sacks last season, new starting quarterback Michael Brewer will be tested early and often against the Buckeyes. Look for Bennett to make some plays and cause some havoc in the Hokies backfield.