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 4 and looks ahead to Week 5. 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: Michael Bennett (DT, Ohio State):
Usually a three tackle game doesn't get you a top performer for the week award, but Bennett was such a consistent force along the defensive line that his production went beyond the box score.
Bennett has long been on my radar as a top prospect at the defensive tackle position. He is a versatile defender who can move to any location on the line of scrimmage and still be a force. NFL scouts will love his versatility and ability to play the inside in a 4-3 or the outside in the 3-4 defense.
At 6'2” and 288 pounds, Bennett has the quickness to slip past opposing blockers, cut into the gaps and become a disruption in the backfield. Against Maryland, he showed great strength in grabbing his opponent, tossing them aside and making a play on the ball.
Bennett is one of the better interior pass rushers in college football. He doesn't have the skill level of last year's top interior pass rusher, Aaron Donald, but Bennett is starting to become a dominant and consistent presence for the Buckeyes.
Against Maryland Bennett had one sack and two quarterback hits; his one sack came on a snap-to-sack time of 2.5 seconds. His two quarterback hits came on a snap-to-hit time of 2.4 seconds. Both his sack and hit times are incredible times for any pass rusher in college football.
Opponents have had a tough time running the ball against the Buckeyes this season. Opposing teams are averaging 134.8 rushing yards per game. Maryland's rushing attack focused on getting the ball to the outside and away from the interior of the Buckeye defense. In designed runs to Bennett, gap responsibility resulted in 17 yards on seven attempts, with an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
While Bennett's size and speed make him well suited as an interior pass rusher in college, his lack of strength and ability to hold his ground might be cause for concern amongst NFL decision makers. He had a hard time adjusting and fighting through double teams.
With his speed and quickness along the interior, Bennett is best suited as a situational pass rusher on a defensive line rotation. With an increase in production over these next few weeks, Bennett could make a strong case as the top defensive tackle prospect going into next year's NFL draft.
Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn):
Going into last weekend, I suggested that you should keep an eye on Sammie Coates. I thought his matchup against LSU's Jalen Mills could be a clash of the titans, with both players being thought of as two highly desired NFL Draft prospects.
Coates decided that against LSU, it was going to be his coming out party for the 2014 season. Still struggling with a knee injury, Coates had a hard time running complex routes as he mainly ran a lot of deep sideline routes or straight go routes.
LSU still feared the deep ball playing a two-deep saftey scheme to protect themselves against Coates and Auburn's other top wide receiver, D'haquille Williams
. Coates was targeted seven times, coming away with four receptions for 144 yards, with an average of 36 yards per reception and one touchdown.
In his four receptions, Coates had a total of 41 yards-after-the-catch and broke five tackles. A deep downfield target, his average depth of target was 28.1 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Coates probably won't put up the career or season numbers of an Amari Cooper (Alabama) or Nelson Agholor (USC) because he plays in a run heavy offense. For the season Auburn has 240 rushing attempts and 123 passing attempts, almost a two to one ratio.
Playing in a run heavy offense has awarded Coates the opportunity to master his run blocking technique. He is often asked to block corners, linebackers or safeties and he shows a tremendous effort and technique in driving his man down field. Few receivers come into the NFL ready to run block, but Coates has shown that he can be a huge asset in helping out the running game.
Eric Striker (OLB/DE, Oklahoma):
A highly touted saftey recruit coming out of high school, Striker was moved to the outside linebacker spot to utilize his speed and quickness as a pass rusher. Last season he led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He finished last season with a three sack performance against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
While he lacks the size of a typical outside linebacker prospect at 6'0” and 220 pounds there is no doubt that Striker is a natural pass rusher. He is at his best as a standup pass rusher; being lined up wide to the outside, he is able to pick his spot and on most occasions, beat his man into the backfield.
The issue with Striker is if a lineman or fullback are able to get their hands on him first, his size and lack of strength are readily apparent in his inability to disengage from his block. Opponents have geared their rushing attack to Striker's gap reasonability, knowing they can physically overpower him with a lineman or a fullback.
TCU ran to Striker's side of the field on seven occasions resulting in 42 yards, with an average of 6 yards per carry and one of the carries resulting in a touchdown. Striker did a decent job at tracking the quarterback, but he was able to pitch it before being tackled.
Without a power rush move, Striker relies on his speed rush to attack opposing quarterbacks. Against TCU, he recorded two sacks and one quarterback pressure. His two quarterback sacks came in a snap-to-pass-time of 4.99 and 4.18 seconds, an average 4.59 seconds. Both of these sacks would be classified as coverage sacks and fall well outside the field of other top pass rushers in college.
In trying to get around his blocker, Striker will run out of his rush lane and give opposing quarterbacks a clear view of the field to throw into. Only a junior, Striker has another season to develop and become a three down outside linebacker. He is best suited for the NFL as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (DB, Oregon):
In reading some of the national news on Oregon's performance last Thursday, I half expected to see some atrocious play from their star cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. There is the old saying “the tape doesn't lie”, and from my perspective Ekpre-Olomu had one mistake, but otherwise he had his usual shutdown corner type of game.
One of the the top NFL cornerback prospects coming into the season at 5'10” and 195 pounds, Ekpre-Olomu is the best man-to-man cover corner in college football. He will follow an opponent's top wide receiver across the field. He is at his best when he is able to press at the line of scrimmage, flip his hips and run with his man stride for stride down the field. Ekpre-Olomu is very physical at the line of scrimmage and against Arizona routinely pushed the wide receiver to the outside and was able to press him towards the sidelines. He shows quick reaction time and anticipation, though he could be baited with a play action or pump-and- go by the quarterback. In some cases he looks to make the big play versus the right play.
Against Arizona, Ekpre-Olomu was only targeted once in the first half and he was targeted a total of five times for the game. He allowed two receptions for a total of 15 yards and both receptions were screen passes. He was called for a pass interference penalty in the end zone, resulting in a new set of downs for Arizona which they were able to use and score a touchdown. The call could have gone either way, both the receiver and Ekpre-Olomu were pushing each other trying to make a break on the ball, but the refs called him for a defensive pass interference.
The average distance of his intended targets was 10.2 yards downfield. Opponents are wary of testing Ekpre-Olomu and would rather not gamble with testing him with any deep downfield throws.
Ekpre-Olomu's one major mistake came when he tried to tackle Arizona freshman running back, Nick Wilson, in the open field
. Instead of wrapping up the ball carrier, Ekpre-Olomu tried to hit Wilson high and with his shoulder. Wilson was able to run over Ekpre-Olomu for a touchdown. Ekpre-Olomu tends to throw his body into tackles versus using proper technique.
He has had a rough start to this season, a few weeks ago he gave up two touchdown receptions against Washington State. With few opportunities to make an interception, he will need to prove that he is capable of becoming a more reliable tackler and that he doesn't get frustrated with his lack of action.
Due to his smaller stature, Ekpre-Olomu is best suited to play the nickel corner back position in his first year in the NFL. He is similar in both scouting and statistical comparisons to Brandon Boykin.
Players to Watch This Week
Cedric Ogbuehi (OT, Texas A&M):
The top rated offensive tackle on my board, Cedric Ogbuehi has been a mainstay along the offensive line for A&M for the past three years. This week, Texas A&M will face an Ole Miss team who just beat Alabama this past Saturday. Ogbuehi will face off against Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's number one overall recruit two year ago. Mississippi is averaging close to two sacks per game this season. Ogbuehi and the rest of his offensive line teammates will have their hands full. As a complete player as you will find in college football, Ogbuehi can prove to scouts that he is the nation's top offensive tackle and cement his status as another top-10 offensive line pick from A&M.
Kevin White (WR, West Virginia):
A JUCO transfer, it has taken Kevin White a season to acclimate to the speed and precision of the West Virginia offense. With a season under his belt, White has been a force to be reckoned with in 2014. He currently leads the nation in receiving yards (765) and receiving yards per game (153). With 48 receptions and four touchdowns in five games, he has already surpassed his totals from last year
. At 6'3” and 209 pounds, White has the big-bodied frame most NFL scouts are looking for in a top end wide receiver. He is a fearless receiver who can go across the middle and is not afraid of contact. This weekend, White and his West Virginia teammates square off against Texas Tech and the Red Raiders. Look for White to get tested this week; Texas Tech is ranked 37th in the country is pass defense, allowing just 213 yards per game.
Landon Collins (FS, Alabama):
A down in the box style saftey, Collins isn't afraid to mix it up in traffic and against Arkansas he will be called on to help stop the run. As one of the most coveted saftey prospects in college football, Collins has proven to be an elite athlete capable of stopping the run and being a difference maker in the backend. He has the speed and athletic ability to shut down opponent's tight end or slot receiver. He is one of the main reasons why the Alabama defense is ranked third overall and has given up only 264 yards per game this season. An elite athlete, Collins can play either saftey position and is one of the best tacklers on the Alabama defense. Against Arkansas, look for Collins to play deep in the box and help shut down the Razorbacks rushing attack.