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 11 in college football and previews who to watch in Week 12. 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: Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma):
Few players in the Big 12 scare defensive coordinators more than Oklahoma's dynamic wideout, Sterling Shepard. Last season he scorched the conference with 51 receptions for 970 yards, an average of 19 yards per catch. Defenses are giving him space and room to operate in the middle of the field, wanting to keep Shepard in front of them versus letting him beat them over the top.
At 5'10” and 193 pounds, Shepard isn't the biggest or fastest wide receiver on the field. Most likely a future slot receiver in the NFL, it is his quickness and sudden changes in direction or coming back to the football that leaves defensive backs scratching their heads.
this past weekend, Shepard torched the Bears' defense for 14 receptions, 177 yards, a 12.6 YPC average, and two touchdowns. He was targeted a total of 15 times, with one of the passes being uncatchable, giving him a catch rate of 87.5 percent. Shepard had a total of seven first downs in the game. For the season, 69 percent of his receptions have resulted in a first down.
Shepard's first touchdown of the game was the result of a perfect over-the-shoulder catch and run for a 39 yard touchdown. He was able to beat his defender using a double move which gave the Baylor defensive backs fits the whole night.
Shepard does a good job of locating the football, making the catch and getting down on the ground, but has a hard time breaking tackles. He finished with a total of 41 yards after the catch, an average of 2.9 yards per catch in this game.
The double move and his ability to run curl routes and the slant routes in addition to his athleticism and skill set make Shepard an ideal slot receiver in the NFL. He has excellent awareness of both the yardage needed for a first down and the sidelines, making sure to stay inbounds and follow through with the catch.
Shepard has the added responsibility of being the Sooners primary punt returner for the past couple of seasons, which will add value in the eyes of NFL scouts. He won't be the most talked about prospect at the upcoming NFL Combine, but a few NFL teams have already taken notice and have Shepard as the top slot wide receiver in this draft class.
Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas):
With the storied history within the SEC, they have had only had three running backs record a thousand yard rushing in each of their first three seasons. Hershel Walker, Darren McFadden, and now Alex Collins are the only three tailbacks to achieve this feat. Last year Arkansas had two 1,000 yard rushers in Jonathan Williams and Collins. Williams sustained a foot injury in training camp and is out for the season. Collins has carried the load for the Razorbacks, accounting for 60 percent of their rushing offense.
Collins is a physical, compact runner who can absorb punishing blows by defenders and keep moving the pile. At 5'11” and 215 pounds, he shows good balance and stays on his feet after a hard collision. What makes Collins unique is his ability to utilize an impressive jump cut to avoid tacklers and hit the hole. Against Auburn this past weekend, Collins was able to avoid a few tackles for loss opportunities and quickly get up field by using a quick jump cut maneuver.
, Collins finished with 16 carries for 141 yards, an 8.8 YPC average, and two touchdowns. He finished with 36 yards after contact, an average of 2.3 yards per carry, to go along with three broken tackles in the game.
An inside runner, Collins isn't afraid to mix it up in between the tackles and he finished the game with eleven runs in the tackle box. His highlight of the evening came on an inside power play which resulted in an 80 yard touchdown run. Collins showed that he has the speed to separate from defenders and the quickness to make it into the end zone and not get pulled down from behind.
One area of weakness, and what scouts have noticed throughout his career, is Collins' ball security issues. He added another fumble to his total against Auburn in the first quarter. He has a total of 16 career fumbles, which gives him a fumble rate of 7.2 percent of the time he touches the ball. This is by far the highest rate amongst the top tailbacks that will be in this year's draft class.
On talent alone, Collins could easily be a second round pick, but front offices and coaches will be concerned about putting a guy onto the field who can't hold onto the football. Look for Collins to most likely fall to the third or fourth round.
Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama):
Throughout most of the season I had the Ohio State defense
as the best defensive unit in college football. The Buckeyes have at least eight starters on defense that will be playing in the NFL in the next couple of years. After studying more of the Alabama defense during the past couple of weeks, I'm starting to believe that Alabama has the nation's top defense in college football.
The Crimson Tide have allowed just 771 rushing yards this season, while playing in a conference that already has three one thousand yard rushers, and will most likely finish with seven different thousand yard rushers by season's end. Alabama has the ability to shut down offenses. They don't even make an offense one-dimensional, they smother and suffocate the offense to the point where most look like they have given up by the fourth quarter.
It all starts up front with the front four led by defensive end, Jonathan Allen. At 6'3” and 283 pounds, he can out-muscle and has the brute strength to maul offensive tackles in college football. Allen has improved each and every season throughout his career. Last season he finished with five sacks and 11 TFL. So far in 2015, he has nine sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.
Alabama will move Allen from his defensive end spot and slide him inside on specific sub-packages to take advantage of the other speed rushers they have on their roster. Alabama will utilize a total of ten different defensive ends, defensive tackles, and outside linebackers to rush the quarterback. To avoid getting fatigued, they will substitute them all on a regular basis.
Against Mississippi State
this past weekend, Allen finished with seven tackles, three TFL, three sacks, and one forced fumble. His average snap-to-sack time was 3.39 seconds, with the fastest time registering in 2.52 seconds. He was equally important in shutting down the Mississippi State rushing attack, holding them to just 2.1 YPC average on designed runs to his gap responsibility.
Scouts are intrigued by Allen's ability to use his hands to fight off blockers, separate himself and get after the quarterback. His strength to punch back an opposing tackle and collapse the pocket are all tools that make Allen a possible first round selection. If both Alabama and Ohio State can make it to the final four, Allen versus Ohio State's left tackle, Taylor Decker, will be an interesting rematch to watch for.
Charles Tapper (DE, Oklahoma)
: The Sooners defense was tasked with slowing down the Baylor offense last weekend, a task that is almost impossible. You have to pick your poison when going up against Baylor, they average close to 300 rushing yards and 350 passing yards per game this season. The Sooners defense went into the game needing their defensive line to hold play stout against the run so they could drop seven guys into coverage.
The defensive line, led by senior Charles Tapper, played an almost perfect game against Baylor. They held them to 159 rushing yards on 44 carries, an average of 3.6 per rush. Showing excellent patience and ability to hold containment, Tapper was able to shut down the outside rushing attack of the Baylor offense. Designed runs to Tapper's gap responsibility resulted in 25 yards, two first downs, and an average of 2.7 yards per carry.
At 6'2” and 282 pounds, Tapper has the long arms and body type capable of playing the traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or sliding inside and playing the end position in a 3-4 alignment. On the second play from scrimmage, Baylor running back Shock Linwood had a 34 yard run and Tapper chased him down from behind to make the tackle. You don't see many defensive ends chase down a Baylor skill position player and Tapper showed he won't quit on a play and will stay active throughout the entire game.
To go along with stopping the run, Tapper was also able to get into the backfield and apply consistent pressure on the quarterback throughout most of the game. He had a total of three quarterback pressures, one quarterback hit, and one sack. His snap to sack time was 3.66 seconds.
Tapper isn't a speed rusher; he is usually one of the last guys off the line at the snap of the ball. He excels at getting his hands inside and bull rushing the offensive tackle. He was matched up primarily against Spencer Drago, a future first round pick in his own right. Tapper tried an inside spin move on a number of occasions, which flatly was rejected by Drago.
Tapper hasn't been asked to be the outside pass rusher you typically see from a defensive end, but has been tasked with containing the run and occupying blockers. In 40 career games, Tapper has a total of 13.5 sacks, 23.5 TFL, and four forced fumbles. He is a quality player who might not have the high ceiling as other prospects, but he is a quality player who does a lot of the dirty work which allows his team to be successful.
Don't be surprised to see a lot of NFL teams taking a second look at Tapper closer to the draft, he projects to be a possible third round pick.
Who to Watch in Week 12:
Taylor Decker (OT, Ohio State
): This weekend's game between Michigan State and Ohio State has a number of intriguing matchups. Most notable is Spartans' defensive end Shilique Calhoun versus Buckeyes' left tackle Taylor Decker. Calhoun has 8.5 sacks on the season and he was able to cause Decker some problems last season, using his speed to get around the edge and past Decker on a few occasions. These two will most likely be the highest rated prospects at their position and at least a dozen NFL scouts will be on hand to watch these two battle it out.
Zach Cunningham (ILB, Vanderbilt):
Only a redshirt sophomore, Cunningham is starting to get a lot of attention from NFL scouts. He has been one of the most consistent and top rated defenders not only in the SEC but throughout college football. He has a total of 79 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, three PB, and three forced fumbles. He flies around the field, makes plays from sideline to sideline and rarely steps off the field. He will be going up against a Texas A&M team that has a mobile, exciting young quarterback in Kyler Murray. Cunningham will have his hands full, expect to see him getting his teammates lined up and in the correct position. The Commodores are coming off a win over Kentucky and hope to finish the season winning the last two games and become bowl eligible.
Tre'Davious White (CB, LSU):
White is asked to follow and defend an opponent's top offensive target. He isn't the big, physical cornerback that most NFL teams seem to be seeking. He has the speed to stay with just about anyone in college football. He will gamble and go for the big play rather than sitting back and going for the pass breakup or tackle. White hasn't recorded an interception this season, but looks to change that with a primetime matchup against Ole Miss. White will be going up against the nation's number one wide receiver prospect in Laquon Treadwell, who will look to use to his size and stature to push White around. Scouts will be watching to see if White is capable of shutting down college football's most dynamic wideout. If he can, White will likely shoot up a few draft boards.
Jordan Howard (RB, Indiana):
After the University of Alabama-Birmingham shut down their football program, players were left to find schools that would take them. Howard led the Blazers last season in rushing with 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns. Indiana had an open spot after their star running back, Tevin Coleman, departed for the NFL. Howard is a bruising tailback at 6'1” and 230 pounds and he won't go down on initial contact. He has rushed for close to 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. He will face a Maryland team that will be looking to stop the run and force the ball out of Howard's hand. Howard is getting noticed by NFL scouts and might have to consider making another move after this season, this time going from college to the NFL.