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 13 in college football and previews who to watch in Week 14. 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: William Jackson III (DB, Houston):
The first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about Houston Cougars football is their high-powered offense. They finished the regular season with the 19th ranked offense in FBS. On the defensive side, they also have one of the top rated defensive back prospects in college football in William Jackson III. Opponents have been wary of challenging Jackson for most of the season, resulting in fewer opportunities for him during the last half of the season.
With the final game of the regular season last weekend, Temple decided that it was in their best interest to challenge Jackson. He was targeted a total of 16 times, allowing six receptions for 77 yards. He finished with seven pass deflections in the game, one away from the NCAA record.
At 6'1” and 195 pounds, Jackson is supremely talented in getting his long arms in between opposing wide receiver's bodies and the ball and knocking it loose. He has a total of three interceptions and 21 pass breakups this season. His 24 PB are the most pass breakups in FBS this season. With his size and natural ball-hawking ability, scouts are flocking to Houston to see Jackson play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson has allowed 38 receptions on the season, a 44.7 percent catch rate. He doesn't shy away from contact, he looks to get up on the line of scrimmage and press his man. Few corners in college excel at this technique, but Jackson is a rare defensive back.
In watching his tape, Jackson does a good job of staying right in the hip pocket of the wide receiver. He rarely gets beat over the top and will take away an opponent's short throws. Down in the red zone, he was able to shut down opponent's back shoulder fade and slant routes by using his strengths and athletic ability to knock the ball loose or throw off the route.
Still only a junior, Jackson could decide to return to school, but if he does declare he might be a first round draft prospect. NFL teams covet a defensive back of his size, speed, and power combination. He will be an attractive prospect who should shoot up some NFL Draft boards leading up to the NFL Draft.
Reggie Ragland (ILB, Alabama):
Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama has corresponded with a number of first and second round NFL Draft picks at the linebacker position. The next player in the long lineage of great Alabama linebackers is Reggie Ragland. In recent years, the likes of C.J. Mosley, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and Rolando McClain have been first or second round picks. Ragland looks to be the next on the list and after his performance this weekend, he could be the highest picked player on the list.
At 6'2” and 252 pounds, Ragland isn't the biggest or fastest linebacker prospect, but what he excels at is play recognition. It's as though he is part of an opponent's offensive game plan and will call out the play, get his teammates lined up properly and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Against Florida in the SEC Championship game, he was consistently in the Gators' backfield, though to be fair, most of Alabama's defense was there as well. Ragland helped shut down the Gators' rushing attack. He sheds blockers with ease, using his leverage and strength to fight through traffic and rarely misses a tackle. He is one of the most sure-handed tacklers in college football the season.
The one area of weakness for Ragland is his coverage abilities, he has a hard time running stride for stride with a tailback coming out of the backfield or turning and locating a tight end. He does well in zone coverage when he can drop and read the quarterback's eyes.
Ragland is the leading tackler for Alabama this season, with 90 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He does a little of everything, being a pass rusher when called upon, but is his best when stopping the run.
As one of the best senior linebackers in the draft class, Ragland might be best suited to play the inside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense. This would allow him to be the run-stuffer and to help diagnose plays on the weak side, a sort of locate-and-destroy-the-ball-carrier type of defensive player. He is likely considered a first round draft pick, the question remains is he the first inside linebacker off the board in the first round?
Su'a Cravens (OLB, USC):
NFL scouts love NFL prospects who show versatility. Being able to play multiple positions allows a player to fill more roles and makes them a more valuable player. Cravens might play the outside linebacker role for USC, but he will also put his hand on the ground and rush the passer as a traditional defensive end. He started his career as a strong safety, then moving down into the box as a fulltime outside linebacker. Regardless of where he lines up on the football field, Cravens is a ball hawk and a playmaker.
At 6'1” and 225 pounds, Cravens isn't the biggest or most physically imposing linebacker in college, yet his speed and quickness to accelerate past a blocker to make the play was evident when watching his game tape.
Going against Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference championship game, Cravens and the rest of the USC defense was tasked with slowing down the nation's leader in all-purpose yards, Christian McCaffrey. It was a tough assignment and really nobody this season has been able to slow down McCaffrey. Cravens only had one missed tackle and on designed runs to his gap responsibility, he had 98 yards on 15 carries, a 6.5 YPC average.
As a pass rusher, Cravens is quick to beat his opponent at the snap of the ball. If he can get a step on his man then is able to use his athleticism to turn his shoulders and attack the quarterback. He did have two quarterback pressures against Stanford, beating his man with great outside speed rush moves.
Where he lines up in the NFL is something scouts are asking themselves. He is a little light to be a traditional outside linebacker who rushes the passer on each down. Can he hold up and play outside leverage and shut down an opponent's rushing game in the NFL or will he have to slide inside? The fact that he has played safety means that some teams might be inclined to give him a look there to and see if he can hold up.
The versatility and ability to play multiple positions will make Cravens a highly sought after prospect. With his combination of speed and quickness for a player at his position, I wouldn't be surprised to see him be an NFL Combine star.
If Cravens does declare for the NFL Draft, scouts have pegged him as a mid to late first round prospect.
Demarcus Robinson (WR, Florida):
The talented wideout for the Gators saw a significant drop in his production with the loss of starting quarterback, Will Grier, to an NCAA suspension. Robinson leads the Gators in receptions with 47 catches on the year. He has both on and off-field issues that have come up during his time at Florida.
While Robinson isn't the biggest or fastest wide receiver, he is able to run crisp, smooth routes to gain separation. His long arms and athletic ability allow him to go up and snag the fifty-fifty balls right out of the air. Once he gets the ball in his hands, Robinson showcases the ability to quickly get up field and pick up yards after the catch.
With just 47 receptions on the season for 506 yards and two touchdowns, Robinson saw a reduction in his production from last season. In 2014, Robinson had 53 catches for 810 yards and seven touchdown receptions. This season he had a number of dropped passes. According to Pro Football Focus he had a total of six drops in twelve games this season.
Alabama defensive back Cyrus Jones was able to bottle up Robinson as he failed to record a reception in the game. Jones plays a physical style at the point of attack and Robinson had trouble fighting through contact. He will need to get better at beating press coverage if he has any chance of being successful in the NFL.
Teams will be looking at Robinson's off-field issues and his behavior on the field when considering selecting him in this upcoming NFL Draft. Robinson was suspended for a game due to a violation of team rules in 2013. Against Alabama, Robinson lost his temper and committed a personal foul penalty when looking to provoke a fight. He will need to keep his emotions in check and not be such a loose cannon on the field.
While his on field production suggests that Robinson will be, at best, a third round selection, front offices should be more inclined to look at his 2014 game tape versus his tape from this season to get a good idea of the type of talent Robinson possess. He is a big play, deep threat capable of taking the top off any defense. In 2015, 15 percent of his receptions went for 25 or more yards.
I don't have a vote for the Heisman, but if I did below are the players I would have picked, one through five as the best players in college football this season.
1) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
2) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
3) Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
4) Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
5) Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
This year we have seen a ton of activity in hiring and firing head coaches and staff over the past couple of weeks. Below are some of the best hires that have transpired so far during this coaching carousel.
1) Miami- Mark Richt: He has shown the consistent ability to recruit and build talent. Miami is in desperate need of a coach who can take control of the program and develop the local talent. Richt is a great coach and he has been for a long period of time. He will have his pick of talented recruits in South Beach, and a much easier schedule to go through than the SEC.
2) Syracuse- Dino Babers: One of the best offense minds in college football, watch out Orangemen, your team will be lighting up the Carrier Dome scoreboard. Syracuse needs a coach like Babers, someone who thinks outside the box and who can do a lot without the five star recruits.
3) UCF- Scott Frost: They have the recruits and the facilities to be successful. Frost will bring the high-powered Oregon offense and with the players that they have on the roster, he will make them competitive. If he can turn the ship around and get UCF into a major bowl, Frost will most likely jump to a bigger program. In the meantime, restoring UCF into a competitive team shouldn't take Frost too long.