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.
Vadal Alexander (OT, LSU):
It's not often that an offensive tackle (a right tackle at that) is the player of the week. LSU ran the ball down the throats of Mississippi State this past week, rushing for 266 yards on three scores. Running back and sophomore powerhouse tailback, Leonard Fournette, stole the headlines but his offensive line deserves a lot of the praise. LSU has an abysmal passing attack. With a strong group of wideouts, they lack the necessary passer to run a Cam Cameron pro-style offense.
Alexander has been a mainstay for the Tigers' offensive line. With 35 career starts (25 at left guard and 10 at right tackle) he brings a wealth of experience to a young offensive unit. At 6'6” and 330 pounds, Alexander engulfs his opponents with his size and brute strength.
Scouts were impressed with Alexander's ability as a run blocker, highlighting his mobility and agility to quickly get to the second level and take on linebackers. His speed and quickness is emphasized by the fact that LSU runs a lot of traps and counter run plays which require Alexander to be on the move. Against Mississippi State, LSU averaged 5.1 YPC on designed runs to Alexander's gap responsibility. Four of the runs resulted in a first down and one touchdown.
It's Alexander's quick feet and his ability to kick slide and take on various types of pass rushers that makes him one of the top offensive line prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. He gave up two quarterback pressures and one sack, though the sack came on a snap-to-sack time over 3.4 seconds. He was able to stonewall pass rushers and handled the stunts and twist techniques that the Mississippi State defenders threw at him.
The versatility to play either tackle or guard in the NFL will elevate Alexander's draft ratings amongst teams. NFL scouts will be flocking in droves to Baton Rouge this coming weekend to watch LSU take on the Auburn Tigers. Alexander will have a chance to show scouts that he can handle possible first round prospects Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams.
Maurice Canady (CB, Virginia):
Isn't it funny how just one play can change the outcome of a game? How someone who was slated to be the hero is suddenly being shuttled into the witness protection program? For all intents and purposes, Maurice Canady was having a perfect game against No. 9 Notre Dame until that one play.
Before we get to the final play by Notre Dame that changed the outcome of the day, I'd like to point out that Canady is likely considered a possible day two or early day three selection. He possess the tall and lean body frame that most NFL teams are coveting these days. At 6'1” and 185 pounds, he also possess the speed to shadow receivers all across the field.
On Notre Dame's final possession, Canady was matched up against Will Fuller, a standout wide receiver for the Irish. It is hard to tell from the TV angle if there was supposed to be safety help over the top, but Fuller ran right past Canady for a 39-yard TD reception and go ahead score
For the game Canady was targeted eight times, allowing three receptions for 44 yards and one touchdown. His average depth of intended target was 11.6 yards past the line of scrimmage. He had blanket coverage throughout most of the game with the one exception coming on the go-ahead touchdown score.
Canady is solid in pass defense, but his ability to be a factor in the running game and become physical is his biggest weakness. He had a couple of missed tackles, allowing the Irish running backs to gain an additional 15 yards. Canady doesn't wrap up the ball carrier instead, he dives at their legs and a few times he bounced right off. He looks to avoid the scrum and getting involved in the action, choosing instead to stay on the periphery.
Canady's ability to diagnose route concepts and his ball skills combined with his size will help him become a hot prospect come draft time. He will have a few more opportunities to make amends for this past weekend and prove that he is one of the better cornerback prospects.
KeiVarae Russell (CB, Notre Dame):
After having an outstanding freshman season that saw Russell bring home 2012 freshman All-American honors, he led the Irish in pass breakups with nine in 2013. In 2014 Russell was suspended for the season due to a school academic investigation. He was reinstated this season and quickly reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup.
At 6'0” and 190 pounds, Russell possess the strength to challenge and match up with more physical wideouts. He combines that with the speed to handle and cover smaller, quicker wideouts. The base Notre Dame defense doesn't require him to jam the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Russell typically plays five to seven yards off the line of scrimmage.
Against Virginia this past weekend, Notre Dame had their hands full in stopping an offensive attack that posted 289 passing yards and 127 rushing yards. On Virginia's first score of the game, they ran a trick play with their quarterback lined up outside as a wide receiver. At the snap, he was pitched the ball and threw it deep for a 42 yard touchdown. Russell bit on the fake and let his man get behind him for the score.
Virginia had a lot of success in attacking Russell. He was targeted seven times allowing seven receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown. Notre Dame played a lot of zone coverages and Virginia was able to find a lot of soft spots.
Not relegated to just staying on the outside, Russell was used as a pass rusher on a few occasions last Saturday. He was able to get to the quarterback and come away with the strip-sack, with a time of 2.38 seconds.
Russell still has some rust after a season off from college football and it will take him some time to regain some of the technique and nuances of the game. After seeing how Virginia had so much success in attacking him, I don't see how he can come out after this season. Right now, he looks like a player who will need another season to be a true shutdown corner and a possible first round caliber prospect.
DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon):
The Oregon Ducks are starting to produce a specific style of defensive end and they have had two players already drafted in the first round who are made from that mold. Former Ducks and teammates of Buckner, Dion Jordan stands 6'6” and 248 pounds and Arik Armstead measured in at 6'8” and 292 pounds. Buckner, who stands 6'7” and 290 pounds, is the type of prospect whose versatility and ability to play inside and outside is what intrigues scouts more than his production.
Against Michigan State this past weekend, Buckner was going against one of the nation's top offensive tackles in Jack Conklin. Buckner proved that, just like his former teammates, he has the size and stature but lacks the consistent ability to dominate at the college level. Michigan State ran at Buckner's gap a total of twelve times, resulting in 39 yards, a 3.3 YPC average.
Buckner failed to provide much of a pass rush, only registering one quarterback pressure even though he played in roughly 90 percent of the defensive snaps. Through 43 career games, Buckner only has 7.5 career sacks. His lack of pass rushing technique showed up on Saturday.
Buckner routinely gets too tall and stands up, losing leverage and allowing offensive linemen to get into his pads. He showed a lack of ability to stack and shed his opponent. Conklin was able to throw him around and not allow him to get anywhere close to the quarterback pocket. The lack of outside speed and the ability to power through single blockers makes me question why Buckner is even considered a first round caliber prospect.
Players to Watch Next Week
Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama):
In what will be their first true test of the season, The University of Mississippi and their vaulted defensive line will try to slow down the Crimson Tide rushing attack. Derrick Henry is averaging three touchdowns and 121.5 rushing yards per game this season and he will be asked to carry more of the Tide's offense this game. This is a game that a number of scouts will be attending. I count roughly six prospects who could be first round draft selections in 2016. In a clash of the titans, look out when Henry runs into Ole Miss defensive tackle, Robert Nkemdiche.
Jordan Jenkins (OLB, Georgia):
When Jenkins comes screaming off the edge, he has the ability to dip his shoulder and get his body almost parallel to the ground. He attacks opposing quarterbacks with reckless abandon and maintains a consistency throughout the game that few players can match. Last week, Jenkins had two sacks against Vanderbilt. This weekend he will be looking for a few more in his matchup against South Carolina, who have allowed 1.5 sacks per game this season. As a possible first or second round draft pick, look for Jenkins to have another big game this weekend.
Jared Goff (QB, Cal):
After two games, Goff is showing scouts what most have already known; that he is deadly accurate and has the ability to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of his playmakers. He has a 73.2 completion percentage this season to go along with 630 passing yards and six touchdowns. He will be going up against a Texas Longhorn team who have failed to live up to expectations so far this season. They are allowing on average 273. 5 passing yards a game and have surrendered five passing touchdowns. This will be Goff's first road trip of the season and a pivotal game for the Longhorns. Scouts will be watching how he handles the raucous environment at Texas Memorial Stadium. It will go a long way if he can maintain his composure and lead his team to victory.
Su'a Cravens (OLB, USC):
With a couple of a warmup games against Arkansas St. and Idaho to start the season, Cravens and the rest of the USC defense will be facing a more physical offense who is capable of establishing a punishing rushing attack. Cravens is one of the nation's top outside linebacker prospects and he will have the opportunity to show scouts that he can use his speed and power to beat a Stanford offensive line that boasts a couple of top NFL Draft prospects. In addition to stopping the run, Stanford looks to rebound from an early season loss to Northwestern. Don't be surprised if Kevin Hogan and the Stanford offense take a couple of shots deep and over the middle of the field to their tight ends. Cravens will be asked from time to time to be matched up against one of them.