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 3 in college football and previews who to watch in week 4. 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: Austin Hooper (TE, Stanford):
This matchup against sixth ranked USC was billed as a national showcase for a number of Trojans and with hopes of proving to national pundits that the Trojans are back in the hunt for a national title. Stanford had other plans for the evening; they weren't going to roll over and take the loss. With an efficient game plan that saw the Cardinal finish with a 2-1 time of possession advantage, Stanford ran the ball, controlled the clock and scored touchdowns when they reached the red zone.
A major contributor for the Stanford offense was starting tight end Austin Hooper, who is a big target at 6'4” and 248 pounds. As a redshirt sophomore, Hooper was the third leading receiver last season, finishing with 40 receptions for 499 yards and two touchdowns. In three games this season, he has ten receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown.
Against USC, Hooper finished the game with four receptions for 79 yards and one touchdown, an average of 19.8 yards per reception. He was targeted a total of five times, with an average distance of 14.6 yards past the line of scrimmage. Showing the quickness and agility to slip past blockers and get up field, Hooper had a total of 21 yards after the catch.
On Hooper's touchdown reception he was able to find the soft spot in the zone coverage in the middle of the field and showed the speed to slip past a couple of defenders to get into the end zone. Hooper's best catch of the night came with his second reception when he was double covered and sandwiched between two defenders. In what basically came down to a jump ball, Hooper was able to use his size to out-leap the defenders and used his strength to hold onto to the ball. Two of Hooper's catches put the ball at the USC one-yard line, setting up Stanford on both occasions to punch it in for a couple of touchdowns.
Hooper isn't asked to be the primary blocking tight end in Stanford offensive scheme. He was split out wide on over 70 percent of his snaps against USC last weekend. When called upon, Hooper did show good blocking technique. He won't pancake anyone, but he can sustain his block long enough for the hole to open up.
Still a young prospect who is growing by leaps and bounds, watch for Hooper to become a vertical deep, downfield threat for Stanford this season. Stanford will be facing off against Arizona and UCLA, both good litmus tests for Hooper and the Cardinal offense. Both Arizona and UCLA have athletic linebackers and safeties that can shut down an opponent's passing attack.
Rashard Higgins (WR, Colorado State):
A breakout star in 2014, Higgins was the FBS leader in receiving receiving yards (1,750) and receiving touchdowns (17). This season, Higgins is having to go at it alone having lost his trusted quarterback, Garrett Grayson, who was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Higgins returned to the lineup after missing last weekend's game against Minnesota with a foot/ankle injury. Colorado's defense played a lot of soft coverage against Higgins, giving him seven to ten yards off the line of scrimmage. They were fearful that he would beat them deep and as a result, were willing to sacrifice a lot of short to intermediate throws to him throughout the game.
Against Colorado, Higgins finished with eight receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown. He was targeted a total of 13 times with one drop and one pass break-up. Higgins average depth of target was 12.8 yards past the line of scrimmage. He had a total of 53 yards after the catch, an average of 6.6 yards per catch. Lastly, he had a total of five broken tackles and six first downs in the game.
Listed generously at 6'2” and 190 pounds, Higgins has the rare combination of speed and power to blaze past a defensive secondary or out-muscle an opponent for a 50-50 ball. He displays a big catch radius and the ability to hold onto the ball as he runs through traffic.
Still not a hundred percent after his injury, Higgins will need to be back to form in his upcoming matchups with Boise State and Utah State, two of the toughest defenses in the Mountain West Conference. Scouts will want to see how Higgins can continue to improve as a route runner throughout the season.
Jonathan Bullard (DE/DT, Florida):
Keeping their streak alive with 29 wins in a row over Kentucky, the Florida Gators needed an exceptional effort by their defense. As a senior leader for the Gators defense, Jonathan Bullard helped propel the Gators to victory with a stellar performance.
Bullard finished the game with five tackles, two TFL, two sacks, and three quarterback hurries (unofficially). His average snap-to-sack time was 3.09 seconds. His first sack of the game came on a blazing snap-to-sack time of 2.59 seconds, truly outstanding for a player of his size and stature.
Bullard is a versatile defensive end/defensive tackle who can play all four positions along the defensive line for the Gators. At 6'3” and 280 pounds, he is stout enough to clog the interior running lanes or slide outside and hold the edge. Though he doesn't possess the blazing speed of other defensive ends, Bullard does a good job of gaining leverage and driving his opponent back into the pocket.
Kentucky tended to run towards Ballard's gap responsibility. In total there were nine designed runs to Ballard's gap, resulting in 22 yards and an average of 2.4 YPC.
Most scouts view Bullard as either a run stuffing end in a 4-3 defensive scheme or a possible 3-4 defensive end capable of taking on double teams. It's his versatility and ability to play in multiple schemes and at multiple positions that will help Bullard get drafted. There is some talk of Bullard being a second or third round caliber prospect. He will need to improve as a pass rusher to cement his status as a second round selection.
James Burgess (LB, Louisville):
As one of the nation's top returning tacklers, Burgess is a leader for the Cardinals' defense who is built on speed and quickness. Burgess isn't the biggest guy in the world, but he displays the lateral quickness and agility to get around blockers to stop an opponent.
Few college linebackers have the skill set to be a playmaker in pass coverage Burgess is one of the few players who can cover sideline to sideline like a safety, while playing in the box as a linebacker. At 6'0” and 229 pounds, he is built in a similar mold to current Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David.
In a primetime matchup last Thursday night, 11th ranked Clemson came into Louisville in what turned out to be a tight defensive matchup between the two teams. Burgess was one of the bright stars for the Cardinals, finishing with eight tackles, one TFL, and one interception.
It was Burgess' interception that showcased his true skill set. Covering the tailback that was running a wheel route, Burgess was able to run stride for stride with the tailback. He was targeted 26 yards down the field and came away with a one handed, diving interception
Burgess was targeted a total of six times in pass coverage against Clemson, allowing three receptions for 42 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came on a trick formation that saw the tackle split out wide causing confusion for the entire Cardinals defense.
Scouts have already praised Burgess' ability to shut down an opponent's tight end and the ability to be a factor in multiple sub-packages. In the running game, he can be engulfed by bigger offensive linemen once they get their hands on him. He did a good job of having outside containment and holding the edge against Clemson.
Burgess' lack of prototypical size will scare a few NFL teams away, but his speed and ability in pass coverage will be key to a number of NFL teams looking to upgrade their linebacking units. Scouts will be watching him in the next couple of weeks as Louisville takes on a number of run heavy offenses in Boston College and Florida State.
Players to Watch Next Week:
Isaac Seumalo (OG, Oregon State):
Seumalo missed the entire 2014 season with a fractured foot, which seems destined to never heal. He has finally returned to action and once again has taken on a leadership role for the Beavers. He is one of the most highly sought after guard prospects in the country. At 6'5” and 298 pounds, Seumalo has the strength to manhandle opponents and toss aside smaller defensive linemen. He will be tasked with slowing down Stanford's interior defensive line, which did a fantastic job last weekend in confusing and dominating the Trojans' offensive line.
Kentrell Brothers (ILB, Missouri):
Currently the nation's leading tackler with 42 tackles in 2015, Brothers averages 14 tackles per game so far. Brothers is another defensive playmaker for the Tigers defense that has seen a strong list of NFL prospects come through their ranks during the past couple of years. Brothers has also recorded three TFL, one pass breakup, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. Brothers is the vocal leader at the inside linebacker spot, getting his unit in the correct position before every snap. Brothers and the rest of the Missouri team will be taking on a defeated Kentucky team that made a number of critical errors last week. Look for Brothers to get his hands on a couple of passes this weekend.
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss):
Coming off of one of the biggest wins in school history, Ole Miss has shown they now have an offense that can score to go along with their stout and ferocious defense. Though it doesn't always look pretty, quarterback Chad Kelly can spread the ball around and get it into the hands of his playmakers. Vanderbilt will be looking to shut down, or really just slow down, wide receivers Cody Core and Laquon Treadwell. Look for Engram to get a few one on one opportunities this week, specifically in the red zone. Engram is one of the top tight end prospects and when given the opportunity, he has shown to be a sure-handed receiver. Ole Miss should put up some big offensive numbers against a Commodores' defense that hasn't been tested so far this season.
Blake Frohnapfel (QB, Massachusetts):
With prototypical size at 6'6” and 238 pounds, Frohnapfel had a number of scouts and NFL teams pouring over his college tape this offseason. Though he doesn't have the efficiency metrics and overall production of a top quarterback prospect, he is widely considered to be a mid-to-late round prospect. Frohnapfel has had a rough start to the season, completing right around 55 percent of his passes with only four touchdowns and two interceptions thrown. Going up against a Notre Dame defense that has a number of top tier NFL Draft prospects along their defense, Frohnapfel will have another opportunity to show scouts that he can perform against elite competition.