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 5 in college football and previews who to watch in Week 6. 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: Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State):
Elliott was named the MVP of the College Football Playoff National Championship game last year and he led an offense that had three different starting quarterbacks. During the offseason, all of the talk centered around who would be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes when in reality it doesn't matter who is calling the plays as long as they are giving the ball to Elliott and letting the dominant offensive line pave the way for him.
At 6'0” and 225 pounds, Elliott is a rare combination of speed and agility matched with a player whose size allows him to absorb tacklers and bounce right off of them. Last season he rushed for 1,878 yards, an average of 6.9 YPC, and 18 rushing touchdowns. In five games, he has rushed for 729 yards, an average of 7.3 YPC, and eight rushing touchdowns.
Indiana's main defensive goal this past weekend was to stop the Buckeyes rushing attack. The Hoosiers brought both safeties into the box and, on most occasions, stacked the box with an eight or nine man defensive fronts. Despite getting shut down on his first couple of carries, Elliott was eventually able to break through the Indiana's wall and have a historic day.
He finished with 23 carries for 277 yards with an average of 11.9 YPC and three rushing touchdowns.
Elliott had a total of 156 yards after contact, an average of 6.8 yards per carry. Showing versatility of where he can attack, half of his carries were in between the tackles while the rest went outside the tackles. He finished with five broken tackles for the game.
Elliott had a tale of two halves in this game. In the first half, he finished with ten attempts for 31 yards. In the second half, he had 13 carries for 243 yards, an 18.7 YPC average and three touchdowns. Elliott's production typically stays consistent throughout the game. For his career he has averaged 7.1 YPC in both the first and second halves of games. He does have 17 rushing touchdowns in the second half of games, compared to eleven in the first half.
A three down back, Elliott excels in pass protection. It won't show up in the box score, but he does an excellent job of chip blocking as he releases from the backfield. He is a capable receiver and has the ability to make himself available to the quarterback on checkdowns.
The open field speed is what is surprising; bruising tailbacks typically lack the necessary speed to break long, open field runs. During the game this past weekend, Elliott had three touchdown runs of 55 yards or more. He was able to get enough separation and once he hit the second level, he had the speed to break away from the pack of defenders that were on his heels.
Scouts will be watching Elliott's ball security; last season he only had one fumble while he has put the ball on the ground twice so far this season. Overall, Elliott is a workhorse tailback who is capable of carrying his team to the national title. Look for Elliott to continue with a Heisman caliber junior season and possibly a first round selection in next year's NFL Draft.
Pharoh Cooper (WR, South Carolina):
The lone playmaker for the South Carolina Gamecocks has had few opportunities to showcase his full arsenal of abilities this season due to a lackluster supporting cast. Pharoh Cooper, at 5'11” and 207 pounds, might not be the biggest, fastest, or strongest wideout, but he is one of the most feared wide receivers in college football. Defenses routinely roll coverage over to his side and bracket him with a safety over the top.
South Carolina tried to get Cooper the ball in multiple situations, as a quarterback, returner, running back, and as a wide receiver. Last season Cooper averaged over 16 yards-per-reception (YPC), while this season his average has dropped to 12.3 YPC. The drop is due in large part to the fact he has a true freshman quarterback, Lorenzo Nunez, throwing him the ball. Nunez doesn't have a full grasp of the offense and still has a ways to go before he becomes a top quarterback in the SEC.
This past weekend against Missouri, Cooper finished with nine receptions for 102 yards, an 11.3 YPC. When the ball is in the air, Cooper is going to come down with it more often than not. On a deep vertical route, Cooper outjumped the defense back and wrested the ball away to come down with a 35 yard reception.
Cooper was targeted an average of 6.9 yards past the line of scrimmage. He finished the game with 51 yards-after-the-catch, an average of 5.6 yards per catch. Five of Cooper's receptions were on screen passes.
His speed and initial quickness are immediately evident when he gets the ball in his hands. He has the agility to spin out of a would-be tackler's grasp and dive forward for extra yards. Most NFL teams will be looking to slide Cooper inside and into the slot position in the NFL. He could use his speed and short area quickness to his advantage. He might not put up impressive numbers from here on out this season, but he is a solid player who is still able to have an effect on every game throughout this season.
Eric Striker (OLB, Oklahoma):
A highly touted safety 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 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He has led the Sooners in sacks and tackles for loss during the past two seasons.
In what is starting to become a tradition for Eric Striker, he has had a slow start in September and as the calendar turned to October, the sack master has awakened from hibernation. Last season, in the first game in October against TCU, he collected two sacks. Against West Virginia this past weekend, he finished the game with 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and one forced fumble
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. When lined up wide to the outside, he is able to pick his spot while utilizing his speed to beat his man into the backfield.
His first sack against West Virginia came on a snap-to-sack time of 2.7 seconds. On the second sack, with a snap-to-sack time of 2.68 seconds, he was able to tomahawk chop the ball out of the quarterback's hands resulting in a fumble recovery and touchdown for the Sooners.
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.
One area in which Striker has improved is his ability to diagnose and react to zone read running plays. On a number of occasions this past weekend, he quickly recognized the play and, with his speed, he was able to track down the ball carrier from the backside.
Scouts and NFL front offices will be impressed that a player with Striker's skill set continues to play special teams. It's not very often that you can get an outside linebacker with elite speed and strength playing on special teams. He will most likely be used as a situational pass rusher during his first couple of years in the NFL. Striker is still a bit of a liability in coverage, but has improved in this area of his game.
Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama):
Henry is a big, bruising tailback capable of running over opposing tacklers and has become the foundation of a Nick Saban led Alabama Crimson Tide team. Leading the way for Alabama, Derrick Henry is a 6'3” 242 pound beast who won't go down on initial contact. Henry was the backup to current Jacksonville Jaguar, T.J. Yeldon, during the past couple of seasons. This year is his first time as an every game starter and opponents are quickly having second thoughts when trying to take him down to the ground.
This season Henry has 570 rushing yards, a 6.1 YPC, nine rushing touchdowns, and one fumble. Against Georgia, who boasts one of the top defensive units in the SEC, Henry produced 149 rushing yards on 26 carries, a 5.7 YPC, and one touchdown
. He had a total of 41 yards-after-contact to go along with five broken tackles.
Doing most of his damage between the tackles, Henry had 16 rushing attempts between the tackles, resulting in 83 yards, an average of 5.2 per rush. On designed runs to the outside, Henry had ten rushing attempts for 66 yards, an average of 6.6 YPC.
One of the more impressive statistical achievements is Henry's ability to wear down defenses throughout the course of a game. For his career, Henry has averaged 5.0 YPC in the first half of games. In the second half, he has averaged 7.9 YPC, almost a three yards per carry difference between the two halves.
The game this past weekend was played in a torrential downpour. With few deep vertical passes by both teams, this was a game won in the trenches. Henry had one fumble in the game; he continued to plow through tacklers with only one hand on the football. He will need to learn to keep two hands on the ball as he fights through tackles.
One area of weakness for Henry is that he can be tentative when hitting a hole; he doesn't possess the ability to make a cut and quickly get up field. When he gets his shoulders square and is able to run north or south and not sideways, he can run over opponents.
Watch for Henry to continue to produce at a high level throughout the season. With Alabama's offense being a run-based offense, 52 percent of Alabama plays have been rushing attempts. Henry should have plenty of opportunities to show scouts his full potential.
Who to Watch Next Week:
Jacoby Brissett (QB, North Carolina State):
Despite starting his career with a lackluster performance at Florida, Brissett has turned his career around with the N.C. State Wolfpack. This season Brissett has completed 73.2 percent of his passes for 992 yards and has thrown seven touchdowns with and no interceptions. This weekend he will go up against the toughest defensive secondary he has faced yet in Virginia Tech. Tech will be down Kendall Fuller, their All-American corner, but they do have capable reserves and a defensive scheme that could cause Brissett some fits.
Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor):
Coleman and the rest of the Baylor offense have been scoring at ease so far this season. Coleman is ranked fourth in the FBS in receiving yards (570) and seventh in YPR (23.8). This weekend the Baylor Bears take on the Kansas Jayhawks, which should be an easy win for Baylor. Coleman could have a historic day with such a dismal secondary that has allowed twelve pass plays of at least 25 yards.
Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State):
After missing the first game of the season due to a violation of team rules, the All-America defensive end and number one ranked player on my big board, has failed to impress so far this season. With only a half a sack registered this season and five tackles for a loss, Bosa is desperate for a big game. He should have a good opportunity against Maryland this weekend, who have allowed 1.2 sacks per game this season. Ohio State has a wide array of pass rushers and play makers on defense. Two young standout sophomores, Tyquan Lewis (DE) and Darron Lee (LB), should see some opportunities as well to make a few plays this weekend.
Kareem Hunt (RB, Toledo):
After not being a highly recruited prospect out of high school, Hunt has quickly made a name for himself at Toledo. Last season Hunt rushed for more than 1,600 yards and had 16 rushing touchdowns. This season, Hunt missed the first two games due to a violation of team rules. He played in only one game this season, rushing for 129 yards, a 5.4 YPC average. He missed the game against Ball State last week when a hamstring injury prevented Hunt from seeing any action. He should be ready to play this week according to various media outlets. Toledo will be taking on Kent State, who have one of the toughest defensive units in the country and who are currently ranked 6th in overall defense in the FBS.