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 9 in college football and previews who to watch in Week 10. 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 Corey Clement (RB, Wisconsin):
To play running back at Wisconsin you have to wait a while before it is your turn to be the starter. Melvin Gordon had to wait behind Montee Ball and Corey Clement had to wait behind Gordon. Last season Clement had Badger fans excited for the future, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and posting nine touchdowns. The future looked bright in Madison and it was finally Clement's turn to take the helm
Wisconsin is without their starting center, Dan Voltz, who sustained a knee injury and is out for the season. They're currently starting three freshmen along their offensive line. Clement just returned to action after missing the last seven games due to a sports hernia injury which required surgery.
Wisconsin tried to bring Clement along slowly, giving him a limited number of carries against Rutgers. It turns out that Clement only needed a few touches to shed the rust. He finished with eleven carries for 115 yards, 10.5 YPC, and three touchdowns. He had a total of 91 yards after contact, to go along with six broken tackles.
The one key aspect of Clement's running style that jumps out at me is his patience. Most young runners have a hard time waiting for their blockers to do their job. Clement will wait and when the time is right, he picks his spot and bursts through the gap.
The sweep toss looked to be part of the Wisconsin game plan to get Clement into action. About half of the carries were tosses to the outside, which allowed Clement to use his skill set and put his abilities to good use. At 5'11” and 220 pounds, Clement is shorter and lacks the top-end speed of his former teammate, Melvin Gordon.
Clement is only a junior and still has eligibility left if he decides to return to Madison. He has three conference games left to show scouts all that he has to offer. With matchups against Maryland and Northwestern coming up, two teams who are solid against the run this season, look for Clement to get a little more action with each passing week.
If he does declare for the NFL Draft, Clement could possibly rise up in the rankings to the fourth or fifth best tailback in the class.
Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh):
The Panthers offense took a hit this season with the loss of their All-American running back, James Connor, to a knee injury. Last season, Pittsburgh had a balanced offense with Connor pounding away on defenses with the run and wideout Tyler Boyd taking advantage of single coverage on the outside. Boyd has been a dynamic playmaker throughout his career. He has the most catches in school history and is closing in on the all-time record of most receiving yards in school history.
At 6'2” and 200 pounds, Boyd is a bigger wideout who is capable of jetting past defensive backs and taking the top off a defense. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch (YPC) in 2014. With the loss of Connor, Boyd has been the sole playmaker for the Panthers offense. They have had to get Boyd the ball using short passes and screens. He is only averaging 9.2 YPC this season, a drop of seven yards compared to last year.
Most of the defenses he has gone up against respect the speed and acceleration Boyd brings to the table. Corners are often playing off coverage and giving him a small cushion. Against North Carolina, Boyd was targeted 14 times, recording ten receptions for 89 yards, an 8.9 YPC average. The average distance of intended target was 9.7 yards past the line of scrimmage. He had a total of 25 yards after the catch in the game.
Though he has the size to physically overpower most defensive backs, Boyd has an issue with letting defensive backs into his body when trying to catch a pass. He allowed four pass breakups in the game. He has the hands to come away with the tough grab, he just needs to work on his technique of using his body to shield a defender away from the ball.
Boyd is one of the better route runners in college football, showing a superior level of athleticism at getting in and out of his break and keeping his speed as he makes his moves. One area that raised a red flag was his football IQ, knowing down and distance. On a few occasions against UNC, he would run the correct route but stop a half yard short of the first down mark
. He will need to understand that he has to run deeper than the first down line and work his way back to the QB. These critical errors were drive killers to the Panthers offense.
Boyd was suspended for the first game of the season due to a DUI arrest this past offseason. Scouts will be looking into his background and off-field behavior leading up to the draft.
Boyd has been a talented kick and punt returner throughout his career. He is fourth amongst all FBS active players with 4,622 all-purpose yards. Though they differ in size, Boyd plays in a similar style and fashion to former Kansas State wideout and current Seattle Seahawk, Tyler Lockett.
Jaylon Smith (ILB, Notre Dame):
Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith is the type of athlete that doesn't come around too often. He is a wonderfully gifted athlete who has the most impressive skill set of any inside linebacker in college football. Smith has been a starter for the Fighting Irish since day one, starting every single game at outside linebacker during his freshman year. He has since moved inside, taking over as captain of the defense, and is responsible for making all the defensive calls throughout the game.
At 6'2” and 240 pounds, Smith possess the size and, most importantly, the speed to be a three down linebacker in the NFL. He can rush the passer, fill in gaps on running plays, and is capable of shedding blockers with ease and dropping into coverage. Smith's speed is what jumps out on his game tapes. He is capable of catching a fleeted-footed wideout in open space and chasing down a running back in the open field for a game saving tackle.
Against Temple this past weekend, Smith finished with ten tackles and two quarterback pressures. It was his ability to clog the interior running lanes that played a significant part in Notre Dame's victory. Temple wasn't shy about wanting to establish the interior run despite Notre Dame having one of the best interior linemen in college football. Temple had 16 rushing attempts to Smith's gap responsibility, resulting in 97 yards and five first downs. Smith took a bad read and went outside while the Temple ball carrier kept it inside and was able to pick up 39 yards.
Though he made a few mistakes, Smith showed the intelligence and awareness that make him one of the most coveted NFL Draft prospects. He was able to diagnose a reverse, containing the runner for minimal gain. He is a solid tackler in the open field, he doesn't go for the juke moves, stays low, keeps a solid base and wraps up the ball carrier.
Smith has the opportunity to roam free and make plays because he has the added benefit of playing behind Sheldon Day, a defensive tackle who causes problems for offenses and requires a double team. Smith might not have the same luxury in the NFL.
Showing the quickness and ability to cover a tight end or running back out of the backfield, Smith is capable of being one of the next great inside linebackers in the NFL. He will need to continue to work on his ability to break free from blockers. It will be a great matchup at the end of November when Notre Dame travels to Palo Alto and takes on the Stanford Cardinal. A lot of NFL talent will be on the field that day and Smith just might be the best of the bunch.
Kenneth Dixon (RB, La. Tech):
Would it surprise you to know that Kenneth Dixon is the career leading rusher amongst all active FBS players? He has 4,148 rushing yards and is averaging an astonishing 5.7 yards per carry. Despite missing two games this season with an ankle injury that hasn't fully healed, Dixon has eleven rushing touchdowns this season.
A smaller back at 5'10” and 213 pounds, Dixon is an elusive runner who has excellent balance and will bounce off would-be tacklers. Elusive in the open field, tacklers have a hard time just getting a good shot on him since he runs so low to the ground. While he has the production, one of the knocks on Dixon is his tendency to bounce his runs to the outside. He will need to learn that you can't bounce all runs to the exterior and sometimes have to take what the defense gives you.
Last week against Rice, Dixon had 19 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 43 yards after contact and nine broken tackles. Dixon has the ability to make something out of nothing and turn a three yard loss into a big gain.
One area where Dixon will need to improve is his pass blocking abilities and technique. At times he looked passive; rather than putting his helmet into a guy, he looked to re-route an opponent rather than knocking them down.
Combining his speed and abilities in the open field and the fact that Dixon has good hands for a running back makes him a third down caliber tailback. Against Rice, Dixon showed good patience at letting his blockers set up during a screen pass.
Dixon does have a couple of issues with ball security; he has 12 fumbles for his career including two fumbles in 2015. He has a fumble rate of 2.7%, which is higher than the mark set by Ameer Abdullah last year coming out of Nebraska.
Dixon might not be a three down back in the NFL, but one who is capable of splitting carries and adding a different dimension to an offense. The agility and quick strike nature of Dixon's game makes him a possible third or fourth round prospect. Look for Dixon to improve upon his production and efficiency numbers as the season continues and as he continues to heal from his ankle injury.
Players to Watch Next Week:
Greg Ward Jr. (QB, Houston):
With 16 rushing touchdowns on the season, Ward has more rushing touchdowns than Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry. Ward has played almost every offensive position for Houston including running back, receiver, and quarterback. He wasn't the school's first choice for quarterback, but injuries forced him into action last season. With new head coach Tom Herman taking over, Ward has turned into an accurate and deadly weapon at quarterback. His long term position might not be at quarterback in the NFL, but plenty of college quarterbacks have switched positions, such as Julian Edelman. Ward has the speed and athletic ability to play anywhere on the field and NFL scouts are taking notice and figuring out ways to use him at the next level.
Yannick Ngakoue (OLB, Maryland):
Yannick Ngakoue is a young outside linebacker prospect who has suddenly emerged as one of the top pass rushers in the Big Ten. Through eight games this season, Ngakoue has ten sacks on the season, an increase on the six sacks he posted all of last year. He isn't a finished product by any means and this shows up in pass coverage and in run support. He will be going up against a Wisconsin team that relies heavily on the run. Scouts will be on hand this weekend and Ngakoue will have an opportunity to make them come back and watch some of his game film if he can put on an impressive performance.
Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas):
Arkansas will need another performance from Collins like the one they got last week. Collins finished with 173 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Yes, I know it was against Tennessee-Martin, but he dominated against a less talented opponent. This week will be a tougher test when Arkansas travels to Mississippi to take on an Ole Miss squad that currently ranks 26th in rush defense. Mississippi is allowing a paltry 3.1 YPC this season. Collins is averaging 5.8 YPC and is averaging 120 rushing yards a game. If the Razorbacks have any chance of winning this game, Collins will need to be close to perfect. Scouts will be watching Collins' ability to hold onto the football as he has three fumbles this season and 14 for his career.
Jourdan Lewis (CB, Michigan):
There is no denying that this season has seen a dramatic turnaround for Michigan football. One of the reasons for the resurgence of the Wolverines has been the improved play from the defensive secondary, more specifically from Jourdan Lewis. Jabrill Peppers might get more of the national attention, but Lewis has been playing some of the best football in the country for the past couple of weeks. He's second in the FBS in passes defensed per game with 2.13. He has been playing lights out, shutting down and following opponent's top offensive target this season. At 5'10” and 175 pounds, Lewis lacks the prototypical size that some NFL teams covet, but he more than makes up for it with strong technique and the ability to cover anything that steps in front of him.