2014 NFL Draft Watch: Week 3

Posted by Brad On September – 12 – 2013

"Adrian Hubbard"

Will Adrian Hubbard be able to shake Johnny Football?
John David Mercer – USA Today Sports

Week two of the college football season didn’t disappoint as we saw some great games that will shape the course of the 2014 NFL Draft. As the body of work continues to grow for these teams and prospects the reality begins to set in that we are getting into the heart of the evaluation process.

Week three’s slate of games features the one everyone has been waiting for – Alabama versus Texas A&M. An offseason filled of Johnny Football drama will officially be taken over by the on the field play. Manziel has his shot at erasing a bit of the drama with a monster performance against Nick Saban’s defense. For Saban and the Tide it’s redemption day as they look to revenge their only 2012 loss.

This weekend won’t just be about Alabama and Texas A&M as there remains some very solid games that are sure to shape our draft opinions. After the break we check out some of the contests and prospects that we will be keeping a careful eye on this weekend.

No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska 12:00 PM on ABC

The calling card of Bo Pelini is defense but that sure hasn’t been evident in the first two weeks of the season. Wyoming hung 34 points on the Huskers D in what was almost a week one upset. The Husker rebounded in week two against a very bad Southern Miss team. The team that arrives in Lincoln on Saturday will be markedly better than either of their first two opponents. UCLA appears ready to compete for a Pac-12 title behind Brett Hundley.

What we’ll be watching:

Can Brett Hundley expose the Nebraska secondary?

Brett Smith and Robert Herron torched the Nebraska secondary in week one. The Bruins will be looking to do the same with the passing combo of Brett Hundley and Shaquelle Evans. Nebraska CB’s Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have proved they can find the football but have to hold up on a down in, down out basis if the Huskers want to keep pace with the Bruins.

Dominance of Anthony Barr

Anthony Barr returned right where he left off in 2012. In a week one contest with Nevada, Barr tallied 5 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Barr’s propensity to camp out in the opponent’s backfield has him being talked about as a top five pick by many – including myself. I heard quite a few negative assessments on Barr’s week one performance but pay no attention to stat watchers – he was as good as advertised and showed the learning curve of a new position may be a thing of the past.

Barr needs a signature performance on a big stage. While there will be plenty of opportunities – the Nebraska game would be a great way to make his presence known. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez is at his best when he can move the pocket and throw behind the defense. Barr’s ability to get after Martinez early and often could tilt this game dramatically in the Bruins favor.


No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M 3:30 PM on CBS

The one we’ve all been waiting for is upon us. It’s Nick Saban’s revenge vs. Johnny Football’s vindication. The Tide had a week off – timely scheduling – to prepare for JF and the Aggies. Bad news anytime Saban has time to prepare for what is to come. That said, he’s facing a pretty formidable big game coach in Kevin Sumlin. I think this is a back and forth contest that tells the NFL Draft story of Alabama QB AJ McCarron.

What we’ll be watching:

Texas A&M O vs. Alabama D

In order to control the Texas A&M offense one has to find a way to keep Johnny Manziel in the pocket. Manziel is at his best when he can break the pocket and force the defense to respect his legs. Manziel has weapons on the outside with redshirt sophomore WR Mike Evans and redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones providing big play ability. The A&M running game is a three-headed monster with Manziel, Ben Malena, and Oregon transfer Tra Carson toting the rock. Protecting Manziel will be senior LT Jake Matthews and junior RT Cedric Ogbuehi. Both will be tested by Alabama’s pass rush. Matthews is as good as advertised but Ogbuehi is no slouch and could challenge to be one of the top underclassmen tackles when it’s all said and done.

On defense the Crimson Tide feature the normal bevy of NFL Draft prospects. Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the best of the bunch with his sideline-to-sideline speed and instinctive nature in the run and pass game. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is going to play a vital role in this contest as Manziel looks to suck up the defense and make plays in the air behind them. Clinton-Dix’s ability as a centerfielder will be tested in this contest and could be a make or break game for his bid to be top half of the first round prospect. OLB Adrian Hubbard is a pass rush specialist that will be asked to contain the edge against Manziel who loves to expose team’s overaggressive pass rush. Hubbard’s ability to stay the course and pressure Manziel without allowing him to break contain will be one of the key factors in this contest. Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan lead this DL as they will look to plug up a very solid running game and keep the big A&M line off their ‘backers.

Can AJ McCarron bounce back versus a decimated TAMU D?

AJ McCarron and the Alabama passing attack struggled in week one against Virginia Tech. McCarron and the offense is going to have to play better if the Tide wants to revenge their only ’12 loss. OT Cyrus Kouandijo didn’t get off to a great start against VT as he struggled to get the edge against VT’s pass rushers. McCarron and RB T.J. Yeldon have become accustomed to working with little pressure from the defense. Texas A&M CB Deshazor Everett is going to have his hands full with sophomore WR Amari Cooper.

For Alabama to revenge their 2012 loss to the Aggies AJ McCarron and the offense has to take advantage of the personnel mismatches that present themselves in this contest. I haven’t been in McCarron’s corner as an NFL passer but this could be a game that he could make his critics eat crow.

GAME PREDICTION: Alabama 24, Texas A&M 20

Tennessee at No. 2 Oregon 3:30 PM on ABC

Oregon is rolling with Mark Helfrich at the helm. Any thought of them slowing down in the least bit after Chip Kelly’s departure has fallen to the wayside. Tennessee will have to control the big plays that any number of Ducks can make if they want to keep this one close.

What we’ll be watching:

Marcus Mariota show

Can anyone slow down Marcus Mariota? Mariota has had his way in the first two weeks of the season – especially on the ground. With a stable of running backs in De’Anthony Thomas, Thomas Tyner, and Byron Marshall – it opens up the defense for Mariota to break off big chunks of yards at every opportunity.

Mariota hasn’t had a great passing performance yet and the Oregon offense needs to involve TE Colt Lyerla more into the gameplan. The redshirt sophomore is making a strong case for him being talked about with the likes of Teddy Bridgewater but we need to see a more evolved passing game before I can get aboard that bus. That said, Mariota is a special player that is as intriguing to watch as any player in the country and he has his squad rolling right now.

Tennessee offensive line against young, athletic Oregon DL

Tennessee’s offensive line features a veteran group – four seniors and one junior. The best of the bunch is junior LT Antonio Richardson. Richardson will have his hands full on the outside with the DE trio of Taylor Hart, Arik Armstead, and DeForest Buckner. In Oregon’s 3-man front he’ll have to keep his head on a swivel as the Ducks like to bring OLB’s Boseko Lokombo and Tony Washington off the edge as well. Senior RT Ja’Wuan James will face an equally tough challenge as his primary assignment will be blocking Hart and Buckner while keeping an eye on the OLB’s coming.

I’m particularly interested in watching how Richardson handles the speed off the edge and picks up blitzes by the outside ‘backers. Richardson is a massive tackle but struggles a bit to get the edge against speed rushers. Oregon will be looking to frustrate QB Justin Worley early and often by bringing loads of pressure. How Richardson holds up against Lokombo and Washington off the edge will be telling whether he can man the LT spot at the next level.

GAME PREDICTION: Oregon 45, Tennessee 27

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State 10:00 PM on ESPN

East coasters may want to stay up to watch this one. Wisconsin makes the trek out west to take on the Sun Devils. While this game isn’t loaded with NFL Draft prospects – ala ‘Bama/A&M – it features some intriguing matchups for draft fans.

What we’ll be watching:

Can Arizona State’s defensive stars slow down the Wisky run game

"Melvin Gordon"

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s run game has been dominant in the first two weeks of the season. Redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon, senior James White, and freshman Corey Clement form the most formidable threesome of backs in the NCAA. Gordon has 284 yards on 22 carries and 2 TD’s in two contests, while his counterpart White has tacked on 252 yards on 33 carries and 2 TD’s. True frosh Corey Clement has taken the CFB world by surprise with 250 yards and 3 TD’s on 29 carries.

Will Sutton and Carl Bradford highlight this Arizona State defense which pitched a shutout against Sacramento State last Thursday. That defense will face a slightly different challenge when the Badgers head out west. Sutton and Bradford are known for getting after the quarterback but will have to show discipline to avoid causing gaping holes for this dangerous run attack. Wisconsin OT Rob Havenstein and OG Ryan Groy will be looking to pave the way for the Wisky run game and keep the pocket clean for Joel Stave. When Stave takes to the air, he has two really nice weapons in WR Jared Abbrederis and TE Jacob Pedersen.

Taylor Kelly watch

Taylor Kelly was very good in 2012 and looks to be have improved on his mechanics this season. He’s one game in – albeit Sacramento State – but he looked vastly improved after posting good numbers in his first year as a starter. That said, Wisconsin’s defense will offer tougher challenges than the Hornets offered in week two.

The 6-foot-2, 205 pound junior quarterback has NFL talent but needs to prove he can win the big game against a game opponent. Kelly is at his best when he breaks the pocket with multiple options. I thought his arm looked much improved last week but questions remain about the strength of his arm to make big league throws.

The Wisconsin defense features a trio of senior defenders that will play big roles in stopping Kelly. MLB Chris Borland lacks the range to chase down Kelly but his instincts for the ball are impressive. DT Beau Allen is a monster in the middle with a great motor. His ability to soak up blockers will be a key to keeping Kelly contained in the pocket. Dezmen Southward is the leader of the Wisconsin secondary and will have to avoid allowing Kelly’s feet to suck him up and thrown behind.

GAME PREDICTION: Arizona State 24, Wisconsin 20