Prospect Preview: (7) Stanford at (20) Oregon

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Last weekend’s article featured a possible upset matchup in Ole Miss and Alabama. As most potential upsets do, the underdog matchup failed to put up a fight. Alabama steamrolled Ole Miss 62-7 and absolutely embarrassed the Rebels at their own home. In regards to the prospects, we got to see both tackles showcase their talent. Thompson flashed his unbelievable range and special IQ once again by coming down with an interception and a long return. AJ Brown struggled to produce on the offensive side of the ball, but that is largely in part to Ta’Amu only having 7 completions. This weekend, we move on to a heralded top 25 matchup.

Stanford entered the season as a top team and they’ve proved that they’re worthy of the acclaim. They enter this game at 3-0 with wins coming against San Diego State, USC and UC Davis. Two of those wins may come off as unimpressive, but they only gave up three points against USC in an impressive win, and they’ll need to replicate that performance for success this week against the Ducks. The offense looks incredibly dynamic with serious weapons at every skill position on offense. Whether it’s Costello slinging the ball to Arcega-Whiteside or Kaden Smith, or Bryce Love taking advantage of passing defenses, they’ll put up points in just about every game they play. If they can continue to give up less than 10 points a game, expect them to slide a few spots up the rankings into the top 5.

Oregon may have played a closer game than they would’ve hoped against San Jose State, but at least they did it in style with slick black alternate jerseys. Oregon has had an easy slate so far with games coming against Bowling Green, Portland State, and San Jose State, but they did roll over the first two opponents before playing in a two-score game against the Spartans last week. We’ll get to see some true competition though for the first time for Oregon. While the defense hasn’t looked superb this season, the offense has looked good enough to make up for any deficiencies. The Ducks schedule isn’t incredibly difficult with currently two ranked games on the horizon, so that makes this game all the more important.

This game is loaded with talent, so let’s take a look at some of the difference makers.

WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford

Arcega-Whiteside was a three-star prospect entering college but he’s blossomed into a superstar on the field. After being labeled as a hidden gem this offseason, he finally started to get the recognition he deserves with a great start to the season. In the first game of the season, his highlights were hard to miss if you follow college football. He finished with 226 yards and 3 scores with an insane 37.7 average per catch. The last two games, his receiving yardage hasn’t been as insane but he has found the end zone twice over that span. Arcega-Whiteside is only a redshirt junior, but if he continues to dominate defenses, it would be unsurprising to see him enter this season’s draft.

Strengths

Arcega-Whiteside has big-play ability to get the ball downfield and score often. He’s big-bodied and uses his frame to his advantage in tight coverage and in the red zone. He has good, but not exceptional, speed and one of his best attributes is his ability to run smooth routes and catch the ball in stride without losing any speed at all. He’s a naturally talented wide receiver who should challenge other team’s defenses in multiple ways. His body control is also exceptional which should help translate his 6’3 body to be an NFL contributor.

Weaknesses

One thing Arcega-Whiteside can do to improve his stock is work back to the ball with authority. You can’t let a big body go to waste, and he’ll be much more productive if he works back to the ball hard. A preseason knock of mine was that his hands weren’t the strongest at the point of catch but he showed against San Diego State with his 226-yard receiving game that he worked over the offseason on improving upon that.

Current Projection: Round 2

QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

Another three-star prospect, Justin Herbert wasn’t expected to develop into the star he is today. Originally labeled as a Dual-Threat by 247, the 6’6 quarterback has proven to be more of a traditional pocket passer. Herbert has done a great job of leading the Oregon offense downfield for points in their first three games, averaging over 50 points a game so far this season. They’ll need to have quite the gameplan if they want to drop 50 on this Stanford defense, but the offense should score some points regardless. Herbert was the consensus top quarterback entering the draft, and while I didn’t agree, his development to this point has been pretty good and he can make his way into early round talks.

Strengths

Justin Herbert is a big athletic quarterback, and even though he may not be a dual-threat quarterback at this point, his athleticism is still a big upside. His ball placement is above average and he does a great job of getting the ball into soft spots in defensive zones. His mid-range passing game is lethal and he does an amazing job getting the ball into tight windows for first downs. He also does a very good job of getting the ball out very well on short passes. Whether it be screens or crossing routes, the ball is very rarely in his hands for long enough for him to feel any pressure in the pocket.

Weaknesses

My biggest problem with Herbert’s mechanics is that too often his front foot doesn’t move towards his targeted receiver. While he can still get the ball into tight pockets and windows, it is hurting him right now and it’ll only be magnified at the next level. This often allows the ball to sail on receivers or for the ball to be just slightly off of where it needs to be. At the end of the day, this isn’t too difficult to correct. Quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold struggled with the same thing. As of now, it’s a factor in his 4 interceptions in 3 games, but he’ll work to correct it for the NFL.

Current Projection: Round 1-2

ILB Bobby Okereke, Stanford

Okereke was a four-star prospect who received offers from Notre Dame, USC, and most impressively, Harvard. Okereke has two full seasons under his belt, and he’s looked good in both of them, but most importantly, his development from the first to the second was really encouraging. It’s difficult to watch a Stanford game and not hear his name while he flies around the field for tackles. He’s developed into a star on this Stanford defense and he’s one of the reasons that they’ve had such an amazing start to the season. As a redshirt senior, he’ll get his opportunity to move on to the NFL this upcoming draft.

Strengths

Okereke is a very athletic linebacker with a high floor. He flies from sideline to sideline to make tackles and he’s very good along the line of scrimmage as well. His instincts are good and they allow him to flow towards the ball regardless of where it is on the field. He reads plays well and is often there to break it up. He gets lots of assisted tackles, largely in part because his presence is felt on run plays around the line of scrimmage. With his abilities on display in college, and his athleticism quite obvious, he should be a safe bet to find a role at the next level.

Weaknesses

Okereke is a little stiff, and he moves well as a whole, but he struggles with quick change of directions. This may become clear at the next level with more athletic skill position players. His tackling ability needs work for sure and while he can wrap players up well, he needs to work on his ability to tackle for a head-on confrontation.

Current Projection: Round 6-6

DE Jalen Jelks, Oregon

Jalen Jelks was a three-star prospect coming out of high school. He made an instant impact by playing in half of his games as a freshman. His career has only gone up from there, and after a productive junior season last year, he looks like a seriously talented prospect for the NFL to take a look at. His big body can translate well to the NFL, and he should be a big contributor against a very dynamic Stanford offense. As the season goes on, Oregon will turn to Jelks to disrupt offenses and create on the defensive side of the ball.

Strengths

Jalen Jelks has great potential because of his playmaking ability and his very high IQ. He slips tackles with ease and gets into the backfield for TFLs regularly. His strength and motor are both exceptional as well, a big reason why he can wear down his opposing offensive lineman as the game goes on. He’s also very lean right now, and while it may not be a good thing as of now, it means that he has the technique and ability to be impressively productive at only 245, which means NFL weight rooms and training programs will benefit him more than many other prospects.

Weaknesses

Simply put Jelks is a very raw prospect. His potential pops on tape and his production is there, but he needs to continue to refine his abilities. He needs to work on getting off on the snap a little quicker, which will ultimately give him even more of an edge on the offensive linemen, and he also needs to work on his hand usage. He gets caught up on some blocks because he misses his opportunity to chop down on the hand or swim move over and around. This will come with practice and better coaches, but he is a little raw as of now.

Current Projection: Round 3

Conclusion

This game should provide some answers on whether or not Herbert should be viewed as a top quarterback in the country. Oregon’s offense has looked superb to this point, as has Stanford’s defense. While that side of the ball duals it out, it may end up coming down to Stanford’s high powered offense.

Twitter: @NFLDraftProSite

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