Last weekend we looked at the Michigan State vs. Arizona State game. N’Keal Harry going up against a Michigan State secondary that didn’t have their top cornerback was the headline. Harry had a good game, and even though the numbers weren’t spectacular, the Michigan State defensive scheme was based around him the entire game, and the Spartans secondary looked shaky at best. This week we move on from one top receiver in N’Keal Harry to Mississippi, who boast three of the top receivers in the country. They’ll face a tall task this week going up against the perennially vaunted Crimson Tide defense.
After losing five-star Shea Patterson to transfer, Jordan Ta’Amu has taken over the offense at Ole Miss. Entering the season, the Rebels were favorites to be SEC bottom-feeders. In their first two games of the season, they have beaten up on Texas Tech and Southern Illinois. While they’re not quite near the level that the Crimson Tide stand on, they may pose as an upset threat. The offense is incredibly dynamic and AJ Brown, DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge have all shown significant improvement and forced themselves into early draft talks. One thing is for sure, Ta’Amu and the wide receiver core will need to put on a show to top the Goliath that is Alabama.
Not too much needs to be said about Alabama. As consistent top recruiters, they easily churn out draftable players and replace them the next season. Since the beginning of the college football playoff, Alabama is the only team to receive the selection in each year of its existence. In it’s most criticized playoff appearance, now starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa lead a massive comeback against fellow SEC Georgia. Alabama rolled over their first two opponents, one of them being Louisville. Alabama looks like a contender once again and you can expect to see them make a push for the playoffs once again. The Crimson Tide have some superb defenders at every position, and on the offensive line, they boast serious draft prospects at just about every position except for wide receiver. Alabama has the talent and coaching to stomp on every team in the nation, but they may be susceptible in their first tough game.
For the first time this draft cycle, I’ll look at four high floor prospects who should all get their opportunities at the next level.
WR AJ Brown, Mississippi
AJ Brown was a four-star prospect entering the world of college sports. He broke onto the scene as a freshman with a promising season and claimed All-SEC honors a year later as a sophomore. Widely labeled as the preseason top wide receiver for the 2019 draft class, he had quite the billing to live up to, but he’s done a good job of proving his worth. Through two games, he’s put up 15 receptions for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns. Alabama will be his tallest test yet, but he’s undoubtedly shown his ability to be a top receiver, even on a team where the ball gets spread to several weapons.
AJ Brown has good size for a wide receiver, standing at 6’1 and weighing in at 225. He rarely drops passes and he’s a good runner with the ball in his hands as well. He’s athletic and can create yardage and splash plays with his legs. Brown looks like a low 4.3 player on the field and if he can prove that true at the combine, he could prove himself as an early draft pick at wide receiver. He’s a physical player as well, able to break tackles and use his body to create separation, he also goes into the gritty areas and blocks well on run plays. Playing primarily out of the slot, it may not be as often as it should be, but he locates the ball very well on deep passes and he finds the endzone quite often. His production has been impressive over the last 13 games he’s played and his film backs up his statistics.
As effective as Brown could be as a deep threat, he plays primarily out of the slot. On a team with two other very talented wide receivers, it’s understandable that he’s schemed for underneath routes, and while he isn’t at fault for that, his versatility is in question as a constant deep threat. He creates good separation by simply using his speed and his body, but his route running can stand to be a little crisper on cuts and fakes.
Current Projection: Round 1
S Deionte Thompson, Alabama
Thompson was a four-star recruit heading to the powerhouse of college football. As a freshman, he played limited snaps. As a sophomore he played sporadically, backing up Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison at safety, both of whom have already begun carving out roles in the NFL. When Thompson did play towards the latter part of the season though, he showed extreme potential, and he entered the season and my second ranked safety. In the first game of the season, he had an interception and 3 passes defended. You can expect to see Thompson pose a problem to the Rebels offence that likes to push the ball downfield with the big-armed Jordan Ta’Amu.
Thompson is an exceptional tackler for a safety, and play after play it looks like he’s been shot out of a pinball machine. This allows him to be a super productive player along the line of scrimmage. His IQ is also exceptional, which works into his tackling ability because he can read plays and move towards the ball before it even reaches it’s target. On run plays and screen passes he does a great job of releasing off blocks to get to the ball in an instant. He’s very athletic and incredibly rangy. He’s shown time and time again that he can get from the middle of the field to the sideline to break up passes regularly. Expect Thompson to be the next great defensive back out of Alabama.
Deionte Thompson looks like a well rounded safety and he should project as an instant NFL starter. Thompson’s main knock is that he’s seen limited playing time because of some college superstars that played ahead of him. As active as he is on runs and screen passes, seeing Thompson make more plays on the ball in coverage would be great, but that should come with the playing time that he’ll receive this year.
Current Projection: Round 1
OT Greg Little, Mississippi
Greg Little was a five-star prospect and the number one ranked offensive tackle in the 2015 class. After playing as a true freshman in 2016, he enters this season a junior. Eligible for this upcoming NFL draft, he’s being looked at as a top offensive tackle. The top is the offensive line class just lost senior Trey Adams to injury, and while he’ll still get drafted, it allows Greg Little to push for that top offensive lineman prospect. Greg Little graded out as a top 15 pass protector in 2017 according to PFF and Alabama’s defensive linemen will give him a good test to showcase his abilities.
Greg Little is exceptional in pass protection, and his technique will only improve moving forward. His footwork is active and quite good, making him agile and quick for his size. He has strong hands and a good punch, he rarely gets pushed back on the line and he keeps the quarterback clean to get the ball downfield to his receivers. He’s positionally sound and when he gets beat around the edge, he often forces the pass rusher too far up the arc, allowing the quarterback to step up in the pocket. His technique is really impressive and he’s quite technically sound. While the tape shows his pass protection skills, PFF graded him out as a top offensive linemen in protection as well, which further shows his worth as a future NFL offensive tackle.
Through film, it was clear that Little took a few too many penalties on false starts, but this isn’t too difficult to correct. Little’s main problems came in run blocking. He has the frame and technique to be a very good offensive tackle in all facets of the game, but it is clear that his run game needs some work. He often struggles to open up holes for his running back, mostly because he struggles to gain inside leverage on defensive ends. He does a better job of setting the edge for outside runs, but he definitely needs to work on making his game more well rounded, allowing Ole Miss and his future NFL team, to pound the rock between the tackles.
Current Projection: Round 2
OT Jonah Williams, Alabama
Jonah Williams was the second ranked offensive tackle in the 2016 recruiting class, slotting in just below Greg Little. He’s also a junior, making him eligible for the upcoming draft class. He entered the season as the consensus top offensive linemen, and a good season will likely hold him there. Williams and Little are all too familiar with each other after being compared to each other as recruits. They’ve been compared throughout their college careers, with Williams grading out in the top 40, slightly below Little, and now they’re being compared for the draft as well. This week, they go up against each other and the Crimson Tide have the early edge. For this week and the rest of the season, Williams will be important to keep Tagovailoa clean in the pocket.
Jonah Williams is a great prospect for the upcoming draft. He moves well for his size and his hands and legs move very well in sync to keep all defenders in front of him. Unlike many great offensive linemen, the quicker defensive ends or outside linebackers aren’t a problem whatsoever because he simply opens that outside leg a split second earlier to prepare for the speed. Williams gets off the snap quickly and he does a great job as well with get a quick knock on blitzers to knock them off their path. He does a good job in pass protection and in run blocking, and his quick get off and solid technique will allow him to refine his game even further for the rest of the season and in the NFL.
Jonah Williams does not show any major weaknesses during gameplay. He has some work to do refining his game, as does every player in college. If he continues to work on his game from where he is now though, expect him to be a very solid offensive tackle in the future. He also left the national championship last year with an injury, although he does not have an injury history.
Current Projection: Round 1
Alabama doesn’t struggle very often, and chances are they’ll run away with this game but Ole Miss has the ability to put up some competition against Alabama. The Rebels defense has struggled to this point and that may skew the game in Alabama’s favour, but expect AJ Brown and the other wide receiver stars to give Alabama a good test.