That’s right, week one of college football has arrived. After what felt like an endless amount of Saturday’s spent out in the sun being active, the football community can finally park themselves on the couch and enjoy America’s sport. This Saturday’s most notable matchups include some games with serious talent, like Washington vs. Auburn, Tennessee vs. West Virginia, and Michigan at Notre Dame. However, Sunday is where I’ll begin, providing a draft prospect preview of Miami vs. LSU.
Miami had a great season under Mark Richt last year. They started the season 10-0 before an inexplicable loss to Pitt. Unfortunately, they had to rebound quickly against #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship, another game in which they lost. They then had some time to rest and prepare for #6 Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, but they fell short once again, finishing the season at 10-3. The defense, however, was one of the best units in the country, creating 31 turnovers in just 13 games. The defense looks to pick up right where it left off, returning tons of starters, many of which are formidable NFL prospects.
LSU just missed the double-digit win total in Coach O’s first full season, finishing at 9-4. It was an up and down season, to say the least. Just two weeks separated a loss to Troy, and a win against Auburn, who ended up winning the West Division in the SEC. They qualified for a New Years Day bowl where they fell to #14 Notre Dame 21-17. LSU lost some key pieces like Derrius Guice, DJ Chark and Arden Key to the NFL, but they have the talent to overcome their losses and have another strong season. The offense will have to find a new way to be successful this year because this year’s running back transition likely won’t be as seamless as it was from Fournette to Guice. The defense has a young core in the secondary that will challenge team’s to throw on them.
With that, let’s delve into some of the prospects to keep an eye on while watching the top-25 matchup on Sunday.
CB Greedy Williams, LSU
Greedy Williams, a four-star recruit, made a name for himself last year as a redshirt freshman. Now, entering the new season as a draft-eligible sophomore, he has a reputation to live up to. The lengthy cornerback was productive last year with six interceptions and ten passes broken up. The six interceptions Williams totaled were good for best in the SEC which played host to some great defensive backs, namely Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Anthony Averett, Duke Dawson and Donte Jackson. Williams also provided sticky coverage game in and game out, allowing a shockingly low 19.4 passer rating when targeted.
Williams is a high IQ player who stepped in and strived instantaneously. While he got acclimated into the faster college game, his IQ allowed him to make plays on the ball, coming down with interceptions in both of his first two games. He consistently sticks to the hip of the receiver and gets his head around to track the ball. He’s physical and handsy along the line of scrimmage and his ball skills are quite good as well. He breaks quickly for tackles on underneath throws. Most importantly, his fluidity is really impressive. His hips flip smoothly, his footwork is tremendous, and he looks comfortable running in stride with receivers. If you target him downfield, and the ball is anything but a perfect throw, you best be prepared for Greedy to come down with it.
There’s not too much for Greedy to work on, but every player has room for growth. Williams’ IQ and athleticism hide it, but on the occasional play, he’s flat-footed. He needs to work on avoiding flat-footedness because in the NFL the receivers will take full advantage. One more thing for Williams to work on is when he runs stride for stride with receivers down the sideline, he must do his best to force them up against the sideline. On the first play of the second quarter against Auburn, Stidham drops a deep ball into the hands of his receiver working against Williams along the sideline. This play simply wouldn’t be possible if Williams had made the sideline an obstacle rather than giving the quarterback a difficult to defend pocket.
Current Projection: Round 1
WR Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Richards, similar to Williams, was also a four-star recruit. As a true freshman, he made an immediate impact with now NFL quarterback Brad Kaaya. Richards just missed the 1000 yard mark in 2016, but an injury in 2017 prevented him from showing his ability to build off of his statistics. After being an All-ACC Team wide receiver in his freshman season, he looks to receive the honor once again.
Richards has decent height for a wide receiver standing at 6’1. His height may not be overwhelming but his athleticism is significantly above average. This past offseason it was reported that Richards clocked in a 4.4 40 time in shoes rather than cleats, and after being limited from injury. His speed and route nuances allow him to create separation on quick hitting routes. On top of that, he had the highest deep catch route of any returning ACC wide receiver. Richards has the hands strength and route running ability to be a very successful wide receiver at the next level, all that’s left to do is prove his growth over a full season.
As mentioned before this, Richards creates a lot of separation with his speed. A big question entering the season will be if his ankle injury, which caused him to miss significant time last season, will impact his overall play. One other thing that Richards can work on is his catch rate. Richards has strong hands to make catches in tight coverages, but he did have a few too many drops as a sophomore in 2017. Seeing some improvement in his catching should solidify him as a top receiver for next season’s draft.
Current Projection: Round 2-3
LB Devin White, LSU
Sticking with underclassmen, Devin White is a junior inside linebacker at LSU. Similar to last year’s Malik Jefferson of Texas, White is already getting the praise of a future NFL superstar by scouts around the league. He definitely has some work to do, and while he may not be there just yet, he does have the ability to be the first linebacker selected next April. He was selected to the All-SEC First Team and All-America Second Team in 2017. His 133 tackles last season lead the SEC, and his 14 tackles for loss lead the team.
Devin White has prototypical linebacker size, and according to his LSU bio page, 240 pounds should give him an NFL ready body. This allows White to inch forward to the line of scrimmage to make plays. White reads plays really well and has great burst to break through the offensive line as soon as a hole presents itself. His tackle for loss numbers in 2017 were a good indication of his ability to hit the hole in an instant. He’s also very athletic and he displayed his ability to get sideline to sideline often. Rangy inside linebackers are never overlooked throughout the draft process and this shouldn’t change when it comes to White. Lastly, he does a great job of timing the slipping off of blockers in order to make tackles, but this also was a reason why he only had 37 solo tackles out of 133 total.
Even though White has the weight and body frame to handle himself along the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t plant his feet in the ground to make a serious push against the much bigger offensive lineman. This allows them to drive him back, opening up running lanes far too often. His routes to tackles are often questionable, but this can be fixed considering he’s already showed his impressive range. He just needs to work on taking the most efficient route to tackles, and that should lead to several more solo tackles. Also, he frankly needs to stay on his feet more often. Flat-footedness forces him on his rear-end several times a game, which is unacceptable for a linebacker his size.
Current Projection: Round 3
S Jaquan Johnson, Miami
Finally moving onto a senior, Jaquan Johnson is a safety at Miami who should be on every team’s radar for next season. Johnson has played in all 13 games since he was a true freshman. Although his playing time has ranged from being a special teamer in 2015 to being a full time starting safety in 2017, Johnson has taken advantage of every second of playing time he’s gotten. After earning All-ACC Second Team honors last season, he also joined Devin White on the All-America Second Team defense. He led his team in tackles with 96 and he was also tied with fellow defensive back Michael Jackson for the team lead in interceptions with 4. He was an absolute playmaker in all facets though adding three tackles for loss, one sack, and three forced fumbles.
Jaquan Johnson won’t ever be the biggest guy on the team, but he loves physical play. On underneath throws, he plants his back foot and breaks hard to the receiver often delivering quite a big hit. His positional play is really impressive, and when the ‘Canes move into zone defense he’s in perfect position very often. A couple of his interceptions fell right into his hands last season but that’s due to the fact that he was in great position to make a quick hit and a receiver drop ended up with the ball going the other way. His footwork is impressive and he’s very fluid, sticking to his receivers easily. He diagnoses plays really well and reacts to play actions and RPOs very efficiently.
I have limited things to work on for Johnson, but his patience in coverage will be a key to his success this season. It may be due to the turnover chain excitement, but a couple times he drifted out of position, allowing deep completions. This isn’t to say that his positional play isn’t great, because it is, but he needs to focus on waiting a split second before following a decoy out of his coverage.
Current Projection: Round 1
If you’re looking to get a head start on potential prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft, then you should be glued to your couch on Sunday night watching Miami vs. LSU. As of right now, both teams are loaded with talent and have the potential to make some serious noise all throughout the 2018 college football regular season.