Sunday, November 27, 2022

NFL scouts will have eyes on several sleepers in college football’s Week 11

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With most teams set to play their 10th game of the season, scouts are settling in on the top prospects across the country. The vast majority of them have been highlighted in this very space during that time.

The NFL teams that consistently win, however, do so in large part by unearthing the diamonds in the rough in the middle and later rounds. It is fitting that Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away, as scouts will have a smorgasbord of opportunities on Saturday, with some better “under-the-radar” talents facing off in fun rivalry games well worth their (and your) attention.

College football Week 11 preview

RJ Young is joined by Geoff Schwartz to preview Week 11, including Saturday’s the “Big Noon Kickoff” matchup between Ohio State and Indiana.

Below is a breakdown of this week’s top individual matchups, with an eye toward their futures in the NFL. 

Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State (noon ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)

Given that the Hoosiers have not defeated the Buckeyes since the Reagan administration, it is beyond a stretch to characterize this Big Ten matchup as a true rivalry. However, one need only think back two years ago and the last game in Columbus between these two teams to remember a spirited shootout, with the Buckeyes ultimately escaping, 42-35. 

Those Hoosiers were a lot different from this team, which is stumbling into this contest on a six-game losing streak and desperately needing a spark. One player seemingly capable of providing that is speedy running back Shaun Shivers, an Auburn transfer who leads the Hoosiers in both rushing yards (399) and touchdowns (four).

At just 5-foot-7 and 186 pounds, Shivers is not likely to spook the Buckeyes’ defense, but he is shifty and can generate yardage in chunks due to quick acceleration. He is a quality receiver out of the backfield and a trusted kick returner, as well, possessing the all-around game that could help him sneak onto a pro roster. 

The Buckeyes are, of course, loaded with talent, and we’ve highlighted quarterback C.J. Stroud and receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka previously.

Related: What pro scouts like about C.J. Stroud

But if the second-ranked Buckeyes dominate this game as expected, this needs to be a show-out game for edge rusher Zach Harrison, who flashes all the traits to warrant early-round NFL consideration but has little production to show for it. 

Harrison checks in at a prototypical 6-foot-6 and 268 pounds, with long arms. He is quick off the snap, wraps the edge well, and coordinates his hands and feet well to swim, chop or spin his way past would-be blockers. He has just 17 tackles in Ohio State’s first nine games this season, however, with only three of them behind the line of scrimmage. Worse, only one of those was a sack. To his credit, though, he has forced two fumbles this season and even intercepted a pass two weeks ago at Penn State.

No. 9 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss (3:30 p.m. ET)

If one thinks that this game lost some of its luster with the Crimson Tide losing their second game of the 2022 season (and virtually guaranteeing they won’t make the College Football Playoff), don’t tell that to former Alabama assistant coach Lane Kiffin and host Mississippi.

If Bryce Young had been able to catch his own passes (and cover LSU tight end Mason Taylor), the Tide might still be in the thick of the national title hunt, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner did virtually everything else in Alabama’s loss last week, showing the accuracy, athleticism, improvisational skills and grit which earned him the top spot on my personal QB rankings.

Related: Ranking the top pro quarterback prospects

Lost amid the well-deserved hype around Young, however, has been the spectacular play of Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who leads the Tide in both rushing (771 yards) and receiving (365 yards) this season. He is averaging an eye-popping 7.5 yards every time he touches the football and has scored nine times in as many games this season.

Gibbs transferred to Alabama from Georgia Tech, and he’s excelled on the bigger stage, leaving Tide opponents in his wake with terrific lateral agility and burst. While not necessarily an intimidating runner at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Gibbs is an ideal “air-back” for today’s NFL, showing soft hands to pluck the ball from outside his frame, as well as the quickness, balance and football I.Q. to handle complicated route-running duties. 

Of course, if statistics are the measure of a player, few generate them better than Kiffin, one of the game’s elite play-callers at any level. And in freshman sensation Quinshon Judkins, Kiffin has a superstar with Heisman-like numbers. 

Judkins’ 14 touchdowns (including 13 on the ground) lead the SEC, and his 1,036 rushing yards ranks second for the 8-1 Rebels. Though he turned 19 just two weeks ago, Judkins already possesses a well-distributed NFL-caliber frame, complete with rocked-up biceps and a powerful lower half, both of which make him a nightmare to tackle. 

Judkins attacks the line of scrimmage, knifing through holes with immediate acceleration and plenty of wiggle to make defenders miss in tight quarters. For a young runner, he also shows an impressive stiff-arm and terrific balance through contact — attributes usually gained only after backs become seasoned against elite competition.

There are so many future NFL draft picks playing for these two teams that scouts will not spend too much time focusing on a freshman. Judkins is good enough to steal their attention, anyway.

Who benefits from Alabama’s loss?

Joel Klatt breaks down how losses by Alabama and Clemson will impact their playoff chances moving forward.

Maryland at No. 14 Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET; FOX)

Just as how the running backs may steal the spotlight in Oxford, a fun test of talented (albeit underrated) receivers for Maryland could give a gifted Penn State secondary a surprising “pop quiz” in Happy Valley.

We highlighted the Nittany Lions’ future first-round cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in Week 7.

Related: What pro scouts like about Joey Porter Jr.

His size, agility, speed and aggression are exactly what scouts are looking for in a press corner. His counterpart at cornerback — sophomore Kalen King — also possesses the light feet and loose hips to lock down receivers in coverage, and safety Ji’Ayir Brown delivers big plays better than either of them, generating 11 turnovers over the past two seasons. 

Brown, a 5-foot-11, 208-pound senior is a virtual ball magnet. He led the Nittany Lions with six interceptions a year ago and is on track to do the same this year with three more. He has also forced a fumble each of the past two seasons, showing true stopping power with big collisions. Along with those highlight reel-worthy snaps, however, are risky pursuit angles and missed tackles, which could leave big plays available for Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the Terps’ versatile receiving corps. 

Statistically speaking, Maryland is led by Rakim Jarrett, but the speedy 6-foot, 200-pound senior was limited by a lower leg injury a week ago against Penn State and is considered a game-time decision. The two-time Honorable Mention All-Big Ten pick is quick, a reliable route-runner and accelerates smoothly, but he’s only the most accomplished of a deep set of pass-catchers that also includes Florida-transfer Jacob Copeland, as well as two intriguing size/speed options in Corey Dyches (6-foot-1, 219 pounds) and Dontay Demus (6-foot-3, 219 pounds), each of whom ranks higher among scouts than their relatively meager statistics (27 catches for 376 yards and three scores and 14-153-1, respectively) suggest. 

No. 25 Washington at No. 6 Oregon (7 p.m. ET; FOX)

Given that the visiting Huskies rank 79th in the country in passing yards allowed (surrendering 237.8 yards per game) and that the Ducks are considerably lower than that at 117th in the country (276.6), it would make sense to highlight quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix in this contest. With breakout senior campaigns both have emerged as legitimately draftable, and few would have predicted that given the way their first stops at Indiana and Auburn, respectively, ended. 

But on a weekend full of hypothetical battles between players at the same position such as this, the heated Washington-Oregon rivalry game actually pits two of the best and most nationally underrated players against one another.

We spotlighted Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez way back in Week 3. Since then, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Colorado transfer has emerged as arguably the elite cornerback on the West Coast this season, checking in with 10 passes defensed — including three interceptions — so far for a Ducks squad that has rattled off eight consecutive victories since its Week 1 thumping against Georgia

Long, strong and possessing legitimate ball skills, Gonzalez is on the fast track to an early-round selection, possibly a first-rounder. While the Ducks have a noteworthy history of producing quality safeties, the last cornerback selected in the first round out of Eugene came way back in 1996, when the New Orleans Saints took Alex Molden 11th overall.

With all due respect to the reigning national champs, Gonzalez faces his stiffest test of the season to date against Washington’s Rome Odunze, who possesses impressive acceleration, body control and ball skills at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Unlike some other prospects featured in this week’s article, Odunze boasts the production to go along with his undeniable traits, currently leading the Pac-12 with 858 receiving yards on 57 grabs with six touchdowns.

Barring unexpected weather, this game looks like an old-fashioned Pac-12 aerial assault, making this potential one-on-one showdown one of the most eagerly anticipated of the weekend. 

Rome Odunze makes a SPECTACULAR catch

Rome Odunze reeled in an amazing touchdown earlier this season against Stanford. 

No. 4 TCU at No. 18 Texas (7:30 p.m. ET)

The old saying goes that “everything is bigger in Texas” and in the case of this week’s rivalry games, that may be true. 

As one of just a handful of remaining undefeated teams, the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs are leaping into Austin in what is expected to be their most formidable road test of the season. Emerge from this game with a victory, and TCU would seem destined for a playoff berth with only unranked Baylor and Iowa State left on the regular season schedule. 

We’ve highlighted TCU quarterback Max Duggan and his potential firstround wideout Quentin Johnston previously.

Related: What scouts like about … Max Duggan | Quentin Johnston

But another Horned Frog catching on with scouts recently is tight end Jared Wiley, who transferred to Fort Worth from the Longhorns. 

Wiley only has 12 catches on the season, but few pass-catchers have proven more efficient, with four of his grabs going for touchdowns. He possesses legitimate NFL size at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, and is surprisingly athletic, gliding downfield once he gets moving. 

The Longhorns proved in an early showdown with Alabama that they have the size, physicality, speed and crowd noise to jam up any offense. Better yet, from offensive-minded head coach Steve Sarkisian’s perspective, they also have the point-scoring ability to win a shootout, if necessary, in large part due to Bijan Robinson, the clear-cut top running back eligible for the 2023 NFL draft.

But the Longhorns’ NFL-caliber talent at running back is not limited to just Robinson. His primary backup, Roschon Johnson, would start — and very likely star — for virtually any other program in the country. At 6-foot-2, 223 pounds, Johnson has a more linear frame than most backs, but that doesn’t limit his effectiveness. He bends his knees nicely, running with excellent forward lean and aggression to barrel into would-be tacklers. He also possesses good (albeit not great) speed to the perimeter. Johnson is not truly elusive in tight quarters, but he does have good balance and timing with dead-leg moves to bounce laterally, making strong, decisive cuts. 

Best for defense during Gary Patterson’s tenure, TCU has become an offensive juggernaut with Sonny Dykes at the helm this season. If UT is to prove it is the “real” state college in Texas, the Longhorns will almost certainly lean heavily on their ground game.

Read more:

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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