Mississippi State vs Alabama
The Alabama WR trio makes a return following a shootout against LSU. Alabama wasn’t able to take out their SEC West rivals, but their passing game hummed along just fine and the trio of pass catchers were able to showcase their talents. They should be able to do so again against a much less complete Mississippi State secondary.
However, the Bulldogs do feature one standout in the back end. Redshirt junior CB Cameron Dantzler is among the best defensive backs in the country and would have more recognition if he weren’t stuck in a mediocre program. At 6-foot-2, 185-pounds, Dantzler is a bit wiry and may need to fill out his frame, but shows excellent movement skills and a knack for getting to the ball when it’s in the air.
If there is any single thing a cornerback has to be able to do versus Alabama’s wide receivers, it’s to run. Being fast in and of itself is a major plus, but speed at the cornerback position is also largely dependent on technique and how one transitions between actions. The less speed a cornerback loses by flipping their hips or bailing up the field, the better.
Dantzler proved his speed and smooth movement skills versus LSU’s wide receivers just fine. Though LSU’s receivers aren’t quite as daunting as Alabama’s, they are as close as it gets and should still be considered one of the best receiving corps of the modern era. In this clip, Dantzler does a good job to keep his shoulders over his feet while maintaining a healthy distance away from the receiver. As soon as the receiver declares outside and vertical, Dantzler wastes no time in taking a deeper step with his back foot to be able to open his hips and take off with the receiver. Since Dantzler so fluidly mirrored the receiver’s release and stem, the route quickly became a foot race in which Dantzler had already afforded himself an advantage in through smart technique. All Dantzler had to do from there was lock into the receiver’s hip and ride him into the sideline while shielding him away from the ball.
Part of Dantzler’s brilliance at the end of that clip was how he got physical with the receiver to slow him down and maintain inside positioning for himself. While it may be a bit tougher to keep hands near Alabama’s receivers, Dantzler is willing and capable of playing a physical game, both in the short area and down the field.
In this instance, Dantzler knows there is nowhere for the wide receiver to go vertically. The field is condensed and working against the receiver, at least with respect to the vertical game. As such, Dantzler knows he can get physical with the receiver. At the exact point from the last clip in which Dantzler took a deep step to bail, he takes a firm forward step here and jams his hands into the receiver’s chest. The receiver gets disrupted just enough for Dantzler to completely cap him over the top and press him toward the sideline. Kentucky’s quarterback is left with no choice but to lob up a jump ball, which Dantzler again knocks down in part because of his inside positioning on the ball.
Dantzler will have his hands full, but if there were an official checklist for all the traits required to matchup with Alabama’s receivers, the Mississippi State corner would check every box on the list without a doubt. Few cornerbacks in the country have Dantzler’s blend of size, speed, physicality, and will to fight for the ball from any position. In fact, Dantzler is Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best graded cornerback in the country and the second-best Power 5 cornerback behind only star Alabama sophomore Patrick Surtain Jr.
Advantage: Dantzler over Ruggs/Smith; Jeudy over Dantzler
Wake Forest vs Clemson
Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman vs Clemson Defense
The matchup everyone was looking forward to in this one was Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt vs Clemson CB A.J. Terrell. Surratt emerged onto the scene this year as a catch-point threat with good enough movement skills to not always have to win in traffic. Terrell, on the other hand, has been a key cog in Clemson’s strong defense for years now and was the player who ran back a pick-six against Tua Tagovailoa in last year’s championship game. Unfortunately, Surratt recently suffered an injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
It would be foolish to skip over this game entirely, though. Clemson have been ramping up as the season rolls along, while Wake Forest are having their best year since the 11-3 season all the way back in 2006 when Aaron Curry was still in school. Though Surratt is Wake Forest’s best player, much of their success can also be attributed to QB Jamie Newman.
Newman came into the year unheralded by most. He was not even the starter at the beginning of the 2018 season. While he finished last season on a high note, there wasn’t nearly enough film to tout him as anything more than a deep, deep sleeper. Newman has absolutely solidified himself as a draftable prospect through nine games in 2019, so the question now is how high he can climb.
Arm strength probably shouldn’t be a concern for Newman. He does not quite have the rocket launcher of someone such as Matt Stafford, but Newman’s arm strength crosses the NFL threshold and will allow him to make some tough throws. It also helps that Newman is willing to use that arm strength, as both clips display. Indianapolis Colts QB Jacoby Brissett, for example, has an arm that is well above the NFL average, but he can be a little trigger shy and won’t always get the most out of the juice in his arm. For better or worse, Newman always provides reminders that he has more than enough velocity and power to stick in the NFL.
Newman’s gall shows up under pressure, too. Part of his numbness to pressure is that he seems to not even sense it most of the time, which may be more of an internal clock issue than anything. Daniel Jones of the New York Giants is the same way. Newman, like Jones, isn’t scared to throw with bodies around, though, which helps make up for inconsistencies in staying away from pass rushers.
Newman does not even consider moving off of his spot here. With Surratt running a square-in from the switch release, Newman trusts that his guy will be open over the middle in time. Newman almost certainly knows he will get popped if he stays where he is, but he also knows the throw has to come out on time and there is no time to move from his spot while staying on schedule for the play. Without an ounce of hesitation, Newman lets it rip over the middle and converts on a dire 3rd-and-11 situation. (Surratt was ruled down; he did not fumble)
The redshirt junior will now be up against his fiercest opponent without his best receiver by his side. Surratt could have at least provided Newman with an emergency “eject” button, but without that, Newman will be left to fend for himself against a Clemson defense that only continues to look scarier with each passing week.
Leading the charge for Clemson is LB/S Isaiah Simmons. Simmons is like an optical illusion in that he is anything you want him to be. Simmons can be a blitzer and pass rusher just as he can drop back into coverage to take on a slot receiver 1-on-1, all while sprinkling in sound run defense between pass plays. He is a safety, linebacker, and pseudo-edge defender wrapped up into one convenient package. Unsurprisingly, Simmons leads the team with 12 tackles for loss and six sacks, and ranks second on the team with four passes defended.
Clemson’s secondary also features Terrell, S Tanner Muse, DB K’Von Wallace, and S Nolan Turner. Even if not all of these guys are top-100 locks, the fact that Clemson’s secondary is almost entirely comprised of NFL contributors while Wake Forest’s wide receiver corps is without their best guy, is going to be a problem for Newman.
DC Brent Venables is also a mad scientist. While Clemson’s defense could certainly get by on talent alone, it’s Venables’ ability to ensure the right players are in the right place that puts the Tigers over the top. Venables’ use of Simmons, for example, is multiple without being overbearing, and the same can be said to some degree or another about the rest of the defense. Venables also deploys a myriad of blitzes and is never shy about using them. Simmons, a linebacker, leads the team in sacks, after all.
Even with Surratt, Newman would be outclassed here. Newman will need a career day to even compete in this game. If he does have that kind of performance, though, Newman will skyrocket into the mid-round conversation for the 2020 class and become a candidate to declare early.
Advantage: Clemson defense
Minnesota vs Iowa
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs is a staple member of the Prospect Showdown. Arguably the best offensive tackle in the country, Wirfs has gone toe-to-toe with a number of future pros as the Big Ten is loaded with stud pass-rushers this season. Wirfs has already made a number of appearances and, honestly, could have had a few more, if not for a matchup or two outshining his in a given week.
To refresh on Wirfs, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound junior is everything an offensive line coach could want. Aside from just having the frame and arm length to be a force at the position, Wirfs has a rare fluidity to him that most tackles simply don’t. Wirfs is light on his feet out of his pass set and in resetting laterally to match his opponents. Better yet, Wirfs matches all of his footwork with hand movement, making sure that he is laying in punches while he has a strong base under him instead of tossing his hands around willy-nilly.
Pass pro shouldn’t look this smooth for someone who won’t even turn 21-years-old until after the season ends. No matter what a defender throws at him, Wirfs has all the tools to remain in front of his opponent and the assertiveness to initiate contact before a defender can get into his frame. Wirfs is simultaneously always on the front foot without putting himself at risk of being too aggressive.
If anything, the knock against Wirfs is going to be that he is primarily a right tackle, but that shouldn’t be any degree of concern for a couple of reasons. For one, Wirfs has proven plenty of times that he can play left tackle. Wirfs has had to slide over to the blindside to fill in for injury multiple times and has looked just as good on the left as he does on the right. With NFL coaching, there is no doubt Wirfs could make a full transition to the left side. However, he does not even need to, as the right tackle position is far more valuable in today’s NFL than ever before. Pass-rushers move all over on both sides of the line, which makes right tackles almost as valuable as left tackles anyway. Wirfs being a right tackle by trade should not in any way sway a team away from drafting him high.
Squaring off against Wirfs this week is Minnesota EDGE Carter Coughlin. Coughlin is on the leaner side at 6-foot-4, 245-pounds and his play style matches it. While he does not have the raw strength of bigger defensive ends, Coughlin has a clean get-off and shows no issue in getting to the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder.
On this clip, for example, Coughlin flies off the line to earn such an advantage that the offensive lineman never really gets a good grip of him. Coughlin is able to earn the edge with ease and bend through the arc fairly uncontested, forcing the quarterback to bail the pocket and run directly into another defender. Having a twitchy get-off like that can go a long way.
That being said, Coughlin isn’t the bendiest athlete. Coughlin can get to the edge without issue, but the moment Coughlin has to bend through contact to convert the play, he leaves something to be desired. It’s not that he can’t do it, necessarily, but he loses every ounce of speed on the way and ultimately ends up missing the quarterback because he can’t close.
In this instance, the offensive lineman actually gets a piece of him despite Coughlin still getting a fairly good position on the outside shoulder. The offensive lineman’s middling contact is enough to slow Coughlin down, though, and the Minnesota pass-rusher loses all his juice before he can pounce on the quarterback. Purdue’s quarterback is afforded just enough time to bail the pocket and find a target, who drops the pass. In fairness to Coughlin, this is still a “win” as far as pass-rush reps go, but it’s opportunities left on the table like this that can be frustrating with his tape.
While Coughlin will earn a contributing role in the NFL, Wirfs is a franchise tackle. Wirfs should handle this matchup with the relative ease that he handles every other matchup.