College Football: NFL Draft prospects to watch week 8

nfl draft prospects

The slate of games is not as strong last week, but there are plenty of top prospects taking the field on week 8. Here’s a look at players to keep an eye on as these games unfold.

Illinois vs. Wisconsin

Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR – Illinois
Isaiahh Loudermilk, IDL – Wisconsin

Josh Imatorbhebhe does not get the looks of some the big-name receivers in the Big Ten, but he should as a true No. 1 for an Illinois team on the rise. Imatorbhebhe is aggressive and physical at the catch point often outmuscling defensive backs at the top of his routes to generate separation and win in contested catch situations. He lacks a second gear and will need to continue to improve his route running if he hopes to generate separation at the next level. However, he does well to vary his releases, has the strength to get off press coverage, and most importantly reliable plucky hands to secure the ball outside is frame. Imatorbhebhe will look to grab the attention of scouts with a repeat of what was a breakout year in 2019.

Wisconsin has quietly been a producer of NFL talent along the defensive line sending guys like the Watts, but also players like Beau Allen. Loudermilk is a the next in line as a stout interior defensive lineman who can provide some interior pressure on pass downs. Loudermilk will not make a ton of flash plays, but he is great at eating up double teams and keep linebackers clean to get downhill and shoot gaps in the run game. He does not have a ton of pass rush ability, but his natural strength shows up in his bull rush which he uses to set up a push-pull swim move that can be effective at times. Loudermilk is likely a day three pick if he can put another year of solid film together.

Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State

Chase Allen, TE – Iowa State
Kolby Harvell-Peel, S – Oklahoma State

Chase Allen forms what probably is the deepest tight end group in the country with running mate Charlie Kolar. Allen possesses great size at 6-foot-7 and is a first off the bus guy with a long muscular frame. He is not going to wow anyone with crazy athleticism, but Allen is a solid three-down tight end who is an exceptional blocker in the run game who can still get down the field in the pass game. With his size, blocking ability and soft hands Allen is a matchup chess piece that should find himself on an NFL roster next year.

Oklahoma State is known for pumping out offensive talent to the NFL, but this year it has a couple guys on defense that look like legit NFL prospects. Kolby Harvell-Peel leads what looks to be one of the Big 12’s best defenses. He is a hard-hitting safety with an aggressive play style consistently finishing on the ball carrier. Harvell-Peel is a bit stiff and will be at his best when he can keep the play in front of him and react. He is likely destined for a strong safety or dime linebacker role at the next level, but his instincts and physicality are some of the best in what is a deep safety class.

Alabama vs. Tennessee

Patrick Surtain, CB – Alabama
Trey Smith, IOL – Tennessee

Alabama has been a defensive back factory since Nick Saban took over and Patrick Surtain looks to be the next first round pick off the assembly line. Surtain has been a starter since his freshman year routinely matching up with No. 1 receivers and doing a great job mirroring and staying in phase. He has excellent hands and consistently reroutes receivers after release. Surtain is scheme versatile and can play in both zone and man concepts, which should help him be one of the first defensive backs drafted next year. He needs to add strength as most players coming out of college do, but Surtain should continue to lock down the other team’s best in what is likely his final year in Tuscaloosa.

Trey Smith dealt with blood clots in his lungs early in his career, but since returning to action he has been nothing but elite for Tennessee. Smith is a dominate blocker in the run game driving defenders of the ball at the point of attack. He is great in combo block situations and shows the ability to get to the second level where he consistently seals the alley for his running backs. He lacks the requisite lateral movement skills to hang outside at left tackle, but his punch in pass protection and strength in quick sets make it a possibility for him to stay at right tackle even if his best position might be inside at guard. Smith is one of the stronger players likely heading into the draft and will look to solidify his status as a top 50 pick in upcoming games again Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.

Michigan vs. Minnesota

Aidan Hutchinson, Edge – Michigan
Rashod Bateman, WR – Minnesota

Michigan has put its fair share of edge rushers into the NFL over the past few seasons. Now, Aidan Hutchinson looks to be next in line for the promotion to the league. Hutchinson is a power rusher with enough size to kick inside to a 4i or even a 3 tech which he is sometimes asked to do for the Wolverines. He plays with a high motor and a set of heavy hands which allows him to disrupt off the snap, redirecting runs and collapsing the pocket. Another year of development of pass rushing counters is certainly needed, but if he can add a move or two to his repertoire the payoff could be hearing his name called in the first round come 2021.

Rashod Bateman was the best receiver in the Big Ten in 2019 and will be again in 2020. Bateman has a great combination of size and speed and is one of those guys who can bail out a quarterback in contested catch situations. His best trait is undoubtedly his hands. The guy catches everything and with Tyler Johnson departing to the NFL, Bateman will now be the surefire No. 1 guy for Tanner Morgan. An uptick on his outstanding 2019 numbers is sure to be expected and he should be considered a strong challenger for the Biletnikoff Award this season.

West Virginia vs. Texas Tech

Darius Stills, IDL – West Virginia
TJ Vasher, WR – Texas Tech

Darius Stills is likely destined for an interior pass rushing role at the next level. Undersized at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, Stills plays like he has been shot out a canon with an explosive first step that allows him to sometimes win instantly. Stills uses his natural leverage to play with exceptional pad level which he combines with violent hands to win on the inside. He needs to improve against the run where he too often loses control of his gap, but with his ability generate interior pass rush, Stills could play his way into a top 50 pick.

A lot of college receivers seen on highlight reels are smaller, fast guys taking short throws the distance. TJ Vasher is not one of those players. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Vasher put up three straight seasons of 500-plus receiving yards and six touchdowns. The formula for his success is not a complicated one, simply put it up and let him go get it. Vasher has huge hands and excellent body control making him a big-time threat in the red zone. He has seen an uptick in volume this year and if he can improve his route running Vasher could find his named called in the 2021 Draft.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications