College football Week 9 NFL Draft prospects to watch

With the Big Ten back, there are plenty of top prospects to watch every week. Even with eligibility forgiven for this season, there will likely be a large group of players who enter their names in the upcoming draft. With COVID-19 spiking and the prospect of playing in doubt every week, college football’s top prospects will need to take advantage of every game they have and put together film that will grab scouts attention.

Boston College vs. Clemson

Zion Johnson, IOL – Boston College
Travis Etienne, RB – Clemson

Boston College has one of the most underrated offensive lines in the country. It is led by senior Zion Johnson, who is as physical and aggressive as they come at the point of attack. Johnson has gone from a no-star recruit to NFL Draft prospect because he plays with good leverage and control and moves his feet extremely well for his size. He will be a guard at the next level where his solid anchor and heavy hands will make him some money in pass protection and could potentially have him starting on day one. Off to a good start in 2020, Johnson looks to be on his way to potentially a top 100 pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Simply put ,Travis Etienne is a saint for coming back to Clemson and looks like a Saint with how comparable his play is to Alvin Kamara. Etienne is undoubtedly the top running back in college right now with is blend of speed and playmaking ability. He has elite agility, burst and speed making him a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He needs to improve his vision and pass blocking ability, but he is such a weapon in space that defenses must choose if committing an extra blitzer is worth potentially springing Etienne loose. Positional value is always a question when it comes to drafting running backs, but Etienne is a game changer who deserves to be in the first round conversation.

Michigan State vs. Michigan

Naquan Jones, IDL – Michigan State
Carlo Kemp, IDL – Michigan

Naquan Jones is the man in the middle of everything for the Michigan State Spartans. At 6-foot-4 and over 320 pounds, Jones provides excellent size and length on the interior of the defensive line. He has a great initial punch to stun blockers and shows surprisingly nimble feet and mobility for a man his size. Jones will not provide a ton of pass rush, but he has the power to strength to two gap in the run game and will likely be used as an early down specialist at the next level. With the depth chart opening up, Jones will have plenty of opportunities to improve his draft stock as a starter rather than a rotational piece like he has been the past couple seasons.

Michigan has one of the best defensive lines in college football anchored on the interior by Carlo Kemp. Kemp has a quick first step and plays light on his feet, which helps him penetrate the interior of the line at the college level. He will need to add weight and strength if he hopes to be scheme versatile as he projects strictly to a three-technique in the NFL. He struggles with double teams as most college defensive tackles do, but if he is left one-on-one with a guard or center, he can overwhelm them with a nice rip and swim move.

LSU vs. Auburn

Jabril Cox, LB – LSU
Big Kat Bryant, Edge – Auburn

Jabril Cox transferred into LSU from North Dakota State already an All-American at the FCS level. Cox is a long, rangy player that shows sideline-to-sideline mobility as an over-hang defender and strong side linebacker. Cox is a bit raw with his keys, but his quickness and speed allow him to close ground in a hurry. He is a three-down player, and there is even tape of him at NDSU covering receivers in the slot, which should only bolster his draft stock as a space player who can drop into coverage but also rush the passer. If Cox can put together solid back half of the season, he will likely hear his name called in the top 100 picks of next year’s draft.

Auburn lost nearly all its pass rushing presence from last year with Big Kat Bryant being one of the few hold overs for the Tigers. Bryant has been hampered by injuries which have slowed his development, but when he is healthy, he has the athleticism to cause problems on the edge for offenses. Bryant is a solid speed rusher but needs to develop some counter and secondary pass rush moves quickly if he hope to make it in the NFL. The build and athleticism are all there for Bryant to be a quality edge rusher, he simply needs to turn some of his raw potential into more production.

Northwestern vs. Iowa

Paddy Fisher, ILB – Northwestern
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR – Iowa

Checking in at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Paddy Fisher is a throwback, old school backer playing for a guy who knows how to coach them in Pat Fitzgerald. Fisher is a tone setter and leader of the Wildcat defense with his physical play and football intelligence both evident on tape. He is slightly below average from an athleticism standpoint, but Fisher constantly is around the ball and seems to have a knack for making a big play when needed. In the pass game, he shows the ability to work in zone coverage but does not have a ton of tape showing in man where questions about his mobility will linger. Fisher is a physically imposing intelligent linebacker who could raise his stock if he shows improved athleticism on tape.

Smith-Marsette returned to Iowa having led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, while ranking second in receptions in 2019. As a long lengthy receiver with excellent speed and soft hands, Smith-Marsette is well rounded and finds success at all three levels of the field. He not only effects the game on offense but special teams as well where he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2019. He also added three rushing touchdowns to his stat line to further prove how dynamic he can be with the ball in his hands. With Iowa breaking in a new quarterback, having Smith-Marsette on the outside will surely make the transition easier. Look for Iowa to find a variety of ways to get Smith-Marsette the ball this weekend and throughout the season.

Ohio State vs. Penn State

Wyatt Davis, IOL – Ohio State
Shaka Toney, Edge – Penn State

Wyatt Davis was originally an opt-out player who decided to return to school once the Big Ten season was announced. Davis is a bounce house for defensive linemen absolutely mauling guys at the point of attack. Unlike pure run blocking maulers though, Davis is nimble on his feet and shows fluidity in his movements allowing him to get the better of his opponent at any angle. He lacks the requisite length to play on the outside and will be a true guard at the next level which could hurt his draft stock some, but Davis is already a clear cut day one starter and should be able to make the transition to any pro system seamlessly. If Davis can even be half the player his grandfather was, Willie Davis the Pro Football Hall of Famer, he will be worthy of a top pick in next year’s draft.

It feels like Shaka Toney has been at Penn State forever as he enters his senior season. Toney is an athletic dynamo with a long frame and twitchy get off. He has a variety of pass rush moves that play off his pure speed and is flexible enough to be considered a true edge bender. His technique is very raw and will need refinement at the next level to unlock his full potential. However, Toney is such an explosive athlete that even minor refinement in his pass rushing technique will likely unlock a couple more sacks a year. He will be a handful for the Ohio State offensive line and if he can show improvement on his run defense, he could play his way into top 50 consideration by the end of the season.

Photo courtesy of Auburn Athletics