CFB Week 1: Player Matchup Preview
Week 1 of College Football is here and so is our first ever Player Matchup piece. Each week we will highlight five battles between eligible prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft. It will give us a chance to flag when two elite players will face off. College Football often has uneven matchups so it’s important when scouting to focus on the games where prospects face off against those who will also likely progress to the next level. First up, let’s look at the big game of the weekend Oregon vs Auburm.
Shane Lemieux vs Derrick Brown
The marquee matchup of the weekend is undoubtedly Oregon vs Auburn. The glitzy battle is between the two QBs Justin Herbert and true freshman Bo Nix.
However, we are going to cast our eyes to the trenches for our first matchup. Herbert returns for his Senior year behind one of the most talented offensive lines in the country. One of the gems of the group is left guard Shane Lemieux. Lemieux ranked out as Pro Football Focus’ top guard in the Pac-12 and third nationally. He faces a stiff test on Saturday against a star studded Auburn defensive line.
Derrick Brown lines up predominantly on the left side of the line but will undoubtedly get reps against Lemieux. The physically dominant defensive tackle is already pencilled in as the number 1 prospect at his position. Being able to watch two headline names battle it out so early in the year should be a treat.
KJ Costello vs Hunter Johnson
We are going to bend the rules on this one. When a Quarterback steps on the field he has to take on the whole defense. Avoid the pass rush, read the linebacker, identify the coverage and look off the safety. They don’t have a natural matchup. So we will take a QB from each side as our next competition to watch.
K.J. Costello enters his senior year with question marks over his performance. His accuracy improved last year but his turnover percentage suffered a jump. There is no doubt he flashes NFL traits but he must find better consistency. While the Stanford QB has had plenty of opportunity to showcase himself, his opposite number is somewhat of an unknown.
Hunter Johnson was a five star recruit for Clemson in 2017. His path was blocked by Kelly Bryant and when Trevor Lawrence committed for the 2018 season, Johnson decided to cut loose and transfer to Northwestern. Now eligible to start, the Wildcats were hyped to have the big armed QB leading them in 2019.
However, Johnson hasn’t quite nailed down the job having been only named joint starter this week. If he cements the job and has an explosive season he technically is draft eligible despite his lack of starting experience. He is certainly worth a glance on opening weekend.
D'Eriq King vs Jalen Hurts
What a way to end the weekend! Houston take on Oklahoma and we get to see two of the most exciting playmakers in college football. D’Eriq King is an explosive athlete who can break a game open in a heartbeat. He has excellent vision and speed, able to escape the pocket and take it to the house. However, he isn’t one dimensional. His arm talent is spectacular if not always consistent. If he can piece the two aspects together, despite his small stature, he can be an intriguing prospect.
For Oklahoma, we get another Quarterback transplant. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both excelled in the Sooner system but Jalen Hurts could be the biggest test of Lincoln Riley’s playbook. The Alabama transfer can be elusive and be of use in the running game but had problems with accuracy. He has the arm strength to hit targets but things get a bit cloudy under pressure. Riley should be able to scheme receivers wide open which will help Hurts. Could it be a third no.1 overall pick in a row? Probably not but Hurts can prove himself with a successful stint in Norman.
Mykal Walker vs Stephen Carr
Mykal Walker was an inside linebacker when first recruited by Fresno State, but he spent 2018 as a defensive end. He made a pretty good stab of it for the Bulldogs and his 6’3, 230 frame helped him in that sense. That said it will be interesting seeing him move back to his original spot this season. Walker takes over from the now departed Jeff Allison and will be expected to be a dominant downhill force vs the run game.
Walker faces an interesting opening week against USC. With an injury to Vavae Malepeai, the back getting the majority of snaps could be Stephen Carr. Carr has faced his own injury problems meaning his USC career hasn’t really taken flight. Having missed time with multiple ankle injuries, Carr won’t be wanting to put too much tread on the tyres. A healthy breakout year is much needed for Carr ahead of the 2020 draft. His breakaway speed and lateral agility will be a great test for Walker in his new role.
Jared Pinkney vs Richard LeCounte
Nothing beats an all-SEC conference game and getting one on opening weekend is a bonus. Vanderbilt have a stocked offense that we looked at in detail prior to the big kickoff. The most talented piece could be Tight End Jared Pinkney. He is a strong, physical presence but has the ability to stretch the field and make game-changing plays deep.
That ability to be a scoring threat from anywhere means Georgia will have to find ways to cover Pinkney. Most likely to help in that department is Richard LeCounte. Pro Football Focus graded LeCounte’s coverage ability as an 84 while he led the Bulldogs in tackles. If LeCounte gets matched up against Pinkney deep then he should be well placed to match him. However, tasked with stopping him in the open field could be more of a problem. Despite his stats LeCounte’s tackling is where his question marks remain.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.