NCAA Football, NFL Draft

2020 NFL Draft Spotlight: Tough test for Herbert, opportunity for Love

Week one in college football features plenty of match-ups for 2020 NFL Draft prospects to shine.

The road to the 2020 NFL Draft starts here. For most teams (save a few who played last week), this is the first true game action of the season. For scouts, this is the first opportunity to see players for next April’s draft. The question for every draft-eligible player is, will the growth continue and the weaknesses diminish, or will there be a step back?

Over the course of the season we will look at key matchups for 2020 draft prospects, and highlight certain parts of their game that will be under the microscope.

The great part about the first couple weeks of the season is that you see great non-conference games where top programs face one another. This represents an opportunity for prospects to show what they’ve got against the best talent in the country.

So which games should draft analysts and fans keep an eye on this weekend? Let’s dive into a few of them here.

Oregon vs. Auburn

There is a LOT to talk about for this one, dubbed the game of the week (for good reason). I’m sure plenty of scouts will be in attendance for this one, as two projected first round picks will take the field: Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert and Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

For Herbert, all of the pressure and expectation falls on him this season. He is, at the moment, the top quarterback prospect for the 2020 draft among most, not to mention that the Ducks are a sexy pick for the Pac-12 title and the College Football Playoff. Herbert has the great arm, athleticism and placement, and also shows the ability to read the full field.

However, he is very streaky as a passer. He can get hot, but he can also get cold. Pressure in his face often rattled him and unraveled the weaknesses in his game. Auburn has one of the best defensive lines in the country, so there will be pressure and he will be hit. I want to see how he responds and if he has the poise to hang in there and make big throws down the stretch in what should be a close game.

Speaking of the defensive line, Brown returned for his senior season and is the top defensive lineman for 2020 at the moment. He is a wrecking ball up front and is looking to build on a junior season that included 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He will line up against Oregon center Jake Hanson all game, and I’m looking for Brown to dominate this matchup.

On the flip side, can Jake Hanson be stronger at the point of attack this season? If he plays well against Brown, he will get a lot of attention. Two other guys to watch in the trenches are Auburn’s Nick Coe and Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton. Coe moved around the defensive line last season and has tons of strength. He could make life difficult for Throckmorton if they’re lined up opposite each other.

The Jordan Love hype train leaves the station for 2019

If you’ve seen my preseason big board, or follow NFL Mocks, you’ve seen how high I am on Utah State’s Jordan Love this upcoming season. I think he could end up being a first round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft with another great season. Love has the arm talent to fit throws into tight windows, great placement to every level of the field, and the quick release to get the ball out and on time. He can also throw off-balance and on the run.

His 2019 campaign starts with a trip to Wake Forest against a power five school. While Wake Forest isn’t LSU, who he plays later this year, they are still a good team that will provide a challenge for Love. I want to see that same poise he brought last year against Michigan State, and if he does bring it, he could lead the Aggies to an upset Friday night.

Senior running back faces early test

We know how talented the 2020 running back class could be, should the top underclassmen declare. Even if they don’t, the senior class has some names to watch. The top name for me at running back as far as seniors go is Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn. He has the home run ability and is a big, physical guy who runs through defenders. He faces the Georgia Bulldogs this week, who always have a tough defense. I want to see if Vaughn can create for himself if lanes don’t open, and if he can become a more nuanced runner between the tackles. This test will be good for him.

Other notable matchups

Northwestern and Stanford have a big non-conference tilt this Saturday, and a key matchup to watch is Stanford tight end Colby Parkinson against Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher. Can Fisher improve this season with his recognition and in coverage against a good receiving tight end?

They don’t match up directly, but Oklahoma and Houston will be one to tune in and watch. Both D’Eriq King and Jalen Hurts are looking to improve their stock this season. King has insane athleticism and Hurts is also a dual-threat type of player. I want to see both improve as passers in structure — King more in the intermediate area and Hurts down the field. It will also be interesting to see how CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra produce with Hurts at quarterback.

Boise State and Florida State is another exciting game on Saturday. Broncos edge rusher Curtis Weaver made my preseason top 50, and I want to see him dominate the Florida State offensive line. He has a good first step at times, and fits well at his size as a three technique who can slash between gaps and make plays in the backfield.

Next: 50 greatest college football players this century

Notre Dame and Louisville finish out week one on Monday night, and while Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton isn’t a household name yet, he could become one if he handles speed rusher Julian Okwara, who I’d like to see gain more of a repertoire.

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