College Fantasy Football may only be starting this week, but Draft Season is always in full swing. The slate this week has some great matchups between teams jockeying to make it to Inglewood in January. As schools have found out the importance of strength of schedule, we have been granted the privilege of seeing prime games even this early in the season. With high-quality contests come premier players facing each other in the matchups within the matchup. These games will have lasting effects on teams’ playoff hopes and many players’ professional careers.
Saturday, September 3
#11 Oregon @ #3 Georgia (3:30 PM)
iOL TJ Bass vs iDL Jalen Carter
Oregon Head Coach Dan Lanning gets his former team’s first lick at dethroning the defending national champions. Many are touting Oregon’s Offensive Line as one of the best in the country, but Lanning knows better than anyone just how disruptive that Georgia front can be.
It’s hard to believe that the best player on the historic 2021 Georgia defense was not draft-eligible yet. iDL Jalen Carter is the top DT in this class and has an outside shot at a top 10 selection. A mover of men, he regularly reestablishes the LOS in the backfield. Carter has multiple paths to the ball carrier, whether engaging and shedding, ricocheting between opponents or utilizing astonishing lateral speed to evade the block altogether. The only question is whether he can maintain his production as the focal point of the defense.
LG TJ Bass may be the best of this highly-rated Oregon blocking unit. At 6’5” and 318 lbs., he’s got the size to play multiple spots on the line and filled in at LT last year. Bass is a technician with coordinated but detached upper and lower bodies, preventing balance issues. His plus athleticism and natural footwork aid this. He has the mobility and sandbags to hold up against multiple rush techniques. He does trade some strength for athleticism, and you can also sometimes see him suffer from analysis paralysis.
Hopefully, we will see each team’s best draft prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft faceoff early and often. Bass lucks out here as Carter’s bullrush is not his strongest tool. We will see if Bass can get out of his head enough to win the hand leverage battle. Carter will have to keep his head up, so he won’t be able to recover play leverage on Bass. Expect him to rely on his speed to penetrate quickly and play from behind the LOS, leaving no questions about who wins body leverage.
#23 Cincinnati @ #19 Arkansas (3:30 PM)
QB Ben Bryant vs. S Jalen Catalon
Will Cincinnati be able to recover from the crushing loss to end their 2021 season after becoming the first G5 team to make the College Football Playoff? Will Arkansas be able to repeat their run in 2021 by relying on their strong OL and backfield again? This game will be a ride with both teams relying on a targeted passing attack and heavy doses of rushing against 4-2-6 defenses.
QB Bryant was a longtime backup to current Atlanta Falcon Desmond Ridder but spent the last year as the starter at Eastern Michigan. He now returns to take his place at the helm of the Bearcat offense. Similar to his predecessor, Bryant’s throwing platform is inconsistent and messy. When he gets the time to set his feet, though, he has plenty of arm to complete passes between and outside the hashes. He’ll have plenty of time to throw behind Arkansas’ poor pass rush and Cincinnati’s five returning OL starters. If he can find enough time and space to throw comfortably, he should have an entertaining battle against the Arkansas secondary.
It’s difficult to say that any QB has a direct opponent on the defensive side of the ball like some of the other matchups in this series. However, Catalon’s presence around the ball will cause Bryant to look to avoid him at all costs. Arkansas has a mix of savvy veterans and experienced transfers in its defensive backfield. One would think that responsibilities would be distinct and segmented in a six DB system. But, with great instincts and play recognition, Catalon uses his phenomenal closing speed to affect the ball on almost every play, regardless of run or pass. His weaknesses in stature likely won’t affect this game, though it may hinder his draft evaluation and his health.
Let’s be clear, this game will primarily feature a run-first approach by both teams, and Catalon will surely factor into that phase of the game. Catalon may draw Bryant’s primary target TE Josh Whyle in coverage in the passing game. Even if he doesn’t, look for him to break up passes outside his responsibilities as well. How Bryant handles this headache of a defender will be something to monitor throughout the game.
#7 Utah @ Florida (7:00 PM)
TEs Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid vs. Safeties Rashad Torrence II and Trey Dean III
There are few contests as interesting as pitting the Utah TE room against the Florida safety group. This UF team is used to SEC competition, but may not be prepared for the physicality that Utah brings to town.
Kuithe is the smaller of the TEs that Utah will feature. Despite standing at 6’2”, he is practically a slot receiver with his quick release and flexible ankles. Kuithe utilizes every part of his unique track background in his sudden route-running and burst to break chunk plays. He’s small for a TE but significant for a WR, and I can only categorize him as an offensive weapon. Kincaid is a more traditional Y-TE, though he also sometimes lines up in the slot. Though 6’7”, he is a nimble 240 lbs. Kincaid may have the best hands on the team. That, combined with his innate understanding of coverage leverage, makes him a dangerous complement to Kuithe. Neither TE is particularly adept nor depended on to block much, if at all. But with Kuithe taking control of the middle of the field and Kincaid roaming the mid-depth seams, this TE duo is enough to give any defensive coordinator a headache.
Enter the safety tandem of Torrence and Dean. Having cut their teeth in the SEC, these are experienced and athletic safeties that can be used in various ways. Torrence is a heat-seeking missile once he identifies his target. This is no more apparent than his tendency to maintain a decent cushion yet still be involved in almost every play. He is also able to mirror and close the gap in coverage when asked as well. He sometimes needs to reign in his aggression, as he often sells out for the tackle. Torrence could also stand to add some strength, as he won’t be able to overwhelm receivers at the next level. Dean is the larger of the two safeties at 6’3” and 210lbs. He places himself well on the field to always be in the right place at the right time. Dean has maintained his man-coverage ability as a former CB and made major strides in his zone coverage after moving to safety. He does need to work on wrapping up, but he projects well as an asset at the next level.
Torrence likely draws Kuithe with his box safety responsibilities. It will be interesting to see if Torrence has matured over the offseason and learned to take a more conservative approach, as any misstep may lead to big gains for the Utes, especially with Kuithe’s quickness. Dean may be one of the larger DBs that Kincaid will have to face all season. While a formidable hands-catcher, we will see if QB Cam Rising can put the ball high enough to avoid Dean’s long arms and utilize Kincaid’s size advantage.
#5 Notre Dame @ #2 Ohio State (7:30 PM)
EDGE Isaiah Foskey vs. OT Paris Johnson Jr.
In the prizefight of the Saturday slate, we see Notre Dame and Ohio State pitted against each other. The Buckeye offense looks to compensate for a weaker-than-usual defense, while the Notre Dame defense once again looks armed to the teeth in NFL-ready talent. With huge playoff implications on the line, will this game be a 12-round heavyweight bout or a first-round KO?
While I highlighted Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski last week, I noted that this OT class was particularly weak compared to recent years. One of the big beneficiaries of this weak class is OT Paris Johnson Jr., A candidate for the dancing bear award at the NFL Combine; Johnson has surprising grace and fluidity for a player that stands 6’6” and 315lbs. If he can get his hands on an EDGE, that defender can call that play a loss. While we have yet to see him play on the left side, his athleticism helps the projection. Johnson absolutely must improve his hand accuracy and balance now that he kicks out to the end from guard.
Foskey has had consistent production since his breakout redshirt freshman year on the other side of the ball. A redshirt junior, Foskey will look to continue the long line of successful Fighting Irish DL in the NFL. His calling card is his one-arm rush technique, as he can convert speed to power and drive back larger OL. That isn’t to say that Foskey is in any way diminutive. At 6’5” and 260 lbs, he has practically lab-grown dimensions to play EDGE in the NFL. He must improve his pass-rush plan in the macro scheme of the game and gain some strength to win in tighter spaces.
Each of these players’ strengths is the perfect counter to each other. Both have violent hands that can sometimes miss their mark. But, if either is to land a blow, it’ll mean the loss of that play to the other. Foskey will have to repeatedly go back to his long-arm rush to beat Johnson’s pterodactyl-like 36” arms somehow. While this matchup won’t determine the game, it can impact the game in a major way if the two can look up from their game of pattycake, create a cushion on edge, and eat up the space for their respective team.