With a bit of a “amuse-bouche” of college football last weekend, the real thing is here now with a massive slate of games going from Wednesday to Sunday night. With this jam packed weekend comes a ton of opportunities for NFL prospects to make a great first impression for their 2021 season. These are a few names I will be watching.
Isaiah Likely, Tight End, CCU v. The Citadel (Thursday, 7 PM ET on ESPN+)
Isaiah Likely’s play last season was a major factor in Coast Carolina’s success on offense. The 6’4”, 240 pound pass catcher averaged 20 yards on his 30 receptions while scoring five times. Likely is an athletic pass catcher that Coastal Carolina moves around their offense to create mismatches. He has a bit of a cupcake against The Citadel, but it will be the start to a season where he will hopefully be targeted a lot more.
Chris Olave, Wide Receiver, Ohio State v. Minnesota (Thursday, 8 PM ET on Fox)
Chris Olave made a surprising choice to return to Ohio State after being projected as a top 50 pick in the 2021 draft. Olave has been one of the better deep threats in college football over the last two seasons and he probably wants to prove he is an all-around great receiver. Thursday night is his first chance against a typically solid Minnesota defense. With a new quarterback at the helm of the offense, Olave will be depended on to make big plays on behalf of the Buckeyes.
Sam Howell, Quarterback, UNC v. Virginia Tech (Friday, 6 PM ET on ESPN)
Unlike last summer where it was clear Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields were two surefire first round picks, this year has a level of uncertainty when it comes to the quarterbacks in college football. There are some good ones, but it is hard to say who will definitely hear their names called early next May. Sam Howell is a prime candidate, of course. He has thrown 68 touchdowns in his first two seasons at UNC and made a big leap in his sophomore year when it came to decision making. Howell is an accurate quarterback who can hit all levels of the field and he is not afraid to hang in the pocket. NFL draft hopes and the hopes of UNC are riding on Howell taking another step this year and he gets a chance against Virginia Tech to signal how this year might go for him.
Rasheed Walker, Offensive Tackle, Penn State v. Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 PM, ET on ESPN)
Rasheed Walker is an NFL prototype at 6’6” and 320 pounds with long, strong arms. He has slowly grown into a dominating lineman who can bully in the running game and lock rushers down as a pass blocker. Wisconsin is fielding a talented group of defensive linemen and Walker’s consistency will be tested as Penn State tries to assert themselves as a Big 10 favorite. Walker’s ceiling is sky high, but he needs to pay well in this big test before we can start talking about him as a top player.
D’Eriq King, Quarterback, Miami v. Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on ABC)
D’Eriq King is in his final season of college football and the path here has been tumultuous. Despite playing well early in his career at Houston, coaching upheaval led King to transfer to Miami. King was playing great football for the Canes last year, but tore his ACL in the team’s bowl game against Oklahoma. Despite all this, he is healthy and ready to take on Alabama in his season opener. The Alabama defense will always be a test for any quarterback, but D’Eriq king has responded to adversity before and maybe he will rise to it again.
Josh Jobe, Cornerback, Alabama v. Miami (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on ABC)
Another year of Alabama churning out talented defensive backs. With Patrick Surtain II in the NFL, the spotlight moves to Josh Jobe. Jobe has great size at 6’1” and speed to match with any receiver in college football. His combination of length and explosiveness will keep NFL teams interested, and his physicality always makes him a fun watch. Consistency is key for the talented defensive back, and he will need discipline against a Miami offense with explosive potential.
Tiawan Mullen, Cornerback, Indiana v. Iowa (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on BTN)
Tiawan Mullen was one of the most fun defenders to watch last year. The scrappy Hoosier was a versatile playmaker for Indiana. He could cover outside, drop into the slot, blitz, defend the run… Anything Indiana wanted him to do, Mullen would execute at 100 miles per hour. Now the spotlight is on him and he is a known entity. Mullen could be a top cornerback this year and will need a big game against a ranked Iowa team to prove last year was no fluke.
Chris Smith, Running Back, ULL v. Texas (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET on Fox)
The Ragin’ Cajuns won 10 games last year due to their dynamic running game. With their top two runners from 2020 now in the NFL, Chris Smith has to step up as the team’s primary ball carrier. The junior runner is a short, but stout back with good long speed. ULL is kicking their season off with a big name opponent in Texas and Smith will hear his name called for four quarters to help ULL maintain their ranked status.
Justyn Ross, Wide Receiver, Clemson v. Georgia (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET on ABC)
Justyn Ross is arguably one of the more intriguing draft prospects in the country this year. As a freshman, back in 2018, Ross posted a thousand yard season where he averaged over 21 yards a catch. He followed it up with another impressive sophomore season where he went over 800 yards. Expectations going into last year were high, but between a neck injury and a season threatened by Covid, Justyn Ross sat out for the season. Now, the 6’4” receiver is back in the line up and primed to prove he has not lost a step and is still a dangerous player on offense. Ross has as high a ceiling as any player in college football and he can put on a big show Saturday against a fantastic Georgia team.
Derek Stingley Junior, Cornerback, LSU v. UCLA (Saturday, 8:30 PM ET on Fox)
Derek Stingley Junior is an early favorite for top defender in the 2022 draft. Stingley is athletic with great ball skills and physicality. He has the skill set, the athletic profile and the mindset of a top NFL cornerback. His whole season will be worth watching and his season debut will be no different with UCLA on deck. The Bruins started their season last weekend and are already settled in a bit more. Their offense can make plays through the air and on the ground, so Stingley will be tested in every way.