The point of these articles, in addition to highlighting the top prospects across the country you’ll likely see in an NFL uniform within the passing of a few more months, is to bring attention to matchups that will demonstrate high quality reps. Seeing a second round corner putting the clamps on a highly touted receiving prospect shows a lot more than him doing it against some scrub running a 4.6 forty yard dash. Iron sharpens iron in these games causing names to rise up towards the top of the totem pole. This week our focus will be “centered” around trench warfare. Primarily because the games this week feature some fierce battles, and partly due to Houston’s need for reinforcements on both sides of the ball. In addition it happens to follow my team building philosophy of beefing up the trenches before focusing on the space players.
Last year five centers capable of becoming starters were drafted in the first three rounds last year. For perspective, in the 2020 draft only three centers were drafted in that span, and only one of those three were drafted outside of the third round when Ceasar Ruiz went to the Saints. This year we have already seen four centers show off some impressive flashes leaving optimism that perhaps a new captain of the offensive line could be in the wings to go with that potential quarterback Houston fans are clamoring for.
Florida vs Kentucky
DE Zachary Carter vs OT Darian Kinnard
In addition to featuring Kaiir Elam, this Gators defense features a lot of talent. While he didn’t have the greatest showing against Alabama’s stout offensive line, last week’s sack against Tennessee was a nice bounce back in a positive direction. Carter is more along the lines of a power rusher which will play into his opponent, Kinnard’s hands. With a body at tackle of 6’5 340lbs he is not far off the trail of a Kelechi Osemele type. Power is Kinnard’s game and a potential first round selection could be in his future after this one. Whereas on Carter’s side games like these are a great reminder to teams what he can do against NFL talent.
Ole Miss vs Alabama
DE Sam Williams v OT Evan Neal
There really shouldn’t be much debate. Evan Neal is a clear cut stud at tackle and is the betting favorite to be the first lineman off the board next draft. Despite sharing similar size to future power guard Darian Kinnard, Neal is gifted like a true dancing bear with lightning quick feet. This rare mobility should be on display against outside linebacker prototype Sam Williams. Williams is a pure speed rusher plan and simple with admirable effort in pursuit. Even if Neal is the favorite to win the majority of the battles I urge people to watch how effortlessly this guy moves because there’s a beauty in how absurd it appears.
Michigan vs Wisconsin
DE Aidan Hutchinson v OT Tyler Beach
Brandon Graham, Frank Clark, Chase Winovich, and Kwity Paye are all great examples of how Michigan has consistently been able to churn out defensive linemen throughout the decade. None of them, however, are receiving as much buzz as Aidan Hutchinson is right now. The Wolverines have a seamless way of combining his athleticism with a certain savvy bend allowing him to be a game wrecker on opposing offenses. Unlike Evan Neal, this is no bonafide top option, but Beach has graded out to be a solid, steady tackle in a competitive Big-10 conference. If Hutchinson gets the better of him it will make him harder to ignore at the top of the draft after Thibodeaux.
Arkansas vs Georgia
OC Ricky Stromberg v DT Jordan Davis
Arkansas is enjoying themselves a nice season this year and a large part of it goes towards the center leading the charge. Originally starting at guard, Stromberg has really found his groove at center with great strength to go along with great communication; the Razorback pivot gives off discount Ryan Kelly vibes when he was coming out of Alabama. A strong pedigree to live up to certainly, what could be more positive reinforcement of his play than a good game against Jordan Davis.
Outside of Demarvin Leal from A&M, Davis leads the top of a short list for the best interior defensive tackle in the class. It’s similar to last year’s shallow defensive line group that can be viewed as an indictment of the position’s strength this year, but that doesn’t diminish the potential Davis can bring to a team. A true pocket pusher, Davis prides his game on elite run stuffing while being a people mover to set up his surrounding cast for the sacks. Stromberg’s anchor will be put to the test against this people mover stampeding the nation’s top defense.