Best NFL Draft Matchups for Week 1 of College Football
The return of college football is an exciting time for millions of fans, but not everyone watches games the same way. While you may be focused on your favorite team or a specific player, others will be watching Week 1 through an NFL draft lens.
We narrowed our focus to matchups you'll see during games. For example, a quarterback isn't playing against a quarterback. Cornerbacks are opposite wide receivers, and offensive tackles mostly deal with defensive ends, etc.
Unfortunately for draftniks, Duke cornerback Mark Gilbert will likely not face the four-headed Alabama receiving monster. Gilbert is sidelined indefinitely with a hip injury.
The list is organized chronologically based on kickoff time.
Duke RB Deon Jackson vs. Various Alabama Defenders
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Deon Jackson has a whole bunch of speed and is a good receiver out of the backfield. But how will he compare to Alabama's talent-packed and typically NFL-bound defense?
Last season, Jackson led Duke with 847 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while adding 26 catches for 253 yards and two scores. Plus, with a 6'0", 220-pound frame, he's built to impact the game as a blocker. Jackson has a chance to show immense versatility.
And against this competition, the Blue Devils desperately need that.
Jackson will likely assist with blocking D-linemen Raekwon Davis, LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis and should see linebacker Dylan Moses regularly—whether he's blitzing or in coverage. Edge-rushers Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings might need to get chipped, too.
Saturday is a huge test for Jackson.
Editor's Note: After publish, it was reported Dylan Moses tore his ACL at practice on Tuesday.
North Carolina LT Charlie Heck vs. South Carolina DE D.J. Wonnum
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mack Brown didn't inherit a great roster, but the veteran coach has a sturdy foundational piece in left tackle Charlie Heck.
As a junior, per Pro Football Focus, he surrendered a single sack and just 14 pressures. Heck will protect prized freshman quarterback Sam Howell from a player hoping for a bounce-back year.
Injuries limited D.J. Wonnum to five appearances in 2018. The season before, though, he recorded 57 tackles with 13 for loss and 6.5 sacks. Wonnum and teammate Javon Kinlaw have the potential to garner early-round consideration in the 2020 draft.
Stanford LT Walker Little vs. Northwestern DE Joe Gaziano
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m. ET (Fox)
Heading into his junior campaign, Walker Little is a popular guy. B/R's Matt Miller pegs the Stanford standout as the No. 1 tackle prospect.
Little is listed at 6'7" and 309 pounds, so he offers prototypical size for a blindside protector. Plus, he was the Pac-12's Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year in 2017 and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Once 2019 is over, barring injury, Little will be among the best and most experienced draft-eligible tackles.
Joe Gaziano will provide a great initial test. In three seasons at Northwestern, the defensive end has collected 104 tackles with 31.5 in the backfield (21 sacks) and forced seven fumbles.
Boise State LT Ezra Cleveland vs. Florida State DE Joshua Kaindoh
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The blunt truth is Joshua Kaindoh hasn't matched his billing. As a 5-star signee in the 2017 class, he was supposed to become the next great NFL prospect at Florida State.
Yes, he's managed 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 25 games. By no means is that terrible—and an unspecified injury slowed him in 2018—but the Seminoles are waiting to see consistent production week to week.
Ezra Cleveland might delay Kaindoh's breakout year.
Last season, he allowed only 13 pressures while playing 973 snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Some NFL teams might be most interested in Cleveland as a guard, but a clash with Kaindoh will give the senior a chance to show he's athletic enough for a swing tackle role.
Vanderbilt WR Kalija Lipscomb vs. Georgia CB Eric Stokes
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Since the opening week is full of matchups between power-conference teams and Group of Five or FCS programs—which are good and necessary—there aren't many marquee showdowns between a touted wide receiver and cornerback.
But this one between Vanderbilt's Kalija Lipscomb and Georgia's Eric Stokes should be an entertaining battle.
Lipscomb paced the Commodores with 87 catches, 916 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. That followed a 2017 campaign in which he collected 37 receptions for 610 yards and a team-high eight scores.
Stokes, meanwhile, performed admirably in a backup role. According to PFF, he allowed just 10 receptions for 113 yards and zero touchdowns on 25 targets. He's now a starter opposite Tyson Campbell, who is a prospect to know for 2021.
Oregon OL vs. Auburn DL
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is the well-known talent, but the line of scrimmage is loaded with NFL-caliber matchups.
Herbert has a quartet of blockers who are squarely on scouting radars. Saturday, Calvin Throckmorton will probably play both guard and tackle, while Shane Lemieux is the left guard, Jake Hanson is the center and Brady Aiello is a tackle. (For good measure, non-eligible sophomore tackle Penei Sewell might be the best prospect anyway).
They'll be facing a slew of impressive rushers.
Derrick Brown and Nick Coe are two of 2020's best interior linemen; B/R's Matt Miller ranked them first and third, respectively, on his early big board. Marlon Davidson and Big Kat Bryant are entering prove-it seasons, so Oregon will provide a great test.
Louisville LT Mekhi Becton vs. Notre Dame DL
When: Monday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Despite the program's recent struggles, Mekhi Becton has emerged as a force on the Louisville offensive line.
The junior left tackle enters 2019 with 23 career starts and first-round upside. Miller views Becton, who checks in at 6'7" and 369 pounds, as the fifth-best prospect at his position.
Notre Dame is going to test Becton's athleticism.
Edge-rushers Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara combined for 23 takedowns in the backfield and 12.5 sacks last year. Both players are firmly Day 2 prospects right now, but a standout season could put either Kareem or Okwara on first-round radars.