Another stellar week of college football action in Week 4, with two big upsets from NC State and TCU over fancied powerhouses Oklahoma State and Florida State. Georgia bested Mississippi State in the Battle of the Bulldogs while USC, Oklahoma and Penn St. were pushed closer than anticipated by unranked but talented opponents. My weekly column runs down the draft eligible winners and losers from every weekend of action and leaves you with a scorching #HotTakeOfTheWeek to sate your palate of bad american football opinions. College Football Week 4 Winners and Losers:
WINNER: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
This is a special running back, perhaps the best pure runner I have ever evaluated. Barkley finished Saturday’s game against a good Iowa defense with 211 rushing yards. And 12 catches for 94 yards. And he did this:
This play is just insane. Hurdles over a defender, gets hit on the way down from there and maintains his balancre and focus and keeps going. pic.twitter.com/Fd01h3Svyc
— Riley Auman (@junioraumanac) September 25, 2017
In a pre-game feature on ESPN’s College Gameday, an image flashed showing just how dominant an athlete Barkley is, holding Penn State’s running back records in every athletic category, including being timed with a 4.33 40 time. That is ridiculous for a man listed at 230 pounds and can bench 420. Beyond his otherworldly athleticism, Barkley has superb vision and ability to make defenders miss with power or lateral agility. A big play threat every time he gets the ball in his hands, Barkley is patient but hits the hole with outstanding acceleration, and creates plays for himself behind inconsistent offensive line play. With loose hips and excellent change-of-direction ability, the Nittany Lion is a complete runner who should excel in the NFL.
I feel confident in saying he will be my top-rated running back this year barring injury or off-field problems.
LOSER: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald has been touted as a sleeper quarterback to watch this year, with the Bulldogs’ junior supposedly developing some buzz in the NFL. With size, athleticism and a very good arm, Fitzgerald fits the mould of the modern NFL quarterback, with in-the-know draft analyst Tony Pauline particularly high on him, ranking him the fifth best draft-eligible quarterback and potential first rounder.
Fitzgerald had started the season strongly, displaying improved accuracy from an up-and-down campaign last year. Against a very active Georgia defense, however, he showed he still has long way to go, finishing 14 of 29 for 83 yards and tossing two picks. Fitzgerald offers upside, but right now is not close to being an NFL quality QB, displaying inconsistent accuracy and questionable decision make. His mobility and size blend well and his strong arm will continue to intrigue evaluators, but I would give Fitzgerald the same advice I gave Josh Allen last week: go back to school for your senior season and continue to develop your skills as a passer. I consider Fitzgerald more of a 2019 Quarterback to Watch than a 2018 Prospect right now.
WINNER: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
The Wolfpack’s win over the Seminoles was spearheaded by their two best players: offensively it was versatile Jaylen Samuels and on defense it was the sensational performance Chubb delivered to continually harry freshman quarterback James Blackman.
I am going to focus on Chubb. The pass rusher may not be as twitchy or bendy as the likes of Harold Landry, but he is a solid first-round edge defender with a complete portfolio of abilities. Powerful at the point of attack against the run, the senior possesses good size (6-4, 275 pounds) to play strong side defensive end in a 4-3 the NFL. Excellent hand usage and physicality enhance his developing range of pass rushing moves, and Chubb knows how to finish a rush, repeatedly slamming Blackman to the floor in Saturday’s matchup. In addition to two sacks, he also forced a fumble and then somehow managed to recover it some 25 yards downfield after a scramble for the ball, showing off his impressive motor and relentless attitude to stay with the play to completion.
I don’t think you take a guy like Chubb in the top-15: I don’t think he will ever have the athletic profile or bend to put up huge sack numbers at the NFL level. I think he will eventually be entrenched in the back half of the first round and go on to have a strong career.
LOSER: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
An Alabama player after they drubbed Vanderbilt 59-0? Indeed. Ridley was the one bad note from what I saw of a typically dominant Crimson Tide SEC shutout.
I don’t know how well Ridley projects to the NFL, and I have questions about his hands. He had a really bad drop in the end zone against the Commodores. He has a thin frame at probably no taller than 6-foot, and I’m not sure he is any faster than a 4.45 guy at best, although he has flashed deep speed during his college career. His route running is good and he has some open field quickness, but I don’t think I would take Ridley right now in the first round, where most project him. He may prove me wrong and I hope he does, but Ridley doesn’t scream top NFL receiver when I watch the tape.
WINNER: Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Mata’afa is one of my favourite defensive linemen to watch in the class, and his strong early season form continued, notching two and a half sacks in Wazzu’s strong victory over Nevada, taking his season tally to 4.5. Playing on the interior but undersized at 252 pounds, Mata’afa shows power becoming of a man of mythical namesake. Relentless and twitchy, he projects as a defensive end or outside linebacker if he decides to vault to the NFL after this year.
Among the best interior pass rushers in the nation, the Hawaiian native is used from the edge on occasion this year and flashes ability to do so in those limited opportunities. When I look back to last year, a particularly strong performance against Stanford stands out in showing his potential at the NFL level, disrupting from the interior and off the edge against a good offensive line. There is some Solomon Thomas (2017 third overall pick) about Mata’afa and the way he plays: I don’t think he goes as high as Thomas, but Mata’afa could end up in the first round when all is said.
RB Bryce Love, Stanford
WR Auden Tate, FSU (shoulder injury day-to-day, excellent receiving performance until injury)
OT Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
LB Josey Jewell, Iowa
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
EDGE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas
HOT TAKE OF THE WEEK:
This week’s hot take comes from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah ‘Ask 5’ column. In last Wednesday’s edition, he asked five NFL executives who they felt was the best NFL comparison for Saquon Barkley. I don’t tend to compare prospects to NFL players, but I always find these interesting exercises to see where executives stand on players.
All 5 execs. offered different names, with one comparing Barkley to star rookie Kareem Hunt (which I don’t see at all), another to David Johnson and one to Joe Mixon. The hot take came from executive 5, who compared Barkley to Ezekiel Elliott:
“I was at the game a few years ago when Elliott and Barkley shared the same field. As impressive as Elliott was, Barkley was the better player. They have similar skill sets but Barkley is better in every area.”
That final sentence grabbed me and I can’t agree with this take. I think Barkley is an unbelievable talent and a better pure runner than Elliott was in college, but I don’t think he is better in every area. Elliott is far more secure in pass protection, and I think as a receiving option out of the backfield offers greater ability. Both are great prospects, and Barkley’s superior pure athleticism probably usurps Elliott as the best halfback I’ve scouted when all is said and done, but to refuse to acknowledge Elliott’s superiority in some areas is lazy evaluating.
Seen a Hot Take you want me to include next week or a player I should check out? Send them to me @hlc1221 on Twitter!
College Football Week 4 Winners and Losers