This weekend’s college football schedule is rich with intriguing matchups that will have implications on the 2021 NFL Draft. Although the draft is not until April, teams are watching intently to preemptively stack their boards and assign values to players. These prospects are all draft eligible and have a chance to be called early — and these matchups will allow scouts to see how they fare against their best competition.
LSU WR Terrace Marshall vs. South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
Despite a rough start to the season, LSU (1-2) still boasts one of the best WRs in the country. Terrace Marshall is a 6-3 junior who brings a tough-to-cover blend of versatility, route running and speed. LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger moves Marshall around from the slot to the boundary, and Marshall has responded with 21 catches for 424 yards and 7 TDs on 28 targets so far this season. He ran a 4.53 coming out of high school, but shows the ability to stack corners down the field and create explosive plays after the catch. LSU’s Myles Brennan could miss this game, so it will worth noting if freshman QBs Max Johnson and/or T.J. Finley can get the ball to their star receiver.
On the other side of the line, South Carolina (2-2) has Jaycee Horn, who is coming off the best game of his career in an upset win over Auburn. The junior corner has NFL size at 6-1, 205 pounds, and has the bloodlines too – he’s the son of former All-Pro receiver Joe Horn. He matched up with Auburn’s Seth Williams, an impressive prospect in his own right, and allowed just 74 yards on 13 targets while breaking up four passes and intercepting two passes, the first two picks of his career. Horn had not been tested much before the Auburn game, with just 8 total targets the first three weeks of the season. He shadowed Williams all game against Auburn, and it will be an interesting battle if he does it again vs. Marshall. This matchup will be critical for both teams.
Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg vs. Pittsburgh EDGE Patrick Jones
One of the more impressive EDGE prospects over the last two months, Pitt’s Patrick Jones has been incredibly productive with the traits to project future success in the NFL. Through six games, Jones has put together 11 hurries, 7 sacks and 8 TFLs, including three sacks in both the Louisville and Boston College games. He shows the ability to get off the ball with urgency at the snap, convert speed to power, and use his hands to disengage and bend the corner. He also has ideal size for an EDGE prospect at 6-5, 265, with intriguing play speed, play strength and explosiveness. Pittsburg is second in the country in sacks per game with 5.2, and Jones is a big reason why. Although he has had a hot start, he has not faced a tackle as good as Liam Eichenberg. If he can win this matchup, it could be a long night for Irish QB Ian Book.
Notre Dame has a history of producing offensive linemen, with four first-round picks since 2014. Eichenberg is the next Notre Dame prospect with NFL hopes, and is one of college football’s best at the position. He has not allowed a sack this season, and has let up just 4 hurries on 111 pass blocking snaps. He has ideal size at 6-6, 305 pounds, and has natural power in his body with strike in his hands. He struggles some with speed off the edge, but neutralizing Jones would be a win for both Notre Dame and Eichenberg’s draft stock. Notre Dame is off to a strong start this season, sitting at No. 3 in the polls with a 4-0 record. Pitt is a mediocre 3-3, but has a chance to pull off a massive upset at home against the Irish.
Tennessee OG Trey Smith vs. Alabama DT Christian Barmore
After their FBS-leading eight-game win streak was snapped, Tennessee has dropped two straight to Georgia (expected) and Kentucky (not expected). Now they have No. 2 Alabama coming into town riding high off a win over No. 4 Georgia. Senior Trey Smith is Tennessee’s best player on offense and has already gotten off to a strong start, allowing only three pressures while continuing to maul opposing defenders in the run game. Smith is a massive lineman at 6-6, 330 pounds. Smith’s best trait is his natural power, enabling him to create movement at the line of scrimmage, and his competitive nature and mean streak make him fun to watch. He does struggle some in his pass sets, especially with quick and twitchy rushers. Despite his play in the run game, Tennessee only ranks 56th in yards per carry (3.5). This game will be tough for Tennessee, but Smith is an intriguing draft prospect to watch.
Redshirt sophomore Christian Barmore came on to the scene seemingly out of nowhere last season, while putting together 2 sacks and 6 TFL in limited work. Barmore has ideal size for an NFL 3T at 6-5, 310 pounds, but he has the athleticism to play 5T if he needs to. He shows first-step quickness and get-off, the ability to bend, and more advanced hand usage than expected from a third-year player. He still has work to do in the run game, as he struggles against double-teams and will get pushed out of his gaps. His pass rush upside is obvious, and he has continued his productivity there with 12 pressures and 2 sacks in just two games of work. Smith’s strength is Barmore’s weakness, and vice versa, chalking this up to be a telling matchup for scouts as they try to place them on the board for the spring.