Breakdowns

5 Conference Championship Matchups NFL Scouts Will Be Watching

5 Conference Championship Matchups NFL Scouts Will Be Watching

Every weekend college football showcases intriguing matchups between future professional players battling in one-on-one situations. The result of these matchups will have implications in the 2022 NFL Draft order. Although the draft is still months away, NFL teams have their sights on players to preemptively stack their boards and assign grades to players. All of these prospects are eligible for the draft and some even have the opportunity to be drafted early. These matchups will allow NFL front offices to see how they produce against the best competition. NFL scouts will have their eyes on these upcoming matchups in Week 14 to help answer questions throughout the draft process.

Oregon S Verone McKinley III vs. Utah TE Brant Kuithe 

Friday 8:00 PM 

This Pac-12 championship game will feature Oregon and Utah who had just played two weeks ago. Oregon will expect Verone McKinley III to help slow down the Utes passing attack. McKinley is a 5-foot-11, 194-pound redshirt sophomore who was a freshman All-American in 2019.

McKinley is having a career year with 5 interceptions and 11 passes defended in 12 games. His best trait is his instincts and awareness as a third level coverage player. He has the range to make plays to the sideline from the hash and the instincts to cut off seam and crossing routes underneath. He is a physical safety who can make plays at the line of scrimmage in the box as well as cover the deep middle of the field. NFL scouts will be looking to see how he handles an athletic Utah skill position group. 

Utah’s Brant Kuithe has been a critical starter for the Utes all season. He will be leaned on in the passing game during their Pac-12 championship appearance this weekend. Kuithe is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt junior who has earned 2nd team all Pac-12 honors in 2019 and 2020. He had a big game hauling in 5 catches for 118 yards when they faced Oregon in week 12. Kuithe has the body type and athleticism to be a good receiving tight end at the next level. He runs routes like a wide receiver and has the concentration to haul in receptions without breaking stride to make big plays.

Kuithe is very impactful in Utah’s run game as well. For a smaller tight end he shows great positioning on blocks which allows him to sustain longer. He is used as a puller from a flexed position on their counters and weak side powers. Kuithe is a Swiss army knife of a tight end who has high end receiving potential. NFL scouts will be looking to see if he can perform well again when they face Oregon’s athletic secondary.

Baylor RB Abram Smith vs. Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez 

Saturday 12:00 PM

The Big 12 is set to have Baylor and Oklahoma State battling it out for their conference championship this weekend. Baylor will be counting on Abram Smith to continue his streak of great play to help win them a conference title. When these two teams met back in October Smith averaged 9.7 yards a carry and had a touchdown. Smith is a 5-foot-11, 221-pound senior who played as a linebacker in 2020 but switched back to running back this season. He has had 8 games of over 100 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns this season.

Smith brings a linebacker’s physicality when carrying the ball. If there are no open seams or gaps he is not afraid to get physical with larger defenders at the line of scrimmage to fall forward. He is primarily a one cut back that has the vision to crease cutback lanes successfully. Smith shows good speed but is limited at his top gear. He accelerates well and can keep his speed off of jump cuts. NFL scouts will be looking to see how Smith handles the top ranked defense in the Big 12 this week. 

Oklahoma State has counted Malcolm Rodriguez to lead their linebacker core and provide consistent play throughout his career. Rodriguez is a 5-foot-11 senior who was named 2nd team All Big-12 in 2019 and 2020. Rodriguez shows good coverage ability when zone dropping to the curl or hook parts of the field. He understands how to jam vertical stems from receivers and snap his eyes back to the quarterback to reposition to make plays. He shows adequate physicality in the box with the agility to move around linemen to make plays.

At the next level Rodriguez is most likely suited to be an OLB in an even front due to his coverage skills and open field tackling. NFL scouts will be looking to see how he can handle the No. 1 ranked offense in the Big 12. 

Alabama OT Evan Neal vs. Georgia DL Travon Walker 

Saturday 4:00 PM 

This SEC championship game will feature two of the top four teams in the nation. Both Alabama and Georgia are known for developing NFL prospects who excel at the next level. Alabama’s Evan Neal is considered the next great offensive line prospect who has potential to be a top 10 pick. Neal is a 6-foot-7, 350-pound junior who has started 36 games for the Crimson Tide at right tackle, left guard and most recently left tackle.

Neal has a monster frame with the strength to lock onto defenders with ease. He shows the agility to pass set vertically and on an angle to counter speed rushes. His length allows him to power step down and maintain his blocks when rushers counter back inside. Neal’s anchor strength and foot agility are what make him such a sought after prospect. Neal shows the strength and leverage to run block well inline and in zone blocking schemes. He is mobile enough to work down the line and create gaps for ball carriers. NFL scouts will be looking to see how Neal handles one of the most physical and dominating defenses this weekend. 

Georgia’s defense has been led by their incredibly talented defensive line this year. Travon Walker has been a big part of their defense contributing solid edge play and being disruptive in both pass and run defense. Walker is a 6-foot-5 275 pound junior who has set career highs in pressures, sacks, and TFL’s this year.

Walker is an athletic edge who has a lean build for being 275 pounds. He has played anywhere from a 2i to a wide 5 in their defensive scheme. His best trait is his ability to use his length to create extension on blocks. He shows the power and physicality to set a strong edge and keep contain on the outside. Walker shows relentless pass rush pursuit and fights violently with his hands on the edge. NFL scouts will be watching this matchup to see how each player handles highly athletic and strong length on the edge.  

Pittsburgh OT Carter Warren vs. Wake Forest DL Luiji Vilain

Saturday 8:00 PM 

Pittsburgh’s Carter Warren will play a big part in protecting their star quarterback Kenny Pickett this weekend. Both teams have high scoring offenses and it will come down to who can keep a cleaner pocket. Warren is a 6-foot-5, 315-pound redshirt senior who has started 33 games for the Panthers.

Warren’s best trait is his athletic lower body and accurate hand strikes when pass blocking. He displays good twitch in his lower body that allows him to mix up between aggressive and vertical sets. His hand placement is well timed and active to reset against pass rush counters. Warren is an adequate run blocker with the strength to maintain inline blocks and the agility to reach the second level. He has a tendency to slow down when approaching his block on the second level instead of attacking his man. Warren’s reliable play is a big reason Pittsburgh is competing for their conference championship. This weekend will be a good test on how Warren handles athletic and productive edge rushers when facing Wake Forest this weekend. 

Luiji Vilain will be counted on to build off of his two sack performance last week when they faced Boston College. Vilain is a 6-foot-4, 252-pound graduate student who transferred from Michigan this past offseason. His best trait is his speed and ability to attack the edge of tackles from a wide alignment. He understands how to attack a linemen’s upfield arm and hip to then cut his rush at quarterback depth. Vilain shows adequate speed and burst off the edge which helps him get off blocks and beat tackles with his quickness.

While he was already taken with the 25th pick of the 2021 CFL Draft, NFL scouts will be looking to see how Vilain handles experienced and athletic tackles on the edge this weekend when going up against Warren. 

Michigan Edge David Ojabo vs. Iowa OT Jack Plumb 

Saturday 8:00 PM 

Michigan’s rise to the top of the Big Ten has a lot to do with the impactful play of David Ojabo and the rest of the defensive line. Ojabo is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior who was selected to the 2021 first team All-Big Ten this past week.

Ojabo is a gifted athlete who has some of the best twitch and speed in the country. He is able to play off well sold hesitation moves and work a shade of his man to get around blocks. Ojabo shows above average athleticism in space with the ability to cover the flats and man up most running backs out of the back field. Ojabo can sometimes struggle to get off of longer tackles on the edge but is still effective in run defense. This weekend will be a good matchup when he faces a pair of long tackles on Iowa’s offensive line. 

Jack Plumb has been responsible for maintaining the left side of the line at his tackle spot for the Hawkeyes this season. Plumb is a 6-foot-7, 296-pound redshirt junior who has started 13 games in his career.

Plumb shows solid athleticism for a taller tackle. He has the foot agility to maintain his blocks and stay balanced while hand fighting. He is good at clamping onto the chest of defenders and keeping his elbows tight to gain control. Plumb is missing a little bit of weight and strength to be a highly effective run blocker. His leverage and knee bend is not a problem but his athletic build makes it tougher to overpower defensive linemen consistently.

This weekend will be a good matchup between an athletic pass rusher and an extremely long tackle in a championship game where both have to be at their best.

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