Every NFL team is looking for difference-makers who rise to the occasion at critical moments, inspiring teammates with their talent and timing, alike.
Week Seven of the 2018 college football season featured several such players, some of whom sparked huge upset wins or fared well in a critical conference showdown. All are earning a jump up NFLDraftScout.com’s player rankings.
Consistency throughout the season, of course, is typically required for a player to truly improve one’s grade but at this early point, the goal is just to capture the attention of scouts.
And, with their performances Saturday, these five rising NFL prospects certainly accomplished that.
5. Jake Hanson, C, Oregon, 6-4, 297, 5.10 (est.), rJr, # 55
Quarterback Justin Herbert is not the only future NFL draft pick who may have an interesting decision awaiting them at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Hanson staked his claim as one of the top interior offensive linemen in the country with a strong effort in Oregon’s 30-27 overtime win over hated rival Washington. Matched up much of the day against fellow NFL hopeful Greg Gaines of the Huskies, Hanson was able to help Oregon run for 177 yards and two scores in the win, clearing out rushing lanes like the one below. Hanson offers good snap to step quickness - shooting his hands into defenders – and terrific core strength and balance to remain square and maximize torque to create movement. Hanson is a three-year starter who earned honorable mention all-conference honors from league coaches after the past two seasons. With his prototypical size and consistency, Hanson is a legitimate Day 2 candidate should he opt to leave for the NFL after his fourth year in Eugene.
4. David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State, 5-10, 216, 4.63, Jr, # 32
Two consecutive remarkable running back classes have left the cupboard a touch bare at the position for 2019, which has scouts focusing much of their attention on underclassmen. They won’t have to look hard for the tough-running Montgomery, who entered Saturday’s upset win over West Virginia already well on the scouting radar with over 2,000 rushing yards already accumulated over his career. He never enjoyed a sweeter game than Saturday against the Mountaineers, however, rushing for a career-high 198 yards to power the Cyclones to a 30-14 win over West Virginia and its Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, Will Grier. He could be a terrific fit in a zone blocking scheme, offering a similar package of skills as current Kansas City Chiefs superstar Kareem Hunt or a younger Alfred Morris, who is still running hard for the San Francisco 49ers six years after the Washington Redskins selected him in the sixth round amid concerns (by some) that he was not fast enough to play running back in the NFL (4.67 at the Combine) and might have to switch to fullback. Like Hunt (4.61 at the Combine) and Morris, Montgomery lacks the elite straight-line speed to get scouts excited but he possesses terrific vision and lateral agility to elude and accelerates quickly.
3. Michael Pittman, Jr., WR, Southern California, 6-3, 215, 4.54, Jr, # 6
Scouts who waited until after dark for the Pac-12 showdown between Southern California and then-undefeated Colorado expected to see a show from a receiver but it was Colorado’s super-sophomore Laviska Shenault, Jr. that earned all of the pre-game buzz. While Shenault played well (118 combined receiving and rushing yards and a touchdown) as Colorado’s focal point on offense, it was another Junior turning the late game into his own personal coming out party. The son of former 11-year NFL running back Michael, Sr., Pittman turned his five catches into a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns, showing off a blend of size, strength and speed every scout is looking for at the receiver position. Better yet, he did not inherit “just” his father’s athleticism. Pittman is well known for his competitiveness and physicality, as well, excelling as on special teams throughout his career.
2. KJ Hill, WR, Ohio State, 6-0, 198, 4.49, rJR, # 14
With all due respect to Pittman and other receivers throughout the country, in terms of boosting one’s NFL draft stock, no one deserves more attention than the Buckeyes’ Hill, who exploded for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns (on a season-high nine grabs) in a surprisingly competitive comeback win over Minnesota. While Hill’s production, on its own, is noteworthy. His nonchalant twirling one-handed catch shown below was arguably the most impressive individual highlight of the entire weekend of football, college and pro. Given that one-handed grabs like this one are so often now linked to New York Giants’ superstar receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., it is perhaps ironic that Hill’s game more closely resembles OBJ’s former college teammate Jarvis Landry (now Baker Mayfield’s most trusted pass-catcher in Cleveland), rather than the Giants’ enigmatic pass-catcher. Like Landry, Hill lacks ideal straight-line speed but he is a quality athlete with excellent body control, a compact build and, of course, excellent hands. Given all of the talent in Columbus, perhaps it is not surprising that Hill often gets overshadowed making grabs like this one as the Buckeyes quietly roll along to 7-0 certainly has scouts’ attention.
1. Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama, 6-3, 295, 4.96, rSoph, # 92
Like the aforementioned Hill, standing out on a team as loaded with future early NFL draft picks as Ohio State (or Alabama) is a rare accomplishment, one even more remarkable for an underclassman, like Williams, whose combination of quickness and power is almost unfair for a player less than three years removed from high school. Like Da’Ron Payne – the 13th overall pick of last year’s draft (by Washington) – Williams’ stout frame and fantastic weight-room strength make him a virtually immovable object in the middle at nose guard. Williams is quicker than Payne, however, incorporating some of the initial burst and flexibility that is helping another former Alabama teammate, Jonathan Allen, stand out after the Redskins nabbed him with their top choice in 2017. As he has been all year long for Nick Saban, Williams was the Tide’s most dominant defender Saturday in the showdown against Missouri and NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated senior passer Drew Lock, registering seven tackles (six solo), including two for loss and this third-quarter sack, which went for a safety in ‘Bama’s easy 39-10 win.
Check out past Risers columns: