NFL draft matchups: Trevor Lawrence returns to action, with Justin Fields nipping at his heels

Eric Edholm
·8-min read

College football is still battling a slew of cancellations to its ever-shifting schedule week in and week out as the end of the year approaches.

Despite the cancellations and postponements, here are this week’s choice draft-prospect matchups we’ll be keeping close tabs on this weekend.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence vs. Florida State

Not much to say here that isn’t obvious, but we get to see Lawrence again after his two-week COVID layoff that saw the Tigers require an 18-point comeback at home and their first loss of the season at Notre Dame. He’s still the clear favorite to be the top pick in next year’s draft, but Ohio State’s Justin Fields has been gaining ground.

FSU’s team has been ravaged by injuries, opt outs and underwhelming performances, so this one only carries limited appeal from a competitiveness standpoint. You have to figure, too, that Clemson (favored by 35) comes out fired up, having not lost back-to-back games in almost a decade.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be back in action this week after watching his team lost to Notre Dame. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be back in action this week after watching his team lost to Notre Dame. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

That said, there’s still some talent on the Seminoles’ defense. EDGEs Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson, DTs Robert Cooper and Cory Durden, LB Emmett Rice, CB Asante Samuel Jr. (son of the former Patriots corner) and S Hamsah Nasirildeen, who returned to action last week after rehabbing from last year’s ACL injury, all have pro potential.

More than anything, though, we just want to see how Lawrence looks after the layoff. We suspect he’ll be excellent in this game, even against a talented defense.

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett vs. Virginia Tech

Pickett returned from midseason ankle surgery to play two weeks ago and was efficient in completing 21 of 27 passes for 210 yards, as well as scrambling for a touchdown in the win against Florida State. According to a scout who watched, Pickett looked hindered with the ankle, and it was notable that Pitt didn’t dial up any QB runs in the game, which the Panthers usually do a handful of times.

Pickett’s toughness and improved accuracy this season have been hallmarks toward him getting drafted in 2021. Although he said he’s unsure whether he’ll enter the 2021 NFL draft, Pickett certainly is expected to by people to whom we speak.

Does he project as a starter in the NFL? It’s debatable. Could Pickett sneak into Day 2 of the draft? We’re not too sure about that, although there certainly have been some Day 2 QB picks in recent years — among them Will Grier, Davis Webb, C.J. Beathard, Christian Hackenberg, Jacoby Brissett and Garrett Grayson — whose higher-than-expected draft slot surprised us.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is still nursing a surgically repaired ankle but is ready to go again. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is still nursing a surgically repaired ankle but is ready to go again. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Even if Pickett projects to being a high-end backup with starting potential, that likely will guarantee he won’t get out of Round 5.

This test against the Hokies is a nice one. Last year’s matchup against them was humbling (10-of-26 passing, 103 yards, fumble) and the Panthers (six dropped passes, 10 penalties and Pitt’s first shutout since the 2018 season) in the bad-weather loss. Pickett also had a pick called back because of a shaky penalty and another potential INT go right through the defender’s hands.

Pickett looks like a different QB this season. Can he put up a better performance against a solid defense led by a nice pass rush and the play of safety Divine Deablo?

USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. Utah

The 6-1, 190-pound St. Brown has stacked back-to-back 100-yard games to start what could be his final college season. We want to see more out of him.

The problem hasn't been his statistical production (14 catches on 21 targets for 213 yards). It’s that he had two drops in the opener and hasn’t done much on deep balls (two catches for 84 yards on seven targets 20 yards or more downfield), in the red zone and after the catch.

USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown has been good in two games but could use a big showing against Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown has been good in two games but could use a big showing against Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

If St. Brown wants to establish himself as a potential top-50 pick this spring, he’s going to need to stack a few more big performances. This will be Utah’s first game of the season following a few COVID-related cancellations. Even though the NFL draft gutted the Utes’ talented defense, Utah always seems to produce high quality players on that side of the ball.

Oklahoma EDGE Ronnie Perkins vs. Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins

Perkins was dominant against Kansas. Jenkins is one of the best right tackles in the country. This is a matchup made in draft prospect heaven.

We liked Jenkins entering the season, and like him even more now that we’ve seen him in high-profile matchups against Texas’ Joseph Ossai and Iowa State’s JaQuan Bailey. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Jenkins is a country-strong kid, plays with an aggressive mien and has the athleticism to reach the second level and move well laterally.

Perkins has returned from a one-game suspension and shown his pass rushing gifts, working against left and right tackles. He’ll spend about half his time facing Jenkins, the Cowboys’ right tackle, and will need to threaten his outside shoulder, as Jenkins occasionally will lunge and lean off balance in his pass sets.

Oklahoma EDGE Ronnie Perkins has a good battle this week in the Bedlam game. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
Oklahoma EDGE Ronnie Perkins has a good battle this week in the Bedlam game. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Perkins also has a nice inside counter move and works his hands well to gain an advantage. One of Jenkins’ few physical shortcomings: his arm length, which is believed to be merely average by NFL tackle standards.

This should be a terrific battle in the “Bedlam” game, featuring two teams playing well right now. Both Perkins and Jenkins look like Day 2 prospects at the very least.

Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett vs. Indiana

The Buckeyes might be three-touchdown favorites, but this is a must-watch for multiple reasons, predominantly in that it’s No. 9 (Indiana) at No. 3 (Ohio State). But it’s also chock full of prospects.

You surely know about Ohio State QB Justin Fields, and the Buckeyes are loaded at receiver, linebacker and on the offensive line. More folks are getting hip to the Hoosiers’ NFL talent, led by WRs Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfolge.

But here’s some light on Garrett, who might surprisingly be OSU’s most impactful defender through three games. It’s notable because Garrett was a rotational player last season, sure, but more so because of the fact that he was shot in the face on Aug. 31.

Garrett was extremely lucky that his wounds were not worse, and he was out on the field for Ohio State’s opener about eight weeks after the shooting. He didn’t start that game against Nebraska but had a sack and multiple other pressures and has been a fixture up front since.

Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett (92) has been a terrific surprise so far this season. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett (92) has been a terrific surprise so far this season. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It appears that Indiana’s starting left tackle Caleb Jone and left guard Mike Katic will be game-time decisions but are progressing toward playing. The Hoosiers will need to tighten up their pass protection, no matter who is healthy enough to go. The weakest spots in that department have been at right guard (Mackenzie Nworah) and right tackle (Matthew Bedford) — one of the few weaknesses on this Hoosiers offense.

The 6-2, 299-pound Garrett has lined up more on the defensive left side (vs. the right side of opponents’ lines) but will flip-flop to the other side. He has been one of the nicer surprises so far this season at one of the weaker positions for the 2021 NFL draft.

His rise is similar to his former teammate, DaVon Hamilton, who saved his best season at OSU for last and was drafted in Round 3 (73rd overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Iowa vs. Penn State in the trenches

This game will be one for the draft sickos as Iowa isn’t the most telegenic team and the Nittany Lions are off to their worst start in decades. There are good battles on both sides of the line in this game that we’ll be keyed in on.

Iowa defensive tackles Jack Heflin and Daviyon Nixon (plus Austin Schulte, back from injury) vs. Penn State’s interior line is one matchup to watch. Heflin is a Northern Illinois transfer who has played nicely so far, even though he got banged up late last week. Nixon has been a penetrating force, with seven tackles for loss.

Penn State center Michal Menet, amid all of PSU’s struggles, remains a viable NFL prospect. He entered the year with some third- and fourth-round grades and has held firm on those.

Iowa left tackle Alaric Jackson has been overrated as a prospect in media circles compared to where NFL scouts place him. He remains a nimble-footed athlete and a solid mid-round prospect. He will be tested by PSU’s fine pair of rush ends, Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney.

Oweh doesn’t have a sack, and he was marginal against Ohio State the week after wrecking Indiana in the opener. There has been some first-round buzz on him because of his tremendous athleticism and sky-high upside, but he needs to play more consistently like he did in the opener and last week against Nebraska.

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