We’re still not quite in full swing in this strangest of college football seasons, but Saturday represented the closest thing to a full slate of action we’ve had since last year. Several notable prospects took the field — with some clear standout performances and some disappointing ones.
There’s always a rush to overreact to single games early in the season, but in this year — with fewer games all around in college football — each performance carries a little extra weight.
Here were the 2021 NFL draft prospect winners and losers from the week that was:
Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
As I tweeted on Saturday, get to know his name — even if you need to cut and paste it until you get that spelling down pat. Until then, feel free to hop on board with his new nickname: “The JOKer.” We love it.
Owusu-Koramoah is a fascinating prospect who fills multiple roles for the Irish on defense and, we believe, can do the same in the NFL eventually, too. On Saturday against Duke, Owusu-Koramoah made the first tackle of the season on the opening kickoff, blasting through a blocker to make a great stop and set the tone for the game.
But it was on defense where he really shined.
With Notre Dame largely struggling early on offense, Owusu-Koramoah gave his team a spark with a brilliant strip of Jalon Calhoun on Duke’s first drive of the second half. That helped set up a Notre Dame touchdown and a 17-6 lead they wouldn’t look back from.
The JOKer, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forces the fumble and the #Irish take over.— 4 Horsemen Podcast (@HorsemenPod) September 12, 2020
Also, Kyle Hamilton, the greatest football player in world history, with an ugly knee injury 😭
Please God let it be a stinger pic.twitter.com/Vc7nA8WjNJ
Owusu-Koramoah also added a fourth-quarter sack and finished with team-high nine tackles (two for losses). He also made a nice stop at the goal line, although Duke scored two plays later. Owusu-Koramoah was really good in coverage, too, holding Duke TE Noah Gray — one of the best senior tight ends in the nation — to a 22-yard catch when they were matched up.
Owusu-Koramoah reportedly added a bit of bulk in the offseason, up slightly from the 215 pounds at which he played last season. But from what we saw this weekend, he hasn’t lost any of the speed or twitchiness that caught our eyes several times in his 2019 tape.
Owusu-Koramoah played everywhere in this one — off the ball, in slot coverage, rushing the passer — and made his impact felt. This is the type of hybrid defenders NFL teams drool over.
Syracuse DBs Andre Cisco and Trill Williams
This is a clear case of needing to scout the tape, not the box score.
In the Orange’s 31-6 loss, Syracuse’s secondary actually held up pretty well for most of it against North Carolina’s impressive passing game. QB Sam Howell and WRs Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome and Beau Corrales all could end up playing on Sundays, and some will tell you Howell could be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL draft the way his career has started.
Yet Syracuse’s top two defensive backs did their part to make the Tar Heels work for every yard they gained.
Cisco had the only pick for the Orange, the 13th of his college career. There are few better ballhawks in college football this season than Cisco, who read Howell’s eyes as he tried to find Brown deep and sniped the ball, adding an impressive 28 yards on the return.
It was only a 7-3 UNC lead at that point, early in the third quarter, and the Syracuse defense was doing all it could to keep the game close despite a putrid offense.
A junior, Williams came into the season a bit underrated under Cisco’s shadow, but he’s an NFL talent for sure also. He was expected to play more deep safety this season, but Williams ended up a lot in the slot and as a box defender in this one, displaying good coverage (zero receptions allowed) against UNC.
One big eyesore from Saturday’s game, however: three missed tackles. We’re not exactly sure what happened in this one, though, as that really hasn’t been an issue for Williams in the past. We’re chalking that element of his game up to a strange offseason and hoping it doesn’t become a recurring problem.
Both Cisco and Williams could be top-75 selections, and Cisco could work his way into the top-50 discussion if he keeps getting his hands on passes. Rangy, playmaking center fielders are hard to find and highly sought.
Arkansas State WR Jonathan Adams Jr.
A week after a tough opening game, Adams had the most eye-opening performance of the weekend, we believe, in the Red Wolves’ major upset over Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas.
Adams was benched briefly in Arkansas State’s opening loss to Memphis after a concentration drop, and he later left that game in the fourth quarter after getting banged up. He turned in a somewhat pedestrian six catches (on 10 targets) for 65 yards in that one.
But on Saturday, the physically blessed Adams was a one-man show. Despite the Red Hawks playing two quarterbacks and missing nine players (including another starting receiver, Dahu Green) for the game, Adams hauled in eight receptions for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning TD grab with 38 seconds remaining.
And his best “catch” of the day didn’t even count. We’re still giving him credit for … something on this masterpiece:
“He’s 6-3, 220 pounds of straight muscle that can jump above the rim,” Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson said. “He’s one of the best elevators I’ve ever seen.”
Last season, Adams was actually the team’s No. 3 receiver — behind NFL prospects Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt — but still caught 62 catches for 851 yards and five scores. We think Adams has the best NFL body and upside of the three, and he’s now made himself into a bit of a household name in draft and college football circles after Saturday’s showcase performance.
His summer grades ranged from the sixth round to priority free agent, but those could be on the rise soon if Adams keeps ascending.
Iowa State QB Brock Purdy
It’s hard to sugarcoat it. We came into the season hyping up Purdy and the Cyclones to a certain degree, and yet even with a good test in fearless Louisiana-Lafayette, there wasn’t much positive to report from this performance.
Purdy’s stats — 16-of-35 passing for 145 yards and one interception — don’t tell the whole story. But this wasn’t a case of the numbers exactly lying, either. Purdy made a few plays with his legs out of necessity, but overall it was a tough outing.
His disappointing performance in Iowa State’s 31-14 whipping at the hand of the Ragin’ Cajuns does come with a few small caveats: an injury that left his top target (TE Charlie Kolar) out for the game and four dropped passes by his receivers (two by Xavier Hutchinson) in the game. It was clear that his wideouts were not gaining much separation — against a heavy dose of man coverage — or giving Purdy a chance.
But we also watched Purdy misfire on some passes he should be making. On throws short and in between the hashes, Purdy was fine. But when it came to throwing deep or outside the numbers, it was starkly bad.
Purdy was 0-for-5 on passes 20 yards downfield or longer, per Pro Football Focus. And on throws outside the numbers, he was 5-for-13 for 50 yards and that pick. The Cajuns were basically daring him to beat them with deep shots and man beaters, and Purdy couldn’t do it.
If this was his worst outing of 2020, so be it. But in a year where there appear to be three clear top QB prospects — Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance — and a big glut of contenders for QB4, Purdy didn’t do anything in Week 1 to help his cause.
The worry is that a subpar final season could result in a Jake Fromm-esque tumble into Day 3. We’ll be watching how he and the Cyclones respond to a tough first outing.
Florida State prospects
First, some good news: CB Asante Samuel Jr. (son of the former Patriots corner) had an excellent game, picking off two passes. He appears to have Dad’s instinct for making plays on the ball, despite a lack of size. DTs Cory Durden, Marvin Wilson (two blocked field-goal attempts) and Robert Cooper also showed up in the loss to Georgia Tech.
But there were some rough outings from a few FSU defenders who are on scouts’ radars. With S Hamsah Nasirildeen out for this game while he continues to rehab his 2019 knee injury, the unit was a bit shorthanded. And though overall the defense did a good job in allowing only 16 points, a slew of missed tackles and assignments can’t be overlooked.
The first bit of bad news was just poor luck. EDGE Joshua Kaindoh, who missed 10 games last season after a leg injury and was praised for his offseason rehab, went down in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury.
It came on an illegal chop block that drew a penalty, and Kaindoh needed to be helped off. He did not return. Kaindoh appeared primed for a breakout season, so the hope is that it’s not a major injury after his previous bad luck in that department.
Fellow EDGE Janarius Robinson just had a tough day at the office. He registered only one hurry on 21 pass-rush snaps, whiffed on what should have been a 5-yard tackle for loss and was stung for a 45-yard reception in coverage when he dropped in zone coverage. Robinson earned some Day 3 grades this summer but will need to crank it up a bit going forward.
On offense, it was also a disappointing start for WR Tamorrion Terry, who only caught six of the 11 passes thrown his way, had a clear drop on one ball and didn’t do much after the catch. The Seminoles have talent on both sides of the ball, but mental mistakes and blown assignments hit them time and time again in the upset loss.
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