Every week during the college football season, NFL clubs deploy scouts to campuses all over the country to make in-person evaluations on draft prospects. Naturally, the bigger games featuring more top prospects tend to draw larger contingents of scouts. Each week, College Football 24/7 brings you a look at the teams credentialed to attend three of the biggest games in college football. This week's glance includes analysis from NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein.
USC vs. Alabama (in Arlington, Texas)
11 clubs attending:Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers.
Details: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Three top players: Alabama (DE Jonathan Allen, CB Marlon Humphrey, WR Calvin Ridley); USC (WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OL Zach Banner, CB Adoree' Jackson).
Zierlein's matchup to watch:Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey vs. USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. This is the matchup that will have all of the scouts buzzing in the press box. Humphrey, a redshirt sophomore, has the physical tools that scouts crave, but his technique is a work in progress after only one year of major college football. Smith-Schuster needs to show scouts that he has improved his ability to create separation and open throwing windows. My prediction is that Smith-Schuster gets the best of this matchup thanks to his confidence and ability to make the contested catch.
Clemson at Auburn
15 clubs attending:Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans.
Details: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Three top players:Clemson (QB Deshaun Watson, CB Cordrea Tankersley, WR Mike Williams); Auburn (DT Montravius Adams, DE Carl Lawson, OL Alex Kozan).
Zierlein's matchup to watch:Clemson QB Deshaun Watson vs. Auburn DE Carl Lawson. Scouts know that Watson can win games with his arm or his legs and he showed growth throughout the 2015 season. However, in my discussions with NFL personnel men, they aren't yet sold on Watson's ability to roll quickly through his reads and throw with consistent, NFL-caliber accuracy. Auburn knows they have to pressure Watson and Lawson will be the one most closely scrutinized by NFL scouts in that effort. Lawson is shredded and possesses impressive explosion, but he has to prove that his inability to rack up sacks has been due to injuries rather than anything related to his technique or skills. This is a huge statement opportunity for Lawson. For Watson, it's a chance to begin to chip away at NFL doubters.
Florida State vs. Ole Miss (in Orlando, Fla.)
16 clubs attending:Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans.
Details:Monday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m ET (ESPN)
Three top players:FSU (RB Dalvin Cook, DB Derwin James, DE DeMarcus Walker); Ole Miss (QB Chad Kelly, TE Evan Engram, DB Tony Conner).
Zierlein's matchup to watch: Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly vs. FSU S Derwin James. For whatever reason, Kelly simply doesn't get the love from the NFL scouting community that I think he deserves. Kelly has to show leadership qualities and maturity -- that is something that will take time. Against Florida State, he can continue to show off his strong arm while extending plays with his pocket elusiveness. Kelly will have to be on high alert because James is one of the most physically gifted safeties in the game. James has the speed and thump to run Kelly down and smash him if he gets outside of the pocket. James' range also allows him to close on throws that other safeties can't get to. In this matchup, scouts will want to see James play with improved instincts. I will give a small advantage to Kelly, who has three quality targets to throw to, which allows him a chance to keep the ball away from James.