Alabama vs Michigan
Last time Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy was on the Prospect Showdown, he was lauded for his speed and ability to separate both vertically and horizontally. While raw speed is an important part of Jeudy’s game, it’s the micro movements from the snap of the ball to the break of his route that truly enable him to be an elite prospect. The speed creates a floor of functionality for Jeudy, while his crafty route running and explosive change of direction raise his ceiling to immense heights.
Jeudy is the forward player in the offset stack to the top of the screen. At the snap, Jeudy hesitates to come off the line of scrimmage for just a split second. He waits for the defensive back to approach him with a jab, then immediately shimmies to avoid the jab and flies out of his stance to get up the field. The sudden burst of speed after the delayed release instantly puts the defensive back in a trailing position and puts him on the back foot on this rep, metaphorically speaking. Jeudy knows the trailing cornerback will be desperate to close the gap at the break, so flashes a step and look toward the middle of the field to get the cornerback to move toward the middle of the field, even if just for one step. The cornerback takes the bait and takes a step inside before Jeudy snaps back the other way. Jeudy explodes out of the break and provides QB Tua Tagovailoa with a wide-open window on the sideline for a short gain and fresh set of downs.
On this particular rep, the head fake and inside jab may not have even been necessary for this route to work. Jeudy already won with such a clear margin at the snap that anything after that was just icing on the cake. That Jeudy would take the extra effort to ensure that the route would work with that fake, never mind his absurd speed out of the break, is a testament to how exhausting a route runner he can be to keep up with.
In both of these clips against LSU, Jeudy shows off that burst out of his break again — first at the top of the screen, then in the slot. It’s not just that Jeudy is a ridiculously explosive (he is, though), it’s that he is flexible enough to get low, redirect his entire body, and prime himself to explode out of the break all in one fluid, yet sudden motion. There is virtually no build up for Jeudy getting into his breaks, but he gets out of them before defensive backs have any chance of matching him.
If all of that makes it sound impossible for Michigan’s Lavert Hill to shut out with Jeudy, well, it kind of is. Jeudy may be the best wide receiver in the 2020 class (assuming he declares). He has only been held under 50 yards on two occasions this season, but he’s eclipsed 100 yards on four occasions. Had Tagovailoa not gone down toward the end of the season, it’s likely Jeudy would have finished the regular season with even gaudier stats, considering some of his “worst” games have come with the inexperienced Mac Jones at QB.
The way Hill may be able to get by in this matchup is that the two areas in which he shines — covering out-breaking routes and forcing incompletions at the catch point — should both have more chances to be of use given Alabama’s QB situation. According to PFF, Hill allowed the lowest passer rating in the country on out-breaking routes at a stunning 1.7. Likewise, Hill had the third-highest rate of forced incompletions, which is to say he was directly creating incompletions on passes in which he was targeted. Hill is going to need to be firing on all cylinders to have the same success against a slippery WR like Jeudy.
Wisconsin vs Oregon
Unfortunately, it’s still a year out before any of us get to genuinely look at Oregon LT Penei Sewell. In the meantime, Oregon have another NFL tackle on the other side of their offensive line who will be tested in this one. Right tackle Calvin Throckmorton will be pitted against Wisconsin EDGE/LB hybrid Zack Baun in an effort to propel Oregon to their second Rose Bowl win in the College Football Playoff era.
Throckmorton is a 6-foot-5, 309-pound senior who came back for one last ride in 2019. The final season of play hasn’t done wonders for his draft stock, though. Throckmorton’s stock has stagnated, if anything, though that isn’t so bad for someone who was already seen as a top-100 pick heading into the season.
As expected of a four-year starter, Throckmorton is very technically sound and seldom loses plays in a clear, painful fashion. Throckmorton shows a baseline ability to kick out of his stance, ready his hands, and keep pace with defensive ends around the arc. Though he isn’t physically or athletically superior in any way, the baseline of technique and positional understanding have made him a rock on the right side of Oregon’s line for some time now.
In this clip, for example, Throckmorton shows the heads-up awareness to see Washington’s tackle-under-end twist early in the play. Throckmorton is able to quickly reset his body, lower his hips, and fire his hands into the defensive tackle’s chest to stop him in his tracks. While his disengage and reset after that is a little sloppy, simply being able to pick it up right away bought Oregon’s offense an extra sliver of time to that area of the pocket that they may not have had otherwise. It’s tough to get by Throckmorton with games like this.
With baseline process and technique, there are no easy wins against Throckmorton, though that isn’t to say he is unbeatable by any stretch. Rather, he is always going to be able to put up the bare minimum block on any rep, even if it isn’t always the best possible block. That alone can wear down on opponents over the course of the game.
As Wisconsin’s premier EDGE rusher, Baun has a couple tricks up his sleeve, though. Well, really it’s just one trick, but it’s been good enough to help get him to 12.5 sacks on the season. While Baun has proven he can get to the quarterback in a number of ways, no move of his is deadlier than the inside jab that sets up his outside rush.
Baun isn’t the most natural bender around the edge, but he knows that and has found a workaround for that lack of elite flexibility. As he does in the two plays above, Baun will rush down a tackle’s midpoint for a few steps, jab inside, then run tight around the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder to loop back up to the quarterback. It may be an imperfect approach in the NFL against better athletes, but if he can make it work in the Big Ten, and potentially not against Throckmorton, than it should be good enough to at least make him a decent depth player in the league.
That being said, Baun is a bit of a unique player and is not bound to the edge. Baun can play as an apex/slot defender at times, as well as an off-ball linebacker. In fact, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network suggested a few months ago that Baun could be a conversion to off-ball linebacker, akin to someone like Anthony Barr or Jamie Collins.
The two aren’t far removed with respect to prospect quality. If anything is going to separate the two opposing players, it’s going to be how well their teammates and coaches put them in a position to succeed. Baun, who has the advantage of playing under a brilliant DC in Jim Leonhard, has a slight edge in that regard, so that could be the difference he needs to take over in this matchup.
Auburn vs Minnesota
While many prospects see it fit to skip out on their bowl games, Auburn OT Prince Tega Wanogho made it a point to say that he did not consider missing out on this game. Wanogho already has an impressive SEC resume and a Senior Bowl trip lined up, but that doesn’t satisfy him. The 6-foot-7, 305-pound left tackle wants to trot out onto a college field one last time to prove himself a worthy NFL bookend.
If a coach were to build an offensive tackle, they would likely look a lot like Wanogho. His tall, yet lean frame and tree vines for arms give him the perfect body for the position. Wanogho is an impressive athlete with flashes of dominant strength, too. He is able to overwhelm any edge defender he faces with sheer height and length, while still being mobile enough to keep up with any crafty change of direction or explosive burst. Wanogho sports tantalizing a combination of traits that any OL coach would love to get their hands on.
And when Wanogho puts it together on a given play, it looks as pretty as anyone. In the example above, Wanogho completely shuts down LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson and slams him into the ground, ending the rep with definitive force.
Getting that kind of play out of Wanogho consistently is the question mark for him. While plays such as those look incredible, Wanogho could benefit from tightening up a few loose screws with regards to technique. Wanogho can get a bit aimless with his hands and/or reach too far forward when getting a little antsy to get into a defender’s frame. If an OL coach can get Wanogho to settle down just a smidgen, though, he may end up being one of the steals of the draft at his position.
Pitted against Wanogho is Minnesota EDGE Carter Coughlin. Coughlin's skill set is the opposite of Wanogho's. While Wanogho has elite potential and can flash a number of tools, Coughlin is rather limited in how he can approach the game, but he's very good at the small handful of things he does. Coughlin is at his best when he can fly off the edge and work to an offensive's tackle outside shoulder, then motor his way to the quarterback. Though Coughlin is a capable athlete, he isn't an elite one, so bending around the edge doesn't come easy for him without high-end effort. Coughlin will fight and fight and fight to get that sliver of an opening around the edge, and he is just fluid enough to take advantage of it.
Against a somewhat inconsistent tackle in Wanogho, Coughlin may be able to snag a few reps. Wanogho should be considered the better prospect, though, and it's more likely he commands the day than it is that Coughlin ends up with two or three sacks.