NFL Draft 2018 Stock Watch: NCAAF opening weekend (Week 0)

Our weekly update on NFL draft prospects returns, as we look at some of the performances from the opening set of college football games.

College football action has returned, and that means that the RealSport weekly stock watch feature does too. With a limited schedule of opening games, the initial set of matchups tend to get referred to as “Week 0”; here, we’ll just call it the opening weekend and leave it at that, before the more substantial Week 1 that begins this Thursday.

Stock Up

There may have been only a few teams to make an early start to their 2017 campaigns, but there were still plenty of promising performances by individuals eligible for the next draft; here are some of those who stood out this week:

Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

The Rams’ new on-campus stadium and facilities are a sign of their long-term ambitions, but they also have more immediate goals in believing they can challenge not only for a Mountain West conference title, but to be the Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl game at the end of the season. 

Their high-powered offense is the key to achieving those ambitions. CSU are led by quarterback Nick Stevens and his unquestioned number one target Gallup. The junior college transfer had a huge first season for Colorado State in 2016, with 76 receptions for 1,272 yards (16.74 per catch) and a massive 14 touchdown grabs.

He may not have reached the end zone against Oregon State on Saturday, but was targeted time and again by Stevens, leading to 11 catches for 134 yards, including a superb fourth quarter reception for 48 yards under close coverage from the Beavers’ best cover corner in Xavier Crawford, a freshman All-American last season. 

Gallup is a toned and highly athletic 6’1”, 200lbs, and it’s his easy speed and fluid movement that instantly stand out when watching him play. He reaches top speed quickly that can see him blaze past covering corners immediately off the line for easy separation, while his sharp and sudden changes of direction and route breaks without losing any momentum makes him tough to stay in step with.

As dangerous as he is striding deep down the field, he’s also effective when getting the ball in his hands early, and letting him work the open field for yards after the catch. While the athleticism is clear, the fundamentals of the position are all there as well. Gallup tracks the ball naturally, adjusts well with great body control and has the hands to come down with most balls within his reach. 

There’s an NFL skill set with the production to back it up, and the pass-friendly Rams attack could lead to a bigger year as a senior than his last.

Chris Seisay, Cornerback, Portland State

Despite being heavy favorites, BYU struggled significantly to move the ball against their FCS opponents, that led to a much closer game than expected, with the Portland State Vikings still in contention late on. 

The defense at times contained Tanner Mangum and the Cougars offense, due in large part to the play of their excellent cornerback tandem, with former Oregon Duck Chris Seisay making a number of key plays. His teammate Donovan Olumba was arguably more consistent on the other side of the field, with Seisay giving up a few yards coming out of press coverage on a couple occasions, but those were balanced out by the positive plays.

The 6’1”, 190lb senior is rather lean, and certainly isn’t the most impressive in run support, where he perhaps should have completed more than just one tackle on the stat sheet, but that is contradicted by his aggressiveness in man coverage, and resulted in opening up his 2017 season with three pass breakups. 

There’s a lot to like about the way he attacks both ball and receiver, to jump routes and to position himself in front of receivers. He can tend to push it a bit in terms of risking pass interference calls, but knows to get his head around and play the ball to give himself the benefit of the doubt, as he did on one of his breakups near the end of the BYU game.  

He may not have elite top end speed, but is a smooth athlete with enough quickness to recover on deep targets and has desired NFL length and ball skills to earn him a draft selection, should he continue this form throughout his final college season.

Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State

While the Spartans’ attempt to cause a shock to the South Florida Bulls withered away, for the most part, from the second quarter onward, there were still plenty positives to take away from the loss in head coach Brent Brennan’s first game in charge.  

One of the players that they entered the season with high expectations for, junior tight end Josh Oliver, demonstrated exactly why with his performance. The numbers don’t leap off the page, with five receptions for 51 yards, but he flashed the traits that make him look every bit of a next-level prospect. After minimal involvement in the passing game his first two years, with only seven catches over that time, he is poised to have a big breakout season in 2017.

At 6’5” and 253lbs, Oliver has good size, and has long arms as well to add to his catch radius to target. He completes the measurables by being an impressive athlete that makes him look as much like a big wide receiver as a tight end. He’s a smooth runner with quickness, looking the part working space and running routes. Indeed, he frequently lined up at outside receiver against the Bulls, not just from the slot as is regular for athletic tight end talents. Oliver shows capable and clean hands to snag the ball out of the air, though doing so under pressure is something to keep an eye on. Early in the second quarter against South Florida, he was challenged over the middle as the ball arrived, that led to the ball being bobbled into the air and intercepted by the Bulls.

Not just a receiving tight end, Oliver looks the part as a blocker too, with effort and aggression, using his long reach to his advantage. When assigned to assist with edge rushers outside, his quick feet allow him to stay in contact and maintain. His ability to block gives him credibility when setting up inline pre-snap, allowing him to break off an initial block and open himself up as a target over the middle.  

With his good size and athleticism, the ability to line up outside, in the slot and inline, to contribute as both a receiver and blocker, results in a complete and versatile skill set for the NFL.  He’s only a junior, but is a name to keep an eye on.

Sione Takitaki, EDGE, BYU

One of the better statistical lines from a defensive player from the opening set of games goes to BYU pass rusher Takitaki, who put up seven tackles (six solo stops) with three tackles for loss (TFLs), two of which were quarterback sacks in an active and impactful performance. That impact should also not receive qualifiers of the fact that the Cougars were playing a small school in Portland State, as the Vikings have a talented and sizeable offensive line, with left tackle Randin Crecelius a possible NFL prospect in his own right.

Very noteworthy in his performance, is that it’s was also Takitaki’s first game in close to two years after a shortened season in 2015 as a result of suspension from pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft, then being sidelined for all of 2016 for undisclosed reasons. When he has been on the field, he’s been productive, including seven TFLs with 3.5 sacks in six appearances in his limited 2015 season.

Now back available, teams will have to account for him coming off the edge, where he brings energy and a high motor, along with good burst and fast hands to force his way to the quarterback. His first sack in the opening quarter saw his second effort get him to his target, after his initial rush had him behind the play, before spinning into the path of the scrambling QB. His second came right at the end of the first half, where he drove into the outside shoulder of LT Crecelius and turned the corner in a flash to end the play barely after it begun. He has character concerns but the 6’2”, 245lb edge defender has ability on the field.


Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

The Cardinal have significant all-purpose production to replace with the departure of Christian McCaffrey, and while it came against a clearly over-matched Rice Owls team, Stanford can feel optimistic of coping just fine this year. 

Bryce Love has played very well in the past in relief of McCaffrey, and wasted no time in taking to his more prominent role for 2017. The first offensive snap of the game saw Love break a big run for a 62-yard gain to set up the first of many touchdown drives as part of the dominant 62-7 win.

While that first carry of course accounted for a good portion of his yardage total, Love still finished the day with a standout stat line of 13 rushes for 180 yards at 13.85 yards per carry, and getting in the end zone once. With the score well in hand early on, Love got to enjoy the majority of the second half from the sidelines, factoring into his limited touches. At 5’10” and 196lbs, Love is a relatively smaller back, but by no means lacks physicality, while having superb explosive abilities.  

While he didn’t record any receptions in this opener, he’s been a useful target in the pass game over the previous two seasons, and should continue to be used as such this year, where his elusiveness and acceleration are put to great use in the open field. An honorable mention must go to his fellow running back Cameron Scarlett, who saw plenty action himself, with the junior contributing three rushing touchdowns and a 56-yard reception as part of his own impact.

Jake Bennett, Center, Colorado State

While Stevens to Gallup, and the rest of the Rams pass attack do get and deserve plenty attention after Colorado State’s 58-27 win over Oregon State, this was far from a one-dimensional performance, with 152 yards at 5.2 yards per rush in the ground game. Central to that success was indeed, the Rams center, senior Jake Bennett. The third-year starter could be routinely seen blowing up huge holes for his running backs, not just through his typical physical, driving blocking style off the line of scrimmage, but with intelligent directional blocking and second level work that saw the opposing defensive line controlled and exploited throughout.

Bennett should get an NFL opportunity, and it would not be a surprise to see him force his way onto a team or practice squad with the same aggression, power, effort and motor that he applies on the field, but ultimately his size is going to be limiting, including to his chances in the draft. At under 6’3” and around 290 lbs, he’s not built with the ideal size and length looked for. As good as his run blocking is, he’s capable of allowing interior pressure in pass protection every now and then. Still, Bennett is a leader, experienced and gets the job done on the field; write him off at your peril.

Darius Jackson, EDGE, Jacksonville State

The NFL Draft is always well represented by small school prospects throughout the seven rounds, and in the 2018 class, there may not be a better defensive prospect from that tier of college football than Jackson.  

The 6’3”, 242lb pass rush specialist enters his senior year having piled up 40 TFLs and 20.5 sacks over his first three seasons, and looks all set to terrorize FCS offensive lines all season long for one final time.

His numbers against the Mocs read fairly modestly, with four tackles and one TFL, but also totaled four registered quarterback hurries. Even that doesn’t do his impact justice, as he appeared to be in the offensive backfield practically every snap he was on the field, and caused constant disruption, throwaways, pressures, QB scrambles. He could not be handled. 

He didn’t appear much in the second half, and is on the sideline fairly regularly, but made the most of just about every snap. His tackle for loss saw him practically take the handoff to the running back himself, he was in the backfield that quickly and at the mesh point in an instant.

Jackson is an explosive athlete with a fantastic first step and burst of speed that sees him regularly have the blocking O-lineman beat immediately. More than just a speed rusher though, he has power and quick hands with sharp rush moves. He often likes to break out an electric inside spin move that can unbalance opponents. 

He keeps himself tough to track as well by moving around in terms of where he lines up pre-snap. He may be playing at a lower level, but has the skills to be playing in any Power Five conference, and before long, the pros. He’ll have an opportunity to show that on September 9th when the Gamecocks take on Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Stock Down

This part of the article can often be a bit difficult and harsh, and it is even more so when after only one game.  In addition, there really wasn’t an obvious candidate either, so this is more just a case of not having an ideal opening performance.

Tanner Mangum, QB, BYU

We return for a third time to the Cougars - Vikings matchup that was so enticing on Saturday afternoon. As previously mentioned, the Portland State defense won the overall battle for much of the day against their more reputable opponents, particularly a highly effective secondary. That saw the anticipated return of Tanner Mangum to the starting lineup a little more subdued than might have been expected.  

It certainly would have been unfair to have looked for more of the same from his early season exploits back in 2015 where two straight victories came via game winning Hail Mary completions. Still, after throwing for 3,377 yards and 23 TDs to just ten interceptions as a freshman, there’s high hopes for his return after a final year of Taysom Hill in 2016.

The numbers were reasonable, and essentially mistake free, and his receivers could have helped him out more on a few incompletions, but Mangum finished 16 of 27 (59.3% completion rate) for 194 yards and one touchdown, throwing no picks. The lack of overall rhythm and a few off-target passes made it difficult for the Cougars to get many consistent drives going. With LSU, Utah and Wisconsin as their next three opponents, Mangum and the offense will need to improve a bit from the season opener on Saturday.

Who stood out for you on the opening weekend of college football? Discuss in the comments below!

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