What a time to be alive. We have reached the pinnacle of conference play where the best of the best finally earn the right to call themselves conference champions. These teams will also battle it out either for a spot in the College Football Playoff, or to simply increase their chances of playing in a superior bowl game. Since we've already focused on a multitude of teams in this series, I figured it would be best to focus on several different players that we haven't covered yet, especially those that may be on the Detroit Lions' radar during the upcoming draft.
Cornerback William Jackson III (Houston)
6-foot-1, 195 pounds (#3, Senior)
I'll admit, I was hoping that WJ3 would continue to fly under the radar as a CB prospect, and I salivate at the thought of the Lions drafting him in the middle rounds. Unfortunately, he is now getting the recognition he deserves as one of the top CB prospects in this year's class.
WJ3 has the desired height and length that many NFL teams covet and he knows how to use it. He shows off his physicality in press-coverage and against the run, but it's has the ability to play off-man and zone-coverage at a high level that jumps out to me on tape.
In the play above, WJ3 brandishes his quick feet by planting his outside foot into the ground and driving toward the intended receiver. He displays great closing speed for a taller CB and manages to break up the pass on what should have been an easy gain for the offense. While this play does a solid job of highlighting WJ3's physical traits, it also appears that the defense is in Cover-4 zone, which means WJ3 should have been keeping his eyes on the QB, rather than the WR and probably could have gotten to the ball even sooner.
Here's another example of WJ3's ability to rapidly close on the ball and make a play. He reminds me of a poor man's Kevin Johnson from last year that can do well in off-man/zone coverage and also has plenty of upside in press-coverage if he can work out some technical kinks. I think WJ3 has earned himself Day 2 consideration and could see his stock rise even higher if he tests well.
Cornerback Desmond King (Iowa)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds (#14, Junior)
Desmond King has had himself a hell of a Junior season for the Hawkeyes. He currently leads the NCAA with eight interceptions and is already racking up plenty of national honors and awards. King was named the Big Ten's defensive back of the year earlier this week and was selected as a finalist for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year award -- includes players of all positions.
Much like William Jackson III, King has quietly seen his draft stock rise into the top-100, maybe even the top-50. He had arguably his best performance of the year when pitted against Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd -- one of the top WR prospects, should he declare -- and notched two key interceptions.
King is a tad undersized and lacks the desired athleticism in man-coverage but has a knack for staying in his receiver's hip pocket and preventing separation. King has elite ball skills (hence the eight INTs) and is quick to close in off-man coverage. I'm beyond excited to watch the matchup between Iowa's Desmond King and Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge this weekend during the Big Ten Championship game.
Running back Derrick Henry (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 242 pounds (#2, Junior)
It's unfair to consider that Derrick Henry is one of the biggest running backs in the country and could also be the most athletic. He's reportedly run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash which is freakish for his stature. Henry is also one of the leading candidates for the Heisman trophy and leads the NCAA in rushing yards (1797) and rushing TDs (22).
Henry's style of running is much better suited in a power blocking scheme, but his surprisingly quick feet and good agility makes me believe that he can thrive in any system. He exhibits some wiggle in tight quarters along with one of the nastiest stiff arms you'll ever see. Henry is a load to bring down. If you go low he'll stiff arm you straight into the ground, and if you go high he'll shrug you off and leave you with some bruises.
The Lions have more pressing needs than at RB, so it's unlikely that Henry will be on their radar in the early rounds, but it's still fun to fantasize about a backfield consisting of Ameer Abdullah, Derrick Henry, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner.
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander (Clemson)
5-foot-10, 195 pounds (#2, RS Sophomore)
Alexander is another cornerback prospect that is going to get knocked for his height, but he does everything to convince you that he's still able to compete at a high level as an outside CB. He's your typical undersized, chippy and aggressive CB that the Lions are all too familiar with. Alexander has some of the quickest feet at his position and continuously stays hip-to-hip with his assignments. He's very fluid in coverage and is considered to be one of the best man-to-man cover corners in college football.
At times, Alexander can get a little too aggressive, which occasionally leads to penalties and/or getting beat by a double-move. As of now, CBS Sports has Alexander as their No. 3 CB and 15th ranked prospect overall.
Defensive End Jonathan Bullard (Florida)
6-foot-3, 283 pounds (#90, Senior)
Bullard has lined up virtually everywhere along the defensive line for the Gators. He lacks the functional strength to consistently line up as a defensive tackle, however, making him a better fit to play defensive end in the NFL. Bullard wins with his quickness and explosiveness and times the snap exceptionally well. He's still relatively raw as a pass rusher and tends to rely on his bull rush which doesn't work all that often.
If Bullard doesn't win immediately off the snap, he has a habit of letting his pad level get too high and stands far too upright leaving his chest exposed and hindering his ability to disengage and pursue the QB. Bullard will probably project best in a 3-4 scheme as a run-stuffing 2-gap specialist.
Safety Jayron Kearse (Clemson)
6-foot-4, 220 pounds (#1, Junior)
Kearse is the nephew of former NFL DE Jevon Kearse and the cousin of former defensive back Phillip Buchanon. He's a very intriguing prospect on his own merit as well. At 6-foot-4, Kearse is as tall as they come at the safety position and could be a member of the new breed of safeties/DBs that NFL teams are searching for to cover TEs like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Scouts will admire the thought of Kearse's combination of size, physicality and ball skills projecting into the NFL, and it's plausible that his draft status could be reaching first-round consideration. Kearse is still a raw product and has plenty of room to grow, but will require patience. If he continues to improve upon his technique and awareness, I could see him developing into a distinguished hybrid safety/linebacker/nickel type role for some lucky NFL team.