After a few weeks of getting ranked teams facing off against each other, this Saturday of college football (October 16) is a little tamer, but there are still plenty of talented players to keep eyes on. After focusing on the off-the-ball linebackers last week, this week we pivot to offensive skill players versus defensive backs, and there are a few really fun matchups to watch.
In order to maximize your viewing pleasure, instead of listing random players with games spread out throughout the day, we’ve identified one game in each TV time slot, as well as multiple prospects in each game that we believe Detroit Lions scouts may be keeping their eyes on.
The featured games on this week’s watchlist include:
- Texas A&M (21) at Missouri at 12:00 p.m. ET on SECN
- Kentucky (11) at Georgia (1) at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
- Alabama (5) at Mississippi State at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Arizona State (18) at Utah at 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
If you’re interested in going back and looking at the previous Saturday watchlists to revisit some of the players profiled, you can find those links here:
- Pre-season Quarterback watchlist
- Week 1, September 4
- Week 2, September 11
- Week 3, September 18
- Week 4, September 25
- Week 5, October 2
- Week 6, October 9 — All linebackers edition
Alright, let’s get to this week’s profiles.
Texas A&M (21) at Missouri at 12:00 p.m. ET on SECN
Ainias Smith, WR/RB, Texas A&M (Junior)
5-foot-10, 190 pounds
A swiss army knife of a player, Smith lines up in the slot, on the outside, and in the backfield, reminding some of Curtis Samuel in his skill set. Because he is so positional versatile, A&M has used this trait to get him in favorable matchups—start him in the backfield, shift to the slot pre-snap and get him matched up with a linebacker is easy money for the Aggies.
But make no mistake, he can very much hold his own as a traditional receiver and he uses his speed, quickness, and suddenness, to set up his routes and separate from defenders:
Ainias Smith attacking the midline of the DB while eating up the cushion.— Ryder McConville (@RyderM25) October 14, 2021
Then gives a hard inside jab with a violent hip shift and good burst in the break phase.
Tracks the ball over the shoulder without slowing down to score the clutch TD #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/SBGADX6aAP
He’s not the type of player who is going to fill a WR1 role, but the Lions need help at several offensive skill player roles, including adding a matchup weapon gadget player.
Akayleb Evans, CB, Missouri (Senior)
6-foot-2, 198 pounds
Missouri’s top option for defending Smith is Evans. He is tall, long, physical, and possesses an aggressive mindset for the position. He is comfortable in man and off-coverage, which will appeal to the Lions coaches.
Kentucky (11) at Georgia (1) at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky (Junior)
5-foot-9.5, 185 pounds
There were a lot of Lions fans who were begging the team to draft Purdue slot receiver Rondale Moore in the 2020 draft—the Arizona Cardinals grabbed him at pick No. 49 in the second round. If you were one of those fans, you need to get to know Wan’Dale Robinson.
A threat to score with the ball in his hands, Robinson is shifty laterally and explosive in all directions. He possesses speed, quickness, and is a YAC monster because of his ability to completely change directions on his routes/runs at full speed.
Kentucky WR Wan’Dale Robinson has seven plays this season of 30 or more yards. This is his latest.— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) October 2, 2021
Side-to-side or straight line, he just moves at a different speed. Big Rondale Moore vibes #CFBpic.twitter.com/mZov4vc7La
Robinson’s offensive coordinator at Kentucky is Liam Coen, who spent three years with the Los Angeles Rams as an assistant wide receivers coach (2018-19), assistant quarterbacks coach (2020), and has a clear connection to Lions general manager Brad Holmes.
It wouldn't be surprising at all if Holmes took advantage of that relationship and has already reached out to get information about Robinson.
Lewis Cine, FS, Georgia (Junior)
6-foot-1, 200 pounds
A rangy athlete who plays free safety for the Bulldogs, Cine has found more success playing underneath coverage in a two-safety system. He’s impactful in stopping the run but is still developing his coverage skill set. He is the type of player that would excel in a role similar to the one Will Harris holds with the Lions.
Keep an eye on Cine drifting over the slot and trying to match up with Robinson, which would be a great test of his skills.
Bonus matchup watch:
Darian Kinnard (RT, Kentucky, Senior, 6-foot-5, 345 pounds) versus
Adam Anderson (EDGE, Georgia, Senior, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds)
Kinnard plays right tackle for Kentucky but he projects as a road grading right guard in the NFL. He will likely be on the Lions' radar, especially if they’re unhappy with Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s contract, but it may require an early Day 2 pick to secure his services—and it’s entirely possible he ends up in Round 1.
Kinnard will square up with Anderson, who I profiled in Week 1 and had this to say:
A rotational pass-rushing outside linebacker in 2020, Anderson (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) is set to take over a starting role this season. Speed, acceleration, length, and burst off the line, make him very appealing, but he needs more reps to elevate his stock. A natural WILL in a 3-4 scheme, Anderson would fit well in the Lions’ system and plays a position that could be a priority depending on what happens to Trey Flowers in 2022.
This may be the best one-on-one matchup of the week.
Alabama (5) at Mississippi State at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (Junior)
6-foot-2, 189 pounds
An Ohio State transfer, Williams was expected to come into Alabama and compete for a starting role, but he has rapidly developed and may have already ascended to the top of the pecking order.
Jameson Williams vs Texas A&M Highlights pic.twitter.com/fLVPNbgG3b— bigWRguy (@bigWRguy) October 10, 2021
Alabama’s offense is notoriously wide receiver friendly, but they have also produced several extremely talented NFL receivers and Williams looks like another. So does this next guy.
John Metchie, WR, Alabama (Junior)
6-foot-0, 195 pounds
I wrote about Metchie in Week 1 and here were my thoughts then:
The next Alabama inside/outside receiver, Metchie (6-foot-0, 195 pounds) creates separation with speed and creativity in his routes. He is touted as having an incredible work ethic and it shows on the field. He understands how to set up defensive backs and varies his acceleration to bait defenders.
Those statements still stand after six weeks, but Williams’s emergence has brought some debate over which Alabama receiver would be drafted first if both declare.
Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State (Junior)
6-foot-1, 200 pounds
Another tall, long, athletic corner, Emerson is most comfortable in man coverage and is not afraid to contribute in run support. With above-average football intelligence, Emerson is able to read plays quickly and act on them with little wasted movement. He will be put to the test today, regardless of which Alabama receiver he squares off with.
Phidarian Mathis (DL, Alabama, Senior, 6-foot-3.5, 312 pounds) versus
Charles Cross (LT, Mississippi State, redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-5, 308 pounds)
In the trenches, there is another matchup of potential top-100 players. Mathis is the next Alabama defensive lineman that fits the mold of an A’Shawn Robinson at the 4i/5-technique. He’s more run stuffer than pass rusher but he would fit into the Michael Brockers role and could be groomed as his eventual replacement down the road.
At times, Mathis will square up with Cross, Mississippi State’s left tackle, which will be fun to watch. Cross is young and still growing into his body but he is an exceptional athlete who could make the jump to the NFL this offseason. Left tackle isn’t a need for the Lions, which may push Cross lower down the Lions board, and I’m not sure he has the strength to push inside to guard. But if the Lions project that he can add strength/weight and fill a position of need, he is plenty talented.
Arizona State (18) at Utah at 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Merlin Robertson, LB, Arizona State (Senior)
6-foot-2.5, 240 pounds
Last week I highlighted several of the top linebackers that could potentially land in this upcoming draft class. One of the linebackers I wanted to fit in last week but couldn’t was Robertson, who very much fits the mold of another Derrick Barnes.
Early in his career, he played on the outside, often lining up near or on the line of scrimmage and would frequently rush the passer. In 2020, he moved to primarily an off-the-ball role and proved that his athleticism would transcend positions. Not only was he still making plays against the run and in the open field, but he has also evolved his coverage skills, in both man and zone concepts.
Arizona State linebacker Merlin Robertson is ridiculous. Projected as a RUSH EDGE. Has some crazy coverage ability.— (@DraftVogel) May 16, 2021
He’s biting on the fake release into the flat. Look at the hip flip and change of direction! Kedon Slovis thinks that Robertson is beat and throws this INT. pic.twitter.com/lou3ZKsEIN
At his size, several analysts will want to push him into an EDGE role, but I like him more as a hybrid player who can do multiple things.
If you’re staying up late on Saturday, Robertson will keep you entertained.