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NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft: Players & Matchups To Watch In CFB Week 4

  • The Draft Network
  • September 25, 2021
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We are almost through the first quarter mark of the college football season and there’s been plenty that has already happened. Lots of draft observations on prospects have already been collected, but we are still in the premature stages of the pre-draft process. With scouts back into their normal routine of live scouting and collecting as much information as possible on potential targets, Week 4 provides plenty of intriguing opportunities for some notable name prospects throughout the country.

Last week on the Reid Option podcast, I introduced my ‘red dot’ series, which are players that I will have a mark beside to pay extra attention to during the weekend slate of games. This week's red dot players range all throughout the country, starting with a primetime Friday night game.

Malik Willis, vs. Syracuse

Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network

In what has been a mixed bag of performances from the potential 2022 quarterback class, one bright spot of the group thus far has been Liberty’s Malik Willis. Throughout the summer and lead-up to the season, there was plenty of hype surrounding Willis—and rightfully so. His ability to throw the football is undeniable and has been evident through the first three games.

Against Campbell, Troy, and Old Dominion, Willis has accumulated 613 passing yards, 11 total touchdowns (seven passing, four rushing), and is completing 71% of his passes. Without a quality opponent yet, Syracuse will be his best competition if basing it off of the conferences. Willis has displayed many of the traits that made him such an exciting prospect coming into the season. Possessing high-level arm strength, Willis already has multiple ‘wow’ throws already through his first handful of games.

The best came against Old Dominion on a red zone post-wheel concept where he put the ball in a tight window and on the back shoulder away from the defender. The pass was ultimately dropped, but it gives you an idea of just how strong his arm is. Opposite hash throws and condensing windows are no worries for him as he has the confidence and velocity to test fitting them in. 

One of the best attributes of Willis’ game is how much of a contributor he is in the running game. It’s not only designed runs, but he also can turn broken plays into positive ones with his scrambling ability. When breaking the pocket, he understands that he’s a thrower first and keeps his eyes up. 

So far this season though, that has been a gift and a curse. Too many times when the Flames offense decides to move the pocket or change launch point, Willis’ mental clock to throw the ball strikes zero, but his mind still is in thrower mode when there’s nothing there to get the ball out to. When the clock strikes zero, Willis still tries to force concepts, which causes him to make too many inexcusable decisions that result in massive losses. This happened frequently against Old Dominion on designed rollout passes. On eight designed rollout passes this season, Willis has surrendered two sacks.

Learning when to use one of his greatest weapons as a runner still remains a work in progress for him. This flaw is also something that I will be paying close attention to against Syracuse. Set for a primetime kick-off at 8 p.m. ET on ACC Network, this is one of the first games that scouts will monitor when getting a full assessment of the Liberty signal-caller.

Ikem Ekwonu vs. Clemson

3 p.m. ET, ESPN

A prospect who’s trending upward and a name that's beginning to make more appearances in mock drafts weekly is NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekonwu. Over the summer, my first introduction to Ekonwu was when he was listed on the Freak List, which is a highly anticipated article that’s released yearly by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. In that article, Feldman mentions that Ekwonu, “is the epitome of a Freak” and that he was a former wrestler. 

With that background combined with his athleticism, Ekwonu has played very well so far this season. Through the early stages of the season, Ekwonu’s best competition has been against Mississippi State. Even though his team suffered a defeat, he was arguably the biggest winner of the contest.

Easily the best attribute of Ekwonu’s game is his play temperament. Treating battles in between the snap like a back alley street brawl, it doesn’t take long to see No. 79 violently tossing someone in the opposite color jersey to the ground. Ekonwu has unique natural power that allows him to overwhelm defenders. His physicality and nastiness have no off switch no matter who’s in his direction.

Studying the early season games of the Wolfpack offensive tackle, the first name that I immediately wrote down afterward was Kelechi Osemele. Possessing similar size, Osemele was also a tackle coming out of Iowa State that eventually transitioned inside to guard prior to going on to have a notable career peak as a starter. Opinions may remain mixed on if Ekwonu is best suited as a guard or tackle. Regardless, his playing style, power, and consistency have him soaring up draft boards.

In a matchup against Clemson, this contest could be a huge moneymaker for him as he matches up against one of the better overall defenses in the country. His consistency as a pass protector will be put to the test as well as his capabilities as a run blocker, which is the trait that currently sits underneath the strengths column on his pre-draft resume.

Kingsley Enagbare vs. Darian Kinnard

7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

In what lines up to be one of the better prospect-versus-prospect matchups of the week, Kingsley Enagbare is set to face off against Darian Kinnard. So far this season, Kinnard has proven to be one of the best offensive tackles in the country. On a team that’s one of the early season surprises of the year, Kinnard has been rock-solid through three games. 

Showing off flashes of dominance in the run game, he uses his size well and throws his weight around with discipline on certain run concepts. As a prospect, Kinnard has a lot of similarities to Cody Ford. When coming out of Oklahoma, debates centered around if he was a guard or tackle. The biggest debate around Kinnard will be similar and there likely won’t be a common consensus with him.

As I worked my way through summer scouting, Enagbare was a prospect that was a bit of an acquired taste for me. Early on last season, the pass rush ability was easy to see and his explosiveness up the field was the engine that drove the car. It was the running game that left much to be desired with him. He’s showing improvement in that area as his frame looks to be more filled out and he’s become stronger in his lower half while not losing any of his ability to rush the passer. 

A third-down menace last season, Enagbare was fully aware of which parts of the game that he needed to own. Out of his 5.5 sacks in 2020, 4.5 of them came in that situation. Already collecting 2.5 sacks through three games, he’s nearly halfway to his sack total from a year ago. Matched up against Kinnard, evaluators will get a clearer understanding of many things. The first being just how improved Enagbare is against the run and how consistent of a pass-settor Kinnard can be.

Two players that specialize in the other's weaknesses as a prospect, this battle is easily one of the better prospect-versus-prospect matchups of the weekend.

Trey McBride vs. Iowa

3 p.m. ET, FS1

A prospect who’s still flying a bit under the radar, McBride has come storming out of the starting blocks. The centerpiece of the Rams offense, he’s already surpassed his receiving yards total from last season in one fewer game. Through the first three games, he’s totaled 339 receiving yards and one touchdown on 30 catches. On pace to shatter all of his career-high numbers, McBride is a versatile tight end that provides value in the passing game and as a blocker.

Facing off against a stingy Iowa defense, this is a resume game that scouts will be flocking to see how well he performs against a unit that always ranks near the top in most defensive categories. McBride has a prime opportunity to strengthen a resume that’s already off to a fast start.

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