It's that time of year again. With the college football season winding down, the hay is already in the barn for some 2014 NFL draft prospects and others have only their bowl left to make an impression with NFL scouts before their collegiate careers come to end.
There are, however, prospects who have a chance to improve their draft stock this week, especially those playing on the big stage. Here's a look at four intriguing offensive defensive line matchups from the conference championships.
These two face off for the second time this year, and the tug-of-war first meeting didn't disappoint. Yankey flashed good pop at the point and the ability to get under Sutton as a run blocker in addition to staying in front of Sutton in pass protection. On the flipside, he struggled to get into position and sustain at times as a run-blocker. Sutton used his quick first step to exploit false steps and his active hands made it tough for Yankey to get a good fit on him. In addition, Yankey's pad level was a touch inconsistent and he slipped blocks when he got caught leaning.
This rematch gives scouts an excellent chance to see whether these players have progressed since September. The keys for Yankey are crisper footwork and winning the battle of leverage, which is no easy task considering Sutton is four inches shorter than him. The key for Sutton is disengaging quicker when he doesn't win with quickness whether he's rushing the passer or defending the run.
Another aspect of this matchup worth mentioning is Stanford's trap game, which is designed to give aggressive defensive tackles like Sutton problems. Sutton can't get caught too far upfield when the offensive guard he lines up over either releases to the second level or traps away. If he does it will make it easier for OC Khalil Wilkes to block back when they run away from him and the trapping guard to ride him upfield when they run at him. Yankey is an above average trap blocker who gets around the center quickly and blindsided Sutton once earlier this year.
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Morse is quick for his size and has enough lower body strength to move the 6-2, 240-pound Ford off the ball when he stays low. The problem is he doesn't always stay low and the advantage will shift to Ford when he plays high. Ford doesn't have a great anchor and he struggles to dig in when offensive tackles get into his frame but he has the upper body to strength to stack and shed bigger blockers when they don't stay low plus he appears to have the edge in length.
Both of these players are aggressive hand fighters and it should be fun to watch them spar when Missouri drops back to pass. Morse can knock smaller defensive ends off balance with a strong punch and he's capable of getting his hands on Ford, who doesn't show elite initial burst coming off the edge. He also does a good job resetting his hands quickly which is important because Ford does a nice job of knocking down offensive tackles' hands down as he works upfield. Here again pad level is a concern for Morse, who tends to set high and can give too much ground.
Ford gets under offensive tackles, extends his arms and either pushes them inside and continues upfield or pushes them upfield and redirects inside.
Big Ten Championship
Calhoun is a redshirt sophomore who has bulked up to 250 pounds and improved his ability to anchor against the run since arriving at Michigan State. If he continues to progress, he could makes waves as a prospect for the 2015 draft.
Mewhort still gets the edge when it comes to the ground game and the reason is his hands. Mewhort consistently clamps down on defenders and he's tough to shake once he locks on. He also gets his hands inside and locks onto chest plates reducing the chances of him getting flagged for holding. As far as pass protection is concerned, Mewhort sits back in his set and holds his ground well enough to anchor against Calhoun who is more of a power rusher than a speed rusher.
He'll have a tougher time matching up with Allen. At 5-11, 218 pounds, Allen is far more explosive than Calhoun and he cuts down the angle to the quarterback by dipping his inside shoulder. That's a concern for Mewhort who doesn't have great length for an offensive tackle prospect. Allen's ability to change directions quickly will also test Mewhort's ability to mirror and slide if he works back inside.
There is one reason to be optimistic about Mewhort's ability to overcome Allen's advantages in quickness and athletic ability. He's a smart player who's unlikely to get caught off guard when Allen blitzes.
The truth is Anunike's football career will likely end following Duke's bowl game and durability is a big reason for that. He is a sixth-year senior who has undergone five knee surgeries including four on his left knee and one surgery on his left ankle.
His injury history isn't the only reason either. He doesn't show great closing speed or foot speed as a pass rusher and he doesn't have great lower body strength so he can get pushed around when teams run at him. While he's led the Blue Devils in sacks the past three seasons, he should have a tough time getting around Erving who has good length and flashes above-average balance in pass protection. Erving also has the quickness and frame to neutralize him in the running game.
As much as this shapes up as a David versus Goliath matchup on paper, Goliath had better bring it on every snap. Anunike plays with a great motor despite that he rarely comes off the field and his effort masks physical shortcomings. Anunike is also an adequate hand fighter who will look to keep Erving off his frame and fight to get of the block when he does get reached. He plays with the kind of resiliency and heart you'd expect from a player who's overcome so much to get back on the field and help his teammates.