- Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon) – At one point, Herbert was whispered to be the top overall prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft. While still a first-round talent, Herbert has fallen to the hype of LSU’s Joe Burrow and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. This season, he ranks just 18th in passing yards (3,140) and 21st in QBR (74.3).
Against AP Top 25 teams this season (Auburn, Washington), Herbert has completed nearly 70% of his passes and thrown 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Utah’s stout defense is his toughest test since the opening week against Auburn, and NFL scouts are watching. If Herbert can light up the stat sheet and get a convincing win in the PAC-12 Championship game, not only will it greatly improve his draft stock, but Oregon could be on the way to their second Playoff berth.
However, a poor performance or loss could see Herbert falling down charts into the back half of the first round. His accuracy and quality of defenses has been concerning throughout his career; Utah will be a good marker as to what we can expect from Herbert against stout and talented defenses.
Stats pulled from ESPN.com
- Isaiah Simmons (LB, Clemson) – Last season, Simmons put together a solid campaign that was greatly overshadowed by the Tigers’ vicious front 4. However, there was no ignoring his 9 tackles, one for a loss, in the National Championship game against Alabama. Simmons is flirting with the Top 10 in most mock drafts and that’s unlikely to change with a quiet performance against heavy-underdog Virginia.
If Simmons comes out screaming and puts together a dominant ACC Championship performance, he could catapult in the rankings, a la 2018 Josh Jacobs at Alabama. In 2 games against offensive lines inside the top 20 in lowest sack rate (Boston College, NC State), Simmons recorded no sacks. Against the 26th-ranked offensive line in run blocking opportunity, he had just 4 total tackles.
The information above should be taken with a grain of salt, as Simmons saw limited snaps all season long due to Clemson winning by an average of 33.5 points per game against Power 5 opponents. A loud, breakout performance against Virginia (who is allowing sacks on over 8% of all drop backs, 103rd) could be just what he needs to grab a top-5 spot in the draft.
Offensive line ranks pulled from Football Outsiders
- Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State) – Wade missed his start against Michigan on Saturday, and his absence was felt. Michigan’s quarterback Shea Patterson carved up the Buckeyes’ secondary, accumulating the most passing yards Ohio State has allowed all season in just the first half (250). After some adjustments, Patterson finished with just 55 second-half yards, but it was clear Harbaugh and the Wolverines were targeting the space previously inhabited by Shaun Wade.
In his absence, Wade might have actually helped his draft stock, proving he is a valuable piece on the #2 passing defense in the nation. His sole interception came against Rutgers, but he has been key in taking away talented receivers all season long. Wade missed Ohio State’s first matchup against Wisconsin earlier this year where they allowed just 106 yards passing and no more than 3 receptions to an individual player.
Similarly to Simmons, Shaun Wade won’t lose much draft value with a quiet game (albeit he doesn’t want to get torched), but a dominant game or forced turnover could reinforce his ever-growing first-round stock.
Defensive ranked pulled from NCAA.com, combination of passing yards allowed and team passing efficiency defense
Follow scout Brett Gibbons on Twitter @theBrettGibbons.