In Clemson Tigers dominant victory over an upstart Virginia Tech Hokies team, the defense absolutely shined. And while Brent Venables’ front four (rightfully) receives the majority of the notoriety, the Tigers’ linebacker group looks like the best in the country right now.
Kendall Joseph , a junior, is the most sudden, thumping off-ball linebacker I’ve watched this season. He exudes athleticism and you always notice him around the football. He’s built on a 106-tackle sophomore year and looks primed to eclipse that figure this season.
Linebacker mate Dorian O’Daniel , who was actually a more highly-touted recruit, has become a Swiss Army knife in his final season for the Tigers. He mainly lines up at strongside linebacker, rushes the passer some, plays the run with urgency and power and even takes some snaps split wide as a quasi-slot cornerback. He and Joseph were big reasons why the Hokies accumulated just 90 yards rushing on 28 attempts. They’re both “modern-day NFL” type linebackers who aren’t limited physically and have loads of coverage experience.
Let’s update the top 20 NFL prospects after Week 5 in college football:
1. Mason Rudolph , QB, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Rudolph found himself in an old-fashioned Big 12 offensive slugfest against Texas Tech Red Raiders , and he didn’t disappoint. He accounted for five touchdowns — two rushing — and averaged 9.91 yards per attempt in the 41-34 victory. Rudolph was surgical at all levels of the field and found James Washington nine times for 127 yards and a touchdown. He weathered the storm in a hostile environment in another impressive outing.
2. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma was idle this week, but Brown’s start to the year cannot be overlooked. He has been dominant in pass protection and has moved well in the run game for someone as big as he is. When evaluating the Sooners left tackle, I’ll continue to closely monitor how many defensive ends are playing “contain” due to Baker Mayfield elusiveness.
3. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Washington Huskies did have a drop against the Red Raiders — shocking, I know. But it happens to the best of them. As has been the case in every game this season, the senior wideout not only demonstrated his deep speed but showcased his super-strong hands and impeccable body control.
4. Saquon Barkley , RB, Penn State Nittany Lions
Is Barkely ridiculous or what? Wheeeew. Was he made in a lab? Most of his stop-and-start moves seem like glitches in the TV broadcast, and he’s deceptively fast in the open field. Not to mention, his vision is incredible, and he’s a reliable receiver who runs off his blocks well in the screen game. How about that one-handed grab against Indiana Hoosiers ? And the kick return TD? Heisman front-runner.
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick , CB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Fitzpatrick has asserted himself as the premier “big” cornerback in the 2018 draft class. He had eight total tackles and a sack in Alabama’s latest demolition. Ole Miss had no answer for the entire Crimson Tide defense, but Fitzpatrick stood out as one of the most active defenders on the field all evening.
6. Quenton Nelson , OG, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Nelson is a rock-solid guard prospect in a guard class that, at the moment, looks relatively weak. It’ll take a few abysmal performances for him to fall outside the top 10 or top 15. He’s been that good this season and had a fine 2016. With the avalanche of talented defensive tackles in today’s NFL, Nelson’s more valuable than ever.
7. Derwin James , S, Florida State Seminoles
James didn’t have a monster game stat-wise against Wake Forest Demon Deacons . That’s OK. He was a consistent playmaker from his safety position. He had a critical pass breakup in the second half that was initially called for targeting, but a review showed his enormous hit was clean. He also soared to break up the Demon Deacons’ Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game. It was an excellent demonstration of his athletic talents, as James high-pointed the football and clearly jumped higher than the Wake Forest receiver to force the incompletion.
8. Bradley Chubb , DE, NC State Wolfpack
Chubb was at it again in another Wolfpack victory in the ACC. He tacked on two more sacks and had eight total tackles in the win over Syracuse Orange . Beyond that, he was disruptive against the run and routinely set the edge well on outside rushes. Chubb looks the part and plays the part of a power defensive end.
9. Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
Joseph had 10 tackles against Virginia Tech, which came after a 12-tackle effort against Boston College Eagles the week before. Also, he had a tackle for loss and a pass deflection in Blacksburg. Joseph is so darn twitchy and isn’t complacent when offensive linemen try to block him.
10. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo , OLB, Oklahoma
Okoronkwo stays put at No. 10, and a faces a shaky Iowa State Cyclones club at home this weekend. He has a sack in all four games this season.
11. Josh Rosen , QB, UCLA Bruins
As mentioned in this week’s Colorado Buffaloes . His film was superb though, especially the long touchdown he threw early, which displayed his rocket of an arm. He launched the ball 55 yards in the air without being able to step into the toss due to an oncoming rusher. He made many pinpoint accurate passes over the middle in this game, which, in my estimation, was Rosen’s finest game of 2017 thus far., by the numbers, Rosen had a relatively pedestrian evening against
12. Clelin Ferrell , DE, Clemson
Ferrell’s length is immediately noticeable when you flip on a Clemson game. And although he’s not a supercharged speed rusher around the edge, he has quality burst and bend, and uses his hands well. Per Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Ferrell has 17 quarterback pressures in five games, and five of those came against Virginia Tech.
13. Mike McGlinchey , OT, Notre Dame
Like his buddy on the left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line, McGlinchey is reliable and his experience is apparent in every game. He’s seemingly unfazed by any blitz package or any pass-rushing move an edge-rusher tries on him one-on-one. After this upcoming game against a retooling North Carolina Tar Heels team, the Fighting Irish have back-to-back games against Southern California Trojans and NC State. That McGlinchey vs. Chubb battle will have significant bearing on where those two are selected in the 2018 draft.
14. Derrick Nnadi , DT, Florida State
Nnadi has the loosest hips I’ve watched of any interior defensive linemen in the country this season. What that means is, he’s capable of turning blockers while scraping down the line of scrimmage. I feel like I write that every week about Nnadi, but it’s just so darn impressive. He’s a tenacious block-shedder too. Forget running the ball in his direction.
15. Dorian O’Daniel, OLB, Clemson
O’Daniel had 10 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and one interception returned for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. It was quite the evening for the Clemson linebacker. His acceleration was clear as day on the pick-six, and where he was lined up on that play says a lot about his game. I think NFL teams will be enamored with his versatility as an off-ball linebacker who has no problem aligning well outside the formation.
16. Bryce Love , RB, Stanford Cardinal
Yes, Love has jumped Derrius Guice in my running back rankings. That’s a sentence I wasn’t expecting to write this season, especially with how outstanding the LSU Tigers back was in 2016. But Love has been magnificent this year, and Guice is hurt. Although Love’s undoubtedly benefited from awesome Stanford blocking, consider that, per PFF, 175 of his 301 yards against Arizona State Sun Devils came after contact, and he was credited with 12 missed tackles forced on his 25 carries.
17. Courtland Sutton , WR, Southern Methodist Mustangs
Sutton got back into a groove against UConn with seven catches for 112 yards and one touchdown after two-straight stinkers. It doesn’t look like the monstrous Sutton is going to have the gigantic year he had a season ago, but that’s fine. Teams are focused on stopping him first and foremost. He’s still a fluid, big-bodied wideout with desired contested-catch skills and athleticism.
18. Da’Ron Payne , DT, Alabama
Payne is mostly a two-gapper, yet I’ve noticed him utilize a nice swipe move to create some pressure on the quarterback in the last few games. Of course Payne is a former five-star recruit, so NFL teams know the inherent talent is there. A one-on-one showdown in two weeks with Arkansas Razorbacks ‘ fantastic center Frank Ragnow looms large.
19. Auden Tate , WR, Florida State
Tate had only had two catches against Wake Forest, but the entire Seminoles offense was severely limited by freshman quarterback James Blackman . Tate made the most of his time on the field, as his 40-yard score gave Florida State the win. It showed his tremendous ability to track the football and use his 6-foot-5 frame and long arms to shield defenders. Tate is dripping with upside.
20. Austin Bryant , DE, Clemson
Clemson’s defensive line is unfair. And I think it’s better than Alabama’s. Yep, I wrote that. Bryant looks like a left defensive end in the NFL who’ll mainly be asked to anchor against the run and take advantage of weaker right tackles on passing downs with a swift, strong bull rush.
DE Harold Landry , DT Christian Wilkins , TE Mark Andrews , OLB Uchenna Nwosu , LB Cameron Smith , DE Arden Key , WR Deontay Burnett , RB Derrius Guice, CB Tarvarus McFadden , CB Denzel Ward , LB Josey Jewell , DL Hercules Mata’afa