After a week filled with big-time matchups, the NFL Draft landscape is continuing to take shape. Which standouts from this past week’s college football games could be in play for the Steelers? It is time to find out.
During the college football season, I will have weekly “stock reports,” breaking down everything that transpired in the previous week of college action. We will look at players at any position that either helped or hurt their stock based upon that week’s performance, but we will give a more extensive look at players that play a position the Steelers will be in need of next offseason. Those positions may fluctuate as the Steelers’ 2021 season unfolds and we learn more about what this team truly needs to address in the offseason.
As it stands right now, cornerback, guard, wide receiver, and quarterback seem to be the most likely needs. Thus, a noteworthy performance by a player at one of those positions is more likely to be recognized in these articles than an impressive showing by a player at a position the Steelers are already loaded at.
Here are the highest of highs and lowest of lows from the fifth full week of college action.
Malik Willis / QB / Liberty
In my summer draft breakdown on Willis, I mentioned that I was quite intrigued with Willis’ skill set, and his draft stock is beginning to trend upward. Against a solid UAB defense, Willis completed 13 of 19 passes for 287 yards and 1 touchdown while running the ball 15 times for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. Willis made some “wow” throws last season, but he has done a much better job making the simple throws in 2021. While some would argue that Willis does not fit the Steelers’ prototype at quarterback, it is worth noting that the Steelers sent scouts to watch Willis play against Syracuse two weeks ago. The Steelers may just be doing their due diligence, but nonetheless, Willis is a name to keep an eye on as we get closer to the draft.
Desmond Ridder / QB / Cincinnati
There are still times where I would like to see Ridder stand in the pocket longer instead of running it, but I do like the fact that he is continuing to mature as a passer. This week, he led his Bearcats to a huge win over Notre Dame, completing 19 of 32 pass attempts for 297 yards and 2 touchdowns. It is difficult to gauge Ridder when he is playing many inferior opponents, so an impressive win against a top-ten team will do wonders for his draft resume. He has worked his way from a projected day two pick to a potential top-fifteen pick.
Daxton Hill / S / Michigan
I am honestly surprised at how little praise has been given to Daxton Hill, but somebody may get a steal. Hill is one of the most talented safeties in the country, and he has been balling out during Michigan’s early-season success. Against Wisconsin last Saturday, Hill recorded an impressive stat line, which included 6 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass defended, and 1 interception. Although Terrell Edmunds is not under contract after this season, Hill is more a free safety than a strong safety. All indications point to Minkah Fitzpatrick being with the Steelers long-term, but if something were to go south between now and April, Hill could be a potential fit in Pittsburgh.
Ahmad Gardner / CB / Cincinnati
Smart quarterbacks have learned to avoid throwing in Gardner’s direction, because when they do, it rarely ends well for the offense. It may seem as if Gardner disappears during games, but that is primarily because he is such a sound coverage corner. On Saturday against Notre Dame, Gardner recorded only two tackles but had one pass defended and one interception. In my summer breakdown on Gardner, I pointed out that because he is more of a man coverage corner rather than a zone corner, he may not be an ideal fit for the Steelers. However, the need at cornerback could be a major one, and Gardner may be one of the best players available when the Steelers are up to pick.
Others who improved their stock
Jerreth Sterns / WR / Western Kentucky (17 REC, 186 YDS, 1 TD)
Brian Robinson, Jr. / RB / Alabama (36 CAR, 171 YDS, 4 TD)
Khoury Bethley / S / Hawaii (9 TCKL, 1 SCK, 2 INT)
Logan Wright / RB / Georgia Southern (10 CAR, 208 YDS, 2 TD)
J.T. Woods / S/ Baylor (5 TCKL, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT)
Jadon Haselwood / WR / Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s offense has not been as explosive as expected. There are many different players that fans will point the finger toward, but when it comes to route running, the entire Oklahoma receiving corps has failed to create as much separation on a consistent basis this year. Spencer Rattler’s inconsistency could be part of the reason that the receivers are not putting up great numbers, but nonetheless, Haselwood was held to only one catch for eighteen yards against Kansas State on Saturday. Considering both Rattler’s and Haselwood’s struggles, it would not surprise me if both returned to school. They will need a strong second half of the season to override the first-half inconsistencies.
A.J. Hampton / CB / Northwestern
It was a bad day all in all for Northwestern, but the secondary struggled to contest for passes downfield. Hampton is one of the top corners in the Big Ten, but Saturday was not his best performance, as he racked up six tackles while failing to defend any passes. Hampton was better in coverage against Ohio the previous week, but he has not been the game-changing corner that many Northwestern fans expected in 2021. Hampton still ranks fourth in the nation in passes defended, but his stock is slowly beginning to trend downward.
For an in-depth look at the biggest games of Week 6 of the college football season, be sure to check out Pittsblitz56’s College Game Day and NFL Draft Prospects article this Saturday, right here at BTSC.
Which NFL Draft prospects caught your eye this past weekend? What are your thoughts on Malik Willis? Will either he or Desmond Ridder become productive NFL quarterbacks? Let us know your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for everything you need to know in preparation for the Steelers vs. Broncos matchup this Sunday.