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Saturday Spotlight: Five Prospects To Watch Week 4

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Stanford guard David Yankey (54) will square off Saturday against the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. Photo by David Madison/Getty Images.
Stanford guard David Yankey (54) will square off Saturday against the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. Photo by David Madison/Getty Images.

Geno Smith will remember it as the end of a perfect run: a 48-45 road win at Texas, West Virginia improving to 5-0, Smith throwing four more TDs, giving him 24 on the year without a single interception.

Jackson Jeffcoat surely remembers it differently.

For Jeffcoat, it was his last full game of the 2012 season; he’d rupture his right pectoral muscle the next week against Oklahoma, which blew up a promising year in the making and squelched any thoughts Jeffcoat might have had of leaving the Longhorns for the NFL.

It also was the last time Jackson Jeffcoat, second-generation quarterback hunter, registered a sack.

He didn’t get one against the Sooners. He hasn’t had one in his first three games this season. He’s registered four hurries so far in 2013, but NFL teams don’t draft defensive ends to hurry the quarterback. They draft them to get the quarterback.

And since his second-quarter sack of Smith last October 6th, Jeffcoat has led an unsatisfying sack-free existence.

Don’t think the NFL scouts haven’t noticed. Jeffcoat has been far less disruptive to this point than they would have liked to see from a player coming back form injury. He had a tackle for a loss against New Mexico State, another against BYU, but his pressure productivity is way down from 2011, when he had eight sacks and 21 TFL.

It doesn’t seem to be a matter of any lingering effects from the surgically repaired pec. And offenses don’t seem to be sliding protection Jeffcoat’s way any more than they had.

There has to be a reason for NFL teams to target a 250-pound pass rush specialist. He needs to show he can still get to the quarterback, otherwise he may be looking at life as a 4-3 outside backer at the next level. 

Jeffcoat has a great chance to show his quickness  on Saturday when he lines up against Kansas State left tackle Cornelius Lucas. At 6-foot-9. 328 pounds, Lucas is perhaps the best tackle prospect in the Big 12, himself a likely Day Two pick. He’ll be the best blocker Jeffcoat has faced this season – the perfect time to start reshaping scouts’ impressions.

David Yankey, G, Stanford vs. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

A month ago, this would’ve been billed as a heavyweight matchup, a showdown between the Pac-12’s best offensive and defensive linemen. But it’s lost a little of its luster in the wake of Sutton’s sluggish start.

In two games, Arizona State’s opponents have run 117 plays. Sutton has been involved in three tackles. That’s not what we've come to expect from the wrecking ball who had 13 sacks and 23.5 TFL in 2012.

There were stories this week speculating that Sutton’s weight is to blame. He’s listed at 305 pounds in this week’s game notes – 17 pounds heavier than he was listed in the spring prospectus. For a guy whose success stemmed from a surprisingly quick first step and relentless motor, such weight gain is disastrous. He doesn’t have the strength or height to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense at the next level. Sutton should be the cat-quick three technique he looked like last year, playing at 290 or so.

Enter Yankey, perhaps the best guard prospect in the country, technically precise and physically dominating. He’s not been tested much yet in games against San Jose State and Army. Shutting down Sutton wouldn’t be the statement it might have been a year ago. But it would be another affirmation that Yankey is a unique talent in the trenches of the Pac-12.

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame

This will be the first true test of the year for the Spartans defense, which enters Saturday as the nation’s top-rated defense in several categories (total defense, pass efficiency defense, yards per play). And this will be the biggest test Dennard likely will see this entire regular season.

Penn State’s not on Michigan State's schedule, so he won’t see Allen Robinson. Wisconsin isn't either, so he won’t see Jared Abbrederis. The top two receivers Dennard will face this year will both be on the field Saturday: T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels (pity poor Dan Hicks' twisted tongue when Darqueze Dennard lines up against DaVaris Daniels).

Dennard will draw assignments against both Notre Dame receivers, who will present different challenges for one of the top man-to-man corners in a draft deep with them. Jones, a 5-11, 195-pound senior, is a classic possession receiver. He’s not a big play threat, but he wins his matchups by running precise routes and catching everything Tommy Rees throws his way. Daniels (6-1, 203) is more the downfield threat, with at least one catch of 20 or more yards in nine of his 14 career games. 

Dennard will get to show how he handles both types of wideouts in one game.

Antonio Richardson, T, and Ja’Wuan James, T, Tennessee vs. Florida

Tennessee saw an otherworldly display of team speed last week in a lopsided loss at Oregon. This week, the Vols get reacquainted with a different kind of speed – one they’re more familiar with, but a brand just as deadly.

Florida’s defensive front seven features a ton of superior athletes, guys like tackle Dominique Easley and linebacker Ronald Powell, who spend so much time in opponents' backfields, they should have their mail forwarded there.

Richardson, James and the rest of the Vols offense were shell-shocked by what happened to them in Eugene. But they have a chance to rebound against the Gators, to prove that they can handle athletic pass rushers and neutralize a speed disadvantage in the run game.

Florida’s offense isn’t going to force Tennessee into a one-dimensional, come-from-behind approach. If the Vols can stay balanced, keep the front seven from teeing off on Justin Worley, Richardson and James could restore some of the faith scouts had in Tennessee’s tackle tandem coming into this season.

Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell vs. Bucknell

Through the first three weeks of the 2013 season, the Quarterback Draft Class of 2014 has started to sort itself out. Opinions are being formed about Johnny Manziel and A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Stephen Morris. Scouts are noting the impressive development of Brett Hundley and Zach Mettenberger, and may be backing off David Fales (a little) and Logan Thomas (a lot).

Now, the best quarterback prospect outside the FBS finally has a chance to give scouts something to watch other than outdated game film.

Mathews opens his senior season Saturday amidst a ton of curiosity. He’s got NFL size (6-4, 229) and, presumably, the smarts. The jury is still out on his arm, and teams have to wonder how long it will take him next year at the next level to recognize defenses he’d have never seen in the Ivy League.

That said, Mathews is opening the season against the second-best defense in the FCS. Bucknell had six sacks in its season opener two weeks ago.

Scouts are going to look at the Bisons defensive line, which appears more like an FBS linebacker corps in terms of size, and wonder what Mathews would do against a big-time defense.

That's a question that can't be answered until Senior Bowl week at the earliest. For now, they’ll be happy just to see him throwing in a live game.