2017 NFL Draft Prospects Who Must Step Up in Week 10

Leonard Fournette 2017 NFL Draft

Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) leaps over Alabama Crimson Tide defense during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Week 10 of the college football season is here, which means the first College Football Playoff has been released. Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Texas A&M are the top four and all four programs are loaded with talent that will be available in the 2017 NFL Draft.

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All four of those schools will be in action this Saturday. In addition, there are several other games in which NFL scouts will be paying attention to closely.

A few of those games are highlighted here as a few draft-eligible prospects face intriguing matchups. These five players have a golden opportunity to enhance their 2017 NFL Draft stock this weekend.

Jarron Jones 2017 NFL Draft

Apr 16, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones (94) leaves the field following the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. The Blue team defeated the Gold team 17-7. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Jarron Jones (DT – Notre Dame) vs. Navy

Last week’s showdown between quarterbacks DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Brad Kaaya of Miami quickly turned into a Jarron Jones highlight reel.

The defensive lineman dominated the interior of the Miami offensive line on his way to six tackles for a loss.

He’ll look to build off that performance against the Naval Academy’s option attack.

The six tackles for a loss by Jones are the most of any FBS player this season. Five of those stops came on running plays, which the Fighting Irish defense will see a lot of against Navy.

Jones will primarily be responsible for shutting down the dive up the middle, however he does possess the quickness to work his way down the line of scrimmage.

Jones, who suffered a torn MCL and missed the entire 2015 regular season, is having a career year in South Bend.

The fifth-year senior is one of the top DT prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft and is currently a projected day-two pick.

Sep 24, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Davis Webb (7) reacts against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils won 51-41. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Davis Webb (QB – California) vs. Washington

California takes on Washington in Pac-12 play this weekend and all QB-needy NFL clubs will have their eyes glued to quarterback Davis Webb.

The graduate transfer from Texas Tech has thrown for over 300 yards in seven of eight games this season, but will face his toughest test of the season.

The Huskies pass defense is one of the best in the country. Not only does the secondary feature All-American candidates Sidney Jones and Budda Baker, but the pass rush led by Joe Mathis will look to force Webb to get rid of the ball quickly.

Washington is ranked in the top 13 in the nation in sacks, opponent’s QB rating and passing yards allowed per game.

Webb didn’t even enroll at California until May of this year, but has picked up where Jared Goff left off. Webb’s ability to find open windows in the Washington secondary will heavily influence how early he’s selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Goff was able to exploit the Washington defense for 342 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-24 win last season. Webb won’t be selected anywhere near first overall, but he’s looking to move up to the middle rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.

2017 NFL Draft Anthony Walker

Oct 22, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Indiana Hoosiers running back Devonte Williams (2) is tackled by Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (1) in the second half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Walker, Jr. (ILB – Northwestern) vs. Wisconsin

If Northwestern is going to pull off the upset and defeat Wisconsin, Anthony Walker, Jr. is going to have to step up on defense. The team’s top prospect will have his hands full with the Wisconsin running game, but will be counted on to prevent the big play.

Ever since Wisconsin lost their first game of the season against Michigan, the Badgers have made significant improvements in the running game. In three games since (against Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska), Wisconsin is averaging over 208 yards on the ground. Whether it’s been Corey Clement or Dare Ogunbowale, the Wisconsin backs have done a very good job of finding the open running lane and gaining large chunks of yards at a time.

Against Ohio State, another highly-rated inside linebacker, Raekwon McMillan, failed to make an impact. He often found himself lost in traffic and only recorded three tackles. Northwestern doesn’t have the talent to make up for a subpar performance by their star LB. Walker is a day-two prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft who can enhance his stock with a good outing against the Badgers.

2017 NFL Draft Leonard Fournette

Oct 10, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) during pregame of a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Fournette (RB – LSU) vs. Alabama

For the third and likely final time in his career, Leonard Fournette faces his kryptonite. He was the Heisman front-runner last year until he faced the Crimson Tide and will look to reverse his fortunes against Nick Saban’s defense this weekend.

In two games against Alabama, Fournette has carried the ball 40 times for 110 yards. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Alabama tackled him for a loss five times last year.

Fournette didn’t get any help from his offensive line, but he also tried to improvise and wound up costing his team field position.

If LSU is going to upset the number one team in the country, Fournette has to step up.

The Tigers must establish a ground game early to keep the game close and allow Fournette to punish and wear down the Alabama defense.

Fournette’s stock won’t take a big hit if he struggles again, however he could make his case for a top-five pick if he’s the catalyst for an LSU win.

Regardless, Fournette is the top running back available in the 2017 NFL Draft and will come off the board early in the first round.

2017 NFL Draft Zach Cunningham

Oct 15, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) is tackled by Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) and defensive back Bryce Lewis (30) during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Cunningham (ILB – Vanderbilt) vs. Auburn

Much like Anthony Walker of Northwestern, Zach Cunningham is an inside linebacker with a challenging matchup this weekend. The Vanderbilt linebacker leads his team into Auburn to take on the number three rushing offense in the country.

Auburn is averaging over 303 yards per game on the ground this season and they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down.

Sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway rushed for 236 yards last week against Ole Miss, and the Tigers as a team gained 543 yards on the ground against Arkansas.

The good news for the Commodores is that their defense has been much better against the run than either of Auburn’s previous two opponents.

Vanderbilt allows an average of 157 yards on the ground per game and is one of just 27 FBS teams to give up less than 10 rushing touchdowns this season.

The biggest reason why Vanderbilt has played well against the run is Zach Cunningham.

The semifinalist for both the Bednarik and Butkus awards has recorded 85 tackles this season, 31 more than anyone else on the team. His attacking style of play has also allowed him to amass 13.5 tackles for a loss.

If Vanderbilt is going to shock Auburn, Cunningham needs to lead the way. Inside linebackers aren’t typically first-round picks, but Cunningham is playing like one this season.

An impressive showing against the Tigers could help secure his place among the first 32 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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