2017 NFL Draft Prospects Who Must Step Up in Week 12

2017 NFL Draft Teez Tabor

Nov 21, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Jalen Tabor (31) reacts as Florida Atlantic Owls misses the field goal during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a week of high-profile upsets, week 12 of the college football season brings an opportunity for several conference championship berths to be clinched. For those teams in contention, look for their 2017 NFL Draft prospects to step up this weekend.

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There are only two weeks remaining until conference championship weekend, which means some prospects will only have two more opportunities to improve their film score. With Senior Bowl and Shrine Game invitations being sent out, many seniors will have something extra to play for. While many invitations have already been sent and accepted, there’s still room on the rosters for a senior or two who has breakout performances in the final weeks of the season.

For the following eight prospects eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, this week’s contest will bring them extra attention for one reason or another. Whether it’s a tough one-on-one matchup or returning from injury, these players will be watched closely by NFL scouts. A solid outing in week 12 could significantly boost their 2017 NFL Draft stock.

2017 NFL Draft Jake Butt

Sep 10, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines tight end Jake Butt (88) makes a reception for a touchdown in the second quarter against the UCF Knights at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Butt (TE – Michigan) vs. Indiana

With starting quarterback Wilton Speight out for this weekend’s contest against Indiana, Michigan will rely heavily on the running game.

However when the Wolverines do allow John O’Korn to throw the football, Jake Butt needs to make an impact.

Butt needs to act as O’Korn’s safety blanket in this game, giving his QB large windows in which to place the football. The senior tight end hasn’t been targeted as often this season as he was a year ago, but that could change with a new QB running the offense.

In seven Big Ten games this year, Butt has just 23 receptions for 268 yards and one touchdown. He’s only an adequate blocker, so catching passes is where he’ll make a living in the NFL.

With Ohio State on the schedule next, the Wolverines can’t be caught looking ahead.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, the week 12 matchup against Indiana will allow O’Korn and Butt to create chemistry on the field and generate momentum heading into the season finale against the Buckeyes.

2017 NFL Draft Malik McDowell

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) gestures to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Malik McDowell (DL – Michigan State) vs. Ohio State

Malik McDowell wasn’t even on the depth chart Michigan State released prior to this game, but he has yet to be ruled out.

Despite the Spartans disappointing season, it’s hard to imagine McDowell not giving it a go and playing through an ankle injury in his final game against the Buckeyes.

Even at 70 or 80 percent, McDowell is a better option than anyone else Michigan State could send out on the field.

His talent and big game experience are two things the Spartans will have a hard time replacing if he doesn’t play.

If McDowell does play, he’ll face two of the best interior offensive linemen eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Center Pat Elflein and right guard Billy Price should both be among the first 100 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

McDowell, who is a first-round lock barring anything unforeseen, won’t see his stock slip if he struggles due to his injury and who he’s going up against. He can however improve his stock by stepping onto the field and toughing it out. Any positive impact he makes is just a bonus.

2017 NFL Draft Elijah McGuire

Sep 5, 2015; Lexington, KY, USA; Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns running back Elijah McGuire (15) runs the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Elijah McGuire (RB – Louisiana Lafayette) vs. Georgia

Saturday is the annual SEC versus non-power five weekend in which SEC schools beat up on weaker opponents prior to the regular season finale. Give Georgia some credit though, at least the Bulldogs didn’t schedule a FCS team like four other SEC schools did. Georgia is still expected to win handedly, but don’t be surprised if Louisiana Lafayette keeps it close. This is especially true if Elijah McGuire takes over for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

McGuire is on pace to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the third consecutive season despite battling a foot injury for most of the year. The injury has significantly hampered his elusiveness, but he still possesses the vision and power to maximize yardage.

Another area in which his injury has hampered him is as a receiver. His ability to catch passes kept Louisiana Lafayette in the game the last time the school faced an SEC opponent, as he gained 56 yards through the air against Kentucky last season. While he may not be able to post similar numbers against Georgia, he’ll likely be at full strength at the Scouting Combine where he can better display his hands out of the backfield. He’s expected to be a day three pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

2017 NFL Draft Travin Dural

Sep 12, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Travin Dural (83) runs the ball during the 2nd quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

LSU Wide Receivers vs. Florida Cornerbacks

Both LSU and Florida were originally scheduled to be a part of the conference’s annual destruction of weaker opponents, however Hurricane Matthew forced the two teams to alter their plans.

Rather than LSU taking on South Alabama and Florida facing Presbyterian, the two SEC foes will face each other at Tiger Stadium.

LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the top 2017 NFL Draft prospect in this game and the Gators will load the box to slow him down. As a result, LSU wideouts will face one-on-one coverage for much of this game.

That’s where the intrigue will be in this contest as LSU has two receivers and Florida has two cornerbacks who are expected to be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft if they all declare.

It will be Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre on offense trying to create separation from defenders Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. The LSU receivers will move around the formation, however Florida likes to keep Tabor on the left side of the defense while Wilson mans the right.

Dupre does have about a two-inch height advantage over Tabor, but Tabor isn’t someone who offenses should be targeting consistently.

Overall, this looks like an even matchup across the board. If one of the four does rise to the occasion, their 2017 NFL Draft stock could soar.

2017 NFL Draft Luke Falk

Nov 12, 2016; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) drops back for a pass against the California Golden Bears during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Cougars won 56-21. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Falk (QB – Washington State) vs. Colorado

The final two games of the regular season will be the two most important games of Luke Falk’s collegiate career. They’ll be two of the most difficult as well.

Colorado and Washington boast two of the best secondaries in college football and will look to prevent Falk from leading Washington State to the Pac-12 title game.

Colorado and Washington are both ranked among the top 15 in opponent’s QB rating. The only other Pac-12 team in the top 15 is UCLA, which just happened to be Falk’s worst game of the season.

Against the Bruins, Falk completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw for 261 yards while failing to throw for a touchdown. That was the only game of his career in which he’s failed to find the end zone.

The only other game this season in which he threw for less than 300 yards was against Idaho when he was pulled early due to the lopsided score.

Falk’s draft grade will be impacted more by his play over the final two weeks than any other QB. The quality of opponent and a championship berth on the line is exactly the situation scouts want to see.

The Apple Cup will factor into which teams make the New Year’s Six, but this weekend’s game against Colorado can’t be overlooked.

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