Baylor vs Oklahoma State
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Baylor have an elite offense led by a promising future pro at wide receiver. From Kendall Wright to Josh Gordon to Corey Coleman, Baylor had no shortage of wide receiver talent head to the NFL over the past decade. The latest name to soon be added to that list is Denzel Mims.
Mims did not get to shine a whole lot while the program was in turmoil and trying to recover from the fallout of the Art Briles era. Now that Matt Rhule and his staff have turned things around, Baylor’s 6-0 sheds a bright light on Mims. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver plays with impeccable body control and a knack for finding the ball no matter where it is. Mims is not necessarily the bully Mike Evans is, but he does flash some of the acrobatics and range that Michael Thomas has.
Players as big as Mims are not supposed to float this way. Mims’ ability to turn around, find room on the sideline, locate the ball in the air, and still come down with two feet in bounds while the ball hands over the sideline is a hell of a feet. There are not many NFL wide receivers who can make this effort consistently, much less wide receivers in Mims’ size range. Along with Thomas, someone like Allen Robinson comes to mind as a data point for a large wide receiver with a small wide receiver’s body control. Mims is not the route runner either of these two players are, but these acrobatic catches are valuable.
While Mims is not fleet of foot with respect to route running and creating space, he is a heck of a threat if he can pick up some steam. On vertical routes or intermediate routes over the middle, Mims can be a threat to separate in space and/or be a problem once the ball is in his hands. In that sense, Mims reminds a bit of Kenny Golladay.
Here is an example of how Mims can be an imposing figure when working the sideline vertically. Mims does nothing special in regards to earning positioning, but he carries himself down the sideline well and is a tough player to contest with when it comes time to fight for the ball. While the cornerback does falter here and underplay the ball, Mims does well to keep his pace and find the ball at a point that is both high and in a spot that allows him to comfortably continue his forward movement into the end zone. Playing that tight to the sideline, making that catch without breaking stride is a tougher balancing act than it looks.
Mims flashes that fluid and powerful movement once let loose in the open field as well. A handful of times this season, Mims has caught a pass over the middle and took off for a handful of extra yards.
On two separate occasions in this clip, Mims shows off ridiculous acceleration for a guy his size. The first occasion is as soon as Mims brings in the pass. Once the ball is in his possession, Mims clears an extra 10 yards and threatens a sprint through the two safeties to get to the goal line. Mims then decides for a different route, cutting back to the left side to attack the pylon. After making a few people miss, the striding Baylor receiver turns the corner around a final defender and bursts up the field in an effort to barrel through the goal line. Mims does not quite make it across, but it’s not to be taken for granted how easy Mims made it look to go from the 18-yard line to the 1-yard line the way he did.
Assuming things go well for Mims from here on out, a Day 2 selection is a strong possibility. His size, control, and open-field speed can be a problem for defenses, even if some of the finer parts of his game need work. Wide receivers often take a year or two to fully adjust to the NFL anyway, so grouping Mims is not so much as a slight as it is saying he’s not quite a special player the way, say, Jerry Jeudy is.
Across from Mims on Saturday will be an under-the-radar senior trying to earn himself a spot back in the conversation: Oklahoma State cornerback A.J. Green. At 6-foot-1 and 190-pounds, Green is not at that much of a size disadvantage against Mims relative to most cornerbacks. Green also plays with a physical, aggressive demeanor that may serve to offset some of the natural size and strength advantages Mims tends to have against opponents.
At the top of the screen, Green is in tight press coverage against an isolated Texas Tech wide receiver. Green does not get the strongest jam off at the snap, but he does bat down the wide receiver’s hands and prevent the wide receiver from getting his chest. Doing so allows Green to stay in a tight position without losing much ground when the receiver does try to push off from a weaker point of contact. The wide receiver tries to lean into Green and create some distance with a push off at the route break, but Green hardly falls off the wide receiver. Green quickly recovers from the push and closes on the catch point immediately, knowing that he can attack and be physical because the receiver ran a slant route and the ball has to be out immediately on that route. Green faces almost no chance of arriving early, so he just fires off and gets an arm across the wide receiver’s chest. Maybe Green’s technique, especially at the line of scrimmage, was not quite perfect, but he’s got the right idea in mind.
Something to keep in mind on Saturday is that Green is not a cornerback who gets locked into one side of the field. Depending on the matchup or game plan, Green can move to either side of the field and follow the best wide receiver threat. Green even has a handful of snaps out of the slot from a select few matchups. Assuming that trend holds in this matchup, do not expect Mims to escape Green by being moved around the formation. Green may not necessarily follow on every snap, but these two players should be directly facing off plenty of times throughout the day.
For now, however, Green is a step behind Mims as a prospect. Unless Mims is suddenly cast as purely a short-area and underneath player in this game, he should be able to beat Green on a few occasions either down the field or with an acrobatic catch near the sideline. Green, while an impressive press cornerback, is going to look worse the further down the field he is targeted.
Michigan vs Penn State
With just a week in between appearances, Michigan OT Jon Runyan is back in the spotlight with another high-end matchup. Runyan will face off against Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, who is among the most productive pass rushers in the Power 5 this season. Gross-Matos is not quite as daunting a matchup as Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa was from the last time Runyan was featured here, but the Penn State pass-rusher is a pro, no doubt.
Let’s start with a refresher on Runyan. A 6-foot-5 and 321-pound tackle with stubby arms, Runyan may project better to guard in the NFL. He plays with low pad level, ample anchor and strength, and should be able to mitigate his short arm length when playing inside as opposed to as a bookend. At the left tackle spot Runyan currently occupies, he does well to get out of his stance and play in front of his opponent. Runyan just does not have the length or natural sense of how to initiate contact that would allow him to be a proactive pass blocker. Runyan is instead reactive, which can leave him exposed to pass-rush moves and bullrushes despite his raw strength.
On multiple occasions versus Epenesa, Runyan left his chest open and was driven back into the pocket. Again, some struggles are to be expected given his short arms, but short-armed tackles have proven before that they can be active and forceful enough to overcome. Runyan is neither, and it shows here. Epenesa has a clear length advantage and has no problem earning inside hand positioning, giving him free reign to move Runyan wherever and however he pleases. Epenesa had just one sack in four games prior to facing Michigan, but finished the game with his second sack of the season and a handful of pressures.
Gross-Matos is not quite the hulk Epenesa is, but he has plenty of length and strength to replicate Epenesa’s success, in addition to throwing out a few other tricks he has under his sleeve. While Epenesa is more of a head-up or inside rusher, Gross-Matos is an impeccable athlete who can threaten the edge with his first step and finish the job with impressive flexibility around the arc.
This rip-and-dip is a staple for the Penn State pass-rusher. On both occasions, Gross-Matos attacks the left tackle with a slight favor toward their outside shoulder while mostly remaining head-up. Gross-Matos then punches into their chests and immediately pulls them down and into his body, using the pull as a sort of slingshot to send himself to the quarterback. It’s a fairly simple move in principle, but to get the right blend of timing, power, and dip around the outside shoulder is tough.
One aspect of Gross-Matos’ game Runyan may have no bearing over is when he slides to be an inside pass-rusher. On some passing downs, Gross-Matos will kick inside to a 3-tech position (between guard and tackle) and attack the guard. That Gross-Matos can show the positional versatility to slide inside as a sub-rusher while also having the speed and flexibility to threaten the edge from a standard alignment makes him an enticing chess piece for creative defensive minds.
The left guard had no chance. Gross-Matos flies off the ball here and instantly closes the gap. With the gap close in a head-up approach, Gross-Matos has a two-way go. He chooses to cut to his left, swiping down the guard’s hands in sync with his side step. Of course, Gross-Matos is too small to play out of this alignment all the time, but it’s a nice bonus to an already excellent skill set.
Once again, Runyan finds himself on the losing end of a matchup against another prospect. Gross-Matos is bordering on first-round consideration, whereas Runyan is more of a Day 3 guy. Not only are the two separated in talent, but Gross-Matos athleticism and use of length pose a particularly bad matchup for Runyan. Hopefully Runyan can survive enough to not get QB Shea Patterson crushed.
Missouri vs Vanderbilt
Quietly, Missouri has one of the best defenses in the country. The Tigers were in similar position back in the days of Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Shane Ray, Michael Sam, etc., but this new stud defense does not feature standout future pros the way the previous iterations did. Instead, the Tigers’ current defense features rock solid players across the board at all 11 positions, including cornerback DeMarkus Acy.
Acy is a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior in his third season as a starter in Barry Odom’s defense. With long arms and quick feet, Acy is a problem for wide receivers when put into press coverage assignments. It is not difficult for him to get into his opponent's frame and keep his moving to match the receiver’s stem instantly. Granted, Acy is not the smoothest athlete, but that he understands the basics of how to play at the line of scrimmage serves him well at the college level.
Where Acy struggles, however, is reading routes while running with the receiver through the route. Either through film study or instinct (or both), top cornerbacks tend to have the ability to “feel” how and when a receiver is going to break off a route. Understanding what a receiver wants to do on a given play before it happens makes it significantly easier to defend the route. Of course, it’s not possible to get it right every time, but Acy too often gets caught running himself out of the play by not “feeling” route breaks in time.
Here, for instance, Acy shows no awareness of the receiver snapping off the route. Acy way over-indexes trying to follow the receiver across the field, likely assuming the receiver would be running some sort of ‘dig’ or crosser. Instead, the receiver gets to about 10 yards and snaps off the route in place, leaving Acy to overrun the break point by a few yards. Acy gets bailed out by a terrible throw from South Carolina’s quarterback, but that does not excuse his poor awareness. That will get punished in the NFL as well as better college teams.
Same issue, different scenario. This time, Acy struggles to “feel” that the receiver is no longer in a full sprint and is likely preparing to turn back for the ball. Acy shows no adjustment, nor does he try to turn around to find the ball. Acy just keeps on running, while the receiver turns around to catch a ball on his back shoulder with much more ease than he deserved. In fairness to Acy, it is not easy to flip around in that scenario and find the ball, but Acy needs to at least understand the play is slowing down and stick a hand up when the receiver reaches for the ball. Acy gave himself no shot to make any kind of play on the ball.
Looking to take advantage of Acy’s absent mindedness is Vanderbilt WR Kalija Lipscomb. Lipscomb has made an appearance in this series before, showing up in Week 4 for his matchup against LSU and cornerback Kristian Fulton. Lipscomb ended that game with five receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown. That LSU defense also features freshman star CB Derek Stingley Jr., so in the event he was playing away from Fulton, he was not in any more favorable a position.
Lipscomb, more than anything, is shifty. He plays with sharp, sudden route running that can leave even the SEC’s best cornerback a step behind. That Lipscomb could work himself free in the quick game so easily and transition to being a runner without losing a beat is a terrifying proposition for any opposing cornerback.
The Vandy senior flashes that level of suddenness all over the short and intermediate area. Lipscomb may not be a deep threat the way other top prospects are, but he is among the best at working the short and intermediate area with sharp routes and a deep knowledge of how to abuse zones. Sprinkle all that ability to get open onto his yards-after-catch skills and it’s no wonder Lipscomb is one of the most decorated receivers in the conference.
Unless this is Acy’s breakout game, he is going to have his hands full. Lipscomb is a quick, savvy player with high-production and a skill set perfectly geared to getting the best of the Missouri cornerback. Acy still has a pro future ahead of him in some capacity, but Lipscomb should be able to do work … if Vanderbilt’s quarterback can muster up some competency for once this season.