The college football season hasn’t held Buffalo Bills’ fans attention as much as years past, as the team’s hot start has folks worried about this year and not next year. Still, we’re previewing a host of great college football prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Clayton Thorson, quarterback (Northwestern)
In the open thread last week I highlighted Northwestern running back Justin Jackson as a player on the rise, but during the game on Saturday he was completely stonewalled by Michigan State’s No. 4-ranked run defense. Instead, Thorson picked up the slack in going 33-for-48 for 356 yards and 2 touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception after throwing six in a three-game stretch. The Wildcats’ schedule eases up considerably in November so Thorson will have a chance to finish the season strong.
Karan Higdon, running back (Michigan)
Michigan’s quarterback play has left much to be desired this season, but the emergence of Higdon as an every-down back has helped to keep their offense on schedule. The bulldozing runner has been a bit of a feast-or-famine tailback this year but it was all feast against Rutgers to the tune of 158 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. He looks to be a good fit in a gap blocking scheme.
Deon Yelder, tight end (Western Kentucky)
Tony Pauline highlighted Yelder in a recent column and the tight end responded with a workman-like performance against Florida Atlantic. He caught 6 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Yeldon is a relatively athletic tight end and is helped by the fact that Western Kentucky has a history of producing successful NFL tight ends like Tyler Higbee and Jack Doyle.
Quenton Nelson, guard (Notre Dame)
Nelson has spent the 2017 college football season not only cementing himself as a potential first-round pick in the draft but a potential top-ten pick. Nelson is the best guard prospect in the country with the anchor to take on nose tackles one-on-one and the movement skills to meet linebackers out in space. Against NC State’s well-respected defensive line, that had not allowed a running back to rush for more than 100 yards, Nelson paved the way to a 318-yard rushing performance for the Irish.
Vita Vea, defensive tackle (Washington)
Vea is a one of the best defensive tackles in the country. His massive, squat frame allows him to stand his ground against double teams in the running game. What he needs to show scouts though is that he can be a factor on third down, as he was on Saturday against UCLA. On consecutive drives on third-down he was able to make his presence known with a sack and a pass block. He’ll need to continue to have days like this if he doesn’t want to be pegged as a two-down player in the NFL.
Al-Rasheed Benton, linebacker (WVU)
Benton has been having a breakout year for West Virginia. He’s already eclipsed his solo tackles, tackles-for-loss, and his sacks from last year. He brought a physical element to the game against Oklahoma State, forcing an early fumble and also coming down with a pass defense. He finished second on the team with 6 solo tackles. Several of the linebackers being hyped up this year are limited athletically, so look for Benton to put himself in the national conversation either at the senior bowl or combine.
DeShon Elliott, safety (Texas)
The Texas defense has been a formidable unit this season, anchored by players like Malik Jefferson and Holton Hill. The playmaker on the team though is Elliott who, after having only one interception last year, has six this year to go along with two forced fumbles. His 6’2” frame gives him great range in the back end but also means he bring it in the run game. Against Baylor he caught a tip ball that quickly turned into a pick-six.