Photo courtesy of Thomas Campbell, US Presswire.
On an important Saturday of conference college football, clearly the most intriguing tilt of the week will take place on CBS with Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies heading to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama.
Manziel has been terrific this season and justifiably so he's been given a great deal of credit for the No. 15-rated Aggies' success. He's far from the only reason why head coach Kevin Sumlin's crew could give Alabama fits Saturday, however.
To put it simply, Texas A&M is a very good team with future NFL prospects at playing as part of virtually every unit on the roster. Junior defensive end Damontre Moore currently leads the country with 19 tackles for loss and is in a three-way tie atop the sack rankings with 11.5 on the year. He'd be the best player on virtually every team in the country. And yet the extremely talented Aggies, some would argue that junior right tackle Jake Matthews is actually their most reliable performer.
The 6-6, 310-pound Joeckel demonstrated the athleticism and strength scouts were hoping to see from him when he largely controlled LSU's Sam Montgomery October 20 (each pictured above). With stout five-technique defensive ends Ed Stinson and Damion Square lining up opposite him Saturday, Joeckel will get a test in his toughness and aggression especially when run-blocking.
Joeckel entered the season already highly regarded by scouts but has played with greater consistency against better competition than Michigan junior Taylor Lewan as well as top-rated seniors Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Oday Aboushi (Virginia). The steady ascension has led some scouts to compare Joeckel's emergence as to the ones experienced by Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith over the past two years as the clear-cut top offensive tackles of their draft classes.
Being rated the elite offensive tackle, of course, hardly means Joeckel should necessarily earn the No. 1 overall selection. That hasn't occurred since Jake Long was selected with the first pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
In a season in which both senior and underclassmen quarterbacks have struggled with consistency, and the motors of athletic defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Johnathan Hankins have been questioned, Joeckel's light feet, balance and long arms stand out. So too, has his consistency.
Frightening enough, with the Alabama faithful loud and proud, Joeckel will be facing a much stiffer test than just the Alabama athletes and scheme. Most college football fans will be watching to see if A&M's No. 5-rated offense will be able to penetrate Alabama top-rated defense. The Aggies average 44.67 points a game. The Tide leads the country in scoring defense, allowing just over nine points a game. For Manziel to have an opportunity to make big plays, Joeckel will have to prove that he's a true blue chip talent.
This game will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET and will televised by CBS.
Other Prospects To Watch:
Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas: While the Razorbacks' more explosive athlete, Knile Davis, boasts the higher upside to pique scouts' interest, Johnson has been the team's most consistent runner, receiver and returner throughout this season, and frankly, over their respective careers. Arkansas started off poorly this season but have won three of their past four games and senior quarterback Tyler Wilson remains the SEC's top senior quarterback, which puts him in the thick of the race to earn a first round selection. Wilson, Johnson and the rest of the Razorbacks will have a tough test Saturday morning in Columbus facing an athletic and physical South Carolina defense coming off a bye. This game begins at noon ET and will be televised by CBS.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Much of the credit for Oregon State's surprising 2013 season has been given to their stout defense and for good reason. Regardless of injuries and inconsistency at quarterback, however, Wheaton has emerged as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 and a breakout NFL prospect. Considering the talent at the position in this conference, that's saying something. Stanford's physicality and pass rush will make it difficult for Oregon State to move the ball consistently, so it may be up to Wheaton to make some explosive plays -- something he's shown the ability to do with nine touchdowns scored on the year. This game begins at 3 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox.
Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State: On this Memorial Day weekend, any excuse I can make to highlight the brave men and women of America's Armed Forces I'll gladly take, especially considering that a 5-4 Air Force squad is taking on arguably the most underrated tight end in the country in Aztecs' junior Gavin Escobar. The 6-6, 255-pounder is the focal point of San Diego State's passing attack, leading the team with 35 receptions for 483 yards and five scores. He matched his season high with five receptions last week in San Diego State's upset over Boise State. Escobar combines his excellent size and surprising overall athleticism and good ball skills, demonstrating exactly the type of potential mismatch capabilities scouts are looking for in today's NFL. This game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by the NBC Sports Network.
Josh Boyce, WR, TCU: It may have been Tavon Austin who took scouts' collective breath away a week ago when West Virginia and TCU faced off, but ultimately it was Boyce and the Horned Frogs who, of course, were the last ones laughing. Boyce may lack Austin's elite manueverability but he is a reliable route-runner with strong hands and the physicality one might expect given the redshirt junior's 5-11, 205-pound frame. All eyes will naturally be on No. 2 Kansas State and its Heisman candidate quarterback Colin Klein in this week's Big 12 showdown in Fort Worth. From an NFL scouting perspective, I'm more intrigued to see how Boyce fares against a very sound Wildcats' defense. This game begins at 7 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox.