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College football Week 9 Chiefs’ prospect watch

A few NFL Draft prospects Chiefs fans should know will be taking the field for the first time this year.

Penn State v Memphis Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

College football feels whole again.

The Big Ten conference started playing last weekend, featuring some dominant performances, some upsets and some good old-fashioned defensive football. With college football’s second-best conference returning, it seems like everything has returned to normal.

But the really good news was an uptick in watchable draft prospects. Unfortunately, last week’s big matchup in the trenches between Michigan’s Kwity Paye against Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele didn’t happen; Faalele was scratched at the last minute. But Paye took full advantage, putting in a performance worthy of a Top-10 pick.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a dominant victory against the Denver Broncos. While the end result was exactly what we wanted, the process wasn’t perfect. The Chiefs’ offense still looks just a tick off — especially when passing the ball. Defensively — with an improvement in Anthony Hitchens‘ play and Willie Gay Jr. finally getting on the field — linebacker may no longer be the team’s biggest defensive need.

So at least for this week, let’s focus on positions where the team could be losing players in 2021.

Prospects to watch

Nate Hobbs | CB | Illinois

Illinois vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. Arrowhead Time

Hobbs is a cornerback on the Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist that really sets the table with his physicality and aggression. He may not be an elite athlete (or have elite size) but he likes to mix it up with receivers near the line of scrimmage — and stick his nose into the run game. He plays a brand of football that appeals to Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He’ll face a good test against Purdue’s Rondale Moore — if he plays — and David Bell.

Hobbs is most comfortable in zone coverage — or when he’s allowed to get physical with receivers on the line of scrimmage. His technique isn’t flawless, but he can stay balanced well enough to overpower wide receivers. His initial jam is very stout. He tries to bring that physicality downfield — but at times, he can become too physical and draw penalties.

Hobbs looks more comfortable in zone coverage, where he’s able to watch the quarterback and fly downhill to the ball — often delivering a solid hit. At the next level — given his physicality and lack of top end athleticism — his best use may be as a corner/safety hybrid.

Early flashes from Chiefs rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed have been promising — but the team’s best cornerback has been Bashaud Breeland, who will be a free agent in 2021. The team’s other starter — Charvarius Ward — simply hasn’t taken that next step. Rashad Fenton has shown flashes, too — but the more reps he plays, the more it seems likely that his best role is as a depth player. So unlike in years past — when the position group’s prospects have been much poorer — there is definitely room for improvement in 2021.

Pat Freiermuth | TE | Penn State

Penn State vs. Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time

According to most analysts, Freiermuth entered the season as the top tight end of the 2021 class — but strong performances from others may lead to a slight fall in his draft stock. But whatever Freiermuth may lack in elite athleticism, he makes up for it with his ability to be a complete tight end.

Freiermuith is a good-enough athlete to force plenty of matchup problems for defenses, but doesn’t offer the same kind of isolation ability as fellow prospect Kyle Pitts. He does an incredible job of using his size to release from the line of scrimmage and to dominate at the catch point over smaller defensive backs. He also displays quality acceleration to run away form linebackers.

Freiermuth provides a receiving threat at all three levels — and his ability to track the ball vertically through traffic makes him a perfect stereotypical seam runner as a tight end. While he’s not a dominant power blocker, he’s more than capable of holding his own on the line of scrimmage — and really excels at blocking in space. Given his size — he’s listed at 6-feet-5 and 260 pounds — the potential to become an even better blocker is clearly there.

The Chiefs are a bit of an enigma in their usage of second tight ends. While they are consistently among the NFL’s Top-10 teams in using 12 personnel, they have rarely invested in TE2 — or utilized such players as more than run blockers. So the team could use an upgrade — and it’s also getting to be time to consider replacing Travis Kelce. If the plan is just to have a blocker at TE2, they can continue to churn UDFAs. But if they intend to use them more as a weapon, then someone like Freieirmuth — who will likely be available toward the end of the first round — could be an option.

Matchup to watch

CB Roger McCreary vs. WR Terrace Marshall Jr.

Auburn vs. LSU, 2:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time

McCreary may be the best corner in the country that no one is really talking about. After playing mostly as a nickel corner last season, he is now the Auburn Tigers’ top cornerback — and he’s been on his A-game to start the season.

McCreary has a very good combination of size and athleticism for the NFL — and plays with the aggressive style typical of Auburn corners. He has quick feet, fluid hips and the top-end speed to compete with any wideout in the country. His physicality doesn’t show up as consistently as the athleticism does, but he’s more than capable of disrupting receivers at the line of scrimmage — and then controlling them throughout their routes.

As a zone-coverage defender, his eyes may lack a little discipline — but so far this season, he’s been putting everything together. He’s already made a handful of plays jumping routes while in zone coverage, which gives hope he could become an all-around cornerback at the next level.

Across from McCreary will be LSU’s Marshall, who has started this season on an absolute tear.

Marshall almost made the matchup to watch last week, squaring off with draft riser Jaycee Horn — who had shut down Seth Williams the week before that — and Marshall took him to task. This test will be a little different; McCreary should have the athleticism to match Marshall on all levels of the field.

In 2019, Marshall was LSU’s deep threat, mostly running longer-developing spacing routes deep downfield. He rarely faced press coverage; often, he was just trying to occupy space in order to stretch out opposing defenses. He still made the most of it, coming up huge in the red zone by using his length (he’s listed at 6-foot-3) and jumping quite well.

He has showcased good tracking ability — and the desire to go up and take the ball away from defenders. If that were all Marshall is today — a long, vertical threat with contested catch ability — he would still have NFL value. But in 2019, he was far from a complete wide receiver.

Then came 2020. With Justin Jefferson no longer around — and Ja’marr Chase opting out of the season — Marshall became LSU’s top receiver. Now being utilized on all three levels — and from the slot — he’s done nothing but thrive.

In this game, these two NFL-caliber athletes will undoubtedly see a lot of time matched up against one another. Which player continues their strong 2020 — and has a big game against another Top 50-hopeful? We’ll find out on Saturday.

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