College football takes another step towards normalcy this week.
With both the MAC and Pac-12 kicking off their shortened seasons, Division I college football is back in business — although the coronavirus pandemic remains a big factor. Games continue to be cancelled — and some players are still being sidelined after being exposed to the disease. Others continue to opt out of the season.
From a prospect standpoint, the Pac-12 may be seeing some of the biggest effects. In terms of talent, it was already going to be a down year. But then conference headliners like Penei Sewell, Paulson Adebo, Joe Tryon and Jay Tufele have already decided to skip the season. Meanwhile, the first games for Washington, California, Utah and Arizona — originally set for this weekend — have been cancelled.
But while the Pac-12’s pool of draft prospects will be rather slim this weekend, that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent to watch. So with an eye toward improving the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021 and beyond, let’s take a look at some of the Pac-12 players we’ll be seeing for the first time on Saturday.
Prospects to watch
Amon-Ra St. Brown | WR | USC
USC vs. Arizona State, 11 a.m. Arrowhead Time
One of three highly-recruited brothers, St. Brown’s older brother Equanimeous St. Brown has already been a late-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers. Much has been made of this talented trio, but Amon-Ra has been the most sought-after of the three — and thus far, has had the most productive college career.
Amon-Ra St. Brown | WR— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 6, 2020
+ Quickness and burst in/out of breaks
+ Hands outside of frame
++ Body control in air and avoiding contact
+ Play strength pre and post catch
+ YAC ability
++ Ball tracking
- Limited route tree
- Minimal xp vs press coverage
- Sight adjustments on routes pic.twitter.com/xX2crYrnOM
Despite spending most of his time at USC in the slot, St. Brown has the physical traits and size to become an outside wide receiver at the next level. Listed at 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds, he fits the general prototype Andy Reid likes to see in possession wide receivers.
Conveniently enough, that is where USC has best utilized him. He’s been a fantastic underneath receiver, working over the middle of the field using a good blend of quickness, body control and route-running technique to consistently produce yards after the catch. St. Brown also flashes impressive ball-tracking skills — and the ability to go up and attack the football while running vertical routes.
With Michael Pittman Jr. leaving for the NFL this year, St. Brown could have more opportunities to play on the outside. Even if he doesn’t, USC is one of the college programs that has no qualms about playing their best wideout in the slot for a matchup advantage. He does need to improve his route tree and learn how to identify coverage on the fly — but being such a young player, it should come. Based on his ability to separate, a big season could really push St. Brown into the top 50 — even in a strong wide receiver class.
Deommodore Lenoir | CB | Oregon
Oregon vs. Stanford, 6:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Over the past couple of seasons, Lenoir has been part of an excellent Oregon secondary. But now that three other starters have opted out, he’ll be the headliner in 2020. He is a rather fluid mover who often draws the matchups against quicker, speedier wide receivers. At the next level, and projects best as a cover cornerback.
Oregon's Deommodore Lenoir is listed at 5'11" and 195 pounds, but he plays even bigger than that.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 6, 2020
Quick hands -- as shown on this one-handed INT -- and isn't afraid to stick his nose in a tackle. He's got a chance to make waves in his senior year as the Pac-12 opens this weekend pic.twitter.com/R4StpFjwNJ
Listed at 5 feet 11 and 195 pounds, there are occasions where Lenior’s lack of length shows up — but when called upon, he plays big. He can come downhill to make a tackle — or when in press at the line of scrimmage, attack a much bigger wide receiver, trusting his fluidity to recover if his hands miss. His fluidity — being able to flip his hips and change directions — is where he makes his biggest impact as a coverage player, as it allows him to kick inside to the slot from time to time. Since he is able to mirror and match wideouts, Lenoir is currently a little better in man coverage than he is in zone.
When switching targets in zone coverage, Lenoir’s eyes can sometimes get caught — which has cost Oregon on more than one occasion. Other points of concern include his lack of length — and that some larger wide receivers can beat him at the catch point. To be considered an upper-tier coverage corner, Lenoir needs to showcase more consistency in coverage — and make more plays on the ball.
Matchup to watch
Abraham Lucas vs. Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
Washington State vs. Oregon State, 9:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time
With Penei Sewell opting out, Lucas becomes the Pac-12’s top offensive tackle prospect — and like previous Washington State tackles, his specialty is pass protection.
Anthony Gordon might play at his own tempo but he produced some of the most absurd throws from last season. His dropbacks and pocket movement are little ~unsual~ but his actual throwing mechanics are top in the class. Loves to find the half spaces between zone defenders: pic.twitter.com/mwoBCuJ3cl— seth galina (@pff_seth) April 16, 2020
Given the offense, Lucas (#72, playing right tackle in these clips) is a proficient pass protector. Over the years, Washington State has “pro styled” their protection techniques for offensive linemen — and with Lucas, it shows. He uses a multitude of different pass sets, keeping his hands active while working up the arc. He has the lateral agility and quickness to mirror and match most rushers trying to work around him, while also possessing the length to easily ride them around the pocket.
He does need to work on improving the timing of his feet in relation to his hands; he shows a tendency to stop his feet when he’s punching. This can pull him off balance — and more- experienced pass rushers have been able to take advantage of that. As a run blocker, he’s rarely asked to do much more than drive block — with mixed results.
Across from Lucas will be Rashed, who is the Pac-12’s returning sack leader. A bit of a hybrid player who plays as a stand-up edge defender that also has some coverage responsibilities, it’s hard to ignore Rashed’s production.
2021 Draft: Hamilcar Rashed EDGE— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 5, 2020
++ First step
+ Deep pass rush arsenal
+ Lateral agility to reset gaps
+ Comfortable moving backwards
++ Snap anticipation
+ Uses length for leverage
- "Tweener" size
- Dominant 1st step or snap anticipator?
- Can he play SAM? pic.twitter.com/EACjJQdz7I
Rashed’s motor simply never quits. So he gets a lot of chase-down tackles — last season, he led the nation in tackles for loss — and sacks, too. But that’s not all he can provide.
Rashed has a lethal first step and fantastic snap timing; he frequently looks like he’s offsides. While this is often seen as a negative, he can do it consistently — so it’s hard to knock him for it. Rashed also has a deep pass rushing toolbox, along with the requisite athleticism to pull off any of the moves. He does a quality job working his speed rush into counter moves throughout his games — especially in terms of converting speed to power.
As a run defender, Rashed isn’t incredibly stout at the point of attack, but he can land a good initial punch to create separation. He has also shown some ability to drop into coverage. Even-front teams will always have concerns about his size and strength — but at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he could become to a strong-side off-ball linebacker at the next level.
The battle between Lucas and Rashed could be the Pac-12’s best matchup of the season between an offensive lineman and a pass rusher. While neither player is a perfect prospect — or even has a clear path to the NFL — both have important high-end traits. If either can seize the moment and showcase improvement, it could help them push toward becoming a first-round pick in 2021.