Riser & Sliders - Week 4

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

There were several outstanding performances during the fourth weekend of college football, including repeat performances by players previously mentioned. This week’s risers include a broad spectrum of skill players and defenders while our lone slider is a struggling quarterback. Here are the Risers & Sliders for Week 4.

Risers

Benny Snell Jr./RB/Kentucky: I’ve been effusive in my praise of the Kentucky defense and its next-level prospects since the summer, but all along I felt Snell with them. I wanted to list Snell as a riser multiple times during the early part of the season, but his performance against Mississippi State clinched the deal. Consider this: scouts graded a half-dozen MSU defenders as draftable, with three rated as top-75 picks. Throw junior defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons into the mix and we’re talking about a very talented unit. But despite the competition, Snell shredded the Bulldogs defense for 136 yards on 25 carries, four which finished in the end zone. His rushing production was almost double the yardage Kentucky totaled through the air as the Wildcats rolled to a 28-7 victory. The great nephew of former New York Jets running back Matt Snell is a complete ball carrier who combines power, vision and terrific short-area quickness to constantly pick up big yardage. Snell overruns defenders with power, runs around them with quickness or runs away from them with speed. He has the skills to be a feature runner at the next level, and we presently grade Snell as a top-60 pick.

Kaden Smith/TE/Stanford: During last week’s segment on the Journey to the Draft podcast with Fran Duffy, I mentioned that scouts presently rank Smith as the top tight end prospect in the nation; most believe he’s a first-round talent. During Stanford’s incredible comeback victory over Oregon, Smith affirmed these opinions. He finished the game with a team leading six receptions for 95 yards, an average of 15.8 yards per catch. In many ways, Smith is a bigger version of ex-Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz, the 35th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith is an oversized receiver with outstanding pass-catching skills and the speed necessary to split the seam. While Smith needs to brush off his game and find the end zone a little more, he definitely has top-40 potential.

Oshane Ximines/EDGE/Old Dominion: Ximines entered the season with a second-round grade, which should surprise no one. One year ago when scouting ODU prospect Olubunmi Rotimi, it was Ximines who stood out most on film. The senior is living up to expectations so far and finished with seven tackles (two for loss) as well as two sacks during the Monarchs' stunning victory over Virginia Tech despite leaving the game at one point with an injury. In four games this season, he’s totaled five sacks and has forced a pair of fumbles. Ximines plays explosive football and shows speed off the edge as well as the ability to quickly change direction and pursue plays from the back side. He’ll need good predraft workouts to cement a place in the draft’s second day, but I’d expect Ximines to receive an invite to both the Senior Bowl and Combine.

Collin Johnson/WR/Texas: The Longhorns upped their record to 3-1 after beating interstate rival TCU, andit’s safe to say a star has been born on the UT offense four games into the season. We gave Johnson a “wait-and-see” grade during our Longhorns preview in August, and the large receiver has since responded with several big games. On Saturday, he finished with a game-leading seven receptions and 124 yards (17.7 per catch average) and one score. Johnson has watched his production improve each week this season and has a per catch average of 15 yards on 20 receptions. The junior has tremendous size, measuring 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, and displays the speed necessary to stretch defenses. Johnson needs to round out his game and increase his productivity but possesses the physical skills to develop into a big-time receiver prospect.

Andre Dillard/OL/Washington State: I was not high on Dillard entering the season despite the second-round grades he received from scouts, but his performance against USC is forcing me to rethink my opinion. The Cougars left tackle did a terrific job protecting the blind side of his quarterback and soundly shut down opponents all evening. Dillard is fundamentally sound and blocks with proper knee bend as well as leverage to stop opponents. Though he lacks top footwork, he does enough to seal pass rushers from the action by using great angles and positioning. Scouts will debate whether or not Dillard is a true left tackle for the next level, but his combination of mechanics, smarts and toughness will help him find a place on someone’s offensive line.

Khalil Hodge/LB/Buffalo: Buffalo embarrassed Big Ten opponent Rutgers on the road and lifted its undefeated record to 4-0. The defense, led by Hodge, held Rutgers to 13 points and 116 rushing yards during the 42-13 victory. Hodge was a dominant presence, posting a game-leading 15 tackles, including two for loss. He’s a tremendous run defender who plays fast, explosive football. Hodge effectively reads and diagnoses plays and quickly arrives to the action. He will be a terrific fit on the inside of a 3-4 alignment and could slide into the middle rounds if he runs well prior to the draft.

Sleeper Prospect - Rock Ya-Sin/CB/Temple: It seems players from Temple’s defense enter the season ignored or underrated by NFL scouts every season. Two years ago it was Haason Reddick, while Jullian Taylor was the name last season. Both entered their senior campaigns ignored by scouts and went on to be selected in the draft. This year the honor goes to Rock Ya-Sin, who was graded as roster fodder before the season but has played more like a mid-round selection. During the victory over Tulsa, the Owls' first win of the season, Ya-Sin finished with 10 tackles and intercepted a pass. The senior has excellent size, measuring a shade under six feet tall, and comes with next-level ball skills. I could see Ya-Sin sliding into the late rounds if he runs well prior to the draft.

Small School Prospect - Corey Ballentine/CB/Washburn: The last player from Washburn to be drafted was cornerback Cary Williams, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 draft and went on to have an eight-year career in the NFL. Ballentine stands to be the next player from the program selected in the draft. The athletic defensive back measures just under six feet tall and tips the scales around 185 pounds. He possesses next-level ball skills and is a terrific special-teams player. During the Ichabods' victory over Central Missouri on Saturday, he totaled seven tackles, one interception and blocked a field goal. Ballentine is an All-American return specialist and will be a solid late-round prospect with potential in dime packages as well as the ability to play both ways on special teams.

Sliders

Nick Fitzgerald/QB/Mississippi State: We previewed Fitzgerald’s weekend challenge against Kentucky, illustrating his recent history and why the contest was so important. In the end, he fell well short of impressing scouts. During the Bulldogs resounding loss to UK, the quarterback completed just 50 percent of his passes for 145 yards with an interception. His QBR for the game was 26.1, for those who lean on that metric. The bottom line is that Fitzgerald has shown little improvement as a passer since his sophomore season and gives little reason to believe there will be much progress in the future.