Thursday | ESPN | 5:30pmET
Thursday night ESPN primetime matchups generally draw big NFL crowds because college directors and national scouts try to double-up with live exposures on a weekend. Area scouts are forced to drive most places but “cross-checker” type scouts have the luxury of flying so they can hit a big matchup on Thursday and another one on Saturday.
This week, the Reese’s Senior Bowl will be at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem to check out the head-to-head matchup of Boston College DE Zach Allen against Wake Forest LG Phil Haynes.
This game originally was set to feature an edge matchup between Allen and Wake left tackle Justin Herron, however, last week’s announcement that Herron would miss the remainder of ’18 with a season-ending knee injury has now shifted the focus squarely on fellow seniors Haynes and center Ryan Anderson.
Herron entered the season with 37 starts for Wake and his loss is a big blow for the Demon Deacons offense. While he was not highly graded by the scouting services last spring, Herron was generating a lot of buzz among scouts during my travels in August.
Herron’s Dad and two uncles all played basketball at Villanova so it comes as no surprise that NFL teams are intrigued by his twitchy genetics and overall athletic ability. Based off tape and what I was hearing on the road prior to his setback, he projected as a legitimate left tackle prospect for the next level. Now we must wait and see how he bounces back next fall.
Scouts are concerned about Herron’s lack of bulk and strength, however, sources at the school say that he was consistently holding over 290 pounds for the first time and it is far easier for NFL teams to pack on mass to his frame than make his feet and hands faster.
Allen would have been a tough draw for Herron because his game is mostly power and Herron’s replacement, junior Jake Benzinger, will likely struggle on the edge. The Eagles will move Allen around and when he reduces inside it will be a good battle of power on power versus Haynes, who is the strongest player on the Deacons’ offensive line. It’s one thing to be strong in the weight room but it’s another thing to play strong on the field. The first thing scouts comment on when they talk about Haynes is how functionally strong he is and Allen will be a great test.
Scouts like Allen because he is a big five-technique DE that can play on every down. He is a productive point-of-attack player against the run and, unlike most fence-post type run defenders, Allen shows the ability to push the pocket and affect the QB.
Some will try to pigeonhole him as simply a sound technician or overachieving tough guy but Allen is the type of sneaky athlete that grows on you the more tape you watch. While he is admittedly not a wow-you type of athlete, he has good enough feet, balance, and body control to play off blocks and down the line of scrimmage to make plays.
Former teammate and bookend, Harold Landry, a second-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, was knocked by scouts last April for of his inconsistent effort but Allen is active and involved regardless of what game film you watch. He uses his hands well in both phases and he just keeps coming. From a pure numbers perspective, Allen was only one of two defensive linemen in the entire country to record 100-plus tackles.
In this matchup, the Deacons will need a collective effort on the left side from Benzinger, Haynes, and Anderson in order to keep Allen in-check. With Hurricane Florence bearing down on North Carolina, wet and windy conditions could turn this into a run-heavy game and who wins in the trenches will likely determine the winner in a game of pretty evenly-matched ACC teams.
UC-Davis WR Keelan Doss vs. Stanford CB Alijah Holder
Scouts want to see Doss use his size and play “big on the ball” against a good-sized corner like Holder.
Miami-FL Defensive Backfield vs. Toledo WR Cody Thompson
Thompson gets to prove himself against the loaded Miami secondary of Michael Jackson, Jaquan Johnson, and Sheldrick Redwine.
North Alabama FS Chris Johnson vs. North Dakota State QB Easton Stick
Stick will be challenged in the deep middle of the field by the ball-hawking Johnson, who had 10 INT last year.
Ohio State OT Isaiah Prince vs. TCU DE Ben Banogu
If you can take your eyes away from the ball, this will be a great matchup to watch in arguably this week’s biggest Power-5 matchup.
Troy CB Blace Brown vs. Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan Jr.
This will be a good one-on-one matchup on the perimeter between the Sun Belt’s most instinctive and productive corner and Nebraska’s top playmaker.
San Jose State vs. Oregon
TE Josh Oliver has a big opportunity to showcase his NFL potential against Oregon’s edge duo of Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins.
USC Offensive Line vs. Texas Defensive Line
Lots of Senior Bowl Watch List prospects on the field in Austin! USC OL Chuma Edoga, Chris Brown, Toa Lobendahn, and TE Tyler Petite will have their hands full dealing with Texas DL Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager.
LSU OG Garrett Brumfield vs. Auburn DT Dontavius Russell
Another good interior matchup. When Russell comes off the ball and strikes blocks he is difficult to handle. This will be a good test of Brumfield’s POA power and anchor.
SMU OT Nick Natour vs. Michigan DE Chase Winovich
It will be an all-day battle for the athletic Natour because Winovich’s motor never stops.
Wisconsin OL Beau Benzschawel and Michael Dieter vs. BYU DL Corbin Kaufusi
Benzschawel and Dieter are the next in a long lineage of Wisconsin blockers. It will be interesting to see how they handle the long and athletic Kaufusi.
OTHER GAMES THE SENIOR BOWL WILL BE COVERING LIVE THIS WEEK
LSU at Auburn
Texas State at South Alabama
Akron at Northwestern
Oklahoma at Iowa State
-- Jim Nagy, Reese's Senior Bowl Executive Director