Anonymous no more, top interior OL Jenkins, Risner bring NFL to MSU-KSU showdown
The Big 12 and SEC rarely meet up outside of bowl season, so the Week Two battle between Kansas State and Mississippi State was unique in its own right.
Add to the fact that the game also happened to pit a handful of exciting NFL prospects - including the nation's top two senior center prospects in the Bulldogs' Elgton Jenkins and the Wildcats' Dalton Risner - and Saturday's showdown served as the perfect appetizer for day-long buffet for scouts.
While Jenkins and Risner (pronounced RISE-ner) rank 1-2 on NFLDraftScout.com's board, they could not be much different, among the reasons why Saturday's game provided such a fun context to scout them.
For one, Jenkins was the only one of the two to actually snap the ball Saturday. Risner started at right tackle, as he has every game the past three years after earning Freshman All-American honors from numerous publications when he last played there in 2015.
Playing right tackle against Mississippi State and their ferocious defensive line is not for the weak of heart. Often Risner matched up one on one against projected first round pick Montez Sweat, with a few reps Kansas State's senior blocker would probably like to forget.
While the Wildcats' blue-collar blocker held his own, his square-ish frame and average foot speed was apparent, among the reasons why scouts feel that Risner projects best back inside at the next level. Typically, it was Sweat's speed that gave Risner his greatest issues but he also overpowered the reigning First Team All-Big 12 honoree a couple of times when Risner's pad level was too high and left him unbalanced.
While lacking eye-popping athleticism to consistently protect the edge, Risner is a blue collar brawler whose thick frame and competitive nature make him perfectly suited to an NFL interior. He shows good lateral agility to mirror pass rushers in short spaces and is a physical, passionate run blocker always looking to make a second (or third) block at the second level.
Risner's projection to the NFL should be similar to the one we saw a year ago with then-Michigan blocker Mason Cole, who after starting all over the offensive line over his collegiate career for the Wolverines, was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals and is expected to start Sunday in their regular season opener against the Washington Redskins.
Like Risner, Jenkins offers positional versatility, starting at left tackle, right tackle and left guard before making the switch to center as a junior, where he started all 13 games a season ago.
Listed at 6-4, 310 pounds, Jenkins is an inch shorter and approximately 10 pounds lighter than Risner. While smaller, Jenkins' greater agility and overall athleticism is pretty obvious when comparing the two on the same field. Whereas Risner works snap to snap, the game appears to come easy to Jenkins' who accelerates and changes directions smoothly for a big man, blocking 10-20 yards downfield on some of the many QB sneaks called to take advantage of fellow NFL prospect, Nick Fitzgerald's greatest strength.
Perhaps the three most underrated elements of center play -- smarts, the ability to anchor and hand strength -- are areas in which Jenkins excels, perhaps making him most comparable to former Ohio State All-American and Cincinnati Bengals' first round pick Billy Price.
Jenkins plays with terrific knee bend and possesses very good core strength, allowing him to hold up to powerful bull rushes. His experience playing multiple positions (not to mention his back to back SEC All-Academic honors) suggest that he possesses the intelligence teams expect in the pivot.
Perhaps most impressive is the vice-like strength Jenkins shows in his hands. At times, he simply rag-dolled Wildcats on Saturday, strengthening his grip as the top senior center prospect in the country.
That fact is certain to capture the attention of scouts following a draft in which seven interior offensive linemen were among the first 40 selections -- a statement not only about the unique talent available in 2018 as well as the greater priority the NFL is placing on blockers.