Every NFL team is looking for difference-makers who rise to the occasion at critical moments, inspiring teammates with their talent and timing, alike.
Week Two of the 2018 college football season featured several such players, some of whom sparked huge wins for ascending programs and a jump up NFLDraftScout.com’s player rankings.
Consistency throughout the season, of course, is typically required for a player to truly improve one’s grade but at this early point, the goal is just to capture the attention of scouts. Here is who stood out in Week One.
And, with their performances Saturday, these five rising NFL prospects certainly accomplished that.
5. Antoine Winfield, Jr., CB, Minnesota, 5-10, 205, 4.55, rSoph, # 11
When your father is a former All-American, first round pick and three-time Pro Bowler who played 14 seasons in the NFL, earning the attention of scouts is a little easier than for most. It takes big plays of your own to escape that shadow, however, which is precisely what Winfield has accomplished so far for the Golden Gophers, breaking five tackles on a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in a season-opening win over New Mexico State and preserving another win with this incredible interception over Fresno State. Like his father, Winfield, Jr. lacks the size scouts would prefer but he clearly also shares dad’s awareness and body control.
4. Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia, 5-10, 183, 4.38, JR, # 4
Speed has always been important but as the NFL shifts to a more wide-open, pass-happy style of play, it is more valued than perhaps ever before. That perfectly suits Hardman, who may just be the fastest player in college football. Watch his acceleration down the sideline Saturday against South Carolina. The willingness to hurdle and the height he attains make this a fun clip to watch but it is the acceleration Hardman shows that will have scouts most excited. Hardman caught six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in this contest and had one rushing attempt for a gain of 30. Of the seven total touches, four of them resulted in plays of at least 30 yards.
3. Tipa Galea'i, DE/OLB, Utah State, 6-5, 231, 4.65, JR, # 10
Stop me if you have heard this before, but the 2019 NFL draft could be absolutely loaded with defensive linemen. One player who has not received much national attention - yet - is Galea'i, who simply leads the country with 3.5 sacks through two games, including the two he recorded against Michigan State in the opener and another 1.5 Saturday against New Mexico State. While his burst and bend around the corner certainly are NFL-caliber, scouts will need to do their homework on the twitchy edge rusher. Galea'i originally signed and played well at TCU (31 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2016) but was dismissed by the team after he was found guilty of assaulting two students.
2. Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky, 5-10, 223, 4.56, JR, # 26
Florida had defeated Kentucky 31 consecutive times until this past Saturday when Snell rushed for an eye-popping 175 yards to spark the upset over the 25th ranked Gators in Gainesville. Snell’s performance was all the more impressive given that he, essentially, was Kentucky’s offense in this game, accounting for 27 of the team’s 41 rushing attempts (and averaging 6.5 yards per clip), as well as catching two of the 11 completions quarterback Terry Wilson threw. Snell is a prototypically-built runner with good patience, balance and just enough wiggle and burst. He may not test well, but as one Florida defender learned, Snell runs hard.
1. Steven Montez, QB, Colorado, 6-4, 225, 4.85, rJr, # 12
When discussing the top underclassmen quarterbacks, Auburn's Jarrett Stidham and Oregon's Justin Herbert get most of the attention but no one has been better than Montez over the first two weeks of the season. Completing 73% of his passes, Montez has thrown for 689 yards and seven touchdowns against just one interception in big wins over rival Colorado State in the opener and longtime nemesis Nebraska on Saturday, ruining new Scott Frost's debut in Lincoln as Cornhuskers head coach. Scouts have always been intrigued with Montez's size and howitzer of arm it is the improved maturity and accuracy he has shown this season that has his stock on the rise. Credit Montez for his resiliency in one of Colorado's biggest regular season win in years. He fought through seven sacks Saturday to deliver consistently accurate passes, including this game-winner against tight coverage.