It’s going to be a big month for college football at Levi’s® Stadium. The Pac-12 Championship is this Friday and kicks off a trio of high-profile contests, followed by the Redbox Bowl on New Year’s Eve and the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 7.
Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft insider and host of the “Stick to Football” podcast Matt Miller was kind enough to provide a preview of this Friday’s contest against the No. 11 Washington Huskies and the No. 17 Utah Utes. Below is a list of the top four draft-eligible prospects who will be aiming to get their respective teams to the Rose Bowl.
Kickoff is at 5:00 p.m. PT, and if you haven’t already purchased your tickets, you can do so here.
Now on to the prospects.
1. CB Byron Murphy, Washington
2018 Season: 55 total tackles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and 12 passes defended.
Miller: Byron Murphy is the best player in the game. He’s a little bit undersized. I think some people might worry if he can hold up at the next level. I think you can look to how Denzel Ward is playing and how Jaire Alexander is playing and see that a guy who is 5-foot-11, 195 pounds can still be physical and feisty and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. In college, they’ve gotten really smart about throwing away from people like Byron Murphy. So you don’t get to see his ball skills on tape, but if you go back and watch his passes defended — you could go back against Utah or Oregon — he had very good games. When he’s been asked to play against good teams he’s had big moments. I think he’s a first-round cover man, who because of the strength of this year’s defensive line class could get pushed down to the top of Round 2.
Draft Projection: Late 1st-early 2nd round.
2. S Taylor Rapp, Washington
2018 Season: 55 total tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, three passes defended and three fumble recoveries.
Miller: “I think he’s one of the best hitters in college football. I remember watching a game last year after hearing all the hype, and he had a quiet first half. Then he had a few monster hits in the second half, and I was like, ‘Yep, OK this guy is as good as advertised.’ He’s fluid. He’s got size — 6-foot, 200 pounds. He’s very smart and instinctive. You’re not going to see the Malik Hooker-type statistics with him, but his impact as a player is great. He can play in the box. He can play locked up on tight ends. He’s a very impressive guy. He’s more of a box safety with a free safety’s build — he’s kind of long and lean — which is one of the few knocks that I’ve heard on him. I definitely like his game.
Draft Projection: 2nd round.
3. T Kaleb McGary, Washington
Miller: McGary is Washington’s right tackle, and he’s really stepped up for an offensive line that sorely missed left tackle Trey Adams. He’s someone else who I think could be a Round 2 player. He’s very strong. Washington throws the ball a lot, and his pass protection shows up on tape. He’s a little more developed in that sense than you would expect from a guy coming out of the Pac-12. He’s 6-foot-8, 325 pounds — which is excellent size. He can anchor at his spot. He will be fun to watch against Utah’s defensive line. Utah is so fundamentally sound. McGary will have to go against guys who have actual pass rush moves. It’s not just speed play after play after play. This game will be a good barometer for just how developed he is. His draft stock will be boosted a bit by an overall weak offensive tackle class.
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd round.
4. S Marquise Blair, Utah
2018 Season: 40 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two passes defended and a forced fumble.
Miller: He’s going to be at the Senior Bowl which I’m really excited about. Last year he was hurt, but the season before that he was a junior college stud. He had 100 tackles during his last JuCo season, four interceptions, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He’s an all-around playmaker. He’s been healthy this year and got the Senior Bowl call-up. He has excellent size at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. He one hundred percent looks the part. As far as Utah goes, he’s their top player, and it’s really not even close. I see him as someone who can be a fourth- or fifth-round strong safety prospect. Speed is the question for him, and so it’s all about how he runs during the pre-draft process. I am also eager to see what he’s going to look like playing in coverage at the Senior Bowl. I think he’s a true strong safety.
Draft Projection: 4th-5th round.