Towing the Line: Khari Demos Talks College Football Weeks 4 & 5

Khari Demos joins Matt Waldman’s RSP site this season to profile college football’s trenches while keeping an eye on standout offensive skill players. 

Jackson Powers-Johnson, C #58, Oregon

Of course, the Ducks’ 42-6 pummeling of the Buffaloes was something many wanted to see happen last weekend (for some reasons aside from football, which we discussed on the Campus2Canton-RSP collab podcast this week). Oregon’s 522 total yards came in bunches and the Draper, UT native helped the Ducks pick up many of them with his resounding play.

His strength and torque were evident in the run game, and he continued showing it throughout.

It’s amazing the way Powers-Johnson is able to shift guys and create lanes for his skill guys.

Even considering him doing this against an undersized Colorado front, Powers-Johnson dominated these players as you’d expect a top prospect to do so. He’s not flashy when it comes to holding up with pass protection, but he just gets it done.

You can see how strong he is just by how he’s able to lock and hold defenders off from there. I think his length and size for the center position (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) are what allow things to look almost effortless when he’s working to keep Bo Nix clean in the pocket.

Maybe this wasn’t Powers-Johnson’s best rep, which he showed a few times throughout the UO-CU matchup. But what is promising about it is he reached his assignment correctly.

He must commit to finishing like he finishes defenders in the run game.

Again, what’s clear is Powers-Johnson’s prowess in the run game; his best play of the game nearly sprung Jordan James all the way to the paint.

Powers-Johnson is also an intriguing prospect because of his rawness. After playing offensive and defensive line as a freshman, and getting 350 total snaps at right and left guard, center, and right tackle in 2022, he has settled in at the center position here as a junior. His play in particular against Colorado earned him top honors for this week’s Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week Award. His play on tape also coincides with the metrics, as he’s been tabbed as PFF’s top-graded center in college football thus far. This guy was one of the hotly-recruited centers in the 2021 class. And now that’s back slotted at that position full-time again, he looks like he’s back at home.

What to Make of QB Bo Nix

The curious case of Mr. Nix continues on. After his topsy-turvy tenure in Auburn came to an end, the Pinson, AL native also looks at home in the Ducks offense. The 2022 season was a restoration story for him (43 total touchdowns, 4,103 total yards, 10-3 record) and he’s continuing it on this fall. An 11-1 TD-to-INT ratio, 79.4% completion rate, and most importantly a 4-0 record, Nix is playing the best ball of his life. But how much further can he elevate himself in the eyes of the scouting community?

Things I liked: he’s able to make throws off-platform like this.

It may not be a Patrick Mahomes-esque play, but even having this other arm angle in his bag is important. The more the merrier, and no, his footwork was not great on the play, but this is just an example of him being able to use his 3-iron when he needed it.

He also made the right throw and the right read on this out route to the slot. Granted, he was only reading half the field on this play, I credit him for making a throw he’ll continuously be asked to make from the pocket in the NFL.

I was also a fan of this underneath throw on the drag route. It was good to see him move off the first reads on the left side, and take what the defense gave him to convert on 3rd-and-9. He was able to grip it and rip it on this play here that resulted in one of Troy Franklin’s two scores in the game.

I like the touch he showed on this go-ball, giving it enough air to place it in Franklin’s reach, but also giving his receiver the opportunity to make a play on the ball in the air. Nix found Franklin on another score later in the game with the latter hauling in the catch on a post route in a switch concept.

Things I did not like: Nix has shown to have a propensity to make poor decisions at times. While this INT did not have an impact on Oregon’s blowout win, it’s concerning to see a fifth-year player force a throw like this, especially with how he stared Franklin down the entirety of the play. In his career, Nix is 8-9 in games he throws a pick, versus a 26-8 mark when he does not. Protecting the ball as a QB has to be priority No. 1, even considering all the components that make a great signal caller.

And like I mentioned on his first throw, while he was able to show his different arm angles, his footwork was sloppy and unbalanced. That wasn’t the only time in the game that that was the case either. And it really doesn’t always hurt him, which is the problem. Even with sloppy footwork at times, he’s been able to complete passes despite it. The hope has to be that this doesn’t become a habit as he makes his way into the tougher portion of the Pac-12 gauntlet.

There is still a lot left to decide whether or not Nix has elevated himself enough to be worthy of a Day 1 or 2 draft pick in next April’s draft. With Washington, USC, Washington State, Utah, and Oregon State still left on the slate, we’ll see where ranks in the conference of QBs very soon.

Keep An Eye Out for RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

If you’re one of our resident Big Ten readers, then you’re not surprised to see an Allen stat line that includes 116 rushing yards and two scores in Wisconsin’s win over Purdue. But if you haven’t seen the next great Badgers back in action, you’d realize that this is his standard; Allen has crossed the 100-yard mark 17 times throughout his 28 career games as a Badger. He rushed for over 1,200 yards and 11+ TDs in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, has compiled a career yards per carry average of 6.2 and looks poised to put up similar numbers here in his junior campaign.

At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, it’s hard not to compare him to the NFL’s top power back, Derrick Henry. What I’d say about Allen in comparison is I think he brings a little more wiggle to his game when it comes to shfitiness, whereas King Henry may bring a little more straight-line speed. Even on a play like this that only records three yards, Allen was able to put a defender on skates to avoid the tackle for loss. Another thing you love to see for a guy of his size is him being willing to block. That aspect of his game alone may separate him from other backs to certain coaches when it comes to the scouting process.

One other note I’d add is he’s a much-improved receiver out of the backfield. Allen recorded 21 catches over his first two seasons in Madison, WI. In four games in 2023, the Fond du Lac, WI native has tallied 16 catches thus far, including this grab that showed he has natural hands as a pass catcher.

But we all came here for the same reason; we want to see Allen run through someone’s face like the ghost of Marshawn Lynch. Allen’s power is clear as day, whether it was this scamper early in the second half, or this play here that gave Allen his second TD of the outing.

And you love to see him showing support for his teammate and backfield mate Chez Mellusi after the latter was carted off with a leg injury. You root for guys to succeed when they play well, but showing great character makes it even easier to root for these guys.

Now, one concerning development to keep an eye out for is just the amount of volume Allen has absorbed — four games into 2023, the junior RB has already tallied 505 career touches as a Badger (468 carries, 37 receptions). We’ve seen some NFL RBs taking off in the pros after splitting carries as collegiate backs (ie: Tony Pollard, James Cook, Dameon Pierce). But the collegiate workhorses like Bijan Robinson and former Badgers RB Johnathan Taylor have been successful backs in the league (yes, Robinson’s only played three games, but’s already proving he’s a stud). So who’s to say Allen can’t do the same at the next level?

I think a team will lean on the fact that Allen is a youthful college veteran; if the Badgers end their season in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Allen will be turning 20 years 12 days after the game. Let’s see how Allen continues to carry the load now that he’s a solo act after Mellusi’s unfortunate end to the season.

Keep an eye out for Ricky Pearsall, WR #1, Florida

Yes we know, Pearsall is probably the top candidate for catch of the year after this bonkers play he had against Charlotte last week. But he is actually a quality receiver who has gone under the radar and could very well make a case to be a top-100 pick in the draft due to the breakout season he’s having for the Gators.

Working primarily from the slot, he has emerged as Florida’s top target with 90 or more yards in three of the first four tilts this fall including his fourth career 100-yard game in the win over McNesse. The Chandler, AZ native is really a weapon for the Gators. And one thing that stands out about him is it’s clear offensive coordinator wants to utilize him as creatively as possible; just look how often he’s deployed as their move guy, from pop passes to jetting him into the backfield to keep the defense guessing.

Pearsall has the makings of being a Day 1 starter because you can line him up anywhere on the field in your offense. Just look at how he got downfield (and was let down by this underthrow by QB Graham Mertz) late in the first half. Not half bad for a guy dubbed a slot receiver.

Pearsall can also go up and get it (and hang tough on a big hit) evidenced here on this sideline toe-tap.

Even a modest 6-yard gain on this screen has to be one of the encouraging things about Pearsall’s game; he’s got safety net hands and can make something out of nothing even when traffic gets a little muddy on the field.

He even made something shake on this bubble screen, picking up 12 yards and going unscathed with his elusiveness.

He’s also a willing blocker, a plus for a guy who is a mid-sized receiver (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) who may be asked to play more between the hashes at the next level than other wideouts traditionally may.

One play I’m sure he’d like to have back in the game is this incompletion here. He got a favorable look on a slot fade, but he looked over his inside shoulder, rather than looking to his outside and being able to haul in the 16-yard score. I do think there are times too where he can get himself caught up with defenders unnecessarily, like on this route, which was not the sole occasion in the Week 1 loss to Utah. I’m also not sure how I feel about this drop he had that contributed to Graham Mertz’s only pick on the season so far. On one hand, the old adage is that if it hits your hands, you’ve gotta reel it in. But I also think Mertz stared Pearsall down the entire play and threw it a touch earlier than the receiver would have expected it to get to him. So I’m indifferent here. I’ll let you all decide.

Something that stood out to me about Pearsall when watching him in this past year’s spring game is that he just passes the eye test in a lot of ways. Even on a downfield incompletion that he was able to put out one hand for and nearly hauled in, I love the route he used to get off the line, I appreciate his constant effort to not give up on plays, and the fact that he created so much separation. Pearsall is the real deal and should be given his flowers for the top-notch receiver he’s grown to become.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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