The most-attended football game in history is almost here as the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers are making their final preparations for the Battle at Bristol in what is the game of the week. This game will be loaded with talent on both teams that have big futures playing on Sundays in the not too distant future.
Here’s a look at 3 of the top prospects from Virginia Tech and Tennessee.
WR Isaiah Ford
Isaiah Ford is well on his way to breaking every Virginia Tech career receiving record after having 56 catches for 709 yards and 6 touchdowns as a freshman followed by a school record-breaking sophomore season with 75 catches for 1,164 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Ford looks even better this year with 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in his debut against Liberty in which the Flames did not have an answer for him whenever he was on the field.
Ford is a very good all-around receiver with very good speed to take the top off of the defense while also being a quality route-runner that can use those skills to create separation in tight areas. Ford rarely seems to take plays off and has the type of work ethic that you want from the best player on your team.
Ford will face arguably his toughest matchup of the season against star Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton in a battle of two guys who both seem to have first round potential and second round floors. For Ford, this will be a great opportunity for him to make a move on a lot of people’s draft boards while this matchup could have a big impact on the Hokies’ offensive success.
WR/TE Bucky Hodges
Bucky Hodges may be primarily playing wide receiver this season but the former quarterback turned WR/TE has a NFL future with Hodges likely to go in no worse than the second or third round. Hodges had 45 catches for 526 yards and 7 touchdowns as a freshman before having 40 catches for 530 yards and 6 touchdowns as a sophomore in what was a slightly disappointing campaign.
Hodges has an elite combination of size and athleticism that makes him a physical nightmare on the outside while also having some solid speed to take advantage of a mistake from a slower defensive back. Hodges’s past experience at blocking may make him someone who could move back inside though many teams may look at him like former Michigan TE Devin Funchess who moved to WR in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.
The big issue for Hodges is the fact that he is fairly inconsistent and definitely seems to take some plays off. If Hodges can improve in that area and have a big game against Tennessee, expect his draft stock to take off.
DB Adonis Alexander
Adonis Alexander made the transition from rover to cornerback after starting at the rover spot as a freshman and having 55 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 6 pass breakups in what was an impressive freshman campaign. While Alexander may not start even, the sophomore will play a lot and has the type of tremendous athleticism that makes him a very intriguing next level talent who could be a fairly high pick in a couple years.
Alexander is unafraid of playing physical and has shown that he has some tremendous ball skills in addition to being a great athlete that has made some spectacular plays including an impressive interception against N.C. State last season. The big concern for Alexander with playing cornerback now is the fact that he is still fairly raw as a man coverage player but with his length and size, Alexander has the potential to be very dangerous on the outside.
Whether Alexander works at cornerback or if safety seems to be his better spot, NFL teams will definitely see him as someone who can make a difference at the next level. Personally, Alexander profiles as a strong safety who can effective around the line of scrimmage, and drop into zone coverage and make plays. Alexander may not be in a draft for a couple years but don’t be surprised to see him playing on Sundays in the future.
DE Derek Barnett
Tennessee junior DE Derek Barnett is the top NFL prospect in this game and is someone who plenty of NFL scouts will have their eyes on in this big matchup. Barnett has been a star for the Volunteers ever since he stepped on campus with 10 sacks, 20.5 total tackles for loss, and 72 tackles as a freshman before backing that up with 10 sacks, 12.5 total tackles for loss, and 69 tackles as a sophomore.
Barnett is a force to be reckoned with and someone that Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen will have to find a way to contain as stopping Barnett doesn’t seem to be realistic. Barnett had 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 QB hurry in the Vols’ season opener, and seems poised to be a nightmare for quarterback Jerod Evans on Saturday night.
Derek Barnett has the potential to be a top-10 pick with another strong season as someone who is built to be a 4-3 DE at the next level due to his size at 6’3” and 265 pounds. Barnett is going to be a very good NFL player but for now, Tennessee fans are happy that they at least have him for one more year.
CB Cameron Sutton
Many expected that star Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton would leave for the 2016 NFL Draft given that he was receiving some first round projections but Sutton was one of the top junior prospects that chose to stay and returns as one of college football’s best cornerbacks. While Sutton late first to early second round projection may not change much, Sutton returns as a leader on a team that hopes to bring Tennessee back to being in contention on a national level.
Sutton was solid as a freshman with 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups before having his best statistical season as a sophomore in 2014 with 37 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 tackles for loss, and 13 pass breakups. Sutton became a man for opposing quarterbacks to try to avoid causing a slight statistical decline but not stopping him from making an impact with 28 tackles, 1 interception, 3 tackles for loss, and 6 pass breakups.
Sutton started off his senior season strong with an interception, 4 tackles, and 1 tackle for loss against Appalachian State. However, Sutton will face off against primarily Isaiah Ford in what is a tremendous matchup that NFL scouts will definitely have their eyes on from wherever in the crowd they may be.
Cameron Sutton has a chance to make a statement against one of America’s best receivers but also is in for one of the biggest challenges on his schedule.
RB Jalen Hurd
Jalen Hurd is a massive tailback at 6’4”, 240 pounds and while that is edging on the end of potentially making him too tall to be a running back, but also making him a nightmare for opposing defenses to take down. Hurd won’t be a first round pick but the big Tennessee back could end up being a second to fourth round pick by the end of his collegiate career.
Hurd was solid last year with 1,288 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns and an average of 4.7 yards per carry while also proving that he can be solid in the passing game with 22 catches last season and 35 in 2014. Hurd likely will get the ball a lot after having 110 yards on 28 carries against Appalachian State with the Volunteers likely to give him a similar load due in part to mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs being a little banged up.
Hurd most likely won’t end up being a high draft pick like Derek Barnett or Cam Sutton but Hurd definitely has a future, at least for a couple years, playing on Sundays.