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NFL draft prospects to watch as college football heats up

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion and Ohio State corner Doran Grant are among the notable 2015 NFL draft prospects playing this weekend in college football.

College football conference play begins in earnest this week, which means most of the lamb-led-to-slaughter cupcake games are behind us. (Yes, I still see you, Louisiana Tech at Auburn.)

And better matchups allow for more meaningful insights into NFL draft prospects. Here are seven to keep an eye on as the weekend unfolds.

Thursday night

1. Kenny Williams, RB/LB, Texas Tech (vs. Oklahoma State)

Williams accounted for 17 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage over his first three seasons. So naturally, the Red Raiders moved him into their starting linebacking corps ahead of 2014.

The 5-foot-11, 228-pound senior has taken to the change relatively well so far, with 15 tackles and a QB hurry through three games. Williams may have more of a future on defense at the NFL level, though his speed and versatility will make him mighty intriguing even as a special-teams contributor/backup.

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2. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA (at Arizona State)

If you are at all a fan of Philadelphia linebacker Mychal Kendricks, odds are you'll like watching his younger brother play, too. Eric Kendricks brings almost identical size (6-0, 228 to Mychal's 6-0, 240 -- after three years in the NFL) and, more to the point, plays with an ability to hunt the football very reminiscent of the elder Kendricks.

So far in 2014, Eric Kendricks has 38 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a touchdown. Arizona State's offense, with talented RB D.J. Foster, will put him to the test.


1. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (at USC)

Supporters of Mannion's NFL potential will point to his frame (6-5, 227) and arm strength as the main reasons for hope, similar to the wave of support Tom Savage rode into the 2014 draft. Meanwhile, Mannion's critics will harp on his tendency to lose his poise in the pocket, leading to avoidable mistakes. A 2013 matchup with USC came smack-dab in the middle of a brutal stretch for Mannion t mistakes repeatedly -- in a regular-season-ending 0-5 slump, Mannion threw 11 interceptions, three against USC.

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2. Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame (at Syracuse)

Tyler Eifert was a Round 1 pick in 2013; Troy Niklas was a Round 2 guy last May. Koyack's likely headed for more of a Round 4-5 range, but he still projects to be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 tight end at the next level. This season, he's at 10 receptions, matching his total from a year ago when Niklas led the way. Koyack filled mainly a blocking role then. Don't be surprised if the Irish get him more involved as the season progresses.

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3. Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State (vs. Cincinnati)

The matchup on Saturday between Cincinnati's potent passing attack and the Ohio State secondary will be really intriguing. The speedy, 5-11 Grant could be ceding as many as seven inches depending on who he's marking -- Bearcats WR Mekale McKay stands 6-6.

The quarterback for Cincinnati is of note, too: Gunner Kiel, formerly of Notre Dame. He has 10 touchdown tosses in two starts (vs. Toledo and Miami, Ohio). A strong showing by Grant definitely would help boost his stock in the long run.

4. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas (at Texas A&M)

The Razorbacks' quick defensive end (6-4, 268) is still looking for a signature performance this season. He had two tackles for loss and a sack in the season-opener vs. Northern Illinois but has recorded just two TFL and no sacks since. He probably will see plenty of potential 2015 No. 1 overall pick Cedric Ogbuehi Saturday.

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5. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke (at Miami)

The Blue Devils sit at 4-0 on the season, thanks in no small part to 22 catches and 296 yards receiving from Crowder -- both team-leading numbers. At 5-9 and 197 pounds, Crowder is built to be a slot guy at the next level.