15) Will McDonald IV, Edge, Iowa State (6-3, 236)
McDonald did not hit the stat sheet often in Iowa State’s wins over Southeast Missouri State and in-state rival Iowa, but he worked hard against the run, playing mostly at the 5-technique spot in the team’s three-man front. He stopped a Redhawks running back from hitting paydirt with a tackle in the season opener and had two run stops in the first half versus Iowa last week. When standing up pre-snap against Southeast Missouri State, McDonald flashed the flexibility he’ll show turning the corner at the next level, forcing an incomplete pass that led to an unsuccessful field goal attempt. His duties against Iowa did not involve getting after the quarterback, but rather playing the run and dropping into coverage (he broke up one pass). McDonald hustled to recover a fumble late in the first quarter, stopping a Hawkeye drive in Cyclones territory.
14) Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (5-10, 172)
Previous rank: Not ranked
Flowers scored twice to give his team a 14-6 lead over Rutgers at halftime of the season opener. He adjusted to an underthrown fade from the slot for his first score and caught a deep pass in stride for his second. Flowers is fast off the line, inside and outside. He makes subtle and sharp route movements and accelerates quickly after the catch. Also, he’s a better blocker than many receivers with more size than he possesses. Late against Rutgers, however, Flowers lost his footing on a quick hitch, allowing his defender to intercept the pass. BC lost the game, 22-21. Last week against Virginia Tech, Flowers caught four of five targets for 79 yards, including a 49-yard third quarter reception where he again adjusted to an underthrown pass. He also drew a pass interference call and took a handoff 7 yards for a first down versus the Hokies, but it was not enough, as the Eagles lost, 27-10.
13) Zach Harrison, Edge, Ohio State (6-6, 272)
Ohio State’s defensive line depth was a key to its season-opening win over Notre Dame, though it limited Harrison’s snaps. On a first-quarter drive, he kept containment on a bootleg to his side on first down and hustled to tackle star tight end Michael Mayer on the next play. Harrison’s only other tackle came early in the third quarter, when he brought down scrambling quarterback Tyler Buchner at the line of scrimmage, beating a cut-block attempt by a running back. Last week against Arkansas State, Harrison regularly pushed blockers into the backfield. He only cleared his man once in a pass-rush situation, however, and was unable to turn the corner against the right tackle to reach former Florida State quarterback James Blackman. Harrison won inside to help stop a run on Arkansas State’s first play of the second half but was not credited with an assist on the tackle for loss.
12) Henry To’oTo’o, LB, Alabama (6-2, 228)
To’oTo’o was in form early against Utah State in Alabama’s 55-0 victory on Sept. 3, attacking gaps in the run game and recognizing routes in coverage to take away short throws. He was physical with would-be blockers, including a play late in the first half where he pushed aside a receiver in order to limit a running back in the flat to a 2-yard gain on third-and-long. To’oTo’o stopped Texas star RB Bijan Robinson multiple times in the second half of Alabama 20-19 win over the Longhorns last week, including a joint effort with defensive tackle DJ Dale in the third quarter that forced UT to settle for a field goal. To’oTo’o came on delayed blitzes when Texas quarterbacks took time in the pocket, getting home at the end of the third quarter to pressure Hudson Card as he threw.
11) Derick Hall, Edge, Auburn (6-3, 256)
In the second quarter of Auburn’s 42-16 win over Mercer on Sept. 3, Hall looked unblockable off the edge, winning with speed and leverage. He was able to get a sack in the third quarter, but he’ll need to get off blocks more consistently and break down more quickly to make plays against better competition. Hall led the Tigers with eight tackles in a 24-16 squeaker over San Jose State last week, making more plays in the open field than in the backfield during the first three quarters. Hall got into the backfield during the fourth quarter, however, rushing from outside and over the guards to consistently pressure Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro.