There aren’t many things that get your blood pumping more than a great return in sports. Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to lead the Bulls to another three-peat in 1995, the XFL in 2020 (and hopefully again in 2022), Brett Favre those three or four times. All legendary returns, but none hold a candle to what we get this week.
Saturday, October 24th, 2020, we will all witness the return of Big Ten football!
Now I know that some of you may not be familiar with the Big Ten and the rollercoaster it has put us through in the past six months so I will give you a quick synopsis.
Big Ten football is awesome, they run the ball about 70 percent of the time and punt on most possessions, the defenses are always elite and every year there is one team far superior to the rest that loses to Purdue or Iowa which sometimes, on only the most special occasions screws the whole conference out of a playoff spot. It’s AWESOME! They cancelled the season on August 11th, then turned around on September 16th and announced a return to play scheduled to begin this weekend.
So, as I am in a Big Ten spirit, this week will consist of not just three players but FIVE Big Ten studs that Patriots fans should keep their eye on.
But before we get to them we’ll recap the performances of the players we highlighted last week.
Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn
- The worst utilized player in college football was the worst utilized player in college football this week. As I mentioned last week, Auburn’s Head Coach Gus Malzahn has absolutely zero clue how to use wide receivers, and their Quarterback Bo Nix may be the worst decision maker in college football. Despite that Schwartz was able to come away from Saturday with six catches for 59 yards as Auburn fell to South Carolina. Schwartz is going to make Auburn look silly once he gets to the next level. They’ve completely wasted his talent.
Riley Patterson, K, Memphis
- UCF-Memphis was a weird game. Despite Patterson making all four of his PAT attempts the Tigers decided to start going for two after each score once they were down 20. He never attempted a field goal in the game. I’d say he had a mediocre performance.
Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
- Christian Barmore absolutely feasted in Alabama’s 41-24 win over Georgia. The 310 lb Redshirt-Sophomore recorded three tackles and a sack as well as recording two more quarterback pressures. The big man played his role to perfection, giving Bulldog leading rusher Zamir White nowhere to go, holding him to 57 yards all night.
Now let’s get into it this week.
*Weekly Disclaimer* I am not predicting that the Patriots will draft any of these players, I am just connecting the dots on who could fit in or have ties to New England.
Jonathon Cooper, DE, Ohio State
- Matchup: vs. Nebraska
- Gametime: 12:00pm
- Network: FOX
Jonathon Cooper is my favorite prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. After arriving in Columbus as a five-star recruit, Cooper spent his first two seasons as a rotational defensive lineman in a stacked unit that consisted of players like Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Chase Young, and six other future draft picks. After the 2018 season he was looked at as a possible late round pick but returned to Ohio State to improve his draft stock as a starter and team captain. Just four games into the 2019 season he was injured and spent the rest of the season on the sideline.
Returning to finally show NFL scouts how valuable he is, 2020 is a huge year for Cooper who was presented with the “Block 0” jersey as team captain and someone who “represents everything that an Ohio State football player should be”. On the field he’s played 4-3 defensive end and shares a similar body type to Shilique Calhoun. The fit here is pretty simple, as we all saw in week 6 against the Denver Broncos, the Patriots defensive front is thin. In addition to that, we will see on Sunday vs. San Francisco that there are times when they’ll need to employ classic 4-3 ends and at their current state they don’t have the necessary personnel to do so. In the age of play action passes and outside runs, players with a build like Cooper are going to be making a comeback.
This week should be a good opportunity for Cooper to show where he’s at after a year on the sideline. Will he show that he’s just a nice rotational piece or can he build upon what he’s shown and improve his stock? Nebraska and their run heavy offense will allow Cooper the chance to do either.
Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
UPDATE: Moore will not play today vs. Iowa. The University did not give a reason for his unavailability. We hope to profile him this year, if and when he returns to action.
The Patriots need someone who can separate consistently at the wide receiver position. Rondale Moore can do that. They also need a player with yards after catch ability, Rondale Moore has that. They could certainly use someone with home run ability, and what do you know, Rondale Moore has that as well. He checks all of the boxes for a player the Patriots should target.
What Josh McDaniels does best is working his receivers into space, whether it be on screens, end-arounds, or the quick hitting passing game. You can even include the eight trick plays he calls every year. That is exactly the type of offense that Rondale Moore would fit perfectly in. He’s a really good wide receiver with running back skills in the open field. Purdue’s offensive game plans have pretty much been “get Rondale the ball and get the hell out of the way” since he arrived in West Lafayette.
This week Moore will get work his way back from his 2019 leg injury against a HORRENDOUS Rutgers football team. I think a conservative estimated statline from him would be 10+ catches for 150+ yards and two touchdowns. We’ll see how it turns out.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
- Matchup: @ Purdue
- Gametime: 3:30pm
- Network: Big Ten Network
While you’re watching Rondale Moore light up the field, keep an eye out on the other side for Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. One of the most athletic lineman in the country, Linderbaum is known for his tenacity at the second level and great feet. That’s all well and good but this entry is really about the fit.
This guy checks all of the boxes for a guy Bill Belichick would fall in love with. He is a former wrestler who pinned Tristan Wirfs (first-round offensive tackle and protector of Tom Brady) in high school. He made the switch to offensive line from the defensive side of the ball last season, and in scout’s eyes, hasn’t even begun to see his potential. Plays under Belichick buddy Kirk Ferentz (father of Patriots center James Ferentz) at Iowa, a breeding ground for future Patriots.
Week 1 for Linderbaum is huge because he needs to show improvement from last year. If he does, he could punch his ticket as a day two selection in the 2021 draft.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
- Matchup: @ Indiana
- Gametime: 3:30pm
- Network: Fox Sports 1
One of about seven “Baby Gronks” in college football, Pat Freiermuth may be the longest tenured and most accurate iteration of the nickname. Freiermuth was given the nickname the day he arrived on campus by quarterback Sean Clifford in 2017. He proudly dons Rob Gronkowski’s No. 87, and shares a very similar build (6’5”, 256 lbs) to the 4x All-Pro (6’6”, 257lbs). On the field he shares the same game breaking athleticism as a young Gronkowski with some of the physical tools as well. He’s got high end jump ball ability and runs very clean, if not unspectacular, routes. The hands aren’t what Gronk’s were/are (that can be said for just about everyone) and his blocking isn’t top tier, but he’s about as close to the real thing as you can find.
As I have mentioned time and time again, the Patriots took a couple shots at the tight end position in the 2020 draft but they certainly didn’t solidify it. Ryan Izzo has been, well, Ryan Izzo, and though he’s played well and been open, Rookie Devin Asiasi (91st overall) has yet to see a target. Fellow third round pick Dalton Keene (101st overall) has been a healthy scratch each of the last 3 weeks. There is certainly an opening on next year’s team for another tight end (it’s Ryan Izzo’s spot) and Freiermuth would be the perfect player to fill it. He even seems to think so, saying this last season, “If I get to play in the NFL or get the opportunity, I’ll be grateful. And definitely, there’d be nothing better than playing for the hometown Patriots, That’d be awesome”.
Freiermuth and his Penn State teammates will take on the lowly Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday. Penn State should be one of the top two teams in the Big Ten this season and Indiana is straight up awful so I expect the big man to have a nice and easy day ahead of him. It’s a prime opportunity to show out for his hometown team.
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
- Matchup: @ Minnesota
- Gametime: 7:30pm
- Network: ABC
Kwity Paye is an athletic marvel. The 6’4” 277lb EDGE player can do some truly freakish things on the field for Michigan. On the field he is a special run defender and a powerful edge rusher. He can hold his own against double teams and set the edge with the best of them. His pass rushing skills won’t jump off the page but he’s effective in his movements. He recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a rotational player for the Wolverines last season, not half bad.
There’s something about Belichick and these players from Michigan, he just can’t get enough. Kwity Paye has the tools to be the most successful of the bunch. He does everything Belichick covets, setting the edge, playing all over the line and even has some special teams value, all while being incredibly instinctive. The fit is the same that I mentioned with Cooper. The Patriots need some talent at the EDGE spots and Paye is VERY talented.
Michigan stinks so they’ll probably blow the opener at Minnesota but Paye is a gamer and always seems to make a play or two. This should be a great chance for him to show out against an underrated Golden Gopher offense.