Week 0 is all about cashing in on opportunities in front of larger than normal audiances. Here are the top five prospects who stepped up to the opportunity.

The 2021 college football season is officially underway. That means that NFL Draft scouting has begun as well. Six games of early action spanned across all sports networks, including the first early Big Ten matchup in conference history. Nebraska took to the road to visit Illinois, while UCLA gathered a dress rehearsal against Hawaii ahead of their week 1 match with LSU.

Some prospects really stood out among the others as the action raged throughout Saturday. In this article, we want to recognize what we learned from the top performances.

5. RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

The Michigan transfer running back Zach Charbonnet moved to the PAC-12 to play in Los Angeles with Chip Kelly this offseason. After a less-than-stellar 2020 season with the Wolverines, many media analysts wrote off the young running back as an afterthought, claiming that the transfer was from the competition in Ann Arbor. Perhaps this was indeed the case, but his first afternoon with the Bruins should have silenced any remaining critics.

Charbonnet only touched the ball seven times before being pulled out of a blowout win over Hawaii. He took six carries for 106 yards and scored three touchdowns in an impressive performance. His last touch was a 14-yard reception, showing his ability to be a receiving threat out of the backfield as well.

4. RB Ronnie Rivers, Frenso State

Ronnie Rivers is one of the biggest secrets remaining in the Mountain West. He won’t be for much longer as he became the career touchdown leader at Fresno State in action against UConn with a beautiful reception that he took 61 yards for a score. He took 13 carries for 58 yards and added 2 catches for 66 yards.

Rivers isn’t by any means a large back (estimated 5’8″ 190 lbs), but his low center of gravity allows him to run with power and absorb contact extremely well. He’s fast too. I’d estimate he runs in the low 4.4/high 4.5 range. He’s been a major component of the Bulldogs offense his entire career.

The little explosive running back has the ability to be a major part of an NFL offense. He doesn’t have any additional seasons of eligibility remaining, so he will be in the 2022 NFL Draft class. I like his potential as a rotational back who will play on long-distance situations and third downs.

3. OFF-LB Calvin Hart, Illinois

Calvin Hart transferred this offseason from North Carolina State for the chance to play with new head coach Brett Bielema, and he didn’t disappoint in his first game with the Fighting Illini. Hart was undoubtedly the most impactful defender on the field, collecting 6 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry, picked up a fumble, and ran for a touchdown to close out the first half.

Hart was routinely near the football and was used in a variety of different assignments. He played man and zone coverage, rushed the passer, and played phenomenal run defense. His impact was Illinois’s key factor in staying in the game and keeping Nebraska at bay from a comeback.

Hart, unfortunately, left the game with an injury in the 4th quarter, and his status is still unknown. We will be monitoring his status here at NFL Sapient.

Honorable Mention: TE Derrick Deese Jr, San Jose State

It’s not possible to talk about the week’s action without mentioning Derrick Deese Jr, the son of the former San Francisco 49ers lineman. He is San Jose State’s most reliable offensive weapon, offering vertical threat ability as well as tough run-after-catch yardage while getting downfield. Deese is listed on the 2022 Senior Bowl watchlist.

Deese was a major proponent of the Spartans’ offense last season, too, offering a wide variety of usage to their scheme as a fullback, H-back, slot receiver, and inline tight end. This week, his variety continued in action against Southern Utah, catching 3 passes for 72 yards and a 14-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

The major issue with Deese is his size (estimated 6’3″ 230 lbs). He doesn’t fit the traditional tight end mold but might not be quick enough to be a big slot receiver at the next level. NFL teams, though, will be looking forward to seeing how well Deese tests. I would imagine that he will be performing at the 2022 Senior Bowl to show what he can do.

2. RB Markese Stepp, Nebraska

Markese Stepp transferred into Nebraska this offseason from USC, and it didn’t take long for him to make a positive impact with his new team. While he didn’t get the start, he entered the game on the team’s second drive, making a key 30-yard reception to keep the drive alive and scoring the season’s first touchdown several plays later to put Nebraska up 6-2.

Unfortunately, his usage was minimal for Stepp and Nebraska as the team fell behind by three touchdowns. I thought he displayed the best overall abilities, picking up pass protection assignments (outside of a blitzing corner he missed in the second quarter) and running with both power and speed. He finished with the lone reception and 3 run attempts for 10 yards, and the touchdown.

I anticipate Nebraska carving a bigger role for Stepp during the season, at least I hope. Last year, he was an effective runner at USC and showed he could do the same in the Big Ten.

1. OFF-LB Arron Mosby, Fresno State

Arron Mosby has been an afterthought on the Bulldogs defense over the last four seasons, playing limited time as the backup linebacker. He’s won the starting role this season and exploded onto the scene in action against UConn. Mosby finished the first half with 3 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and the scoop and scored off his own sack from 31 yards out.

Mosby showed a lot of athletic ability as an off-ball linebacker and perhaps even the ability to play RUSH Edge as well. He’s a suitable pass rusher, and his size (estimated 6’3″ 245 lbs) allows him to play more than that. His role in this defense should increase as they get into more meaningful action, and I would expect Mosby to shine in his role.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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