NFL News & Analysis

College Football Week 3: PFF’s Team of the Week and Player Awards

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs (11) catches a touchdown in the end zone as Virginia Cavaliers free safety Joey Blount (29) defends in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the first run of analysis is finalized and available in PFF's CFB Premium Stats+, we get to fill you in on this week’s top performers. Here, we present PFF’s Team of the Week and player awards from Week 3 of the 2021 college football season.

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QB: Matt Corral, Ole Miss
RB: Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
RB: Sean Tucker, Syracuse
WR: Josh Downs, North Carolina
WR: Brandon Bowling, Utah State
WR: Deion Smith, LSU
TE: Gerrit Prince, UAB
LT: Zachary Thomas, San Diego State
LG: Ken Marks, Louisiana
C: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
RG: Connor Colby, Iowa
RT: Max Mitchell, Louisiana


DI: Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
DI: Jayden Jernigan, Oklahoma State
Edge: Nelson Paul, SMU
Edge: Scott Patchan, Colorado State
LB: Donavan Mutin, Houston
LB: Chad Muma, Wyoming
CB: Jack Jones, Arizona State
CB: A.J. Hampton, Northwestern
S: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
S: Marquis Waters, Texas Tech
Slot: Armani Marsh, Washington State

Offensive Player of the Week: WR Josh Downs, North Carolina

Through two weeks of the 2021 college football season, the biggest concern with North Carolina was the lack of support Howell had on offense after the offseason departures of Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.

For the most part, this receiving room is inexperienced, raw and has struggled to stay healthy. But in the Tar Heels' high-scoring win over Virginia on Saturday, wide receiver Josh Downs emerged with a desperately needed breakout game.

Josh Downs, a 2020 top-100 recruit, teamed up with Howell for five of the Tar Heels’ six explosive pass plays, making plays after the catch on schemed touches and downfield in the passing game. And one of those deep targets resulted in one of the best catches of the weekend.

WR Josh Downs vs. Virginia
Receiving Grade 93.2
Yards after the catch 141
Broken Tackles 3
15-plus-yard receptions 5
Passer rating when targeted 158.3

From a grading perspective, Downs’ night against the Cavaliers was the best single-game performance by a North Carolina wide receiver in the PFF College era.

This could be the beginning of a new top QB-WR tandem in college football, which doesn’t bode well for the defenses on the rest of their schedule, which includes the likely showdown with Clemson in the ACC championship game.

Defensive Player of the Week: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

Hamilton added another outstanding performance to his grading profile in the Irish’s 14-point win over the Purdue Boilermakers. He made plays against the run and pass whether he was down in the slot or at free safety.

The 2022 NFL Draft hopeful made one of the most impactful plays of the day with a fourth-down run stop at the end of the first quarter. The Boilermakers, up by three, were marching into Notre Dame territory when Hamilton came through with this play to swing the Irish’s win probability over double-digits in their favor.

The play was a testament to Hamilton’s incredible ability to quickly diagnose the play in front of him. Pair that with his physical gifts, and Notre Dame has one of the best playmaking safeties in college football.

Hamilton put the game on ice with an end-zone interception in the final minutes, which he grabbed after it clanked off the receiver’s hands. He also tacked on two forced incompletions and two passing stops throughout the game, leading him to his second PFF grade above 80.0 of 2021.

True Freshman of the Week: WR Deion Smith, LSU

Smith made his debut against McNeese State last week and earned a starting spot against Central Michigan on Saturday. And it didn’t take long for the 2021 No. 70 overall ranked recruit to get his name trending on Twitter after this touchdown grab on the Tigers’ first drive.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound wide receiver held strong and snagged the ball that went right through the defensive back's hands for his first career score. That was one of Smith's two deep receiving touchdowns and one of his two contested catches.

The true freshman ended up with five receptions of 15-plus yards, two more than any other true freshman wide receiver in a single game this season. He could help form the next great LSU wide receiver tandem with true sophomore Kayshon Boutte.

Offensive Line of the Week: Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

The Ragin’ Cajuns kicked off the week by thrashing the Ohio Bobcats by five touchdowns on Thursday night, which was made possible by the sheer number of clean pockets provided by the offensive line. Louisiana’s linemen allowed only two total pressures on 40 dropbacks, both of which were hurries. And that wasn't all, as the run game averaged 3.5 yards before contact per attempt.

Louisiana’s offensive line was the only unit in Week 3 to earn a combined unit grade above 90.0.

Secret Superstar of the Week: Edge Nelson Paul, SMU

Paul is a situational pass-rusher who only played 21 snaps in SMU’s win over Louisiana Tech, but he was a difference-maker on that small sample. He gave Louisiana Tech’s tackles fits with his get-off and won the corner with regularity. Paul finished with a 94.9 pass-rush grade for the Mustangs, the first elite-graded game of his three-year college career.

Play of the Week: Oklahoma CB D.J. Graham’s jaw-dropping INT

Yes, the fourth-down interception hurt Oklahoma’s field position, but this will likely be remembered as the best interception of the 2021 season.

Graham, a 2020 three-star recruit, did give up a 55-yard catch to the Cornhuskers before this pick and has had a middling start to the year. So perhaps this interception can spark a hot streak.

Game-Changing Moment: Louisville linebacker Jaylin Alderman’s game-winning pick-six 

Friday night’s matchup between UCF and Louisville provided the world with what will be one of the most chaotic endings of the 2021 season.

Tied at 35 with under a minute to play, Louisville faced a third-and-4 with the ball a few yards into UCF’s territory. The Knights lucked out with a batted interception that placed them a few yards away from field goal territory, swinging the Cardinals win probability from over 50% to nearly single-digits. Then this happened.

Louisville true freshman off-ball linebacker Jaylin Alderman saved the day by plucking the ball out of the air and taking it to the other end zone for a game-winning score. That was actually Alderman’s first and only play of the game and just his seventh snap of his collegiate career. A memorable start indeed.


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