10 Man Ride: College Draft Preview
CLEAR! The ride is on. The 2021 College Draft presented by Champion is on Monday at 10:30PM ET on NBC Sports. Four rounds. Essentially two draft classes in one.
Let’s rank the top 10 prospects based on how their games translate to the pros.
One note before we begin: Per IL's Ty Xanders, Jared Bernhardt plans to pursue college football in the fall. A team could draft him and retain his rights for two years – but multiple coaches have mentioned that they wouldn’t bet against Bernhardt eventually earning an invite to an NFL training camp. The Tewaaraton frontrunner might slip because coaches believe in his ability on the gridiron.
1. Jeff Teat, A, Cornell
Teat is a generational talent. He started for Team Canada in 2018 as a college sophomore. His Cornell teams have faced junk defenses (#FREETEAT). Teams have tried shutting him off while playing man behind the shut, then playing zone behind the shut. Teat counters with the unselfish play that helps the Big Red offense – not his point totals. He picks or pulls his man aside to play 5-on-5.
Teat toys with help defenders. If they try to sneak up on him, he’ll send them scurrying back to their man with a pump fake. What in the “sell me this pen” is this fake that convinces the defense Teat’s teammate at 15 yards outside the hashmarks is more dangerous than Teat at the island?!
2. Michael Sowers, A, Duke/Princeton
Sowers is the prototypical X attackman. His shake is vicious. Mikey Powell comparisons are made and rarely refuted.
Princeton’s all-time leading scorer was dishing 6.2 assists per game in 2020, which would’ve topped Grant Ament’s record (5.65) from ’19. With the right off-ball teammates, Sowers has shown confidence jamming the ball inside for dunks.
Now at Duke, Sowers is settling into a different offense – one that doesn’t revolve around him. Princeton’s high wing picks were designed to draw switches for Sowers. He absolutely feasted above GLE in those sets.
He’s been below GLE all spring. Defenses are granting him hangups to avoid stumbling over the back of the cage during closeouts. We’ll see how his PLL team uses him – bet on a balance of below GLE and above GLE play.
3. Jared Conners, LSM, Virginia
Some coaches are comparing Jared Conners to Michael Ehrhardt.
That’s lofty. Ehrhardt – the 2018 World Games MVP – impacts more of the field and the 52-second clock than any other player. He’s dominant.
That said, if Conners is 80% of Ehrhardt, then he’s worth a top-3 pick. A long-stick midfielder who can gobble up wing GBs, erase the opponent’s best midfielder, help adjacent, start and finish transition is a weapon.
Conners is an alert help defender. He’s physical. One slide like this, and dodgers will be deterred from the island for a bit.
This two slide is Ehrhardt-esque. The Whips’ LSM is the king of adjacent creeps. Conners anticipates the double and rotates to the pop. If Conners is late here, that pop catches and makes one more, catching Conners’ teammates on the carousel until an eventual stepdown.
4. TD Ierlan, FO, Denver/Yale/Albany
A career 75% faceoff man, TD Ierlan is the rare lock at the faceoff position. Projecting success at the next level has never been more difficult. Rookies will move from standing neutral grip (SNG) to a knee-down stance in the pros. Their heads will be farther from the ball; their wings closer. Scrappy counter strikers like Joe Nardella have fared better than clamping giants in the PLL.
Several teams (Redwoods, Archers) need to improve at the stripe. Is it worth trading up for Ierlan? Or can you find a diamond in the rough later? Remember: Nardella was the 36th overall pick in 2015, and the third faceoff man off the board. This isn’t a perfect science.
Other faceoff men to watch: Kyle Gallagher (Notre Dame), Charlie Leonard (Notre Dame), Conor Gaffney (Lehigh), Gerard Arceri (Penn State), Ross Dickerson (Tampa), Dan O’Connell (Duke), Jakob Phaup (Syracuse)
5. JT Giles-Harris, D, Duke
Giles-Harris can match feet with quicker attackmen. Every team is scrambling for size to defend Matt Rambo and Zed Williams right now; they’ll need someone to keep up with Ament and Sowers soon, too.
Plus, Giles-Harris can win at and around GLE. Dude deadlifts 600lb. Every team outside the Whipsnakes, Redwoods, and Archers should be eyeing Giles-Harris.
6. Mac O’Keefe, A, Penn State
O’Keefe’s release is unreadable. It cannot be read. Goalies must simply guess – is he elevating low-to-high or unleashing a wormburner?
They usually guess wrong. Goalies have saved 37.8% against O’Keefe. Yuck.
On the right team, O’Keefe will space the field perfectly. He doesn’t need the ball in his stick. One cradle, and it’s out. Pick with O’Keefe on the wing, and punish anyone who switches or traps.
7. Dox Aitken, M, Virginia
This might be too low. Dox Aitken is a pure scorer. On-the-run off long dodges, stepdowns, hitches – you name it, Dox will bury. He played a lot of defense as an underclassman at Virginia. We’ve seen Sergio Perkovic and Bryan Costabile take their games to new levels as pros; Dox could be that type of throwback midfielder.
UVA head coach Lars Tiffany provides thoughtful quotes in every player’s bio. Dox’s: “Wants the ball in big moments.” That’s not a coaching cliché; the film backs it up.
The only question: Does Dox fall because teams want a true short-stick defensive midfielder? Peter Dearth (Syracuse), Danny Logan (Denver), and Ryan Terefenko (Ohio State) may be better on that end; none have Dox’s offensive game, though.
8. Connor Kirst, A/M, Rutgers/Villanova
This class is deep with right-handed swingmen. Kirst, Tre Leclaire (Ohio State), and Jake Carraway (Georgetown) top the list.
Kirst’s game translates to the PLL best. He’s playing out of position on attack at Rutgers right now, because (a) their midfield is loaded and (b) they want him at the point on fast breaks.
Kirst can scrap between the arcs at the pro level. He faced off a bit at Villanova. His most ridiculous stat? 146 shots in 15 games as a junior. That’s 9.7 shots per game. Getting your hands free for 9.7 shots is a skill in and of itself. Shooters shoot.
9. Jack Kielty, D, Notre Dame
Pro defenses are shifting their priorities. Surviving one-on-one on an island used to top the list. Notre Dame defenders (a.k.a. “scheme” defenders) are in style now.
Kielty is the best of both worlds. He shut down Sowers in a showdown a couple weeks ago. Off-ball, Kielty keeps his hips low, his stick high, and his head on a swivel. His alarm clock might be Gerry Byrne screaming “DON’T GET FADED!”
Here’s the Crease Collapse of the Week courtesy of Kielty (#10), the closest defender on your screen.
10. Ryan Tierney, A, Hofstra
The velocity that Ryan Tierney generates on-the-run defies every single law of physics. His Schreiberian wrist snap sneaks up on goalies.
Tierney and other attackmen may slip as teams emphasize depth the middle of the field. On the right team, he can have a long pro career. (Carc’s mock draft has him falling to #15. Sign me up for that potential reunion with his Hofstra teammate Josh Byrne on Chaos LC.)
Thanks for reading!
Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you next week!