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COLLEGE FOOTBALL DRAFT NOTES
Another one bites the dust … Prior to the start of the season, the consensus around college football was that the SEC, and particularly the SEC West - read Alabama or LSU - was almost guaranteed at least one of the spots in this year’s BCS national championship game. Meanwhile, the best bets for the other spot were traditional powers Southern California, which was finally off probation, and Oklahoma, both of which had talented rosters headlined by star senior QBs. However, USC became a cropper two weeks ago when the Trojans were upset by a rebuilding Stanford squad. Then this past weekend, Oklahoma flamed out losing its conference opener at home to Kansas State.
Along with the Sooners’ national championship aspirations, the biggest casualty in the loss to Kansas State may have been QB Landry Jones’ hopes of re-establishing himself as a potential elite prospect at the position for the 2013 draft. Jones actually had decent numbers against K-State as he completed 28 of 43 passes for just over 300 yards, but had two costly turnovers that the Wildcats turned into points. And that’s kind of been the story for Jones, who was considered to be a top 5 prospect at this time last year, but has seen his draft status slide south pretty much since.
No question that Jones has the physical skills of an elite prospect; in particular, he has prototype size and arm strength, along with decent mobility. However, Jones’ mechanics and decision making in the pocket leave a lot to be desired. He throws off his back foot too often, in the process losing much of his velocity and accuracy, while he also has a tendency to abandon the pocket at the first hint of pressure and really doesn‘t throw all that well on the move. What bothers scouts the most is that these are the same kind of issues that have hurt Jones throughout his career, there just hasn‘t been much growth or maturing as a player. It is still hard to believe that some NFL team won’t fall in love with Jones’ physical skills prior to the draft, however, its highly unlikely that he is taken in this coming April’s opening round; heck, right now he may not even be lock to be a top 100 pick
However, Jones isn’t the only highly-rated senior QB who has struggled so far this year. Tyler Wilson of Arkansas at least got back on the field this past week after missing a game and a half with a concussion, but might just as well have stood in bed as the Razorbacks lost for the third straight week, this time falling to Rutgers. That would be Rutgers of the Big East, a conference which hasn’t scared anybody on the football field in years. Wilson did throw for over 400 yards and 3 scores, but barely completed 50% of his pass attempts (20 of 39), while having two picked off. If there was a positive for Arkansas, though, it was the play of WR Cobi Hamilton who had over 300 receiving yards and all three of Wilson’s TD passes covering 10, 57 and 80 yards.
Meanwhile, Southern California was able to bounce back from that upset loss at Stanford, knocking off California 27-9. However, Trojans’ QB Matt Barkley still didn’t look much like the presumptive favorite to be the #1 pick at this year’s draft. Barkley was accurate enough completing 22 of 34 passes, but again seldom got the ball downfield as he averaged barely 6 yards per attempt. Barkley also had a couple of more picks giving him 5 in the past two weeks.
While the likes of Barkley, Wilson and Jones have engendered as many questions as answers in the early going this fall, Geno Smith of West Virginia and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel appear to be trending upward. Smith, for example, is starting to generate some quiet Heisman buzz, not to mention some legitimate first-round interest as he has completed over 80% of his passes and has thrown 12 TD passes through 3 games, while he has yet to be picked off. There is a similar story for Manuel who rallied the Seminoles to a come-from-behind 49-37 win over ACC rival Clemson.
The Seminole that has pro scouts really intrigued though is junior DE Bjoern Werner. Werner was actually held sackless for the first time this year by Clemson, but was still very disruptive. As has been noted, whatever his final grade, Werner who only took up football as an exchange student from Germany, will be one of the better stories in the week’s leading up to the draft. However, Werner is also the real deal on the field and has reportedly moved into the mid-first round area on a lot of boards around the league. Werner is a freakish athlete with tremendous strength along with outstanding explosion and range as well as a great motor.
The college football world got stood on its head over the weekend when Southern Cal was upset by Stanford 21-14. The expectations were that the Trojans were maybe the only team in the country capable of standing up to the eventual SEC champion in the BCS title game in January; however, USC’s road to Miami got a whole lot bumper with the loss. The loss to the Cardinal also may have had a major impact on the 2013 draft as Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley just didn’t look like a presumptive #1 pick overall. True, Barkley was under incredible pressure all night long from a swarming Stanford defense; however, there are whispers in the pro scouting community that Barkley, who never had a cannon of an arm to begin with, just hasn’t had the arm strength this season. As well, Barkley’s lack of athleticism and agility was also exposed by the Stanford pass rush. Bad as things were for Barkley, who completed just 20 of 41 passes against Stanford and had two passes picked off. In particular, Barkley has not been throwing the ball down the field and just isn’t getting g much zip on his passes underneath. In addition, even USC head coach Lane Kiffin commented after the game that Barkely just wasn‘t making very good decisions in the pocket. And while it still may be a little early to write off Barkley as a potential #1 pick at the upcoming draft, he’s no longer considered to be a lock to be the first player taken this coming April.
In fact, its possible that what was supposed to be the Year of the QB regarding the 2013 draft appears to be rapidly going south. In addition to Barkley’s woes, pro scouts are quietly worried about the long-term of health of Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson, who had been considered to be a possible rival for Barkley to be the first player taken this year. Wilson did not play in the Hogs’ loss to Alabama last weekend because of a concussion he suffered in the team’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe the previous week. Of concern to NFL teams is the fact that Wilson also missed time in 2011 because of an earlier head injury.
It has also been a tough start to the year for Virginia Tech junior QB Logan Thomas, who was seen as a dark horse candidate to be a very early pick this year. At least physically, Thomas reminds scouts of Cam Newton the #1 pick at the 2011 who went on to become the first QB to ever throw for over 4,000 yards in his rookie season. The 6-5, 245-pound Thomas certainly looks the part; he also has the same kind of athleticism as Newton and can throw the ball threw a brick wall. However, Thomas just hasn’t shown much in the way of elite touch so far this fall as he has completed just 54% of his pass attempts to date. That included a dismal 14 for 31 outing with three interceptions in last weekend’s shocking upset at Pittsburgh, which hadn’t been able to get out of its own way in two miserable losses to start its season.
Whenever he does enter the draft, Michigan State DE William Gholston is sure to be one of the more interesting storylines. That’s because he’s the cousin of former Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston, who ended up being one of the biggest draft busts of the past decade after he was selected 6th overall by the Jets in 2008. The two, though, are quite different players. Vernon was a smallish DE who depended on quickness to try and run around people, whereas William is a full-sized 6-6, 275-pounder with long arms and a good motor. Gholston is a solid run defender with good strength whom the Spartans occasionally slide inside to NT in passing situations. However, Gholston doesn‘t appear to be naturally quick or explosive, especially rushing the passer. He is primarily a bull-rusher who doesn’t have much in the way of sophisticated pass rush moves. As such, Gholston may end up being graded as more a 5-tech 3-4 DE prior to the draft, although he’ll likely have to add another 10-15 pounds.
August 29-September 3
Born to run!!! … Entering the season, there were almost as many questions as answers regarding the potential RB class for the 2013 draft because of injuries and off-field issues. One back who provided some answers this weekend was Michigan State junior RB Le’Veon Bell who put on a one-man show against pesky Boise State. Bell bulled his way for 210 yards on 44 carries to lead the Spartans to a 17-13 win, while chipping in another 55 yards on 6 receptions. Bell is a 6-1, 244-pound specimen who runs with real power, however, he’s also surprisingly light on his feet and for a guy that size and has the agility to make a jump-cut to a secondary hole, as well as make people miss in space. This weekend’s performance started to generate some early Heisman buzz for Bell, but it also started to get his some notice as a potential mid-to-late first round prospect for the upcoming draft, should he opt to leave school after the season.
Meanwhile, Clemson’s Andre Ellington and Johnathan Franklin of UCLA, a couple of senior second-day RB prospects, also ran for over 200 yards in their respective season openers. The electric Ellington, for example, averaged over 9.0 yards per carry on his way to piling up 228 yards on 25 carries in the Clemson’s win over Auburn in a battle of Tigers. Franklin was even more efficient in the Bruins’ season opener against Rice as he piled up 214 yards on just 15 carries and three scores including two of more than 70 yards, although he wasn‘t going against one of the better defenses in the country.
Born to throw!!! … West Virginia QB Geno Smith, who is considered to be more a second-day prospect for the 2013 draft at this time, turned in some Robert Griffin like numbers on Saturday when he had as many TD passes (4) as incompletions as the Mountaineers hung 69 points on cross-state rival Marshall in their season opener. For the record, the athletic Smith completed 32 of 36 passes against the Herd for 323 yards and no picks and added a fifth score on the ground. Meanwhile, Tennessee junior Tyler Bray still looks a little spindly, but threw nothing but darts in the Vols’ win over North Carolina State.
Eureka, we found it!!! … May become a common phrase among pro scouts who will tempted to troop to DIII Eureka College - for the record, its in central Illinois - after QB Sam Durley passed for a new NCAA single-game record of 736 yards in leading his team to a come-from-behind 62-55 victory over Knox. And while top DIII QBs are often relatively small, Durley is a full-sized 6-4, 235-pounder with a live arm. However, while he at least looks the part of an NFL pocket passer, Durley has never been that accurate in his career; indeed, he completed just 52% of his pass attempts in 2011 so has a long way to go technically before he gets anything near a draftable grade this year, however, those big numbers this past weekend might at least have gotten his name on the watch list.
Maybe shoudda stayed in bed … Coming into the season, North Carolina State junior CB David Amerson, who picked off a remarkable 13 passes last fall, was being considered to as a possible top 10 prospect for the upcoming draft, however, he got off to dreadful start in the Wolfpack’s loss to Tennessee. In particular, Amerson was beaten for a couple of long TD passes and whiffed on a tackle on a long TD run. Things weren’t much better for Amerson’s teammate QB Mike Glennon, who likely saw his stock plummet as he threw 4 picks and just never looked very poised in the pocket against the Vols.
What can be fun about some of the pre-season games is that players from slower level schools can get the chance to test their skills against better competition. In fact, that was the case for Southern Utah QB Brad Sorenson and Elon WR Aaron Mellette, arguably the top-rated small-school prospects for the upcoming draft, whose teams played D1A opponents this past weekend. However, neither was able to do much positive. Sorenson, a one-time BYU recruit whom some scouts believe may have the strongest arm of any QB in the country, for example, completed just 12 of 31 passes for only 153 yards and a pick in a 34-3 loss at Utah State. Meanwhile, the 6-3, 215-pound Mellette, who caught 113 passes in 2011 for over 1,600, was a non-factor in Elon’s 62-0 loss at North Carolina catching just two passes for a measly 9 yards.