A lot of points were scored this weekend by teams at the top of the national rankings yet despite this defensive prospects reign supreme atop the Risers list. Before we proceed with Week Five Risers & Sliders its time to revisit a few players spoken about over the summer.
Just after the 2014 draft I penned a story on Stanford linebacker James Vaughters, a terrific athlete who must start making more plays on the field. Off the Army game sources who attended the contest informed me they like Vaughters but feel he’s out of position in Stanford’s 3-4 alignment and is better suited for a traditional 43 defense. Ironically this weekend against Washington the senior linebacker had his best game of the season, notching a team leading 9 tackles (almost doubling his total for 2014) and adding 2 tackles for loss. Vaughters is a talent; whether or not he gets any post-season scouting consideration is another story, but I fully expect him to make an NFL roster next fall in one form or another.
Staying on the linebacker theme, I’ve raved about Benardick McKinney since he was a red-shirt freshman at Mississippi State and believe he has top 32 potential in the draft. He’s a powerful linebacker who forces the action up the field, something that was on display during the Bulldogs victory over LSU two Saturday’s ago. The next two games on the schedule include Texas A&M then Auburn, teams that may penalize McKinney if he’s too quick moving up the field. Both games will challenge the talented defender who must prove he’s effective making plays in reverse and in open space.
Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson was someone I pointed to in June during my Mountain West preview, referring to the strong armed passer as a poor man’s Blake Bortles. That prediction looked foolish after the first two games of the season as well as the first half of Saturday’s game against Boston College, all situations where Grayson struggled. The light seemingly went on during the second half against BC as Grayson recovered from a pair of first quarter interceptions then led CSU to an upset victory. For the day Grayson completed 65% of his throws for 268-yards with 2 scores. Not on the stat sheet was the way he took control of the offense, directing four scoring drives starting in late in the second half on enemy territory. Grayson’s known for his vertical passing ability but was able to dink and dunk his team down the field, taking what was given to him rather than forcing passes into coverage. From a physical standpoint Grayson possesses the skills required of a top 100 pick but questions surround his classroom habits and there are concerns he’ll struggle digesting a complicated playbook. Regardless, he’s a good senior quarterback prospect few are talking about.
Alex Carter/CB/Stanford: Carter’s star continues to shine as the junior has displayed great improvement this season. During Stanford’s critical conference victory over Washington, he shut down Husky receivers and came up big during the closing moments of the game, breaking up several passes to go along with five tackles. Carter possesses excellent size and plays strong, physical football. Numerous west coast sources tell me Carter will enter the draft and he’s expected to slot into the top 100 selections.
Danny Shelton/DT/Washington: Scouts have been raving about Shelton all season and the senior did not disappoint during the loss to Stanford. He finished with seven tackles, recovered one fumble and was relentless in his pursuit of the action all game. After five games this season Shelton leads the Husky defense in total tackles (46), tackles for loss (10) as well as sacks (7). In the midst of a career season, Shelton’s playmaking skill has elevated his draft stock.
Jordan Jenkins/OLB/Georgia: With all the available talent at the linebacker position on the Georgia roster, Jenkins is often the forgotten man yet he’s one of the better defensive prospects for the Bulldogs. His play in the third quarter against Tennessee turned the tide of the game. Jenkins started early in the quarter with a drive killing sack then later forced quarterback Justin Worley to the sidelines with a ferocious hit. For the game Jenkins had 5 tackles and 2 tackles for loss to go along with his sack. He’s forceful, athletic and projects as a third round pick.
Tavon Young/CB/Temple: Young opened the scoring for Temple with a 93-yard interception return in the first quarter of the Owls 26-point victory over UConn. That makes three picks in four games this season for Young who’s developing into a terrific prospect. Sporadically used in the starting line-up the prior two seasons, Young offers opportunistic ball skills and the junior projects well as a dime back for the next level.
David Cobb/RB/Minnesota: Prior to the season I mentioned how surprising it was Cobb receives little mention in the scouting community. The senior is considered a street free agent by most scouts while I stamped him as a potential seventh round choice. Cobb stole the show during the Gophers shellacking of Michigan, totaling 183 yards on 32 carries. Prior to the game the Wolverines fielded one of the better run defenses in the conference. Cobb is a big-bodied (220lbs) ball carrier who pounds opponents on the inside while offering enough short area quickness to make defenders miss. He’s more of a interior ball carrier/short yardage back but possesses enough skill to make a roster in the NFL.
Sleeper of the Week: Kevin Byard/S/Middle Tennessee: In the age when a safety in the NFL must be able to show versatility, the junior from MTSU is one to watch. In five games this season Byard has posted a team leading 3 interceptions and ranks second on the squad with 27 tackles. He’s a three down defensive back with the ability to play the pass sideline-to-sideline as well as thrash opposing ball carriers up the field.
Small School Prospect: Nick Boyle/TE/Delaware: The Blue Hens were victorious over conference foe James Madison and Boyle was a big factor in the game. He led all Delaware receivers with 5 receptions (48 yards) and his blocking helped the team rush for 168 yards. Boyle is not fast enough to stretch the seam rather a throwback tight end dependable catching the ball in the short and intermediate field as well as dominating defenders at the point of attack blocking.
Devin Gardner/QB/Michigan: Initially Gardner was suppose to be on our Sliders list a week ago but was given one Saturday’s reprieve due to space consideration. The fact he was benched against Minnesota forced the issue but the bottom line is Gardner has been terrible this season. The senior was given a middle round grade from scouts who view him solely as a quarterback at the next level yet at this point no one can argue he deserves to be drafted.