Week 13 in the college season saw Florida State once again hang on while other teams in the top ten had a much easier time against much easier opponents. It was also a week where sleeper prospects and lesser known next level players made scouts take notice.
I’ve been out front reporting on the number of league sources who feel Randy Gregory of Nebraska is a worthy candidate for the first pick of the draft. And though a terrific pass rusher, Gregory’s ability in run support is something that concerns me. On several occasions during the loss to Minnesota this weekend he was handled by Gopher tight ends as ball carriers ran past him for big gainers.
Ohio State’s Michael Bennett is another Big Ten lineman who gets a lot of love from scouts yet he too has issues getting off blocks. Throughout the season Bennett will look like a world beater on one snap then is handled the very next play. He’s not much of a play maker (27 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks this season) and at 6-feet/2-inches and 285-pounds, Bennett has size limitations.
Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong receives a lot of attention on the outside as the junior is in the midst of a career campaign. Speak to scouts and you’ll get a different point of view. Many are concerned with his lack of speed, quickness and the struggle he’ll have separating at the next level. Several area scouts have stamped Strong as a third rounder based off the film and many grade Dres Anderson of Utah as a better receiver prospect for the next level.
The word is center/guard Max Tuerk of USC is heavily considering the draft but prior to making a final decision he should head the advice of scouts. Many area scouts like Tuerk’s athleticism and upside but believe he’s not strong enough for the NFL and needs another year in college to physically mature.
Ezell Ruffin/WR/San Diego State: Entering the season with middle round grades from scouts, Ruffin has really turned it on since returning from the broken collarbone which sidelined him for five weeks. Well built with deceptive speed, the senior posted a season best 7 receptions for 126-yards during the win over Air Force. Sneaky fast, Ruffin in averaging just under 20-yards per reception the past three games. He’s a legitimate middle round choice with the potential to develop into a third receiver at the next level.
Clive Walford/TE/Miami-Fl: Admittedly I was never high on Walford entering the year and neither were NFL scouts who stamped him as a late rounder. Yet to his credit Walford continues to produce on the football field as both a pass catcher and blocker. His latest effort, 7 receptions for 105 yards during the loss to Virginia, was a season best. And as consistent as Walford has been catching the ball (4 receptions per game) his blocking has been even better. The senior lacks classic tight end measurables but has the skill set to slide into the later rounds then make the two deep at the next level.
Cameron Artis-Payne/RB/Auburn: Its’ been a career campaign for Artis-Payne who entered the season with grades usually reserved for a street free agent. He’s broken the century mark on the ground in eight games this season with his best effort of 221-yards coming against Texas A&M. Though not much of a pass catching threat scouts and are moving Artis-Payne up draft boards in part due to the success former Auburn back Tres Mason has experienced this season.
Aaron Davis/LB/Colorado State: The Rams continue to romp through their schedule and stand as one of the nation’s most underrated teams. The unsung hero on defense is senior linebacker Aaron Davis. Tough, instinctive and competitive, Davis leads CSU with 104 tackles this season, outdistancing his nearest teammate by almost 20 tackles. Displaying versatility in his game he’s also broken up 6 passes while recording 5.5 tackles for loss. Davis won’t impress many with pre-draft workouts as he’s just a good football player worthy of being selected in the late rounds next April.
Chi Chic Ariguzo/LB/Northwestern: Ariguzo is another linebacker who falls short in the area of computer numbers but on film he’s omnipresent. The three year starter is relentless, making plays sideline to sideline and showing skill in pursuit. He leads the Wildcats with 92 tackles, including an 8 tackle effort this weekend during the win over Purdue. Ariguzo will need a terrific pre-draft workout to push him into the late rounds but a number of teams feel he has the football skills to line up as an eight linebacker/special teams player on Sunday’s.
Jack Conklin/T/Michigan State: Conklin, a redshirt sophomore and second year starter, has taken his game to new heights this season. Manning the left tackle spot for the Spartans, he grades out as the top blocker on the unit and his performance against Ohio State sackmaster Joey Bosa raised eyebrows. Many are of the opinion Conklin is best at right tackle in the NFL and most believe he has first round potential down the road.
Brian Mihalik/DL/Boston College: Mihalik’s stats are nothing to scream about as he’s posted 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season besides intercepting one pass. This includes a two tackle performance in the recent loss to Florida State. Yet on film the lineman, who stands a shade under 6-feet/9-inches, is consistently getting pressure up the field, making quarterbacks uncomfortable or forcing ball carriers to alter the angle of runs. He’s someone who must be accounted for on every down and though likely a later round choice, Mihalik offers the skills to be a rotational lineman for both three and four man fronts.
Sleeper- Jeremiah Johnson/CB/Maryland: Entering the 2013 season Maryland had a pair of next level cornerbacks, Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, both who went down to injury during the campaign. And while McDougle, a third round pick last April, was well known the 2012 film showed Johnson to be his equal. Initially slow returning from the foot injury which kept him on the sidelines last year, Johnson has shown excellent form in recent weeks. He’s a physical corner with top ball skills and the ability to shut down opponents. Well schooled in all facets of the position, expect Johnson to be a late round bargain who’ll surprise people in camp next summer.
Small School- Jacob Rodgers/OT/Eastern Washington: The Washington State transfer transitioned to the starting left tackle spot for EWU and has been impressive. He’s a big bodied blocker (6-feet/6-inches, 325-pounds) who plays strong football while using proper angles and body positioning to dominate opponents. Always working to finish blocks, he has a nasty disposition as defenders are unable to get around or through Rodgers. Likely best on the strong side, he’s a solid developmental prospect with a large upside to his game.
Austin Hill/WR/Arizona: While he entered the season with second/third round grades the word circulating in the scouting community is Austin Hill may not be fully healthy from the knee injury suffered more than a year ago. Never a speedster from the get-go, the inability to separate from defenders on the college level is causing a lot of concern from area scouts, many who now stamp Hill as a late rounder.
Zach Banner/T/USC: Two weeks ago I reported sources saying Banner, a redshirt sophomore, was considering the draft. After his performance against UCLA the NFL should be the furthest thing from his mind. Banner looked awful and was exploited all game by defensive lineman who ran over him and defensive backs that ran past him on the blitz. He’s a big bodied blocker who shows little in the way of technique, balance or coordination.