Another weekend on the college football schedule saw a surprising shake-up in the BCS rankings as USC startled Stanford in a PAC 12 match-up. This weeks Risers feature a number of underrated offensive lineman including two from the center position.
Hroniss Grasu/C/Oregon: Grasu stepped into the starting line-up as a red-shirt freshman and has since improved his game every season. The junior lacks great size but beats opponents with smart, fundamentally sound football. Considering the offense employed by the Ducks, Grasu does a tremendous job thinking on his feet and destroying opponents at the line of scrimmage or on the second level. The center position in next year’s draft is weak at the top and Grasu could be the first blocker on the pivot selected if he enters the event.
Zach Kerin/C/Toledo: Kerin, a three year starter at center for Toledo, could well be one of the most underrated blockers in the nation. Consider this; the Toledo offensive line has given up just four sacks this season, put up 20 or more points in 8 of 9 games (including 23 against Missouri), and is equally adept in the running and passing game. Kerin does not do it by himself yet his play and leadership in the middle of the field are largely responsible for the Rockets offensive success. He has nice length (6-feet, 5-inches), growth potential and the ability to line up in multiple blocking schemes. Kerin has the makings of a center who slips through the cracks of the draft then goes on to a long starting career in the NFL.
Charles Leno/OL/Boise State: Boise State has a history of placing talented offensive lineman into the NFL and Leno is the blocker scouts have pegged to be the next in line. The college left tackle brings a large degree of athleticism to his game, skillfully blocking in motion as well as protecting his quarterback’s blind side. He lacks classic size and strength, and a move to guard at the next level is likely. Underrated in almost all areas, Leno is a legitimate middle round choice with starting potential in the NFL.
Joel Bitonio/OL/Nevada: Bitonio is another fast rising offensive line prospect from the Mountain West Conference and another college left tackle that could be pushed into guard. The Nevada senior is also athletic, explosive and very effective blocking in motion. Sized a little better than his Boise State counterpart, Bitonio would be a nice fit for a zone blocking system in the NFL and could sneak into the draft’s top 120 selections.
Jacob Pederson/TE/Wisconsin: Lost in the focus of Wisconsin’s potent running game has been the play of Pederson. Efficient as both a pass catcher and blocker, Pederson always comes up big during the important moments of a game. Posting 27 receptions in nine games this season, he’s averaged 14.5 yards per catch and added three scores. Graded as a free agent prospect entering the year, Peterson is a legitimate last day selection who will add depth at the next level as a number two tight end.
Carlos Hyde/RB/Ohio State: Its easy to praise Hyde after he posted 248-yards rushing and 4 touchdowns against the worst run defense in the Big Ten, but this has been a long time coming for the Buckeye senior. Scouts have been impressed by the compact running style of the 238-pound back, never mind the burst he shows getting out to the second level. In a draft expected to be littered with smallish, situational running backs, Hyde could be the perfect alternative in the middle rounds for a team wanting a big, bruising downhill runner.
Justin Glibert/CB/Oklahoma State: Gilbert is a player we’ve been high on for a while and a cornerback we graded as a second round pick before the season began. Sized well, he possesses next level ball skills and instincts. Gilbert shuts down opponents in man coverage but also affords potential in zone. During the Cowboys route over Texas the senior picked off two passes, one which he brought back 43 yards for a score. It was the second time this season he returned an interception for a score. Gilbert also adds the ability to impact games as a return specialist to his resume. The senior has all the makings to be a second day pick next May and eventually start in the NFL.
Devon Kennard/DE-OLB/USC: Early in his USC career Kennard looked like a star in the making but a torn pectoral muscle kept him on the sidelines in 2012 and slowed his development. Kennard has come back strong as a senior and moved from street free agent to draftable commodity. He’s been the Trojans most consistent defender this season, leading the team with 8 sacks to go along with 48 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Kennard also has 4 pass defenses to his credit. Forty times prior to the draft are critical for Kennard, who lacks desired size/speed numbers for the next level. Then again his consistency and playmaking ability will surely help him secure a spot in the NFL next year.
Jonathan Newsome/DE-OLB/Ball State: There was a good degree of pre-season hype surrounding Newsome, graded as a last round pick by scouts, yet the senior has failed to meet expectations. The undersized college defensive end, who began his career at Ohio State, is known for his pass rushing skill. Yet in ten games this season he’s posted just 6 sacks and 5 quarterback hurries. During the biggest game of the season against Northern Illinois, Newsome was credited with just 1.5 tackles. Injuries slowed Newsome at the start of the season but even at full health he plays like a free agent prospect.
Notes: Scouts got a glimpse of what USC receiver Marqise Lee can do when he’s close to 100%. The junior was lethal whenever he got his hands on the ball and scouts had to be as impressed with his run after the catch quickness and skills as much as they were his hands. Lee is going to be under-draft next May and will be a steal in the middle of round one.
How do teams rank the signal callers? The top three on boards are Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridewater of Louisville and TAMU’s Johnny Manziel, no surprise there. It then gets interesting as the next three names mentioned include Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Derek Carr from Fresno State and AJ McCarron of Alabama. No Brett Hundley and no Tajh Boyd. Jon Dove an I will get a little more in-depth on this during our podcast tomorrow (Tuesday) evening.