This week’s rookie are a mixture of impressive and disappointing early-round picks, as well as more late-rounders and undrafted players who continue to take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Chris Tripodi breaks it all down in this week’s report.

Sam Bradford (QB-StL)

After throwing 8 interceptions in his first five career games, Bradford went four games without throwing a pick and set an NFL rookie record with 169 consecutive passes without an interception before being picked off late in this week’s game. While he continues to average less than 10 yards per completion, Bradford has been extremely efficient this season, completing over 60 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions in 10 games while working with very mediocre receivers.

It’s difficult to live up to the expectations of being the top overall pick, especially as a quarterback, but Bradford has done that and more. He’s taken a bad offense with one playmaker, running back Steven Jackson, and turned it into a unit that can move the ball down the field and stay competitive in games. Once the Rams surround him with more talented receivers and give him the green light to throw downfield, the sky is the limit for this former Oklahoma star as long as he stays healthy.

Donald Jones (WR-Buf)

Jones has seen extra playing time with Roscoe Parrish’s season-ending injury and took advantage this week with 5 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. The undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State did most of his damage in the two-minute offense at the end of the first half, catching 3 passes for 43 yards and a score. He caught all five passes thrown his way while his competition for playing time, fellow rookie David Nelson, was targeted just once by Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Jones improved steadily over his final two college seasons and at 6-0, 214 pounds, has nice size for a receiver. He’s smooth and fluid in his routes and has considerable upside for a player who went undrafted. His field awareness could use improvement and it wouldn’t be wise to expect performances like this on a weekly basis, but with the Bills passing game clicking right now Jones could continue to see a healthy number of targets as Fitzpatrick’s third option if he can hold off Nelson for reps out of the slot.

Blair White (WR-Ind)

Undrafted out of Michigan State, White got an opportunity this week once Austin Collie left the game with a head injury. With the Colts playing from behind against New England, White caught 5 passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns, one coming when he laid out nicely for a ball in the endzone.

White is a tough, smart receiver who we had rated as a fourth or fifth-round pick heading into the draft. He’s a one-speed receiver who lacks quickness off the line and out of his breaks but sells routes effectively and finds open spots on the field. Despite his lack of speed he can be very effective out of the slot, a role he will have to play while Collie is sidelined. His field awareness combined with Peyton Manning’s ability to find the open man are an ideal match; expect White to thrive in the third-receiver role until Collie returns.

Marc Mariani (WR-Ten)

Mariani was drafted in the seventh round out of Montana by the Titans and hasn’t caught a pass on offense this season. But he has made a big impact on Tennessee’s return game, returning a punt 87 yards for a touchdown this week against Washington for his second touchdown of the season, his first coming on a kickoff return earlier in the year against Denver.

With just 4.51 speed, most wouldn’t expect much out of Mariani as a returner. But he has great field awareness and showed it this week, effectively using his blocks in open space and showing the patience and vision with the balls in his hands to score untouched. For the season, he is averaging over 17 yards per punt return and over 26 yards per kick return and will continue to be a special teams asset for the Titans.

Michael Hoomanawanui (TE-StL)

The first pick of the fifth round out of Illinois, Hoomanawanui showed a strong early rapport with Sam Bradford in the preseason but missed four of the Rams’ first five games due to injury. He caught a career-high four passes for 46 yards and a touchdown this week despite continuing to split snaps with Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema at tight end.

Hoomanawanui’s poor 40-yard dash time of 4.75 caused many team to overlook him, but he is a solid pass catcher as well as a strong blocker. He won’t create mismatches in the secondary or make big plays downfield, but he is a complete tight end who can contribute blocking and in the short passing game. He has far more upside than his competition for playing time and should see more snaps as the season wears on, as he has been a favorite of Bradford’s since day one.

Sean Lee (LB-Dal)

Lee was named to several All-American team after a great junior season, but his 2008 season ended before it started due to a torn ACL. He never looked fully recovered the following season at Penn State, but Dallas picked Lee late in the second round in April. He saw extensive snaps in the second half of this week’s game and had 4 tackles, including a forced fumble that set the Cowboys up with a short field and led to a touchdown.

Lee was supposed to be the next great linebacker prospect out of Penn State before his injury. At his peak he’s extremely athletic, has great instincts and awareness and can play downhill or sideline-to-sideline. He has limited coverage skills and may be nothing more than a two-down NFL linebacker unless he improves in that area, but he has great upside as a run-stopper if he can return to pre-injury form.

Devin McCourty (CB-NE)

McCourty’s play through 11 weeks is one of the major reasons the Patriots are enjoying an 8-2 season. I wrote about him back in Week 1 when he did a nice job containing Terrell Owens, something other teams have struggled mightily with this season. McCourty had no interceptions in the season’s first five weeks but has three in his last five games, with two of those coming against the league’s elite – Philip Rivers in Week 7 and Peyton Manning last week.

McCourty has also done a very good job on special teams and has 20 tackles in the last three weeks. Firmly entrenched as New England’s top corner and a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, this first-round pick out of Rutgers continues to improve on a weekly basis and is proving to be a complete NFL corner more than halfway through his rookie season. Without him, New England’s young secondary would be in dire straits.

Chris Cook (CB-Min)

The Vikings second-round pick out of Virginia, Cook is one of the corners Minnesota has used opposite Antoine Winfield to replace the injured Cedric Griffin. That position has been a disaster all season for Minnesota and the story was no different against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay this past week. Rodgers picked on Cook relentlessly until he was benched in favor of Asher Allen, who proceeded to get beat multiple times for touchdowns by Greg Jennings.

Cook has the ability to start at the next level down the line, but it’s obvious he’s not ready yet. He is very indecisive in coverage and must improve his footwork to cover effectively down the field, allowing too many short passes as a result of playing too soft in coverage. His size (6-2, 212) allows him to be physical at the line and he has the speed to stay with receivers downfield, but he’ll need to develop his game further to be a viable NFL starter.

(11/19/10 Edition)

(11/19/10 Edition)

After a short sabbatical, the Weekend Watcher returns to impart what was seen over the past two installments of the college football season.

Head Scout Brent Sobleski tries to keep all the swirling information in proper form and fashion relaying observations regarding numerous prospects around the nation to the best of his ability.

Now, it’s time for a massive brain dump, bullet point style…

  • Starting with one of the premiere match-ups seen recently, the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide came up short against LSU. Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson were on display. Jones gained the upper hand throughout the battle with 10 receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown. Between the two the receiver appeared more polished in his route running, displaying tremendous body control, and caught the ball well with his hands despite still possessing pins in one broken hand. Peterson played well despite going head-to-head against Jones and surrendering the aforementioned catches. What became apparent, particularly against a short slant route, is seeing the cornerback struggle ever so slightly in flipping his hips quickly thus granting the separation Jones need on the play. That less than ideal fluidity is just the nudge needed to place Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara ahead of Peterson when ranking the two cover men. Though there may not be a better corner than the Tiger product when it comes to moving in a straight line and driving on the football.
  • On the flipside LSU’s impressive defensive tackle Drake Nevis ate Alabama’s offensive interior alive creating disruption all afternoon. Nevis’ quickness and ability to shoot gaps makes him an ideal one gap penetrator. What was particularly interesting was seeing the smallish lineman continually use the swim move to surpass his blockers, something which is not as common today as years past. The Tide’s center Steve Vlachos is smart and experienced but simply could not handle Nevis’ quickness. The pivot generally enjoys employing proper angles and walling off defenders easily. It was not the case on this day.
  • Along LSU’s offensive line, left tackle Joseph Barksdale has garnered some praise after flipping from the strong side replacing the stalwart Ciron Black upon graduation. After initial review Barksdale appeared impressive. Closer inspection revealed the tackle is a better fit back at right tackle looking at his prospects for the next level. Barksdale’s initial kick step is deep, gains width, and displays solid knee bend. His subsequent steps are not as technically sound. Barksdale shows a tendency to rise in his stance from said point and shorten his base. He may get off the ball well, but simply does not appear to have the mirroring or recovery ability essential to the left tackle position.
  • Kelvin Sheppard has been one of the most impressive linebacker’s in the nation for the Tigers. Curiosity sprung as to how physical he can be within the box. It was answered quickly as Sheppard met isolation blockers with authority. It was highlighted on a 2nd-and-goal stop made from the one yard line early in the contest when Sheppard blasted the oncoming blocking back and then slid off to assist on the tackle as the runner attempted to sneak through the zero hole.  Concerns may rise from a lack of inability, at times, to slide off blocks backside when in pursuit.
  • Do not look now, but Greg McElroy is actually a pretty good quarterback prospect folks. He has been labeled as a “game manager” from day one starting at Tuscaloosa, but he is playing very well as a senior. His completion percentage is a hair over 70%. He has only thrown five interceptions compared to 17 touchdowns. He may not sparkle and shine as a top prospect, but he could easily make a team as a solid second or third option for years to come.
  • Later that night Andrew Luck was on display picking apart an impressive Arizona defense. One throw exemplified exactly why scouts shower the quarterback with praise, while teams may actually be clamoring to possess the number one overall selection in 2011. During the first play of the second quarter, Luck dropped back to pass. He looked off the safety. His receiver, Chris Owusu, was bracketed in coverage. When Luck initially made his read toward Owusu, Arizona’s cornerback was in proper trail technique and the safety had inside leverage over the top. Owusu came out of his break to the inside. Luck laced the throw at that exact moment. Owusu then crossed the face of the safety and over the top of the trailing cornerback. Luck threw his receiver open between the tight window of double coverage. A receiver who was clearly not open when the football left his hand.
  • Four names are in need of mention regarding Arizona. Brooks Reed is as polished a defensive end as one will find in the NCAA. He displays multiple pass rush moves. He generally keeps contain. And his motor never stops. His booked Ricky Elmore is the best pure pass rusher among the unit, and his talents were on display a week later against USC. Elmore easily beat the nation’s top tackle prospect Tyron Smith with a speed rush off the edge. Meanwhile, D’Aundre Reed rotates in every other series and does the dirty work consistently playing with leverage. He is the best run stuffer of this bunch. Offensively, junior receiver Juron Criner is making a name for himself out in the dessert. The 6-feet-4-inches tall target is hard to stop for opposing defenses since he came off injury earlier in the season.
  • It should not be a surprise when opposing offensive tackles struggle battling Purdue’s defensive end duo. It should come as somewhat of a surprise when the struggling tackles belong to the best offensive line in college football. Ryan Kerrigan is a nuisance for all blockers, but highly rated tackle prospect Gabe Carimi had issues with the speed and quickness of the undersized Gerald Gooden. Carimi’s struggles are derived from a lack of depth on his kick step, which has been a result of his added bulk this offseason.
  • Last Friday, two MAC teams were on display. Buffalo and Ball State possessed two of the more promising young quarterbacks in the conference with Zach Maynard and Kelly Page. Both teams have decided to go in different directions starting freshman behind center.
  • The marquee match-up last weekend featured JoePa and his Nittany Lions fresh off his 400th victory visiting the “Horseshoe” against The Ohio State Buckeyes. The offensive lines, in particular, were on display. It should be noted that highly rated center prospect Stefen Wisniewski has switched back to right guard the second half of this season. He has started the past six games away from the pivot due to injuries and issues along Penn State’s line. Meanwhile, Ohio State currently sports one of the most improved and powerful offensive lines in college football. Junior Mike Adams is quickly developing into a top flight left tackle prospect. It can legitimately be argued that center Mike Brewster is the best talent at his position in the nation. Justin Boren continues to be a bull at left guard that has his issues with lateral movement. Opposite is Bryant Browning who moves well for a guard and uses his long arms to consistently deliver a quick and effective punch.
  • Defensively, Ohio State has some legitimate talent which may or may not have lived up to expectations. Particularly, top rated Cameron Heyward has not been the dominant force expected this season. He is still more than a handful for any singular blocker, but his greatest attribute is his strength against the run and eating double teams. Otherwise, his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield has been at a premium. At the second level, Ross Homan continues to impress in his ability to read plays quickly and adjust. He is not the biggest, fastest, or most physical linebacker; but he is a solid all around football player that can start at the next level. Finally, a lot of attention has been paid to cornerback Chimdi Chewka because of the senior’s potential. It was his bookend that became the target of Penn State’s offense. Devon Torrence may have secured the pick-6 which turned the game upside down for Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to victory, but fatal flaws in his skill set were present during the first half. Torrence is a former receiver and his growth at the position is still on the upswing. Unfortunately, the senior is stiff in his hips slowing his transition as he attempts to run with his coverage. He raises too high out of his backpedal, and Penn State took advantage early and often. His interception was merely reading a short route and jumping it. He had issues against a mediocre receiving corps throughout the day.
  • Nevada and Fresno State presented some legitimate talent from smaller conference powerhouses. The WolfPack has overpowered and ran over  almost all of their competition throughout the season. Quarterback Kolin Kaepernick receives plenty of acclaim, but their offensive line is big and physical. Guard John Bender receives the highest grades. The Canadian born product is massive along the interior at 6-feet-8-inches tall and 325 pounds. Because of his size along the interior, Bender will lose the leverage battle consistently. He does not have the movement skills to play tackle, but Nevada regularly pulls the guard as a lead blocker. The Wolfpack offensive line also shifts according to strength call. Bender has a peculiar habit of throwing a wicked right stiff arm when he is at right guard with his right hand in the dirt. He winds up well behind his back off the snap and lets it fly. His size and potential will intrigue teams, but Bender is going to struggle at the NFL level with opponent’s athleticism and his lack of technique.
  • An extension of the offensive line is the tight end. Virgil Green is a large part of Nevada’s offense. At 6-feet-5-inches tall and 240 pounds, Green is a legitimate target some may be overlooking at the position. His production struggles a bit because of the offense, but his athleticism and ability to present match-up problems is apparent. Green is a little light in the backside so he is not exactly a powerful blocker, but he does an effective job within Nevada’s system. The tight end is often seen lined up on the wing and pulled during counter action. Green does not block anyone off the line, but he takes good angles and presents lanes for those running behind him. When it is all said and done, he will not make a potential impact at the NFL level as a blocker, but as slot receiving tight end.
  • Fresno State countered off the edge with one of the top hybrid prospects in the nation, Chris Carter. Carter was not a terror off the edge pass rushing on this night, but it was the little things which impressed, particularly how quick the end (lining up from a two point stance) read his keys. He immediately reacted the second he saw movement. His footwork was exceptional. And he made some plays in space and pursuing from the backside.
  • Dontay Moch has been lambasted quite a bit here on TFY, but one play stuck out as he will have to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker. Early in the game he impressed dropping back from a three point stance off the edge into the middle third in coverage. He was quick enough to do it and effectively made a nice hit on a crossing receiver after the catch.  His backside and pursuit speed is phenomenal as well.
  • Finally, Bowling Green visited Toledo earlier in the week. It was a much more exciting match-up a year ago when BGSU had Freddie Barnes shattering NCAA records, while Aaron Opelt was slinging the ball to Stephen Williams for the Rockets. This year the teams lack talent among their upperclassmen ranks. Toledo center Kevin Kowalski is the exception. He was rated highly entering the season by national services among a weak pivot class. Kowalski has been a four year starter for the Rockets and has seen it all at the college level. He has nice size at 6-feet-3-inches tall and near 300 pounds. A year ago, he did not display great movement skills and was most comfortable blocking in small areas. This season  has been a different story as Kowalski displayed an ability to pull from center and block effectively in space numerous times against the Falcons. An impressive improvement considering his baseline of a year ago. The lineman is also a standout citizen off the field and has been previously awarded Academic All MAC.
  • Bowling Green does possess the conference’s leading tackler linebacker Eugene Fells. The senior should get looks around the league due to his recognition abilities and the way he explodes through tackles.

And that is as good a finishing point as any as we here at TFY lead you into another great weekend of college football viewing.

Remember…the eye in the sky does not lie, and the Watcher sees all!

Basketball? This forward turned  football player is now a super-sleeper.

Basketball? This forward turned football player is now a super-sleeper.

Returning with a vengeance after a short hiatus, Host Brent Sobleski and SportsIllustrated.com’s draft analyst Tony Pauline discuss…

– Trouble brewing for Cam Newton

– Eight different underclassmen contemplate their futures.

– Fifteen more names are included as Senior Bowl invitees.

– Plus all the podcast’s regular segments!

After partaking in the  podcast, all conversation can be directed to the site’s FORUMS.

If any questions or comments persist, the show can be contacted via e-mail at tfydraftpodcast@gmail.com.

Tune in next week.  Same Draft Insider time.  Same Draft Insider channel.

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