West Virginia 34, Marshall 13
Marshall at West Virginia was another game that was delayed and then called early due to storms. Before the game was called, there were a few quality draft prospects that were able to get their first action of the 2011 season.
The principal draft prospects to watch in this game were on the defensive side of the ball. The highest rated of them was Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. Curry was one of the best pass rushers in college football last year with 12 sacks. He also had 18 tackles for a loss and 94 tackles. Against West Virginia, Curry was getting some extra blocking attention, and didn't have many sack opportunities. He faced a mobile quarterback that was getting the ball out reasonably quickly.
Curry got some pressure on the quarterback and showed an excellent first step off the snap. It looks like Curry (6-5, 252) has added some weight this offseason and could be bigger than his listed measurements. That will be key for him to be able to play in a 4-3 defense in the NFL. He still looks like a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Entering the season, Curry looked like an early-round pick.
West Virginia has two other defensive ends worth watching as well. Julian Miller (6-4, 260) and Bruce Irvin (6-2, 235) are both viewed as potential mid-rounders next April. Irvin was a situational pass rusher last season who recorded 14 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He had two forced fumbles and 21 tackles on the season. He also looks like he has added weight for this season. Miller has been productive in back-to-back seasons. In 2010, he had nine sacks with 14 tackles for a loss, 54 tackles, three passes broken up and one forced fumble. That came after recording eight sacks and 14 tackles for a loss as a sophomore.
Miller and Irvin were quick off the snap and were getting some pressure on the quarterback. Both players had some good plays in run defense. Irvin also showed a good read to defend a screen pass. Like Curry, they faced a mobile quarterback that was getting rid of the ball quickly. There weren't great opportunities in this game for any of these three defensive ends to get sacks.
Another Mountaineer that is a mid-rounder is cornerback Keith Tandy (5-10, 198). Tandy tied to be in the top 10 in the nation in interceptions last season with six. He also had 11 passes broken up with 57 tackles. He gave up a completion for a first down on Marshall's first series, but Tandy made up for it later on with an eight-yard tackle for a loss in the open field. Otherwise, it was a pretty quiet game for Tandy that shouldn't really effect his draft stock.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft and he had a quality game. Smith completed 26-of-35 passes for 249 yards and two scores. He showed good mobility to escape the pass rush and did a good job of extending drives. Smith has good physical tools and with developmental potential.
Florida 41, Florida Atlantic 3
With the likes of Derrick Locke and Noel Devine going undrafted last April, small backs are on notice across college football. It is going to take undeniable talent, production and durability for smaller speed backs to get a draftable grade.
Florida Gators running backs Jeff Demps (5-7, 191) and Chris Rainey (5-9, 174) are two backs that fall into that category. They both have lightning speed. Since entering the lineup as a freshman, Demps has been said to be the fastest player in college football. Rainey's speed is comparable, and both players are a threat to score every time they touch the football, from any part of the field.
Demps got his season started by going over 100 yards on the ground. He carried the ball 12 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 21 yards.
Rainey ran the ball 11 times for 79 yards and one touchdown. He also led the Gators in receiving with six receptions for 67 yards and one score. Rainey has been a good special teams player throughout his time with Florida, and that was illustrated again by his returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. The senior Rainey is a good receiver out of the backfield, and he showed that against Florida Atlantic. He can run routes from the line of scrimmage as well. Rainey is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. He has good moves to juke defenders in the open field.
Even though Demps is bigger and slightly faster than Rainey, the later is more shifty in the open field. Demps is more of a straight-line runner. Last year, both had major red flags for the NFL. Demps had injuries and Rainey had a suspension after getting arrested. Both players are potential late-rounders, but they need to have massive senior seasons to get drafted.
Florida quarterback John Brantley showed a lot of improvement passing in Charlie Weis' offense. Brantley was 21-of-30 for 229 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. One of those picks was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Overall, Brantley had better decision making and was more effective than his typical performance in 2010. Brantley has a strong arm and a pro-skill set (6-3, 219). If Brantley can keep improving, he could be a late-round pick with Weis preparing him for the NFL in a pro style offense.
The Gators are very young defensively with a number of 2013 draft prospects. Among them are linebacker Julani Jenkins, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, safety Matt Elam and left tackle Xavier Nixon, who all had very good games. They all are worth watching and could have breakout seasons.
Northwestern 24, Boston College 17
Boston College standout linebacker Luke Kuechly picked up where he left off the 2010 season. Kuechly led college football in tackles last year, and entered 2011 with a first-round grade.
In the first half against Northwestern, Kuechly did a good job of racking up tackles; through the first two quarters of the game, Kuechly had 10 tackles. On a fourth-and-1, deep in their own territory, Kuechly led the charge to stop a quarterback keeper and get Boston College out of a hole.
Later in the second quarter, Kuechly showed quick reaction skills to intercept a pass from Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter. The ball was thrown behind the receiver and right to Kuechly, but he reacted quickly to make the catch, as the ball was on him in a hurry. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker almost returned the pick for a touchdown, but was tackled at the one-yard line after running for 23 yards.
In the final minutes of the first half, Kuechly was caught over pursuing Colter, and the signal caller was able to cut back inside of Kuechly to dive into the end zone for a touchdown. The second half of the game featured some more frustrations for Boston College, but Kuechly finished the game with 19 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and one interception.
There were a few draft prospects that were missing the game due to injuries. Boston College was without running back Montel Harris and cornerback Donnie Fletcher. Northwestern was without starting quarterback Dan Persa. Of all those players, Fletcher's absence was probably felt the most.
Another highly regarded prospect in the game was Northwestern defensive end Vince Browne. Browne (6-5, 265) had a strong junior season and as a result he was a consensus First-Team All-Big 10 selection this preseason. Last year, he had seven sacks with 15.5 tackles for a loss, 58 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Unlike Kuechly, Browne did not have a good game. He did a decent job of holding his ground in run defense, but got zero pass rush for more than three quarters. He tried to either get to the quarterback with a bull rush or a hit that could rock the left tackle off balance enough for Browne to run by him. Both of those methods were ineffective. Browne definitely needs to work on a rip move.
Browne does not have a quick get off when the ball is snapped, and his speed and athletic ability is limited. Browne drew a favorable matchup as he played left tackle Nathan Richman, who was making his first start in replacing Anthony Castonzo as Boston College's starting left tackle. Richman shut down Browne with relative ease.
Browne finally came alive late in the game with a pressure on the quarterback to force an incompletion. He also nailed quarterback Chase Rettig for a game-ending sack to seal the win for Northwestern. Overall though, it was not a good debut in Browne's senior season, as he was ineffective for the vast majority of the game. Entering the season, Browne was viewed as a second- or third-round prospect. If he keeps producing games like this one, his stock will slide.
Iowa 34, Tennessee Tech 7
A number of Iowa draft prospects had dominant games. Left tackle Riley Reiff had a good performance to start the season, but was not really tested. Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater got his senior campaign off to a great start with an interception returned 89 yards for a touchdown. Prater made a nice catch and raced downfield for the score. Entering the season, Prater was viewed as a third-round pick.
Teammate Marvin McNutt caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. McNutt recorded 53 catches for 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He has good size and deceptive quickness. McNutt (6-4, 215) entered his senior season as a mid-round prospect.
BYU 14, Ole Miss 13
The game with BYU visiting Mississippi featured three quality offensive tackle draft prospects. The BYU Cougars featured powerful left tackle Matt Reynolds. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder Reynolds had a very strong game against Ole Miss. Reynolds is technically sound and blocks his man through the end of the whistle. Reynolds had no issues shutting down the different defensive ends he faced. His feet were quick enough to shuffle and get back from the line to mirror defensive ends in pass protection. Bull rushes were completely ineffective against Reynolds.
Reynolds is a very physical football player. He shoves linemen around and regularly knocks his defender to the ground. On one play, Reynolds showed some serious power. Defensive end Wayne Dorsey cut to the inside and Reynolds shoved him into four other players. A massive pile had Dorsey taking out another end and defensive tackle on the play, along with two of Reynold's fellow offensive linemen.
The Ole Miss defensive ends are not dynamic players, so it will be interesting to see how Reynolds performs against an elite pass rusher. He entered the season as a second or third-round pick, mainly because he will be a 25-year old rookie. In my opinion, Reynolds probably would be best as right tackle in the pros. Reynolds is viewed as a second-day pick, and if he stays dominant throughout the season, he could be a sneak into the top half of the second round.
On the other side, Ole Miss offensive tackles Bradley Sowell (6-7, 315) and Bobbie Massie (6-6, 312) both had good games. Sowell was named an All-SEC Second-Team selection last year. Sowell paved the way for Ole Miss to lead the SEC in fewest sacks allowed, and he did a good job in pass protection against BYU on Saturday. The Rebels had some success running behind Sowell as well.
Massie had a few missed assignments on some running plays, but overall he did a good job. There were a number of good runs for Ole Miss that came behind Massie. He was strong in pass protection. Massie had no issues with mirroring his defenders and was too strong to be bull rushed. Late in the game, the tight end next to Massie missed his block, resulting in a sack-fumble that was recovered for a BYU touchdown. On the play, Massie blocked his player effectively.
The junior Massie entered the season as a second-day pick with Sowell viewed as a mid-rounder. Saturday's season opener shouldn't change those ratings.
USC 19, Minnesota 17
This game was surprisingly close, especially when you look at the performance that USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley had. Barkley connected on 34-of-45 passes (76 percent) for 304 yards and three touchdowns. His main target was sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods. He caught 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
The offense struggled in the second half, especially on third down. Even though Barkley (6-2, 220) didn't lead USC to any points in the final two quarters, he showed good accuracy and decision making on Saturday. Entering the season, two issues that Barkley need to improve on were decreasing his interceptions and making good decisions. He got off to a good start on Saturday and maintained his stock as a high first-round pick.
Lsu 40, Oregon 27
The Oregon against LSU game was a rematch of sorts for the Ducks and their running back LaMichael James. Oregon's offense was carried by James in 2010, as he was a consistent source of big plays. He led college football with 1,731 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns in 2010. Entering this season, James had averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his collegiate career. However James didn't finish the season all that well, when he went against a SEC defense in the title game. Auburn was able to contain him in the National Championship Game, and Oregon lost to the Tigers.
Week 1 of the 2011 college football season was seen as a test judging James against a strong defense once again. It did not go well for James. The LSU defense was ready for James' speed, and they were able to keep him quiet. On perimeter runs, James encountered a defense that had the speed to prevent him from turning the corner. On inside runs, the Tigers were stout and didn't let James get to the second level of the defense.
Through the first two quarters, James ran for 36 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown and a long run of 11 yards. While averaging 2.6 yards per carry, James got dinged up late in the first half and was dealing with the injury at the start of the third quarter. His first carry in the third quarter went for no gain and James limped off the field. James finished the game with 54 yards on 18 carries with six receptions for 61 yards.
After these last two games, James's draft status is fluid right now. The NFL is trending towards bigger backs, and there are legitimate size concerns with James. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound James could be even smaller than his listed measurements, and if he starts getting injured, that will only augment concerns about him holding up at the NFL level. James needs to stay healthy and very productive to keep his draft status stable. Entering the season, James was projected to be a second-round pick, but his performance in the last two games against SEC defenses will be a serious cause for concern. At this point, one might have to think of James as a second-day prospect (rounds two and three).
Some other minor notes from this game included a strong performance by LSU right tackle Alex Hurst. Hurst (6-7, 340) showed some power as a run blocker. Entering the season he was a mid-to-late round prospect. LSU junior cornerback Morris Claiborne (6-0, 177) did not have a superb game. He had some missed tackles and was relatively quiet. Claiborne has been projected to be first or second-round pick and he will need to play better to stay in that range.
Boise State 35, Georgia 21
Boise State left tackle Nate Potter had a strong debut for the Broncos on Saturday night. Potter did an overall good job in run blocking and was an effective pass protector. Potter is an intelligent, technically-sound blocker, who typically gives quarterback Kellen Moore good time to throw the ball.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Potter has the strength to anchor against bull rushes. He may not be an elite athlete at left tackle, on one play Potter was slow to react to pick up a zone stunt ran by Georgia, but Potter definitely is a polished player. He looks like he can stay at left tackle at the NFL level and won't have to move to right tackle.
Two players that really had good games for Boise State were defensive tackle Billy Winn and defensive end Shane McClellin. Each defensive linemen showed complete games against Georgia where they could pressure the passer and hold up strong against the run. They both recorded sacks and were physical at the point of attack.
McClellin had a good stop on a fourth down to get the ball back for Boise State, and Winn beat highly regarded Georgia guard Cordy Glenn for a sack. Winn (6-3, 288) could be a fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, but he might be even better as a 3-4 defensive end. Winn looks like a second-day pick, and McClellin could be a third or fourth-round pick.
Glenn (6-5, 348) wasn't alone, as Georgia center Ben Jones was beaten for a sack also. They were hurt by quarterback Aaron Murray holding onto the ball too long, but it still was bad showing for Georgia's offensive line across the board. Both Glenn and Jones (6-3, 316) were viewed as second-day prospects, but their performance against Boise State is definitely a concern, as they struggled against some NFL-caliber defensive linemen.
Baylor 50, TCU 48
The standout of Friday night's college football action was Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. The junior quarterback led a high-powered Baylor offense that had moved up and down the field on the formerly tough TCU defense.
Griffin showed excellent athleticism and pocket presence to move in the pocket. He threw the ball extremely accurately. His accuracy on passes deep downfield was phenomenal. On play-action passes, Griffin had good execution to suck in defenders and help his wide receivers get open. Griffin read the field well and made very good decisions. At halftime, Griffin completed 13-of-17 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
In the second half, Griffin stayed hot with touchdown passes of 64 and 42 yards. His downfield accuracy continued to be fantastic, and he definitely gave NFL evaluators good tape to start off his junior season. Baylor collapsed in the fourth quarter and Griffin had a badly timed fumble when he took off running downfield.
Griffin led a game-winning field goal drive in the final minutes to retake the lead from TCU. The drive included Griffin making a tough 15-yard reception on an option pass from a wide receiver. He completed 21-of-28 passes for 359 yards with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Griffin was the clear MVP for Baylor to knock off 14th-ranked TCU, 50-48.
Griffin's top target was wide receiver Kendall Wright. He burned the TCU secondary routinely and showed good route running and hands. His longest reception was only 36 yards in the first half, but he was making clutch catches for Baylor. Wright had nine receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. He also threw a touchdown pass on a trick play. He finished the game with 12 catches for 189 yards and two scores.
Last year, Wright caught 78 receptions for 952 yards and seven touchdowns. Wright (5-10, 190) is small but very fast and extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands. This game definitely was a big boost to his draft stock.
TCU linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock were very quiet in the first half against Baylor. They both bit on a play-action fake that opened up tight end Jordan Najvar for a touchdown pass from Griffin. Carder and Brock also were ineffective in stuffing the Baylor rushing attack on interior and perimeter runs. Bears running back Terrence Ganaway ran for 105 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown in the first half.
Carder and Brock did a better job in the fourth quarter, but that was also when Baylor got more conservative on offense. Carder had a big stop on a third down to force a field goal try in the final couple of minutes in the fourth quarter. This game definitely was not a showpiece game for the TCU linebackers.
Michigan State 28, Youngstown State 6
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was very efficient in the first half completing 7-of-9 passes for 123 yards. His passing led to two short touchdown runs. In the third quarter, Cousins threw a dart to wide receiver B.J. Cunningham for an 18-yard touchdown. It wan an NFL throw that beat good coverage. Cousins was 18-of-22 for 222 yards and a touchdown in his season opener.
The Spartans are a ground-based offense, but they have the potential to put more points on the scoreboard if they take the handcuffs off of Cousins. He has the arm to go downfield and stretch the defense. It also could help Cousins' draft status tremendously. Right now he is rated as a second-day pick.
Cunningham (6-2, 206) had a massive game. He caught nine receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown. Cunningham is now tied for Michigan State's career receptions list. Right now, Cunningham is a late-rounder with the potential to move into the mid rounds.
Defensively, it was a quiet night for the Spartans' defensive draft prospects. Michigan State had a hard time getting off the field on defense, and penalties were an issue. The Spartans had seven penalties at half time. Youngstown State nickel and dimed the ball down the field on Michigan State, and kept the Spartans offense on the sideline.
Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was getting consistent double teams, as expected. He was being disruptive on the line of scrimmage, but was not an overwhelming force. Worthy did block an extra point in the second quarter. This game shouldn't have a big effect on his draft status.
Wisconsin 51, UNLV 17
The most striking aspect of the Badgers blowout win was how Wisconsin's offensive line was absolutely dominant against UNLV. Junior left tackle Ricky Wagner, sophomore left guard Travis Frederick, junior center Peter Konz, senior right guard Kevin Zeitler and senior right tackle Josh Oglesby had no problems with UNLV's defensive line and linebackers. They opened up huge holes on the ground, and gave their quarterback tons of time every time he dropped back to pass.
Zetiler (6-4, 315) looked every bit of the second-round pick that he is rated to be. Oglesby (6-7, 330) had an injury marred junior year, but if he can stay consistently dominant he could push his stock into the mid rounds. Entering the season Oglesby is a late-round pick, but if he can show the ability to pass protect against some of the better pass rushers he faces, he could help himself greatly.
Junior running back Montee Ball had a dominant performance. He finished the 2010 season strong and picked up where he left off against UNLV. Ball started off the game with some good runs and a short touchdown reception. In the second quarter, Ball took an outlet pass from quarterback Russell Wilson and weaved his way through the secondary for 67 yards to set up another short touchdown run by Ball. He finished the game with 63 yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns on the ground. Ball showed off his receiving skills with his two receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Ball has slimed down and is said to have dropped over 20 pounds this offseason to increase his endurance. Ball started over sophomore running back James White, and White had a good game behind the dominant offensive line as well. If Ball embarks on a dominant season, he could declare early entry for the 2012 NFL Draft. Right now, Ball looks like a second- or third-rounder.
Wilson had himself a good game. He made good decisions and did a good job of distributing the ball to his weapons. Wilson also took off for a 46-yard touchdown run just before halftime. Even though he should have a big season, Wilson (5-11, 201) will be challenged to get drafted due to his lack of size.
Senior wide receiver Nick Toon flashed with some good catches. He had a strong sophomore season, and declined as a junior when he was injured. Toon (6-3, 220) had an excellent 39-yard reception while fighting off a defender that was holding him.
Defensively, the Badgers gave up some yards and benefited from numerous missed field goals and scoring opportunities by UNLV. Senior defensive end Louis Nzegwu (6-4, 255) had two sacks. He had three sacks in all of 2010.
Obviously it will be a lot harder for Wisconsin against other teams, but it definitely was a good start for the Badgers draft prospects.
Rutgers 48, N.C. Central 0
Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu had a solid opening game. The junior Sanu (6-2, 218) had a strong freshman season and a challenging sophomore campaign beset by injuries. In the first half, Sanu caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, Sanu added a few more catches and finished with seven receptions for 70 yards and a score. Rutgers blew out NC Central, so if the game had been closer, Sanu could easily have had a bigger game. It was a quality start to the season for Sanu, who is projected to be a second-round pick right now.
Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14
The Bulldogs' standout running back Vick Ballard got off to a big start to the 2011 season. Ballard (5-11, 215) is a downhill runner who hits the hole quickly and mixes a nice burst with physical running. He broke off a 66-yard touchdown run and had no problem ripping off yards in chunks against Memphis. Ballard totaled 166 yards and three touchdowns on only 10 carries. He ran for 968 yards on 186 carries (5.3 average) with 19 touchdowns in 2010, and got a great start to surpassing his yardage total in 2011. Entering the season, Ballard had a late-round grade, but he has the potential to make a move to the mid-rounds.
Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3
Western Kentucky features running back Bobby Rainey, who was third in the nation in rushing last season. In 2010, Rainey was third in the nation with 1,649 yards. The small and quick Rainey (5-8, 205) averaged 4.9 yards per carry and had 15 touchdowns. The Kentucky defense did a good job of bottling him up. They were led by strong play by the defensive line at the point of attack. Rainey ran for 104 yards, but it took him 28 carries to get there. Two Kentucky defenders led the way for the Wildcats' defensive effort against Rainey.
Kentucky senior safety Winston Guy, Jr. had a very good game and was one of the most impressive defensive prospects on Thursday night. He recorded an interception off a deflected pass, and that set up the game-winning touchdown. Guy had another interception on the last play of the game on a Hail Mary pass in the end zone.
Guy also played the run very well. Guy (6-1, 216) had a nice tackle for a loss of six yards on a pitch to Rainey. He had a nice blitz and did a good job of playing in the box. Guy finished the game with more than five tackles with two tackles for a loss and two interceptions. He's also a good special teams player who served as a gunner on punts. That will definitely help him to get drafted. It was a excellent showing for Guy, who entered the season with a mid-round grade.
The other standout defender was linebacker Danny Trevathan. He did a good job of pursuing to the ball and making tackles. Trevathan (6-1, 232) is not a big linebacker and is not a thumper in the box. However, against Western Kentucky, Trevathan was in double-digit tackles for the 10th straight game. He had 13 tackles late in the fourth quarter. His Thursday night performance was fitting for Trevathan and his mid-round grade.