Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Mohamed Sanu had a fabulous game against North Carolina as he carried the Rutgers offense. He made a number of clutch third down catches to extend drives. Sanu (6-2, 215) did a good job of operating in the short to intermediate part of the field. After making his one drop of the day, Sanu came back to make a highlight-reel touchdown catch. On a pass that was overthrown, Sanu leapt into the air and reached behind his head to cradle the ball with one hand into his body for a circus catch. Sanu played strong throughout the game and the North Carolina secondary had no answer for him. His hands, speed and route-running are very impressive. Sanu finished the game with 13 receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown. He looks like a solid second-round pick that could push into the late first, if has a dominant season.
Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
It wouldn't surprise me if Ballard is one of those mid-round running backs that has people asking why wasn't he drafted earlier after turning into a good pro. Ballard has an NFL-running style. He's a tough runner that can grind the ball between the tackles. He has a good burst to hit the hole before it closes, and he is capable of popping some big runs. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Ballard is a muscular rock who could also excel in a zone blocking scheme. Thus far in 2011, Ballard has totaled 302 yards on 31 carries (9.7 average) with four touchdowns. Last Saturday at Auburn, he ran for 136 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown and one touchdown stolen away on a bad call by the refs. The Auburn defense is nowhere near close to being as good as they were last season, but Ballard still has been impressive. In 2010, he had 968 yards rushing with 20 total touchdowns (19 running, 1 receiving). He entered the season as a late-rounder, but right now his stock is rising into the mid-rounds.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
You can't keep Michael Floyd off this list after another dominant performance. In the first game against South Florida, he totaled 12 receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Against Michigan, in prime time, Floyd torched the Wolverine secondary to the tune of 159 yards passing on 13 receptions. Floyd (6-3, 228) has given both secondaries he's faced fits with his size, speed and route-running. While Floyd's stock is on the rise, it remains to be seen if he is a first-round pick. His talent, production, and skill set all scream first-rounder. The problems lie off the field. Diva wide receivers with bad reputations and a legal record are not a hot commodity with NFL general managers and head coaches. That's the reputation that Floyd has developed for himself. However, continuing to dominate on the field will help his chances of one team overlooking that and selecting him on Thursday night of the draft.
Zack Brown, LB, North Carolina
It was impossible to watch North Carolina play Rutgers and not notice Zack Brown. The senior linebacker was flying around the football field. There is talk that Brown can run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, and that looks possible with the speed he displayed last Saturday. Brown recorded six tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack. Brown (6-2, 230) was close to a number of other sacks. He showed fantastic blitzing ability. His speed and ability to redirect was a devastating mismatch against the Rutgers offensive linemen. Thus far this season, Brown has 12 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks with a pass broken up. More games like the one he produced against Rutgers will have Brown grade out as a first-round pick. Brown would fit best in a 4-3 attacking defense, although he could also fit in a Tampa- 2-style system.
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
In the weeks leading up to the college football season, there were fresh character concerns about Burfict in scouting circles after he allegedly got into a fight with a teammate in the locker room in August. One prominent scouting service rated Burfict behind other junior linebackers in Boston College's Luke Kuechly and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, after previously rating Burfict as the top draft-eligible linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Burfict showed his special skills with a three-sack game to open the season against UC Davis. The instincts and closing speed of Burfict are off the charts.
Against Missouri last Friday night, Burfict had another sack while also recording five tackles and a pass broken up. The Missouri offense looked like they were making a concerted effort to go away from Burfict. That seemed to frustrate him as he had an unnecessary roughness penalty, so he still has room to improve on playing intelligent football. Arizona State was also dropping Burfict into pass coverage a lot rather than blitzing him. Even though he can get to the quarterback, Burfict is a very good pass defender who covers a lot of ground in the short to intermediate part of the field. The combination is part of what makes him such a dynamic player. Burfict should be a pick in the top half of the first round who can fit a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense in the NFL.
Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
In 2009 when Alabama won the National Championship, Barron was in the running as the best player on the defense. That was saying something, considering it featured future first-round picks in linebacker Rolando McClain and cornerback Kareem Jackson. Defensive tackle Terrence Cody was also a force for the Crimson Tide. That season had seven interceptions with 76 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 11 passes broken up. Last year Barron played well overall, especially in run support, but he had some coverage lapses. Against Penn State it looked like Barron had straightened those issues out. He did a good job of helping his cornerbacks when receivers went deep. On one of those passes, Barron beat the receiver and his teammate for a jump ball with Barron coming down with the interception. In the game, he also recorded seven tackles and a fumble recovery.
Barrett Jones, LT, Alabama
Barrett Jones started out his career with the Crimson Tide as their right guard. He broke into the starting lineup at right guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and stayed there in 2010. This year, Jones was moved to left tackle with stud sophomore D.J. Fluker being moved to right tackle. Alabama and Jones weren't tested in the first game against Kent State, but Jones had a good game going Penn State. He did a good job in pass protection, and as the game wore on helped open up more holes for the Alabama ground game. At the NFL level, Jones looks like a better fit at guard right now, although if he performs as well against some elite pass rushers, he may prove to be a tackle option. Jones is viewed as a second-day prospect.
Devon Still, DT, Penn State
One of the bright spots for the Nittany Lions against Alabama was the play of Still. Even though he did not have a stat line that illustrates a lot of splash plays, he did a good job in run defense and plugging his gap. Still totaled seven tackles with one tackle for a loss. Alabama features an offensive line of players that will play in the NFL, and Still was a tough defender for them to block. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Still could be a good run stuffer in a 4-3 defense as a nose tackle. He could play a two-gap or one-gap 4-3 scheme. Still also projects to being a quality 3-4 defensive end as a five technique. Still is solidifying his stock as a mid-rounder that could sneak into the third round.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International
Hilton continues to show that he is a playmaker. Last year, he hauled in 59 receptions for 848 yards and five touchdowns. He also entered the season with an average of 27 yards per kick return with four touchdowns. Hilton (5-10, 183) had a massive game against Louisville and carried FIU to a 24-17 road victory. He caught seven passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns. One of those scores was an 83-yard touchdown strike. He has averaged 39.7 yards per kick return this season. In two games, Hilton has 14 receptions for 333 yards (23.8 average) and three touchdowns. Hilton entered the season as a mid-rounder, but if he continues to produce big games, he could make a strong case to be a second-day pick as one of the top speed receivers in the 2012 NFL Draft.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Entering this September, Taylor was expected to have a big season. Last year, he recorded 7.5 sacks with 13 tackles for a loss, 46 tackles and eight passes broken up. Taylor has a good supporting cast with defensive end/tackle Melvin Ingram and superstar, freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Against Georgia on Saturday, those teammates shined. Ingram scored two touchdowns with one on special teams and one on a fumble recovery. Clowney had two sacks and forced the fumble that Ingram returned for a game-sealing touchdown. Conversely, Taylor was extremely quiet. He had three tackles in the game. Taylor had an excellent pass rush that drew a holding penalty, but otherwise he was ineffective. Georgia had a go-ahead touchdown run in the fourth quarter going straight at Taylor. He was single blocked on the play by tight end Orson Charles. That should never happen to a first-round defensive end. In two games so far, Taylor has only six tackles with one tackle for a loss and zero sacks. He needs to start breaking out with some sacks and better run defense to get his stock going in the right direction. Right, now Taylor looks more like a second-day pick than a first-rounder.
Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina
Entering the season, Robertson was viewed as a mid-round prospect, but he also was very quiet against Georgia. Robertson had some sack opportunities with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stepping up in the pocket to avoid Clowney, but Robertson was not getting penetration from the line of scrimmage. Robertson (6-4, 295) had four tackles in the game. This season he has 10 tackles in two games with zero tackles for a loss and zero sacks. Robertson looks more like a late-round pick.
Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
First of all, Egnew is definitely hurt by new quarterback James Franklin not throwing him the ball as much as Blaine Gabbert did in 2010. Last year, Egnew caught 90 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns (8.5 yards per reception). With that fabulous production comes some concerns about Egnew's lack of speed. Against Arizona State, he showed that lack of speed at times and seemed to struggle to get separation. Egnew is adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage, but is not a tight end that will burn man coverage from quality defenders. Egnew caught 3 passes for 27 yards and one clutch touchdown late in the game. For the season, Egnew has five receptions for 39 yards and that one score in two games. Egnew was rated as the top tight end in the 2012 NFL Draft class and a second-round pick. If his production doesn't increase, it wouldn't be surprising if another tight end passes Egnew.
Jeff Demps, RB, Florida
Jeff Demps is one of the fastest players in college football, some say the fastest, but one thing he is not is one of the most durable players in college football. Demps was injured against UAB with a shoulder injury. He got injured early in the game and did not return to action. He finished with two carries for 10 yards and one catch for 10 yards. Perhaps the Gators were playing it safe because they didn't need Demps to win the game, but injuries have been an issue for Demps during his collegiate career. In the first game of the season, Demps had 12 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns with three receptions for 21 yards against Florida Atlantic.
Demps (5-8, 176) is capable of scoring on any touch, but he is also capable of getting injured on any play. He is very undersized and, when combined with his durability issues, his draft stock is going down. Demps entered the season as a fifth or sixth-rounder. Right now, he is probably, at best, a seventh-rounder. Similar running backs in the 2011 draft class, Derrick Locke and Noel Devine, went undrafted.