Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Ellington is the player who probably helped his draft stock the most in the opening week. He had a banner night to help lead Clemson to a victory over Auburn. Ellington had one of the best runs a running back will have all season midway through the second quarter. He blazed a 68-yard run that saw him roll over a defender and use his hand to keep his balance before exploding across the field for a huge gain.
The most impressive aspect of Ellington's game was his running between the tackles. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder previously struggled to get yards after contact. He added weight this offseason and it paid off with him being more effective on runs up the middle.
Ellington basically sealed the win with a 45-yard run with three minutes remaining. He totaled 234 yards on 27 carries. The speedy bacj is a threat to break off a big run on any carry. Ellington also is a good third-down back as a receiver out of the backfield. The senior entered the season as a mid-rounder, but after his phenomenal start to the season, he looks worthy of second-day consideration.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Bjoern Werner is almost halfway to a double-digit sack season after just one game. He totaled four sacks in a dominating performance against Murray State. Werner added another tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder showed off his unique combination of speed, power and explosiveness.
It wasn't all good news for Werner in Week 1. Teammate Brandon Jenkins went out for the season with a foot injury. Without Jenkins on the other side, Werner can expect to see constant double-teams following his mammoth performance to start the season. He looks like a future first-round pick in either the 2013 or 2014 NFL Drafts with the capacity to be a top-20 pick.
Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
The first half against Northwestern wasn't particularly special, but Nassib atill made some good throws to move the ball. He was 16-of-26 for 155 yards with an interception at the half. After Syracuse fell far behind, Nassib got red hot and torched the Wildcats' secondary to lead a furious comeback. He threw a 50-yard touchdown bomb, a 20-yard strike and a couple of short touchdown passes. Nassib gave the Orange the lead, but the defense couldn't hold it.
Nassib set Syracuse records in passing attempts and yards as he completed 45-of-66 passes for 479 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Nassib also picked up some clutch yards on the ground. The 6-foot-2, 229-pounder does not have a powerful arm, but he is an excellent game manager. Nassib is very smart and reads the defense well. He makes good decisions and takes what the defense is giving him.
Nassib is very accurate and astute. He would be a good fit in a West Coast offense. Nassib entered the season as a mid-rounder, but if he continues this kind of play, he could earn second-day consideration.
DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Crimson Tide defense overwhelmed the Michigan offense and Milliner was Alabama's most impressive player. He had just one mistake when he slipped in man coverage and allowed a touchdown. Aside from that play Milliner was dominant against the Wolverines as they tested him on intermediate and deep balls. He currently leads the nation in passes broken up with four.
Milliner also caught a poorly thrown pass from Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. It was almost like a punt return, and Milliner returned the ball 35 yards. He finished with five tackles as well.
Milliner (6-1, 182) has the skill set to be a man-coverage corner. He is fast enough to turn and run with receivers, but also has the size to defend big receivers. Milliner has great length and quarterbacks struggle to get passes by him. With his impressive start to the season, he is moving up as a first-rounder. Don't be surprised if Milliner makes a move to be considered as the top cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft class.
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Bray didn't shy away from going after the top cornerback in the nation. N.C. State's David Amerson had 13 interceptions in 2011, but Bray immediately targeted him. The signal-caller burned him Amerson for touchdown passes of 41 yards and 72 yards in the first half. Bray dropped in two perfect deep balls that hit his receivers in stride after they got separation from Amerson.
Bray was superb even absent those big plays. He distributed the ball well to his weapons and made good decisions. It could've been an even bigger game if some receivers hadn't dropped passes. Bray was 27-of-41 for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has improved the junior's footwork and accuracy compared to his sophomore season. There is no doubt that Bray has a cannon for an arm, good field vision and a big pocket presence.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Sources had told WalterFootball.com before the season that Tennessee had a great third receiver behind Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. That receiver was Patterson, and after Rogers was kicked off the team, Patterson took his place as the starting X (split end) receiver. The junior college product showed off his elite speed and explosiveness early in the first quarter when he beat Amerson for a 41-yard score on a go route straight down the field.
Patterson got a carry on an end around later in the first quarter and produced another massive play for the Volunteers. He darted upfield and used his straight-line speed to outrun the defense for a 67-yard touchdown. Obviously, Patterson showed elite speed on his receptions and his carry. He had six receptions for 93 yards against the Wolfpack.
Patterson is still a raw receiver. He needs work on his route running and gain experience, but he has a special skill set. Patterson (6-3, 205) should produce a big season with Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Bell put on a huge display in the opening game against Boise State, carrying the Spartans to victory. The power back had a whopping 50 touches with 44 carries and six catches. The rushing attempts turned into 210 yards and his receptions into 55 yards. He scored both of Michigan State's touchdowns.
Bell had some highlight-reel runs including a 23-yarder where he hurdled a defensive back and a 35-yarder where he be broke five tackles at the line of scrimmage before charging down the field. Bell displayed a great ability to get yards after contact, and, routinely, it took the third or fourth defender who hit him to get him to the ground.
Bell does a nice job of running behind his pads and has good pad level. His vision and patience were also impressive as he did well in some zone runs. Bell showed great third-down ability with his blitz protection versus the Broncos.
The question mark with the 6-foot-2, 237-pound back is if he has enough quickness and explosiveness to hit the hole in the NFL. That will be worth watching over the course of this season as NFL teams aren't looking for another Ron Dayne. Bell had a phenomenal debut as the feature back of the Spartans, and this helps make the case for him to get second-day consideration.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt came close to knocking off a top-10 team in its season opener against South Carolina, and Matthews was a big reason for the Commodores coming close to a huge upset. He ran a go route out of the slot down the middle seam in the second quarter, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers hit him in stride. Matthews then raced 78 yards down the field for a touchdown. He made a number of other nice catches to move the chains, totaling eight receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown for the contest.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Matthews had a real coming out party against South Carolina. He demonstrated a nice mix of size and speed. This could be a big season for Matthews in James Franklin's offense, and the junior is definitely worth keeping an eye on as he takes on the SEC with a competitive quarterback.
Matthews looks like a good fit for an NFL West Coast offense running the staple routes of slants and digs. Assuming he continues to thrive this season, he could challenge for second-day consideration.
Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
The Illini needed Buchanan to step up and provide a big impact with Whitney Mercilus in the NFL. Buchanan showed his ability to fill that void with a dominant game against Western Michigan. He made plays for his defense from start to finish. In one series, Buchanan batted down a third-down pass attempt and then on fourth down, intercepted his own tipped pass. He added a sack and a tackle for a loss in run defense.
In the fourth quarter, a pressure and hit by Buchanan helped produce a pick-six for the Illinois defense. He was consistently hitting Broncos quarterback Alex Carder on other pass plays. Buchanan showed nice rushes from right and left end while also getting his sack by looping up the middle.
The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder could use some more weight for the NFL, but his speed and athleticism are tailor-made for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Buchanan looks like a second-day pick, but more games like this one against Western Michigan will push his stock higher.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Hopkins had the most receptions of any player nationwide in the first week of college football with 13. Clemson needed him to step up with a big game with star receiver Sammy Watkins suspended.
Hopkins did just that with some clutch catches to move the chains. He totaled 13 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. The game-winning score came from Hopkins as quarterback Tajh Boyd lofted in a fade pass to Hopkins in the back corner of the end zone. The junior made a phenomenal catch as he was interfered with by the defensive back.
All night, Hopkins destroyed Auburn's zone coverage. He showed his intelligence by finding the soft spots in zones to get open for Boyd. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is very quick and a good route-runner. Hopkins has good hands and is very reliable. If he has a big season, he may be better off entering the 2013 NFL Draft rather returning to be a secondary receiver again. Hopkins looks like a second-day pick right now.
Honorable Mentions: Tennessee guard Dallas Thomas, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Florida running back Mike Gillislee, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, South Florida defensive end Ryne Giddins, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, Alabama center Barrett Jones and Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
David Amerson, CB, N.C. State
Amerson was the consensus top-rated corner in the nation and a top-10 pick to start the season. That was before last weekend's nightmarish performance against Tennessee in which he was burned for two deep touchdowns. Four minutes into the game, Bray burned Amerson for a 41-yard touchdown pass to junior wide out Cordarrelle Patterson. It was a straight go route that saw Patterson run right by Amerson and get a yard of separation with Bray dropping in a perfect pass.
The Volunteers signal-caller targeted Amerson again before the end of the first quarter. Receiver Zach Rogers ran a deep post route down the middle of the field and Amerson couldn't turn and run with him. The ball was lofted in perfectly by Bray for a 72-yard touchdown. Rogers had a good three to four yards of separation on Amerson.
There are natural concerns about Amerson's ability to flip his hips and run with receivers downfield given his size (6-3, 194), especially with the speed receivers in the NFL. The terrible outing against Tennessee will only accentuate that criticism.
Amerson may prove to be best as a zone corner rather than a man corner in the NFL. He could slide to the second half of the first round, similar to Alabama's big cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the 2012 NFL Draft. It is early in the season, so Amerson has plenty of time to boost his stock back up.
Craig Roh, DE, Michigan
Of all the Michigan defensive linemen, Roh should've been the player to step up and produce a good game against the vaunted Alabama offensive line. He drew the assignment of left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. It was Kouandjio's first career start as a true sophomore. Kouandjio is a very talented prospect, but there is no reason for Roh to be dominated by Kouandjio in his first start.
The outing versus Alabama made Roh (6-5, 281) look limited as a run-defender and a pass-rusher. This performance puts him as a late third-day pick. He probably would be best as a 3-4 defensive end.
Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Hunt was a complete non-factor against Baylor. He held his ground well in the run game, but wasn't disengaging from blocks and getting in on tackles. Hunt did not apply any pressure on the quarterback as a pass-rusher. The senior was typically in contain, but when he did rush, he wasn't able to harass the quarterback. It was a disappointing debut to the season for him.
Hunt is a developmental project for the next level. He has a nice skill set, but doesn't really look like he knows what he is doing on the field. Hunt doesn't appear to understand how to attack offensive tackles and how he can fight off their blocks. Granted, he's only been playing football for three years after coming from Estonia.
The 6-foot-8, 320-pound Hunt looks like a better fit as a 3-4 defensive end. He was viewed as a second-day pick prior to the start of this season, but that is clearly based on his potential. Hunt needs a lot of work in order to be a competitor against NFL offensive tackles.
Some teams may draft Hunt early because of his freakish special teams prowess. He has 14 career blocked kicks (nine field goals) and set an NCAA record with seven blocked kicks as a freshman in 2009. Hunt looked like a third-day pick as a defensive player against Baylor.
Dishonorable Mentions: Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor.