Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks showed his intelligence and ballhawking skills in an excellent performance against Auburn. On one pass in which he was in zone, the ball thrown too high and behind the receiver. The pass fell right into Banks' hands, and the senior had a good return of about 40 yards and dove into the end zone, but he stepped out of bounds at the 34-yard line.
Banks picked off his second pass of the game kust before halftime. He was in zone yet again, and the pass was thrown too high for a receiver along the sideline. Banks reached up, snatched the ball and weaved his way through traffic for a nice return.
The senior was a solid contributor in run defense, totaling six tackles in the game. Banks is perfect for an NFL defense that plays a lot of zone coverage. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder is a physical corner who has no problem matching up against big receivers. He is very smart with how he operates in zone.
Banks reads pass routes well and puts himself in place to cover up receivers coming into his area. He may not have the speed and hip agility to turn and run with fast receivers given his size.
Banks looks solid as a mid- to late first-round pick with his performance versus the Tigers.
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Short is one of the best interior pass-rushers in college football. He recorded 12.5 sacks overthe past two seasons and is off to a great start to produce his biggest single-season sack total.
The senior ended the Irish's first drive of the game by shedding center Braxston Cave with a swim move and sacking quarterback Everett Golson. Short forced a fumble in the third quarter when he flew in the air on top of a running back and punched the ball out. The official scorer somehow managed to screw up, failing to credit Short for the forced fumble. He then beat Mike Golic, Jr. for a sack in the fourth quarter. Short smacked down Golic's hands and exploded past him to chase down Golson for his second sack.
Short has the makings of a special interior pass-rusher in the NFL. It would be great if he could add a rip move to his arsenal of speed and shed rushes. The senior has an excellent ability to use his hands and feet at the same time. Purdue rotated Short in and out of the game, so he may need to improve his conditioning to play more snaps.
Short has totaled five tackles with three sacks and two blocked kicks in just two games this year. He looks on his way to being a first-round pick and could crack the top 20.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones was a monster against Missouri for the Bulldogs. He was all over the field, creating huge splash plays like an unstoppable force. Jones totaled one interception returned 21 yards, nine tackles, two sacks, one pass batted and one forced fumble against the Tigers. The interception came midway through the fourth quarter when he dropped into coverage and read the pass play perfectly. The return went to the one-yard line and set up Georgia to extend its seven-point lead.
Jones had another blinding speed edge-rush a bit later. Quarterback James Franklin rolled out of the pocket and the junior chased him down from behind smacking the ball out. He goes all out with a non-stop motor and relentless effort.
Jones has 17 tackles with 3.5 sacks, one interception, two passes batted and two forced fumbles at this point in 2012. We've been projecting him to be a pick in the top half of the first round for months now, and after this performance, others are joining the bandwagon.
Jones could be a top-10 pick as an outside linebacker for an attacking 4-3 defense. He could be used in such a system like the Broncos use Von Miller. Jones (6-3, 241) is a perfect fit as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense; his current role and system. He could use some more weight, but even somewhat undersized, he is worth a high first-round pick.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Utah State had its hands full trying to block Lotulelei. He had some stretches of dominance and forced the Aggies to change their offensive game plan to keep him out of plays. Lotulelei had a late start in football, but you wouldn't know it by watching him. He showed great instincts by covering a running back on a screen pass to force an incompletion and almost making the tackle on a perimeter wide receiver screen. His play diagnosis was very impressive.
Lotulelei stuffed a number of runs for no gain. There were some impressive plays where he beat both the guard and center to stuff running backs or pressure the quarterback. Lotulelei pressured the quarterback in the second quarter, caused him to scramble up in the pocket. The senior spun around and ran down the signal-caller to force a fumble. It was a great pass rush from the tackle and showed his good motor.
It was amusing to watch when Lotulelei's presence was enough to cause some penalties from Utah State. His gap integrity was superb. He owned his gap and did not get moved aside.
Lotulelei eats up double-teams and holds his ground. He has a tremendous ability to use his hands and feet at the the same time. Lotulelei also has excellent power to slap offensive linemen's hands off of him to shed blocks. He totaled four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a number of pass pressures against the Aggies. The game confirmed his status as a potential top-10 pick.
Walter Stewart, OLB, Cincinnati
Stewart had a breakout performance to start his senior season. The Bearcats lost Derek Wolfe to the 2012 NFL Draft, so the team needs some pass-rushers and impact players to step up this season. Stewart did that in Cincinnati's season opener against Pittsburgh.
The senior had a blinding rush off the edge in the first quarter for a strip sack. Stewart was so explosive around the corner that he had turned around the left tackle before he was completely out of his stance. Stewart fought off a block in the second half to record another tackle for a loss and later chased down Tino Sunseri for a second sack.
Stewart also stood out with his pursuit skills in run defense. He totaled nine tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss against the Panthers.
Stewart had six sacks as a junior and is well on his way to surpassing that following Cincinnati's first game of the year.
The 6-foot-5, 249-pounder doesn't have the size to play end in the NFL. Stewart struggled against Pittsburgh when offensive linemen got their hands on him, but he has the frame to add weight when he enters a professional strength and conditioning program. Stewart would fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. With his showing against the Panthers, Steward looks like a potential mid-round pick.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
If Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had better field vision, Eifert could have had an even bigger game against the Boilermakers. The senior tight end was constantly getting open, and there were many plays that Everett could've had big gains if he threw the ball to his big tight end.
Eifert won a jump ball pass for a nice gain on one of the first plays of the game. He caught the pass despite a defensive back hanging all over him and getting flagged. Eifert ran a dig route later on in the third quarter against man coverage to get open. Golson hit him for a 23-yard gain on third down. Eifert went up over a defender on the same drive, making made a tough catch for a 25-yard gain to the Purdue three-yard line.
It turned out to be the senior's final reception of the game, and it could've been a huge day. Eifert totaled four receptions for 98 yards. Two games into the season and he is Notre Dame's leading receiver with eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder has made a lot of improvements in his blocking ability. He is way more effective compared to how he blocked last year. Becoming a complete tight end who can play on all three downs helps Eifert's cause to break into the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Alex Hurst, OT, LSU
The Tigers have a great running offense with Hurst being their go-to blocker behind the right side of their offensive line. LSU pounded the ball down the throat of Washington in a blow-out win and had tons of success following Hurst. He was blasting linemen out of their gap and riding them around the field.
Even in obvious running situations and on the goal line, Hurst was knocking the defenders off the line of scrimmage. He was also reliable in pass protection versus the Huskies. Hurst allowed one pressure, but, otherwise, he won his blocks on pass plays.
If Hurst can't handle speed-rushers at the next level, he could move inside to guard. That would work for him. Hurst could be a standout guard as a road-grading run-blocker. He would be able to handle the heavy tackles, and speedy tackles should be easier for him after the senior gains more experience against the SEC's fast rush-ends.
Hurst could be an early second-round pick as a guard. If he stays at right tackle, he'll stay a second-day selection. Hurst's tape against Washington should help him to acheive that second-day grade next spring.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Even though he doesn't look as explosive as he was last year, Woods at 80 or 90 percent healthy is good enough to dominate the opposition. He made huge plays to help the Trojans down the Orange. Woods had a highlight-reel run across the field to convert a third-and-12 screen pass that looked like it was going nowhere. He also made a great, acrobatic, back-shoulder catch for a 29-yard score in the front of the end zone.
The junior had a nice punt return of 31 yards in the third quarter on which he went up the middle of the field and slashed to the right sideline for a big gain. Woods later juked a defender on an end around about five yards past the line of scrimmage before blazing across the field. He sprinted away and was pushed out of bounds around the five-yard line; it was a 76-yard run. If Woods was 100 percent healthy, he probably would've run for a touchdown
Woods caught 10 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns versus Syracuse. He currently doesn't seem as fast as he was last year but has shown a lot of toughness by playing through his ankle injury. Woods is a first-round pick right now, though there is some debate about how high. This game is an example why he should go in the top half.
Honorable Mentions: Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Notre Dame DT Louis Nix, Florida running back Mike Gillislee, Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis, Florida safety Matt Elam, Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein and Kansas State outside linebacker Arthur Brown.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Khaled Holmes, C, USC
It isn't completely Holmes fault that he has a stock down. A potentially serious ankle injury won't help his draft stock. He had a Syracuse defensive lineman roll into the back of his leg in the second half. Holmes was bent back the wrong direction and had to be carted off the field. USC is being coy with his status for this Saturday and the season.
Prior to the injury, Holmes had some nice blocks in the ground game and pass protection. However, he had a number of blunders. Holmes was pushed back on a fourth-and-1 to allow a turnover on downs for USC. He was later beat for a sack after he got bull rushed into quarterback Matt Barkley on a deep drop.
Additionally, Holmes missed a block on defender on a run blitz and there was almost a tackle for a loss. He also almost caused a turnover with a snap that landed at Barkley's feet. It was an underwhelming performance, but if the redshirt senior can come back to the field soon, it would be good news for his draft stock for April.
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker is one player who has really hurt his stock in the early going of the 2012 season. The junior right tackle struggled as a pass-protector in the second game after some rough moments in Week 1 against Michigan. Fluker was beat for a sack by an edge rush against Western Kentucky in the first quarter. The end used speed to get upfield and dipped his shoulder to slip by Fluker and get a sack-fumble on McCarron; Alabama recovered the loose ball.
The junior later allowed pressure on the same move. Fluker gave up his second sack of the game in the fourth quarter. He was lined up as a tight end next to the left tackle this time. An outside linebacker burned him around the edge to sack McCarron.
Fluker has been very good as a run-blocker, but the NFL has evolved to a passing-driven league, and if the 6-foot-6, 335-pounder struggles in protection, he won't be able to be a starter at right tackle. Fluker is a good athlete, so perhaps his issues can be rectified with improved technique and maybe dropping a little weight to make him quicker in his pass drops.
Otherwise, Fluker could move inside to guard in the NFL. He should be a dominant player on the inside. Fluker still looks like a potential first-round pick, but has fallen from the 10-20 range that he was in to begin the season.
Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
There was an understanding that Swope may have less production without quarterback Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies have gone to a freshman signal-caller. However, freshman quarterback Jonny Manziel played really well and completed some nice passes to other receivers. Swope struggled to get open going against Florida Gator cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Cody Riggs. Swope was limited to five receptions for 16 yards by Florida.
Texas A&M has young talent at running back and wide receiver as well, so it wouldn't be surprising if the team's new coaching staff featured its additions to the program throughout the season. Swope may see far less targets compared to 2011 when he was Tannehill's No. 1 receiver. Against the Gators young speedy corners, Swope looked more like a mid-round pick than a second-rounder.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Last January when Ball decided to return to the Badgers, I wrote that he was making a mistake. His stock wouldn't improve as a senior as Wisconsin was losing a ton of talent from its offense and offensive coaching staff. Plus, Ball would take another injury risk and add on more wear-and-tear as a runner.
His senior season has had a rougher start than one could imagine. Ball was held to 61 yards on 15 carries by Oregon State in Week 2. He has a total of 181 yards on 47 carries through two games; an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Considering his opponents have been Northern Iowa and Oregon State that is very disappointing.
Ball is not a burner of a back by any means, and there are serious questions if he has enough speed to be a successful running back in the NFL. With how Ball has performed in the early going of this season, his stock looks to be falling to the third round and not merit a second-round selection.
Dishonorable Mentions: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Notre Dame center Braxston Cave and Alabama guard Chance Warmack.