Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
There was speculation prior to kickoff that Te'o wouldn't play after suffering a horrific personal tragedy during the week. His grandmother died on Tuesday and, just hours later, his girlfriend lost her fight with leukemia. Te'o had a big presence against Michigan State. He made a lot of tackles in run defense and was superb against the pass in zone coverage. Te'o was snuffing out short passes throughout the afternoon and did well to tackle receivers quickly after the reception was made. He totaled 12 tackles, two passes broken up and a fumble return.
Te'o has totaled s8 tackles, two passes broken up, a fumble return and an interception. He has made real strides in pass defense as a senior. Te'o has demonstrated the ability to be a three-down middle linebacker in the NFL. The performance against Michigan State will help his cause to be a first-rounder, an increasingly harder feat for a middle linebacker. With Te'o's size and speed, he could be an inside linebacker in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
Week 3 had a good draft matchup with Benavides taking on North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. Benavides entered as a potential mid-round pick, while many believed that Williams could be a first-rounder. The battle turned out to be one-sided as Benavides and the Cardinals ran roughshod over the Tar Heels.
Benavides was a force at the point of attack as Louisville gashed North Carolina up the middle. Williams was a non-factor as the Cardinals ran down the middle of the Tar Heels' defense at will. Benavides held Williams to two tackles and no sacks. When Louisville passed, it was more domination as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was superb. Williams was blocked well by Benavides and the guards.
There aren't a lot of good center prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft class and demands for someone to rise. Benavides is listed at 6-foot-4, 280-pounds, but he played heavier the previous two seasons at 300 pounds. Benavides will probably need to go back up for the NFL. He has good mobility and could fit well in a zone-blocking system. Benavides could move up into the second day of the draft following his impressive performance against Williams.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Hankins was superb against California. He was a one-man run defense on many plays. Hankins was knifing into the backfield to cause disruption and was holding his ground at the point of attack. He was doing a superb job of standing up his blocker and shedding the linemen in order to make tackles. Hankins was beating double-team blocks from a guard and center to make tackles as well.
The junior made tackles outside of his gap as well. He showed his athleticism as he dragged down a wide receiver in the open field on a bubble screen. Hankins had a huge sack late in the fourth quarter when shed the guard and burst into the backfield to drag down quarterback Zach Maynard. It put the Golden Bears in a third-and-20.
Hankins finished with 10 tackles and a sack against California. The 6-foot-3, 322-pounder has a surprising burst to cause havoc in the backfield with speed or power. He moves around the line and has the versatility to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Hankins makes more plays as a tackle rather than end, but he would be an asset in any NFL defense. Hankins' size and versatility make him a definite a top-20 pick, and he could even go in the top 10.
Lerentee McCray, OLB/DE, Florida
The Gators' defense came up with a big second half against the Volunteers and quarterback Tyler Bray. McCray was the leader of the defense as he made huge plays to help Florida come up with a tough road win. The redshirt senior showed his outside linebacker abilities as he dropped into coverage after lining up as a defensive end.
McCray made a leaping interception of Bray and ran the ball back to the Tennessee 35-yard line. McCray had some success aside from his interception, when he recognized a screen and had blanket coverage on a running back to force an incompletion. The pass hit McCray square in the back. He had another hit on Bray later that forced an incompletion. McCray thenbeat left tackle Antonio Richardson a short time later to fire into the inside and make a tackle for a loss. McCray was making his presence felt even more than the stats illustrate with pressure on Bray throughout the second half.
McCray was a top recruit who hasn't done much before this year. He is enjoying a great start to the final season, including a sack last week against Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, the current top-rated draft-eligible left tackle. McCray (6-2, 246) is playing his way into being a draftable prospect on the third day of the draft. He would be best in a 3-4 defense.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
When Andrew Luck was at quarterback, all of the attention for Stanford went to him, but Taylor was the workhorse for Luck's great Cardinal teams. Taylor has finally been awarded all the accolades as the engine of Stanford's offense after powering his way through the No. 2 ranked USC Trojans.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is a physical back who is also capable of making defenders miss and has enough speed to break off long touchdown runs. He put all that on display and more against USC.
Taylor had a phenomenal 59-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter against the Trojans. He stutter stepped to get through the hole and then dodged a safety to break free down the field for a score. Stanford rode Taylor to control the ball. He pounded the ball into USC's defense and showed his toughness. The senior frequently broke tackles and added up plenty of yards after contact.
Taylor took a screen pass for a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter to tie the game at 14. He made a defender miss and broke free of the grasp from a defensive tackle to burst into the end zone. Taylor ran for 153 yards on 27 carries. He also was Stanford's leading receiver with five receptions for 60 yards.
Taylor has three-down ability for the NFL. He does a good job as a receiver and is a good blocker. The senior is well-prepared for an NFL offense having played under Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw and Pep Hamilton. Taylor is a sleeper running back who could be a steal on the second day of the draft. His domination of USC should help his cause to be a second-rounder.
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Okafor ramped up his pass rush against Ole Miss with his first multi-sack game of the season. He had three tackles as well, but his two sacks were a perfect balance of illustrating the Longhorns defensive end's explosive speed and power.
Okafor demonstrated his explosiveness on the first sack when he ran down the quarterback on an attempted screen pass. Okafor cut to the inside from left end to burst down the middle. He recorded his second sack of the game a bit later with a bull rush straight into the pocket. Okafor shed the tackle and bear hugged the quarterback.
The senior has totaled nine tackles and three sacks through three games this season. Texas has blown out all of its opponents, so Okafor really hasn't played a complete game yet. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder is a well-rounded player who defends the run well as well as the pass. The added bulk from the offseason looks like it is paying off for him with more strength to shed blocks. Okafor's senior season is helping him to solidify his stock as a future first-round pick.
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Carradine was pushed into the starting lineup a few weeks ago when the Seminoles lost defensive end Brandon Jenkins for the year. Carradine was the backup to Jenkins and Bjoern Werner last season, but he still logged 5.5 sacks.
Carradine has done an excellent job filling in for Jenkins so far in 2012. Carradine started the season with nine tackles and a sack in the season opener against Murray State. He had a big day versus Wake Forest in Week 3 with 2.5 sacks and three tackles.
The 6-foot-5, 251-pounder is currently playing his way into consideration for selection on the third day of the draft. The junior looks like he has the frame to add weight to play in a 4-3 defense, or he could standup as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Florida State hasn't played a quality opponent yet, but that will change this week against Clemson. The Seminoles need to ramp up the pass rush against quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Tigers' playmaking receivers. Carradine has a relatively easy schedule after that to help himself earn a draft grade for next April.
John Simon, DE, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive end was a consistent thorn in the side of the Golden Bears on Saturday. Simon was putting pressure on quarterback Zach Maynard throughout the contest and putting some hard hits on him. Simon came up with a big sack on a third down in the third quarter when he dipped under the left tackle and got to Maynard quickly to bring him down.
Simon is not the fastest or the most athletic defensive end, but he is extremely physical and has a non-stop motor. The senior's strong hands help him to disengage from blocks and he has good power. The 6-foot-2, 263-pounder is short of ideal size, but he uses his short stature to his advantage by staying low and playing with great pad level. Simon should stay as a 4-3 end for the NFL and has starting potential. He would be a good pick in the second or third round.
Honorable Mentions: TCU linebacker Kenny Cain, California wide receiver Keenan Allen, Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, Virginia left tackle Oday Aboushi, Georgia Tech guard Omoregie Uzzi, Kansas left tackle Tanner Hawkinson and Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas did some serious damage to his draft stock with a horrible performance against Pittsbirgh. He threw three first-half interceptions to help the Panthers open up a 21-3 lead. Thomas struggled to move the ball and complete passes. He finished 14-of-31 for 265 yards, a touchdown and the three picks. Pittsburgh's defense struggled in the first two weeks of the season with one sack and zero turnovers. Thomas made the Panthers look good with his struggles.
There is no doubt that Thomas has a great skill set. He is big, strong, has a cannon arm and good running ability. However Thomas is extremely raw. He isn't polished and needs a lot of development. If Thomas doesn't catch fire, he should probably stay for his senior season to improve before entering the draft.
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Williams started off the season strong with 2.5 sacks in the first two games. The first opponent was Elon and he had two sacks. The Louisville contest had him go against a quality offensive line and center prospect, Mario Benavides. Williams was a non-factor, totaling two tackles. The Cardinals gashed the Tar Heels on the ground straight up the middle. Williams wasn't able to stop runs in the interior, and the senior had no pressure on Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Benavides was perhaps the top center who Williams will face this season and it hurts Williams' draft stock to have a disappointing game. He will have some easier opponents over the next few weeks, notably East Carolina and Idaho, to pad his stats. Williams is viewed as an early-round pick, but he didn't look like it against Louisville.
Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State
Adams had a rough day against Notre Dame. He did pretty well in run support, but was beaten for a long touchdown. The receiver got separation from him, but as the pass hung in the air, Adams caught up to grab at the receiver. Still, the catch was made, and Adams was called for a pass interference. He was in man coverage and got caught trailing off his receiver while looking back at the quarterback. Adams later missed a tackle on quarterback Everett Golson during a touchdown run.
Adams had a pass interference called on him late in the game after mugging Irish tight end Tyler Eifert downfield, and also was stiff-armed into the ground by Irish running back Cierre Wood. Adams was beat for a long reception down the field in the season opener against Boise State. Thus, four times in three games, he's been beaten downfield for receptions or penalties.
Adams looks best as a slot corner in the NFL. He is a gritty defender and does well in the ground game, but is beat too often downfield. Adams would struggle in the NFL on the outside against receivers who have size and speed. He looks more like a third- or fourth-rounder rather than a second-round pick.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Gholston had a meager impact against Notre Dame. He had little pressure and was virtually a non-factor as a pass-rusher. Gholston was decent in run defense, finishing the game with five tackles -most being of the assisted variety. He has totaled 12 tackles, three tackles for a loss and one sack in three games this season. The sack came against Central Michigan.
Gholston does not have a repertoire of pass-rushing moves. He really needs a lot of work on developing skills to beat linemen. Gholston always tries to go at them with speed to slip by them or strength to power through them. He needs to develop some combination of a rip move, spin move, swim move or club move.
Gholston doesn't have a burst off the snap either. Unless the junior turns it on and discovers a consistent pass-rush ability, he should return for his senior season. Gholston is currently playing like a third-rounder, but has the physical talent to be a first-round pick.
Dishonorable Mentions: TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga, North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick