Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Rhodes passed what will likely be his biggest test of the season by handling Clemson. He didn't play a lights-out game in coverage against the Tigers' dynamic duo, but Rhodes was solid and kept Watkins and Hopkins from big plays when he went against either of them in man coverage.
The Seminoles mixed in zone and man assignments, so Rhodes did not have to go against Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins exclusively in man coverage. The junior Hopkins had 88 yards on five receptions, but 60 came on one touchdown reception against zone coverage where the safety failed to pick him up running down the field. Watkins had 24 yards on six receptions.
hodes (6-2, 217) finished with three tackles and a pass breakup versus Clemson. When you consider the fact that he shut down Michael Floyd last year, he has to be the favorite as the top cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft class.
Rhodes has an easy schedule over the rest of the season. Even if Florida State makes it to the National Championship against Alabama, Oregon or LSU, he won't take on a first-round caliber wide out during the rest of 2012. Rhodes looks like the top corner prospect right now.
Corey Lemonier, DE/OLB, Auburn
Auburn almost upset LSU, and Lemonier had a great game to help lead the effort. He took up residence in LSU's backfield and contributed a number of splash plays. Lemonier showed his speed and explosion on his first sack where he beat a cut block to run down quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Lemonier showed his agility again on his second sack by dropping his shoulder to get leverage on the left tackle and run down the signal-caller. The junior also forced a fumble versus LSU.
Lemonier has 19 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble this season. The sophomore had 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2011. The 6-foot-4, 246-pounder has great speed, but needs to add more weight for the NFL and develop his body more. If Lemonier does that, he has the ability to be a disruptive presence on the edge in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense in the NFL.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The diminutive Austin (5-9, 174) came up with a huge game to help West Virginia beat a surprisingly challenging Maryland team. He made clutch catches and big plays to put points on the scoreboard for the Mountaineers. Quarterback Geno Smith hooked up with his speedy playmaker for 13 receptions, 179 yards and three touchdowns.
Austin's first score was a short drag route that saw him turn the corner and get upfield. His other scores came on go routes along the sideline and down the middle of the field.
Austin has been remarkably consistent this season, producing double-digit catches through the first three contests. The senior has totaled 34 receptions for 345 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. Even though Austin is undersized, he is very durable. Austin caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last year. His size will keep from being an early-round pick, but his production should prompt a team to use a mid-round selection on him as a slot receiver.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Entering this season, Montgomery's teammate Barkevious Mingo was the higher rated of the two defensive ends, but through the first four games, Montgomery has been far more productive. Mingo has yet to register a sack, while Montgomery has been making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He had a strong showing against Auburn with all four of his tackles accounting for lost yardage, specifically 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. Montgomery has 11 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks thus far in 2012.
Montgomery added more strength over the offseason and is another year removed from knee surgery that cost him the 2010 season. He looks faster and more explosive off the snap with the injury further behind him. Montgomery is doing his part to solidify his stock as a high first-round pick and could skyrocket to the top of the first round with a big performance against Alabama in early November.
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Te'o continues to play inspired football after leading Notre Dame' defense to a low-scoring win over Michigan. He totaled eight tackles, two interceptions and a tackle for a loss against the Wolverines. Te'o's first pick came when he read quarterback Denard Robinson and undercut the throw. The second was a diving catch on a deflected pass, and Te'o forced another interception with a hit on Robinson as he threw the ball.
Te'o's three picks put him among the nation's leaders in interceptions. He has been solid in run defense this season and has totaled 38 tackles and two tackles for a loss. Dropping some weight and practicing his drops all offseason has made the senior vastly improved in pass coverage. Te'o is proving that he can play on all three downs in the passing-driven NFL, and, as a result, he is worth a selection in the first round. Te'o is having a tremendous senior season.
Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
There were big expectations entering 2012 that Hamilton would have a breakout season. He was the No. 1 wide out for a good quarterback, Tyler Wilson, and Arkansas lost all of the receivers who were ahead of him (Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs) to the NFL.
Hamilton had a bit of a slow start in the first three games, but exploded against Rutgers. He totaled 10 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Hamilton showed his size when he outjumped two defenders for a 54-yard reception and used his speed to take a slant 57 yards for a touchdown.
Hamilton tried to get the Razorbacks back in the game during the fourth quarter when he ran a deep post and burned two defensive backs for an 80-yard touchdown. The senior has 20 receptions for 429 yards and four touchdowns so far this year. Hamilton's massive game against the Scarlet Knights' set a single-game SEC record.
The 6-foot-3, 209-pounder has some serious athletic ability and speed to go with his size. Hamilton looks like a second-day pick right now, but he just sent a charge into his stock.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
Sources told WalterFootball.com last week that Manuel looked very improved in the first three games of the season, but that would be put to the test against Clemson. The redshirt senior passed the test with flying colors as he had a huge game against the Tigers to lead the Seminoles to a big win.
Manuel threw some nice passes in the first half off of play action including a 28-yarder to tight end Nick O'Leary. The signal-caller tossed a short touchdown pass in the third quarter to pull Florida State within a field goal. Manuel later lofted in a beautiful touchdown pass deep down the field for a 29-yard third-quarter score. He finished the night 27-of-35 for 380 yards with two touchdowns.
This performance should help push Manuel higher on the second day. He has been a game manager throughout his time with the Seminoles, but is starting to elevate his play beyond that. Manuel has the skill set to be a high first-round pick, so there is massive upside with him. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has a strong arm and is very mobile. Manuel has no limitations from a physical skill set standpoint. If he can develop his field vision and pocket passing, he could be a starter on Sundays.
Travis Long, OLB, Washington State
NFL teams that are looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker will like what they see out of Long. He played defensive end for years, but was moved to linebacker when Washington State changed schemes. Long has taken to the position so far this season like he has been playing it for years. The senior has had three multi-sack games in the first four contests of the season.
Long started the contest against Colorado by shedding a block and making a tackle on a screen pass. He ran down quarterback Jordan Webb for sacks on blitzes up the middle. On one of them, Long spun Webb around and forced a fumble that was recovered by Washington State. He recorded his third sack by beating the right tackle with speed to chase down the signal-caller again. Long was credited with seven tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble versus the Buffaloes.
Long was just killing the interior of the Colorado line. He was either too quick, darting between blockers, or rocking them back to collapse the pocket. Long should definitely stay as a 3-4 linebacker for the NFL. He is very much in the mold of Texans linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. Long (6-4, 245) should add 5-10 pounds, but he is moving up in the second day.
Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia
Aboushi was a good athlete who needed to improve his strength at the point of attack in the ground game entering the season. The senior proved that he accomplished that task against TCU after already having a nice showing versus Kansas.
Aboushi had some devastating run blocks against the Horned Frogs to spring long runs for his running back and quarterback. There were also plays that he showed nice physicality. Aboushi caused a massive pile of bodies by driving his defensive end into the defensive tackle. Aboushi also had some pancake blocks when he knocked his end to the ground.
Aboushi rarely went against TCU pass rusher Stansly Maponga, but when Maponga lined up at right end, Aboushi won the reps. He was called for a questionable holding call, but otherwise it was a flawless game. Aboushi was very quick in his drop in pass protection to negate speed-rushers trying to turn the corner. He's very comfortable handling a variety of moves and has light feet to shuffle quickly.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder is a great fit for a zone-blocking system in the NFL. He could stay at left tackle or move to right tackle. Aboushi probably isn't physically dominant enough to be a first-rounder, but he could be a second-round pick who makes a lot of teams regret passing on him. He has starting potential and could turn into a great value on the second day.
Kenny Cain, ILB, TCU
Cain didn't get much attention or have as big a role for the Horned Frogs with linebacker Tank Carder ahead of him the past two years. Cain replaced an injured Tanner Brock in 2011 and had a decent season. Cain stayed a starter this year with Carder in the NFL and Brock out of football after being arrested for drug dealing.
Cain had a big game against Virginia. He picked up a fumble and intercepted a pass after dropping into coverage in the first half. Cain read quarterback Mike Rocco's eyes to get in the passing lane.
Cain had another interception in the third quarter. The pass was thrown behind the receiver on a shallow cross, and he caught the deflected pass off the receiver. Cain totaled five tackles versus the Cavaliers. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior will have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL, but he is making the most of his opportunity and could earn consideration on the third day of the draft.
Honorable Mentions: South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson, Florida State running back Chris Thompson, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Kentucky guard Larry Warford.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Kansas State was the senior signal-caller's first significant test of this season; he failed. Jones' mistake-prone performances in big games last year illustrated his lack of intangibles and ability to elevate his play in clutch situations against good opponents. He showed no growth over his junior season versus the Wildcats.
Jones had a bad fumble to give Kansas State a touchdown. He scrambled and held onto the ball too long. Wildcats linebacker Justin Tuggle ran him down from behind and forced the fumble. The ball bounced into the end zone and was recovered by Kansas State for a touchdown.
Jones also threw a terrible interception off his back foot. It floated over Stills for an easy interception to set up the Wildcats at the Sooners' 38-yard line. Kansas State took advantage and took the lead for good with a touchdown.
Jones finished the contest 28-of-43 for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He struggled on third down especially. His showing against the Wildcats will definitely hurt his stock. Jones had problems in 2011 with his internal clock and feeling the rush. That looks unchanged. He is just not a winner and finds ways to lose. Jones currently looks like a third-round pick, at best.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas continues to damage his draft stock with another ugly performance as a passer. He threw three interceptions against Pittsburgh two weeks ago to help the Panthers knock off the Hokies. Thomas struggled to move the ball and complete passes while finishing 14-of-31 for 265 yards with a touchdown.
This week was more of the same when the junior threw the ball. Thomas completed 11-of-26 passes for 144 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran the ball in for another score, and Virginia Tech blew out Bowling Green, but his inaccurate passing is a major liability.
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 still extremely raw. He isn't polished and needs a lot of development as a passer. With how Thomas has looked early on in 2012, he should stay for his senior season to improve before entering the draft.
Dishonorable Mentions: Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins