Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Some players tend to play their best against certain opponents, and that is the case for Jones when he has gone against Florida. Jones put himself on the map last year with a four-sack outing versus the Gators. He had his biggest single-game sack total of this season with three sacks against Florida. The junior also had 13 tackles, two forced fumbles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.
Jones recovered a Gators fumble on the first drive of the game. He ran down quarterback Jeff Driskel later in the first quarter after he stepped up to avoid a defender. Jones and a teammate sandwiched Driskel to force a fumble that the Bulldogs recovered.
Jones spun off a block to make a tackle for a loss on a running play in the third quarter. He also recovered another fumble in the backfield on a botched handoff. Shortly later, Jones started on the outside and looped up the middle to sack Driskel.
Jones made the play of the game late in the fourth quarter. He pursued downfield and tackled tight end Jordan Reed from behind. Jones ripped the ball out of Reed's hands and it was recovered by Georgia in the end zone for a touchback. That turnover sealed the Bulldogs' win.
Jones has totaled 49 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, one interception and five forced fumbles so far in 2012. It was a nice outing for the junior coming off a missed game against Kentucky. This will help his cause for NFL talent evaluators to go early in the first round. Not that Jones really needed it, but he showed why he is a candidate for the first-overall pick.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
The Tar Heels snapped their losing streak to North Carolina State, and it was the dynamic Bernard that carried them to victory. He carried the ball 23 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore caught eight passes for 95 yards, too.
Late in the fourth quarter with the Tar Heels down, Bernard broke a few tackles to rip off a 38-yard run to set up the tying field goal. He then returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown a bit later to get the victory for North Carolina. Bernard took the kick at one hash mark and swept across the field before getting vertical
The North Carolina State defense had no answer for the stand out running back. Bernard isn't the biggest back at 5-foot-10, 205-pounds, but he showed his toughness by playing through an ankle injury. Bernard has averaged 7.4 yards per carry this season, racking up 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has 32 receptions for 319 yards and three scores as well. The ball-carrier also has averaged 21 yards on 12 punt returns with two taken to the house.
Bernard is an electric play-maker. He is extremely fast and elusive with more strength than one would expect. The only detriment to Bernard as a player is being undersized, but this performance against the Wolfpack illustrates why he could overcome that to be a first-round pick in the 2013 or 2014 NFL Draft.
Larry Warford, G, Kentucky
The outing against Missouri was going to be one of Warford's best tests of the season, and he passed it with flying colors. Warford had a lot of success going against the Tigers' speedy defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Warford stopped Richardson's speed rushes and was effective in run blocking.
Warford pulled around the left side early on and blocked the linebacker to spring his back. Warford hit another backside block on a defender in pursuit to help continue the gain. He blasted open a hole a few plays later for a two-yard touchdown. Richardson had a decent game, but all of his good plays came when he went against other linemen.
Warford (6-3, 343) is a powerful beast who can blast open running holes, but still has more quickness and athleticism than one would expect from such a large blocker. This tape should help Warford's stock to move up on the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
The star linebacker has been a mainstay on the stock-up rankings because he is playing lights out football this season. That continued in Notre Dame's road win at Oklahoma. Te'o did a tremendous job defending the run. He made tackles on the perimeter and moved through the trash to stuff runs near the line of scrimmage. Te'o made a superb tackle for a loss after firing into the backfield on a check down pass. He showed nice closing speed. Te'o exploded up the middle in the second quarter to sack Landry Jones on a third down. The senior timed his blitz perfectly and read the hole precisely to go unblocked.
With four and half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Te'o made a diving catch off of a deflected pass for his fifth interception of the season. That ties him for second in the nation in picks. He finished the game with 11 tackles, two tackles for a loss, an interception and a sack.
Te'o is tied for second in the nation in interceptions with five. His tackle total has him in the top 20 with 80 stops. He also has 4.5 tackles for a loss and three passes broken up. With the way that Te'o has improved his pass defense this season, he looks like a pick in the top half of the first round.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Aggies left tackle continued his hot play against a dangerous SEC pass-rusher. Joeckel shut down LSU's Sam Montgomery last week and followed that up by locking down Auburn's Corey Lemonier along with the other Tigers defenders this week. Texas A&M ripped off 63 points against Auburn with 42 in the first half. Lemonier totaled only two tackles in the contest. He tried speed rushes and bull rushes that were completely nullified by Joeckel. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder was too quick in his drop to be beaten by a speed rush and his base was sound enough to stand up the bull rush. Joeckel made it look easy.
Both Montgomery and Lemonier are projected first-round picks, so it is very impressive that Joeckel was so effective against them. He has handled both defenders speed rushes without issue, which illustrates his ability to be a franchise NFL left tackle. Joeckel has validated his status as the top left tackle who is draft eligible. His play of late is helping his cause to be a top-10 pick.
Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Like Joeckel, Swope has elevated his play the past two weeks against LSU and Auburn. He had 10 receptions for 81 yards versus LSU and exploded against Auburn with six receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Swope had a 16-yard score on an out route to the front of the end zone. His second score came after spinning away from a defender and dove into the end zone. On Swope's fourth catch of the night, he came from the slot after running an intermediate dig route that he broke down the sideline for a gain of 50 yards. The senior had a 30-yarder running a go route down the seam.
Swope is a sleeper prospect who could be a good slot receiver in the NFL. He is fast, sure-handed and a good route-runner. Teams looking for a player to play a role like Wes Welker should give Swope a hard look. He has totaled 36 receptions for 529 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. Swope has missed quarterback Ryan Tannehill this year, but his play of late helps his bid to be a top-100 selection.
Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky
NFL defensive line coaches are fond of saying that sacks come in bunches, well, Smith is proof of that claim. He had five sacks, eight tackles and a forced fumble against Florida International on Saturday. Smith had 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for a loss and seven tackles versus Arkansas State.
The senior's first big game of the season came against Alabama in Week 2 with three sacks and a forced fumble. He dominated against Crimson Tide right tackle D.J. Fluker with his speed rush in his first outing of the season.
Currently, Smith leads the nation in sacks with 11.5. He has 26 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, too. Smith had 7.5 sacks last year, having recorded four sacks in 2010. He would have to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the NFL. The 6-foot-5, 249-pounder is putting himself in contention to be drafted next April.
Honorable Mentions: Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo, Tennessee guard Dallas Thomas, Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson and Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray single-handedley kept Florida in the game when Georgia was dominating in all phases for most of the first half. He gave away two scoring opportunities with turnovers deep in the Gators' territory. The juniot forced passes into receivers with multiple defenders around his target and both passes were deflected into interceptions. Murray had a terrible overthrow late in the second quarter that was intercepted by Matt Elam and returned inside the Bulldogs' 20-yard line. The signal-caller had one more completion (4) than interceptions (3) at halfime.
Murray continued to struggle in the second half before throwing a huge touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was a quick out that was broken downfield for a big gain, so it was more of a great play by the receiver rather than by Murray doing something special. He finished 12-of-25 for 150 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Georgia won by eight, but it should've been by a lot more if Murray could have been even a mediocre game-manager.
The junior has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,064 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This performance showed again that he struggles against good defenses. Murray should return for his senior season, and this won't help him to get selected early.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Taylor has had a disappointing year and that continued against Tennessee. The senior was single-blocked all day going against a passing offense that had quarterback Tyler Bray throw 43 attempts. Taylor got zero pass rush and was a non-factor. He didn't apply pressure on Bray much less get close to a sack. Taylor had three tackles versus the Volunteers.
Taylor has totaled 28 tackles, six tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks this season. 1.5 of his sacks came against Kentucky, a weak SEC team. He flashes some disruption at times, but rarely ever finishes plays. Taylor's closing speed is seriously lacking. Teammate Jadeveon Clowney has seen constant double-teams all season, leaving Taylor almost nothing but one-on-ones. He hasn't made the most of the opportunity. Taylor could have been a second-day pick, but now looks like a fourth- or fifth-rounder.
Tavarres King, WR, Georgia
King had huge day against Kentucky and followed that up by getting shut out by Florida with zero receptions. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder was incapable of matching up against the Gators' talented young cornerbacks. They blanketed King in man coverage all day, and he was incapable of getting any separation. King's route-running was weak, and he didn't have the quickness in his breaks to get open. It was a horrible performance by King that made him look like a backup, at best, in the NFL.
The senior has totaled 511 yards and five scores on 26 catches this season. His only 100 yard game this year - other than Kentucky - came against Buffalo. He couldn't total 60 yards against Missouri, Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and South Carolina. Some consider King to be a good player, but he is not very productive. King looks like a late-round pick at best and could go undrafted.
Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida
Nixon had an impressive game against LSU and defensive end Sam Montgomery, but was dominated by Jarvis Jones over the weekend. The Bulldogs junior beat Nixon for a sack, which may have saved a touchdown as there were receivers wide open running into the end zone. Nixon was on his heels all day and was incapable of limiting Jones. In Nixon's defense, he was playing through a knee injury he sustained in the first half against Georgia. Still, Nixon was ineffective as a pass-protector or run-blocker.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder has a nice skill set with athleticism and improved run blocking this year, but the senior doesn't make the most of his talent. Jones dominant performance will push Nixon towards being a mid-rounder.
Connor Vernon, WR, Duke
Vernon went against Florida over the weekend, which features the best secondary he'll see all season and is led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The latter is a potential first-round pick while Vernon could be a mid-round pick. The Blue Devils wideout made a diving catch after running a go route from the slot, but a booth review took the play away. It was questionable because there wasn't clear evidence that the ball hit the ground, but the officials saw it that way.
The normally sure-handed Vernon dropped a pass in the second half. He struggled to get separation throughout the game and had a disappointing performance with three receptions for 12 yards. Vernon has totaled 54 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns this season. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder needed to play well against the Seminoles to help his cause, so this outing will push him deeper into the third day of the draft.
Dishonorable Mentions: Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier.
Dear Walt, this is becoming prime "mock draft season." And while you have gone the extra mile by including 4 full rounds, I really wish you'd explain why the players are deserving of their draft slots, instead of solely focusing on team needs. It seems like your M.O. to explain for a few sentences why the team would pick a certain position. Then only explain in a sentence or two why the player is worth of said selection. Maybe in Round 4 that'd be acceptable, but for the Top 10-15 picks really should have in depth analysis of the player. That's just my 2 cents. Take care.
I've been on a hiatus with draft work lately and was focused on my Draft Prospect Rankings which you could find in the rants on this site. So, I figured doing one more before the Combine where more prospect movement could occur to see where I stand before and after with those prospects. So, without further adieu here we go!