Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Franklin capped off a great regular season with a phenomenal performance in the Pac-12 Championship against Stanford and its tough, physical defense. The Cardinal has one of the best defenses in the nation, yet it had no answer for the senior.
Franklin (5-11, 195) showed his power with an 11-yard run that came with him breaking three tackles. He busted a tackle close to the line of scrimmage on the same drive and exploded down the field for a 51-yard touchdown. Franklin had a 19-yard run on the next possession after he ran through a tackle by Chase Thomas.
Franklin went around the right side in the second quarter for a gain of 31 yards. He showed his suddenness again with a 20-yard touchdown run. The senior paused to wait for a hole to open behind his guard and tackle to get up the middle of the field.
It was a great outing by Franklin. He totaled 194 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Franklin also had three receptions for 22 yards. The senior back has averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2012, amassing 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He also has 32 receptions for 319 yards.
This game against Stanford showed that Franklin has more power and strength than expected. He has good quickness and suddenness with superb patience. Franklin picked up a ton of yards after contact and ran through a number of tackles from the tough Cardinal defense. This tape will help his cause to get second-day consideration in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Kenny Vacarro, S, Texas
Texas' defense hung tough for some time against Kansas State before the Wildcats pulled away. One of the players who kept the Longhorns close was Vaccaro. He was all over the field for his team. The senior had a number of nice tackles in run defense.
Vaccaro was in on a second-quarter tackle of Braden Wilson on which the ball popped out and rolled out of bounds. It looked like other players forced the ball out before Vaccaro got there, but he was credited with the forced fumble.
Vaccaro made a touchdown-saving tackle on a long run during the third quarter. He then delivered a bone-rattling shot to Collin Klein on the very next play on an option run. Vaccaro came across the field at later to make another touchdown-saving stop. He had 12 tackles and the forced fumble versus Kansas State.
The senior has totaled 89 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and three passes broken up this year. Vaccaro executes well as a deep center fielder and a run-defender in the box. He could be a late first-round or early second-round pick next April.
Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
Jones didn't start the 2012 SEC Championship all that well, but he was a dominant force in the final two quarters to help push his team into the National Championship game. Jones had his hands full in the first half with Georgia nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
Jones still had some good plays in the early going. He and Warmack combined to blast open a big hole for Eddie Lacy to have a run of about 20. They also opened up a hole for T.J. Yeldon to get a big gain.
Jones got out on a screen in the third quarter to help his back get 15 yards on a third-down conversion. Later, a great block by the center on Geathers let Yeldon rip off a 30-yard run into Georgia territory. Jones finished the drive by shoving Geathers into the turf to open a hole for Yeldon to score a 10-yard touchdown.
Jones held off a fourth-quarter bull rush long enough for the game-winning touchdown pass to be thrown accurately. The line paved the way for Alabama to run for over 300 yards on the ground with two running backs going over 150 yards.
Jones was tremendous in crunch time since he was playing with a foot injury that had him on crutches after the game. Jones was a superb technician in the way he handled Geathers and Jenkins, especially the former. This tape will help Jones, and it could propel him into the first round if he can duplicate it when he takes on Notre Dame and its superb nose tackle Louis Nix.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The Crimson Tide power back had a great game against Georgia. His offensive line was phenomenal, but he did his part to make some defenders miss, power through tackles and pick up extra yards after contact. Lacy broke numerous tackles including from the likes of Jarvis Jones. Lacy went behind the right side of his line in the first half for a 41-yard touchdown run.
Lacy and the Alabama line completely took the game over in the third quarter. He ripped off yards in chunks and had another touchdown when he dove into the end zone from a yard out. Lacy finished the game with 185 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns. This game will help his cause to move up higher.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder showed a special skill set against the Bulldogs with his quickness, power and elusiveness. Lacy consistently uses a spin move to break out of tackles to pick up extra yards. He won't get as much out of that move in the NFL, so he'll need to pick his spots more selectively on when to use it.
Lacy has averaged 6.4 yards per carry this year while runnings for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has 20 receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown, too. If Lacy enters the 2013 NFL Draft, he could be a second-day selection, and this performance will definitely help him.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
Thomas' sack count had been lagging as a senior, but with four sacks in the final two weeks of the regular season, he will enter the Cardinal's Bowl game with 7.5 sacks on the season. Thomas came up with a clutch performance in the Pac-12 Championship to help his team to the conference crown.
Thomas had an impressive second-quarter sack after lining up wide with his hand in the ground. He exploded up field and beat the left tackle with a devastating spin move to run down quarterback Brett Hundley. Thomas got in on a coverage sack with a teammate in the third quarter, too. Hundley ran around before Thomas got free to chase him down.
The senior got in on his third sack midway through the fourth quarter after the Bruins signal-caller scrambled forward. Thomas had 10 tackles with two sacks against UCLA (one solo sack and two of the half sack variety). He also had good pass coverage on tight end Joseph Fauria. There were many passing plays where Thomas dropped into coverage, so his pass-rushing opportunities were reduced.
Thomas enters the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin with 7.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 71 tackles and one interception. He looks like a nice pick on the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft. Thomas is a perfect 3-4 linebacker who can play on the inside and outside. He could have a late rise in the months leading up to draft day.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Going against Thomas in the Rose Bowl is the Badgers legend Ball. Ball finished his final Big Ten contest in impressive fashion by dominating Nebraska. He was ripping off yards at a good clip all game. Wisconsin's line was dominating the point of attack, and Ball was getting good yards before contact. He was doing a nice job of hitting the holes quickly before they closed.
Ball's first touchdown came on a stretch run. He came in motion and was handed the ball off of a shotgun snap. Ball beat the defensive backs to the corner to dive into the end zone. His second score came when he exploded up the middle untouched for an easy 9-yard touchdown.
The third touchdown by Ball was a thing of beauty. He spun out of one tackle five yards past the line of scrimmage and shed another defender to break free down the field. Ball then stiff-armed Ciante Evans into the turf at the 20-yard line before running into the end zone. The highlight-reel run went for 57 yards. The senior ran for 202 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns.
Ball has had a prolific college career and should be a functional pro running back. He doesn't have an elite skill set for the NFL, but he could be a contributor as part of a running back stable. Ball has averaged 5.2 yards per carry this season while collecting 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns. This tape will help him to be a second- or third-round pick next April.
John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Jenkins has finished his collegiate career in impressive fashion. He totaled 11 tackles a week ago against Georgia Tech. Jenkins then had plenty of wins in the SEC Championship going against future NFL offensive linemen including future first-round guard Chance Warmack.
Jenkins beat Warmack for a sack on a third down. He charged into the guard to rock him back. Jenkins then slammed Warmack's hands off him and charged into McCarron for the sack. Jenkins had some pressures on the quarterback on other plays by using his ability to bull rush linemen back into the pocket.
The senior had a nice run stuff in the third quarter, but he got tired as he was on the field too much in the second half. Alabama was able to wear him down and take away some of his effectiveness via fatigue. No coaching staff in the NFL will plan on him logging that many snaps.
Jenkins totaled 50 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one pass batted this season. The 6-foot-3, 358-pounder is a natural nose tackle for a 3-4 defense. He could also be a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense who is a two-gap defender. Jenkins is quicker and has more explosiveness than one would expect from such a large man. He demonstrated his first-round ability against Alabama.
Tavarres King, WR, Georgia
The senior wide out picked a good time to have one of the best games of his final season. King made a nice catch on a deep out early on for a 34-yard gain. He and his quarterback went along the sideline for two more long completions; one of which was a 40-yarder. The tandem connected again for a long completion on the final drive in the middle of the field. King showed nice toughness to hang in there even though he knew he was about to be rocked.
King caught five passes for 142 yards against the Crimson Tide. He's only had two bigger stat lines during his collegiate career. King really stepped up his play against Alabama and its talented secondary.
King has 39 receptions for 846 yards and eight touchdowns this year. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder isn't the biggest or fastest receiver, but he is polished and experienced. This performance will help King to go on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft next April.
Honorable Mentions: Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
Benavides had a rough night against Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights consistently drove him back into the pocket. The lack of strength to sustain blocks was a real weakness as defenders were knocking away his hands to get free.
Benavides had issues with the power and speed of Rutgers' linemen. He couldn't get a push on consecutive plays in the first half on which Louisville only needed a yard for a first down. Later in the third quarter, defensive tackle Scott Malone tossed Benavides to the side and ran down Teddy Bridgewater for a sack.
Benavides was driven straight backward a bit later to blow up a run play and start a tackle for a loss. He really struggled in one-on-one blocks versus the Scarlet Knights. Benavides was better and more effective when he hit combo blocks with guards.
Benavides has to play in a zone-blocking system at the next level, because it will allow him to use his mobility. That will also put him in more double-team situations. He doesn't have the strength to win blocks in a power-man scheme.
Benavides is mobile player and does well to get to landmarks on the second level. He moves well in pass protection, but can't be trusted to single-block a good pass-rusher. Being a limited player has hurt Benavides' stock will be hurt. This performance made him look like a mid-rounder.
Shawn Williams, S, Georgia
Despite having nine tackles in the SEC Championship, Williams did not look good against Alabama. He needs to be a run defender who can be effective in the tackle box for the NFL. That ability came under question versus the Crimson Tide's tough ground offense.
Williams had some ugly plays in run support in the second half. On a critical play in the game, he missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage to allow a gain of six yards on a third-and-5. Williams also didn't provide any big plays in pass defense.
Wiliams has totaled 87 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, four passes broken up and a forced fumble this season. He has no picks despite having a great pass rush in front of him. Williams ball skills are questionable; all four of his career interceptions came in his junior season. He could still end up being a second-day pick, but this performance made him look more like an early selection on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Dishonorable Mentions: Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan and Georgia defensive tackle Kwame Geathers.