Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
With Buffalo playing an easy schedule, the game against Ohio State was important for Mack to show that he can compete with a higher level of talent. Mack was held in check and look overmatched throughout the first quarter. Howevere, in the second quarter, he took over and became a dominant force. It started when Mack bull rushed the right tackle into the pocket. He shed the tackle and started to drag down Braxton Miller with a teammate helping him finish the sack.
Shortly later, Mack recognized a screen being set up and backed off of left tackle Jake Mewhort, who tried to cut block him. Miller's pass came Mack's direction and he snatched the ball. Mack beat a few Buckeyes receivers in the race to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown return. On the next possession, Mack beat the right tackle with a speed rush and dip to sack Miller.
Mack recorded nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and his pick-six versus Ohio State. The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder showed a combination of speed and strength to be a serious pass-rushing weapon. This performance should help Mack to be a first-round pick next May.
Christion Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones turned out to be the star of the Crimson Tide's season opener, but he was an unknown commodity heading into the gane. Jones had serious a coming out party for Alabama on Saturday nigh. He did his best Devin Hester with a punt return (74 yards) and a kick return (93 yards) for a touchdown in the first half. The kick return was especially impressive as he spun off a tackle to break free down the sideline. In the third quarter, Jones streaked down the field and made an over-the-shoulder catch for a 38-yard touchdown. He personally outscored Virginia Tech 21-10. This game was huge for Jones and it definitely puts him on the map for NFL scouts.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Other than Jones, Fuller was the player who did the most to seize the spotlight in Crimson Tide-Hokies contest. Fuller covereed Alabama's receivers well all night, including star wide out Amari Cooper. Fuller had perfect coverage on his receiver and made a nice catch to pick off A.J. McCarron. Fuller also showed off some vertical leap when he skied high to smack the ball away. In the third quarter, Fuller had good coverage on Cooper to prevent a deep completion. Fuller got his hand in at the right time to force an incompletion. He had some other good tackles against the run and did well on special teams.
It was an outstanding performance by Fuller (6-0, 189) to really help his draft stock start an upward trend in 2013. The senior showed nice agility to turn and run with the Crimson Tide's receivers. He was smart to read the eyes and hands of Cooper to make a deflection. Fuller showed off ball skills and was flying around the field. If the senior's draft stock soars this year, it will be this performance that got it started.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
The Clemson defense was a weak link in the team's 2012 season, but the unit showed some signs of life against Georgia. Beasley was a big part of that with the pressure he put on Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray. Beasley notched two sacks and combined with teammates to keep Murray from feeling comfortable all night.
For the NFL, Beasley will probably have to move to outside linebacker. 6-foot-2, 235-pounds is too undersized to play defensive end at the next level. Beasley recorded eight sacks last year, and is off to a strong start to his junior year with a good tape against Georgia to interest scouts.
James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
There was no player in the nation with more pre-game pressure than Hurst. Drawing Jadeveon Clowney in the season opener is a tough task, but Hurst turned it into a positive. He allowed Clowney some upfield penetration in their one-on-one matchups, but kept Clowney from getting any sacks or hits on his quarterback. Hurst really helped himself by holding his own when he didn't get double-team help.
Hurst could use more strength to move linemen in the ground game, but he showed good feet and quickness in his pass drops. He could be best utilized in a zone-blocking system in the NFL. When Hurst gets his draft grade next offseason, this tape will definitely help him in his bid to be an early-round pick.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater entered the season as the top quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. His performance against Ohio is decent evidence of why he is held in such high regard. Bridgewater finished the season opener versus the Bobcats having completed 23-of-29 passes for 355 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He made a number of great throws downfield for touchdowns and beat good coverage with perfect passes. The junior led Louisville to convert nine straight third-down attempts.
On a number of throws, Bridgewater showed great poise in the pocket and was patient to let his receivers work themselves open. He hung tough and delivered great passes even when he knew he was about to be hit. Bridgewater showed mobility on rollouts, good arm strength and extreme accuracy. He displayed a complete skill set in dominating fashion. It validated his rating as the top quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd carried Clemson to a season-opening home win against the Georgia Bulldogs, the fifth-ranked team in the nation. He provided a lot of clutch plays through the air and on the ground to move the Tigers' offense to 38 points. Boyd ran for two touchdowns; threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, a 31-yard touchdown pass to Zac Brooks and another short touchdown pass; all while avoiding turnovers. Boyd showed off a powerful arm, good field vision, mobility and decision-making.
The senior completed 18-of-30 passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns versus Georgia. His receivers also dropped a few well-thrown passes downfield. He ran for 42 yards on 13 carries and two scores on the ground, too. This gritty performance by Boyd helps his bid to be first-round pick and a potentially early selection.
Honorable Mentions: Rice running back Charles Ross, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, Florida defensive end Dominique Easley, Alabama defensive end Ed Stinson, Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, Clemson running back Roderick McDowell, LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, Northwestern linebacker Collin Ellis, Washington quarterback Keith Price, Washington running back Bishop Sankey, Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews and Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal.
2014 NFL Draft Stock Down
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The Gators talented junior cornerback was suspended for the season opener against Toledo for a violation of team rules. Purifoy entered the year as one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation, but now, he has saddled himself with some off-the-field question marks that NFL teams will dig into. To make matters worse for Purifoy, star true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III was excellent in his stead. Hargreaves was one of the top recruits in the nation last winter and had a clutch interception in the season opener. If Purifoy doesn't clean up his act, some around Florida think that Hargreaves could get starts over him.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
There has always been hype about Henderson (6-8, 345) since he was the nation's No. 1 recruit coming out of high school. Henderson has had a disappointing career, but there was hope and more hype that he was poised for a big senior season. That took a serious hit when Henderson wasn't in the starting lineup against Florida Atlantic.
Henderson did rotate into the game during the first half at right tackle. Miami had success running behind him with running back Duke Johnson and others. There were also some plays where Henderson missed his block. He had a false start in the third quarter and was beaten for a pressure on the quarterback in the fourth.
Perhaps not starting was a motivational tool by head coach Al Golden, since it was reported that Henderson worked hard in the offseason and came into training camp in good shape. Henderson needs to play better against Florida and force his way into the starting lineup.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
Entering the season, some felt McCarron is a future first-round pick while others think he is a game-manager in the mold of former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle. Evaluators with NFL teams told WalterFootball.com before this season that they don't see McCarron grading out as a first-round pick. The game against Virginia Tech served as an example of why that is.
McCarron did not have an impressive game that answered any of the questions about his passing ability. He didn't illustrate a stronger arm and threw some passes off his back foot when he didn't need to. McCarron's accuracy wasn't impressive, perhaps because his receivers weren't as wide open as they often were in 2012. The senior finished 10-of-23 for 112 yards with a touchdown and interception. McCarron's performance in the season opener does not make it look like he's a future first-round pick.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was at this time last year was considered as a potential high first-round pick after he produced a huge sophomore season. Instead, Thomas had an awful juniot year with terrible passing accuracy and bad decision-making. He didn't do enough in this season's opener to show that 2012 was an aberration.
Thomas struggled to complete passes versus the Crimson Tide, even after considering some of the terrible drops his receivers committed. Thomas' accuracy was off as he missed some openings in the secondary. He finished the contest 5-of-26 for 58 yards with an interception. Thomas and his receivers were overmatched and this illustrates why his draft stock has fallen dramatically. The senior needs to show big improvements in the weeks to come.
Dishonorable Mentions: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, San Jose State quarterback David Fales, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.