Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson had an excellent Week 1 performance to start his junior year, and he continued his strong play in Week 2, carrying Louisville to a road win over North Carolina. Against the Tar Heels, Jackson completed 25-of-39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns, plus ran for 132 yards on 19 carries with another three touchdowns on the ground. One pass was a phenomenal 75-yard touchdown strike after Jackson stepped out of a sack before throwing a perfect laser downfield to his receiver.
Entering the season, the big area that Jackson needed to show improvement for the NFL was accuracy. This performance illustrates that he has gotten better with his accuracy and ball placement. Jackson isn't flawless and still can have some passes go off the mark, but he threw with a lot of precision against North Carolina. After his performance through two games, Jackson looks like he is trending in the right direction.
Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
This is a surprising pick for a stock-up considering Thorson didn't play well against Duke and Northwestern was blown out in that game last Saturday. Scouts who have been through Northwestern, however, have told me that they were impressed with what they saw from Thorson (6-4, 225) on tape and in practice. Thorson has shown that he has pro potential in terms of his skill set. He can throw the deep out with a fastball that can fit into tight windows. Thorson has quality mechanics and a quick delivery. He's a quarterback who will go under the radar but could be a nice value pick.
Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson
Bryant dominated Auburn's right tackle on Saturday night, totaling four sacks. Bryant had three solo sacks and shared in two others, as all night he was hunting down Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Bryant used his speed to run around the right tackle, and showed an ability to close as other defenders helped cause Stidham to scramble around with Bryant cleaning up the plays. On the final two plays of the game for Auburn's offense, Bryant notched back-to-back sacks to close out Clemson's eight-point win. He also had seven tackles beyond his four sacks. This was an excellent tape for Bryant that sends his stock up.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Ferrell dominated Auburn sophomore left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, as Ferrell was just too fast for Wanogho. In the third quarter, Ferrell came with a speed rush around Wanogho and strip-sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Auburn was lucky that Wanogho dove on the loose ball to retain possession. Later, Ferrell used a spin move to almost get another sack of Stidham, but the quarterback was able to duck under Ferrell to escape. Ferrell came close to another sack a short while later after using his speed to run around the corner and chase Stidham out of the pocket. Ferrell finished with six tackles and one sack, but he created a lot of sacks for his teammates, as Clemson had seven sacks against Auburn.
Ferrell looked like a first-round edge rusher in this game. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder has good length to him with NFL size and speed around the corner. The redshirt sophomore could enter the 2018 NFL Draft, and if he does, this tape will help him to be a Thursday night selection.
Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
I reported in a Hot Press article last week that Hurst was creating a buzz in the scouting community. Scouts rave about Hurst's combination of size and speed. They say the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder can be a blocker as well as a dangerous receiver. Hurst made three catches for 69 yards with a 39-yard touchdown reception against Missouri. He showed his athleticism and power with the touchdown run plus did a good job as a blocker. Hurst was open for other big plays down the field, but the passes were overthrown.
Sources have raved about Hurst's body type and movement skills. They also say they believe that Hurst will skip his senior year to enter the 2018 NFL Draft because of his age. Sources at multiple teams think that Hurst has a first-round skill set and has a shot at going in the first round if he is given enough opportunities to produce, with a team looking past an age issue as Hurst will be a 25-year old rookie. Hurst could end up being the No. 1 rated tight end for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Gesicki got his season started well against Akron, and he continued his strong play versus Pittsburgh. In the first quarter against the Panthers, Gesicki caught a short touchdown pass after getting wide open in busted coverage while running down the seam. He caught his second touchdown pass a short time later after getting open running across the field and being left alone in the flat. Gesicki then turned up field to dart into the end zone from about 10 yards out. In the fourth quarter, he got open for a gain of almost 20 yards.
Gesicki finished the day with 39 yards on four receptions and two touchdowns. The numbers don't fully illustrate how impressive he was. Gesicki ran good routes and displayed quickness, athleticism, and soft hands. This tape will help his draft grade.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Freeman was excellent in 2015 but had a down in year in 2016 as the Oregon football program bottomed out. In the early going of 2017 though, Freeman has been phenomenal. He partied Al Bundy stylein Week 1 with four touchdowns in a single game against Southern Utah while running for 150 yards on 23 carries and making four receptions for 50 yards. Freeman beat up on the weak caliber of competition in that contest, but he proved that it was no aberration by rolling over Nebraska in Week 2 for 153 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns. In 2017, Freeman is averaging 5.8 yards per carry for 303 yards with six touchdowns. He has five receptions for 59 yards as well.
The 5-foot-11, 231-pounder is a thick power back for the NFL. Freeman is really helping his draft stock with his strong play to start out his senior year.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Freeman isn't the only player who has gone "Al Bundy" this season, as Sutton dominated North Texas last Saturday with four touchdown catches. Sutton did that on eight receptions for 163 yards. Through two games, he has 10 receptions for 185 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 216-pounder is on his way to a massive year.
Honorable Mentions: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis.
2017 NFL Draft Stock Down
Richard Lagow, QB, Indiana
Lagow battled hard and passed the ball well against Ohio State in Week 1, so it was surprising to see him struggle against Virginia's defense. In the first quarter, Lagow took a zone-read run and fumbled the ball after taking a big hit. Early in the second quarter, Lagow made a bad read as he threw to a well-covered receiver. The ball was also thrown too short, and that led to an easy interception for the Cavaliers. Lagow was pulled from the game for freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey following that mistake. Lagow was only 3-of-10 for 24 yards with the interception and fumble. His performance against Virginia made his outng against Ohio State look like an aberration, and this tape will definitely hurt his draft grade.
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
Stidham didn't have much of a chance as the Clemson defensive line dominated Auburn's offensive front. Still, Stidham held onto the ball too long at times and took some unnecessary sacks. He needs to speed up his process in terms of getting faster at making decisions and getting the ball out. Stidham was 19-of-29 for 181 yards against the Tigers. Over the first two games, he has shown some rust after not playing football last year. His current track would suggest that Stidham should return to Auburn in 2018.
Marcell Frazier, DE, Missouri
Frazier is an early-round talent, but he didn't impress against South Carolina. He started the game well before going quiet. In the first quarter, Frazier burned the left tackle with a speed rush. He almost got the sack, but he spun the quarterback around, which set up a sack for a teammate. Frazier had some pressures early before becoming a ghost. He also didn't impress in run support, totaling just one tackle. Frazier did not look like a first-round pick against South Carolina, and his defense needed some big plays.
Dishonorable Mentions: Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.