Originally posted on Optimum Scouting  |  Last updated 9/24/12

Florida State vs. Clemson was the clear-cut game of the week, and it was an impressive showing by multiple NFL talents, both seniors and juniors. But the quarterback battle was at the forefront, and a surprising victor emerged in my books.

That, plus gushing over the Notre Dame defense and it’s Heisman contender once again, general scouting notes from across college football, and the Week 4 Top 10 in the Heisman race.

Florida State Won the War, But Tajh Boyd Won the Quarterback Battle
The final score dictates the likely ACC Championship play in game between Florida State and Clemson as a 49-37 victory for Florida State. And for these teams’ BCS hopes, National title hopes, and potentially Heisman trophy indications, that’s all that matters. But from a scouting perspective, not looking at the stat lines but the way these two very talented quarterbacks played, the choice is easy for which showed more NFL ability: Tahj Boyd of Clemson.

To start, it’s important to realize that despite Clemson having talent on defense, the Florida State team is better at every level of the defense. Xavier Rhodes, Lamarcus Joyner, Christian Jones, Bjoern Werner, and Tank Carradine were arguably the five of the six best defensive players int his game, and they all play for Florida State.

But looking at what Tajh Boyd showed, it’s encouraging to see a 6’1 passer show so much upside inside the pocket. It starts with Boyd’s high release point with a fluid throwing motion that allows him to throw from different arm angles and foot platforms without sacrificing too much control. He showed fantastic touch downfield and rarely misses a deep pass vs. Cover 1 or a biting safety and going vertical. And from the pocket, he’s shown an improved and impressive timing on shorter routes across the middle, switching reads on time and understanding when throwing lanes will be open.

In the pocket, Boyd has subtle separation moves to get space as rusher attack, keeping his eyes up field and adjusting his line of sight to take advantage of defenses over compensating for his run ability. As a runner, he seems more fluid after his weight loss, but doesn’t seem to have lost too much strength as an in-traffic runner. The biggest concerns with Tajh Boyd is he still doesn’t drive well enough on the outside with short and mid deep routes (though he has the arm to do so), and his ball placement when he needs to drive between zones/defenders is still spotty enough that he’ll miss openings in the defense.

As for EJ Manuel, he flashed the upside and natural talent that has drawn the Cam Newton comparison. He spins a clean ball, has the smooth running ability and power to pick up yards with his feet, and trusts his arm in the redzone and when launching vertically. But while his release point is high, a good thing, it also is possibly the biggest limiting factor for his arm talent in the future.

His release seems to be an attempt to stay high and compact, but it’s stiff nature is what limits his velocity control, ability for short area touch, and inconsistency to drive the ball with accuracy past 25-30 yards despite having the arm. In a sense, his release point is ideal for 10-20 yard quick, high velocity throws. That seems to be the most natural setting for his release. However, because of its stiffness, he struggles to adjust his arm angle to be consistent on flare, swing, and anticipatory out routes. Also, his passes tend to sail high downfield because he forces himself to sink his backfoot and drive upwards, pushing the pass high to get depth than staying on top of his throws thanks to his natural arm strength.

As a passer, he can both overcome and adapt his throwing release to be more effective in the future. His accuracy and quickness of his release was able to be effective last night, with many of his throws being quick routes in that 10-20 yard area and/or quick outside passes.

If EJ Manuel can play in a system of that design, he can be an effective, developmental quarterback at the next level and worthy of an early round (not first) pick. But I’ll take the developed arm, release, and vision as a passer of Tajh Boyd than the stiffness and limited arm upside of EJ Manuel. 

RELATED: 2013 NFL Draft: Who's Stocks Moving Up and Who's Moving Down

Notre Dame is For Real, and They Have a Legit Heisman Contender…on Defense
I don’t mean to write about Notre Dame for two straight weeks (and no, I’m not an Irish fan), but it’s beneficial for college football that Notre Dame is nationally prevalent, and it’s exciting to see a fringe BCS team finally taking the next step as a program in some time. Whether you’re a believer or not right now may not matter, because this team is and will continue to win potentially all of their games this season. And despite this team hiring back to back “offensive guru’s”, it’s thanks to the defense that they are back in the Top 10.

The speed of the defense is unlike anything Notre Dame fans have seen in a long time. Not only is it speed, but it’s efficiency and fundamentally sound play that has allowed this defense to shut down the running game of Michigan State and completely destroy Denard Robinson and his confidence as a passer. Three of the four interceptions thrown by Denard Robinson (all in the first half) were both a combination of poor ball placement by the future NFL receiver (making that point clear), as well as the aggressiveness and high play recognition by the defense.

The leader of the defense, Manti Te’o, was just that: a leader. Lead the team with two interceptions. Lead the team to holding the Big Ten’s most explosive player (Robinson) to under 240 yards of total offense and 0 touchdowns, something that hasn’t happened since a Western Michigan blowout in week one of 2011.

And Te’o isn’t just a leader for this defense, he also deserves to be firmly in the Heisman discussion. Back to back dominating performances both in run support and in coverage, Te’o has been the clear best player on a Top 10 team that will continue to play Top 25 teams like Stanford, Oklahoma, USC, and potentially Pittsburgh. And if Te’o can play the way he’s played the past two weeks, this Notre Dame team can certainly hang with all of them.

As for Te’o’s NFL prospects, his best fit is as a weakside linebacker, which is where we will rank him (likely #1 among senior OLB) in our next rankings. He doesn’t have the strength/physicality to eat up blocks/sort through traffic like an NFL inside linebacker needs to (outside of a Cover 2 system). But with his vision, range, quickness to his initial angle read, and ability in space (both vs. the run and in coverage, where he’s improved most this year), he could be a top tier NFL outside linebacker.

RELATED: Week 3 Scouting Notebook: Tyler Bray Struggles, Notre Dame Dominates, Country-Wide Scouting, and Top 10  

General Scouting Notes

In the past, this article has been a part of the Monday Scouting Notebook. However, due to the fact that our staff compiles loads of scouting notes each week, it makes it better for you to view these notes separately from the major scouting notes of the weekend.

This week's general notes feature notes from Florida State, Clemson, Maryland, West Virginia, San Diego State, San Jose State, UCLA, Oregon State, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, and LSU

Here are just a few...FULL NOTES HERE

-SAM linebacker Kenny Tate finally returned after missing most of 2011 and 3 games this season with knee injuries. Tate showcased the ability to play in space, and excellent cover skills, making several impactful plays versus the passing game. In one sequence, he made a forceful in-the-box tackle in run support, then, on the following play, broke up a pass while covering the highly elusive Tavon Austin. For the most part, Tate dropped into zone coverage, though he was occasionally called on to rush the passer, having much more success from the edge than as a “A” gap blitzer. Overall, Tate looked tentative at times, and certainly didn’t showcase the burst, lateral agility, and change of direction skills that he showed in 2010, when he was a 1st team All ACC safety;  however, much of that could be due to the position change and difficulty in recovering from a devastating knee injury. Still, he looked like a very good cover linebacker, whose role in the defense, confidence, and level of success should grow with each successive game.

-Larry Warford proved why he belongs among the top offensive line prospects in the 2013 draft class with a strong performance versus an explosive Florida front four. This thickly built and reliable, 4-year starter at Kentucky, is the total package in terms of scheme versatility; Warford can down block effectively as the playside guard or pull and lead as the backside guard on power-o runs; he can reach block on zone calls; and he can eliminate 2nd level defenders on combo blocks. Punching and resetting with sudden, firm hands at the point of attack, Warford directs and turns his defender in the hole to create a running lane. The only concern is Warford’s conditioning, as he seemed to tire as the game wore along. A strong 2nd round prospect with a plug and play skill set, Warford should be a long-term starter at the next level.

-In a losing effort, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson impressed wildly with his highly active and dominant play. Relentlessly pursuing the football and flying to the football, Richardson put on display his plus motor and surprising chase speed. Quick-twitched off the line with suddenness and burst, Richardson showcased very good hand usage and counter ability to disrupt plays in the backfield. Utilizing a nice arm-over, short-swim move, Richardson’s lightning quick hands were too much for South Carolina blockers to handle.

-While junior LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger of LSU flashed his elite arm talent and plus size early in this game, he more consistently held onto the football too long in locking onto his primary target. Slow in progressing to his 2nd and 3rd reads, and also lacking a great feel or presence of the pocket, Mettenberger was affected all night by Auburn’s pass rush. On a positive note, Zach Mettenberger did show the toughness to step up in the face of pressure and deliver the football, while taking a hit; at the same time, he must quicken his reads and release of the football in order to keep himself upright and healthy for the duration of the season.



Top 10…Heisman Rankings As of Week 4
While we’re just four weeks through, the Heisman race is still wide open. And while I chose Geno Smith to be in a neck and neck race with Matt Barkley in the pre-season, I would never guess that a Kansas State running back, a Notre Dame defender, or a guy named “Bridgewater” would make the list. in the pre-season.
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
2. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
3. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
4. John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
5. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
6. DeAnthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
7. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
8. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
9. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
10. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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