By: Eric Grinnell
With Week 1 of the 2012 College Football Season officially in the books, I thought it would be fun to get a weekly column going. I’ve talked about it before, but one of the reasons that I love the college football season so much is that I love playing “armchair GM” and scouting for NFL prospects. What I’m planning on doing is writing a weekly “3 Up, 3 Down” column, where I discuss three players that raised their NFL draft stock over the weekend, and 3 players that saw their draft stock fall. Without further ado, here is Week 1:
1. Geno Smith, QB West Virginia
If you keep up with college football, or with NFL draft prospects, you’ve probably read about Geno Smith’s Week 1 performance. If you haven’t here is a quick recap: against Marshall, Smith went 32/36 for 323 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 65 rushing yards, and another rushing TD.
Smith entered the year as a really intriguing prospect—Smith has great measurables (6-3, 214 lbs), a good arm, a quick release, shows nice accuracy, WVU moved to the “more respectable” Big 12, and Smith was expected to put up huge numbers as West Virginia’s offense was expected to be explosive. But still, coming into the season, Smith was not seen as a first-round lock. His detractors pointed to playing in a weak conference and a questionable offensive system. But if Smith continues to put up performances like this one, especially against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, he will put himself in contention for a Top 10 selection and a Heisman candidacy.
2. Le’Veon Bell, RB Michigan State
When you run for over 200 yards in a nationally televised game, you get noticed. Bell did just that and looked straight up dominate in the Spartans Friday night game against Boise State, amassing 210 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, while adding 6 catches for 55 yards. These stats are pretty eye-popping just on paper, but I think it was even more impressive the way he got these 250+ yards. Bell showed off impressive athleticism (hurdling some Boise State defenders), toughness (breaking tackles), and the ability to be an effective receiver out of the backfield (impressive for a 244 pound back).
Bell didn’t really come into the game with much NFL hype. A lot of people thought he could put up some good numbers this year now that former Spartan running back Edwin Baker had graduated, but he was still seen as a just a bruiser that was probably a mid-round prospect at best. But Baker’s performance on Friday probably was impressive enough to jump up a few rounds and put him into the 2nd-3rd round range—it was just that good.
I’ve read a lot of comparisons to Tampa Bay Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount and these seem somewhat on point. Bell, like Blount, is a huge back that shows surprising athletic ability (both apparently like to hurdle defenders). But overall, I think Bell is the better prospect. Blount is a headcase that has fumbling issues and can’t catch the ball—Bell doesn’t have any of these warts.
3. Tyler Bray, QB Tennessee
Tyler Bray probably had the second most impressive quarterback performance behind Geno Smith. Bray went 27/41 for 333 yards and 2 TDs. Those numbers aren’t all that eye-popping in college football, but the impressive part is that Bray did this against a N.C. State team that featured the best cornerback prospect in the country, David Amerson. Bray also beat Amerson on a lot of throws, which was really impressive.
Like Smith, Bray entered this year as a very intriguing prospect. No one doubts Bray’s physical tools (he’s 6-6, 215 with arguably the biggest arm in college football), but Bray hadn’t really lived up to the hype on the football field, and he’s made some dumb decisions off of it. So Bray’s stock has varied from a potential #1 overall pick, to a guy that would slide out of the first-round (many also think he could return for his senior season in 2013 if he has a mediocre year). For at least the first week, Bray did well to raise his stock.
One interesting thing to keep an eye on this year will be how the QB prospects sort themselves out. Right now, Matt Barkley is regarded as the best QB prospect and is the early favorite to go #1 overall. But after Barkley, there is a huge battle for the next slotting. Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, Geno Smith, Landry Jones, and Logan Thomas all have significant upside—enough that they could even challenge Barkley for #1—but they have their own questions. Stay tuned.
1. David Amerson, CB North Carolina State
As mentioned above, Amerson did not have a great night against Tyler Bray and the Vol receivers on Friday. Amerson was burned on a couple plays, and it certainly couldn’t have been the start to the season that he was looking for.
The good news is that Amerson likely needs a few of these types of games to remove himself from Top 15 consideration. Amerson is a truly rare cornerback prospect—he’s long (6’3), has good hips and cover skills (which is impressive for a long corner like him to have good hips), and he has elite ball skills (13 picks last year). Corners like him just don’t come around very often. This is also a mediocre corner class, so Amerson will really have to have several bad games to see his stock drop that much.
2. Michigan Wolverines (Denard Robinson, Craig Roh, William Campbell)
The talent discrepancy between the Big 10 and the SEC was fully exposed on Saturday night. The Crimson Tide are loaded with future potential 1st-round picks while you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the Michigan Wolverines have any player that should be taken any higher than the 3rd round. But the prospects the Wolverines do have sure didn’t show much.
The three Wolverines that had the best NFL prospects coming into the game were defensive end Craig Roh, defensive tackle William Campbell, and Denard Robinson. Everyone has heard of Robinson, but Roh has showed promise since he was a freshman, and Campbell is a former 5-star recruit. Coming into the year, Roh was seen as a mid-round pick, and Campbell was seen as a late-round pick that could make a huge jump with a big year given his physical skill set and pedigree. But Roh and Campbell were part of a defensive line that was bulldozed by a Crimson Tide rushing attack for 232 yards. Alabama has the best offensive line in the country, so it would have been huge for either of these guys to have a good game. Instead, they got manhandled, which certainly didn’t help their stock.
I think everyone knows that Denard Robinson will not be a quarterback at the next level, and any believers that were still left coming into the season certainly had to have their mind changed after Saturday’s game. Playing against arguably the best defense in the country (LSU and Florida State are in this conversation), Robinson went 11/27 for 200 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. This was a game that clearly showed Robinson should be converted full time to a slot receiver or a 3rd down back at the next level.
3. Landry Jones, QB Oklahoma
Jones had an extremely mediocre day against UTEP, going 21/36 for only 222 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. These aren’t the type of numbers that you expect from a 4-year starter against a team like UTEP. Jones has explosive playmakers around him, so he really should be putting up better numbers.
Jones has been a maddening prospect for about a year now. He has one of the best arms in college football, good size (6-4, 220), and has been a 4-year starter at Oklahoma. But Jones has really never made the jump to “elite level,” makes too many bonehead decisions, and doesn’t handle pressure well. So while he’s always been regarded as a guy with potential to be a Top 15 pick, it has stayed just that—potential.
As mentioned above, there is a battle going on right now for quarterback positioning. This is a really deep year, and games like this could quickly push Jones from the #4-5 range to the #8 range in terms of quarterback rankings.