Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen (Getty)
Last week we took a look at some of the top individual matchups and this week we’ll continue our focus on some of the top pro prospects and the challenges they may face this weekend. The top game on the schedule is usually the Ohio State – Michigan battle, known as “The Big Game”, but this year it’s lost some of its luster due to the Wolverines’ woeful record…
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen – It’s becoming more and more obvious that the talented junior will likely declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft regardless of whether embattled head coach Charlie Weis is retained or not. Clausen has lived under Weis’ tutelage the past three years and has taken a huge leap forward this fall with his decision-making and accuracy. One area he’s never seemed to struggle in is throwing the deep ball and he’s got wide receivers Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara and Golden Tate to throw to against a solid Connecticut secondary that will test Clausen’s abilities.
Arizona State DE Dexter Davis – Heading into the season Davis was the only player in the country with two-straight 10 sack seasons. This year he hasn’t had the same success getting after the quarterback, posting only 2.5 sacks and only has five tackles-for-loss. Part of the problem is teams have been running directly at him and if they drop back to pass they are putting a tight end on his outside shoulder so that they can chip him. The other issue is that Davis just hasn’t shown that explosive first step that made him such a problem to deal with in 2007 and 2008. Davis needs to have a big game against a young UCLA offensive line that features freshmen and sophomores from right to left tackle. If he can get to redshirt freshman QB Kevin Prince, the Sun Devils have a shot at winning in Pasadena this weekend.
Stanford RB Toby Gerhart – The physical runner ranks third in the nation with 1,395 yards rushing and leads the country with 19 touchdowns. This week he takes on the 19th-ranked Cal rush defense that is only allowing 104 yards per game. When Gerhart gets a head of steam, he is almost impossible to bring down with one man. Therefore, the Golden Bears have to throw caution to the wind and put eight in the box in order to keep him from going off. The problem? Redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck has shown the ability to hurt teams with is arm when he drops back. Stanford should win this game, especially if Cal RB Jahvid Best isn’t back to 100% after sitting out last week with a concussion.
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller – Whereas Gerhart is the big bruising back, Spiller is lighting in a bottle and could go the distance almost anytime he catches the ball with his legitimate 4.35 speed. Spiller is shifty, but he’s not a scat-back. He possesses a solid frame going 5-11, 200 pounds and he reminds me a lot of Houston Texans RB Steve Slaton in how he approaches the game. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run inside or outside and he’s also an outstanding return man. He will take on a Virginia rushing defense ranked 86th in the country allowing 166 yards per game. With 836 yards rushing so far this year, he’s got a great shot of going over 1,000 by the time the final gun sounds.
Rutgers OT Anthony Davis – Syracuse linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith lead the Orangemen in sacks with 12.5 between them and they come at offenses from a variety of angles and positions. Davis will have his hands full when the athletic Smith comes at him, but Davis has the feet, reach and athleticism to handle speedy linebacker comes at him. Davis is a junior, but could go in the first round depending on if he decides to come out after this season. He’s very physical in the running game and he’s shown a lot of improvement in pass-protection this year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him challenge Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung for the top OT spot in next April’s draft.
LSU WR Brandon LaFell – One of the top wideouts in the country heading into the season, LaFell isn’t even the top wide receiver on his own team as junior Terrance Toliver has taken over the number one receiver spot on the Tigers’ roster. That doesn’t mean that LaFell isn’t everything we thought he was, it just means Toliver has really risen to an elite level. LaFell has great size (6-3, 205) and good speed (4.45) and this season he’s played out wide and in the slot, so he has proven he can do a number of things. This week he and the rest of the LSU receivers will face a physical secondary in Mississippi which allows just 181 yards per game and only 52% of the passes thrown against them are completed.
Michigan State LB Greg Jones – After posting 127 tackles in 2008, Jones has continued to live up to the preseason hype posting 126 so far this season while also leading his team with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss. Jones’ size (6-1, 230) may dictate a necessary move to outside linebacker once he gets to the NFL – he’s only a junior – but there’s no doubt his instincts and explosive quickness will be a benefit there as well. This weekend he takes on Penn State and will be asked to mirror athletic QB Daryll Clark, stop RB Evan Royster from getting the ground-game going and will need to drop back into coverage when athletic TE Andrew Quarless comes into his area. Jones is a fun player to watch and is one of the top linebackers on my board whether he comes out this year or not.
Texas QB Colt McCoy – Kansas’ pass-defense has been terrible this year while McCoy and his best-friend and roommate WR Jordan Shipley have been a deadly combination this fall. McCoy continues to show outstanding decision-making abilities in Texas’ spread offense, but there are some big concerns about how he will transition to the NFL game. Either way, he’s likely to end up with heavy consideration as a first-rounder once he leaves Austin so it will pay to keep your eyes on him. McCoy has a good arm and shows decent footwork. However, with the different routes and combinations run in the spread it’s real tough to figure out how he will do early in his pro career. He has great leadership abilities and enough athleticism to make teams pay with his legs. However, he’s not going to be a player that can come in and see early success with a team and would benefit from sitting for at least a year or two before he sees much time under center.
Other individuals to keep an eye on this weekend…
North Carolina DT Marvin Austin – A junior, Austin is one of the most physical and athletic interior players in the country.
Georgia WR A.J. Green – Green is only a sophomore, so we get the joy of watching him for another season, but he’s one of the most dangerous wideouts in the country right now.
South Florida DE George Selvie – Selvie is a pass-rusher supreme, but he hasn’t shown the versatility necessary to be a first-rounder.
Mississippi QB Jevan Snead – He and Washington’s Jake Locker, both juniors, are athletic quarterbacks who can sling the ball around the field. Locker is projected as a top 15 pick right now while Snead hasn’t gotten the hype. With one more year of seasoning expect Snead to generate a lot of buzz with continued improvement.
Arizona QB Nick Foles – The first time I saw him I wasn’t that impressed, but all Foles has done is improve every week with both his decision-making and accuracy. He’s got the Wildcats believing they can make it to the Rose Bowl. A win this weekend of Oregon and their physical defense would go a long way in winning he Pac 10 for the first time in their history. He's only a redshirt freshman so there's a lot of room for him to keep growing into a top-rate signal-caller.
TCU DE Jerry Hughes – One of the top pass-rushers in the country, Hughes has the Horned Frogs on the brink of the BCS Championship game with his 10.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss. He’s really fun to watch when he rushes the quarterback.
Michigan DE Brandon Graham - Like Hughes, Graham is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. I love his speed and quickness of the edge, but he also shows the ability to hold he edge and not give up ground in the running game.