Two weeks ago West Virginia were National Championship contenders and Geno Smith favourite for the Heisman. Nobody predicted what happened next.
Kansas State pounded the Mountaineers 55-14 on Saturday, following up last week’s similar beat down at Texas Tech. Smith threw his first two interceptions of the year against the Wildcats in a difficult display. He went 21/32 for 143 yards and just one touchdown. He received very little in terms of pass protection or help from a miserable defense, but this was a second consecutive struggle for the quarterback.
Here’s the thing – people got carried away during the good times for Smith. He came flying out of the blocks and the temptation is always to crown a guy too early. He’s not a gimmick quarterback, his mechanics are solid if not perfect and he’s athletic. It’s very easy to look at the package and project ‘high NFL draft pick’. Smith’s always been a likely top-two round projection, but suddenly he was pencilled in as the #1 overall talent. Not so fast.
For what it’s worth I think Smith will be a first round pick, depending on how many teams are actually motivated to draft a quarterback in round one. The need is shortening and players such as Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson could leave the board first, impacting on Smith’s stock. He’s still a good quarterback with a lot of the tools to make it at the next level. Even so, he’s not the #1 overall pick and we’ve seen the fragile nature of the WVU team the last two weeks. They can’t play defense, and this puts so much pressure on the offense to make quick scores. They use an extreme spread just like the one we discussed with Brandon Weeden/Oklahoma State last year. If you can bring pressure with four and flood underneath, then it makes life very difficult for a quarterback who will take a lot of 5-7 step drops from the shotgun and he’ll likely start to force things with the fast ball. Just like Weeden, Smith is going to need time to adjust to a more basic pro-style offense. He has a lot of the physical tools needed to manage that transition, but as Weeden is finding out it’s an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome.
On a positive note, Tavon Austin enhanced his blossoming reputation as a potential first round pick with a sensational 100 yard kick off return for a score. He also added WVU’s other touchdown on a 5 yard pass. He’s explosive with elite speed and will interest teams as a big-time playmaker. He should be a top-40 choice in April.
While the Mountaineers were struggling, USC were coasting to victory over Colorado. Matt Barkley set more records as he posted 19/20 passing for 298 yards and six touchdowns. Robert Woods also had a big day with eight catches for 132 yards and four touchdowns. The Trojans had a superb second half to last season culminating in Barkley proving a lot of his doubters wrong to enter the Heisman race. It appears USC are well set for another similar run with some big games coming up over the next few weeks. Even so, there’s no getting away from how poorly Colorado performed in the 50-6 defeat. Woods’ first score – a 39 yarder – included some of the worst tackling you’ll ever see. A strong gust of wind probably would’ve nudged Woods out of bounds, yet two defensive players couldn’t manage it.
It was a bit of an anti-climax for Brandon Coleman after the big send up on the blog this week. Seattle had scouts at the Rutgers vs Temple game (won by the Knights 35-10) yet Coleman managed just two catches for 17 yards. Really, it was one catch for 17 yards as the other reception failed to register any gain. This isn’t necessarily bad news if you’re the type of person, like me, that would like to see the 6-6 receiver in Seattle should he declare for the NFL. Nothing helps your stock like mass production (see: Geno Smith). Demaryius Thomas had all the physical tools you’d wish to see from a receiver, but lasted into the second half of round one seemingly due to modest production in the triple-option offense at Georgia Tech. He had one or two catch games to go along with the six catch-133 yard games. For Coleman to stick around into the kind of range the Seahawks will select next April, a few games like Saturday’s are welcome.
A month ago I wrote a piece arguing that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron deserved greater attention. He’s a better player than ‘Bama’s more recent quarterbacks and has a future at the next level. He’s not a great, physical passer who will make explosive plays – but he’s intelligent, reads the field well and can execute. He doesn’t turn the ball over – he’s yet to throw an interception this year. The worst case scenario is he’ll become a solid backup quarterback for many years in the NFL, but I suspect he will get opportunities to start. Against Tennessee he threw 17/22 for 306 yards and four touchdowns. In seven games he has 16 touchdowns, no picks, 1476 yards and leads the NCAA for QB rating (183.6). Underrated player.
C.J. Mosley also had another fine game and looks like a top-25 draft pick. He made an easy interception in the first half and on the very next drive blew up a screen to force a punt. He’s an extreme playmaker at the linebacker position with three sacks and two interceptions already this year. He can cover, he can rush. Another word on Alabama – they’re reloading even in a year where they appear destined to win another national title. Freshmen T.J. Yeldon (RB) and Amari Cooper (WR) look NFL ready even now and are likely to become future stars not just in college, but at the next level too.
As for Tennessee, it was another let-down game for Justin Hunter. He had a big drop at the end of the first half which would’ve given the Vols a chance to get back into the game. He didn’t catch a ball until there was 2:36 left in the third quarter, at which point Alabama had settled into a commanding position. He ended up with four catches for 70 yards in garbage time, but he showed no evidence that he’s a top draft prospect. Clearly the serious knee injury last year has impacted his college performance, along with the rampant inconsistency of the Tennessee offense. He could still make a success of things in the NFL, but it’s likely to be as a second day pick rather than the top-15 selection some anticipated.
Cordarrelle Patterson had only one catch for 25 yards and continues to show both rawness as a receiver (poor routes, doesn’t fight for the ball) and extreme playmaking potential (huge kick off returns). I’ll say it again – he’s a home run hitter. The best of the 2013 eligible players in that regard. But you’ll be pulling your hair out watching him play receiver. The team that drafts this guy will do so hoping he can make one or two big plays most weeks and I’m not sure he’ll ever be more than that. Yet the fact he has so much playmaking quality is enticing, I’m just not sure I trust him to be consistent.
Jonathan Banks (CB, Mississippi State) is a cornerback who fits in Seattle’s scheme. He had another interception against Mid-Tennessee State (plus a 46 yard return) and two further pass break-ups. Corner isn’t a huge need for Seattle, but Banks is a clear first round pick.
Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M) continued his fine season with another sack and big performance against LSU. He leads the NCAA with 9.5 sacks – one of the main reasons I had him down as a top-ten pick in my latest mock draft.
Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State) had his first two sacks since week three of the season. The Seminoles handled Miami 33-20 and Werner is up to eight sacks for the year.
Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State) is one of the best linebackers in college football and it might be worth keeping a close eye on this guy. As noted by a few people on Twitter over the weekend, there’s an interesting exert on Brown’s wikipedia page: “Pete Carroll said that Brown was the best linebacker that he has seen in seven years.” There’s no confirming or denying this and it is just wikipedia, but we know how Carroll remembers guys he recruited. The likes of Bruce Irvin and Richard Sherman were both players Carroll failed to bring to USC but have since been drafted by the Seahawks. Brown is a solid round two projection at this point and could make it a hat-trick for Carroll if he’s on the board when the team picks.
A lot of people are talking about Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU) – a 6-6, 270lbs pass rusher with extreme athleticism. He only has three sacks for the year, two coming against Utah State (see tape below) but the potential is clear to see. He could be moving into first round contention and may even crack the top-15 if he tests well at the combine.