UCLA’s offense was difficult to watch last year and they relied a lot on a good defense to win games. Having lost Brian Price to the draft this year, could the Bruins maintain that quality? Initial thoughts based on yesterday’s defeat to Kansas State is that not much has changed – the offense still stutters and the defense looks good. One prospect who interests me more than a lot of others this year is outside linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers.
With the Seahawks now using a LEO pass rusher off the edge, Ayers fits the bill at 6’4″ and 255lbs. He had an excellent game despite his team’s 31-22 defeat and is one to watch. He might be Seattle’s best bet for a playmaker off the edge after UNC’s Robert Quinn (who missed the opening weekend through suspension). The first thing that you notice are his instincts – he makes quick, accurate decisions and that has helped him make a lot of big plays in his college career. Nothing different in 2010 so far – a recovered fumble early on being a perfect example, simply reacting quicker than anyone else to dive on the ball for a key turnover which led to an eventual touchdown run for QB Kevin Prince.
With eleven minutes left in the first half, Ayers lined up on the left hand side on the LOS in space. He moves to the left initially before engaging the right tackle. Ayers is able to get round the lineman with good hand use to jab the tackle and get inside. He gets to the quarterback just as he delivers the throw and instinctively gets his hands to the ball, tipping the ball high into the air and he’s unfortunate not to make a diving interception.
With seconds left until half-time, he showed why he might be a legitimate option as an edge rusher. He gets into top speed quickly from the snap and just flat out beat the left tackle from the right side, gliding past him with consummate ease. Only a strong second effort from the tackle to push him one handed off balance stops Ayers from recording a big sack, but his presence forces a bad throw which sails out of bounds. On the very next play Ayers lines up in a prevent scheme as part of a three-man defensive line, this time from the left hand side. He runs to the right tackle and delivers a perfectly effortless spin move to embarrass the tackle before chasing down the quarterback and physically shoving 228lbs running back Daneil Thomas to the turf. The hail mary attempt is delivered but incomplete, but it was interesting to see how much UCLA value Ayers as a rusher in that he was the one man attack with nearly everyone else in coverage.
Ayers recorded his only official sack of the game by again beating the right tackle off the edge with 9:19 remaining and throwing the quarterback to the ground. Again it’s good hand use, putting a punch on the tackle’s chest to jolt him back before bursting round the edge to make the sack.
What I also like about Ayers is despite giving up some size, he’s a very sure tackler and does a good job disengaging blockers. He lines up all over the field, but predominantly in this game at linebacker. He’s shown previously that he can cope in coverage (four interceptions last year), which essentially means you can leave him in for a lot of play calls. He’s got fluid hips and moves around freely, K-State very rarely threw in his direction because he did a very good job of taking away a target over the middle.
It wasn’t 100% positive though, he was caught well by the full back off the edge on a big TD run to start the third quarter. This came just moments after a bit of indecision in dealing with an option pass allowed running back Thomas to break off a big run.
Ayers is an instinctive playmaker with good overall talents who can be solid against the pass and run. He could be worthy of a first round grade with a lot of teams looking for outside linebackers who can rush and cover and he’s every bit a potential LEO edge rusher. Rather than focus on over rated prospects like Greg Romeus (DE, Pittsburgh) I’d suggest taking a look at UCLA’s Ayers.
I’m going to watch the tape of LSU vs UNC in a few moments. Bruce Carter (LB, UNC) and Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU) will be the main focus of attention. It appears Peterson picked up an injury during the game and left the field several times, including during North Carolina’s 97-yard TD score. Robert Quinn (DE, UNC), Marvin Austin (DT, UNC) and Greg Little (WR, UNC) all missed the game through suspension. Another top 2011 draft prospect – A.J. Green (WR, Georgia) – was also held out on opening weekend amid more agent issues, although it does appear Green is completely innocent and was merely held out as a precaution in an easy win for the Bulldogs against Lafayette.
It was a good start for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. Despite throwing an early interception, he scored four touchdowns and registered 167 passing yards in just a half of football against Samford. The competition level wasn’t great but this is a good start for another prospect who has the mobility, smarts and arm strength that will interest the Seahawks. On a couple of scores Ponder showed his ability to throw accurately on the move, which would be key in a Seahawks offense that will use a lot of play action and bootlegs. He also mixed up a lot of his passes, knowing when to take something off the ball and use touch and also when to put some force into his action. Ponder could gatecrash the top-20 if he can continue performing like this.
Jake Locker, the favorite of many to go first overall next year, had a mixed opening weekend. The stat line was good in Washington’s defeat to BYU – 266 yards and two total touchdowns. CBS Sportsline’s Rob Rang says Locker showed off his obvious talentsbut also his inconsistencies. I need to see Locker this year before making a judgement myself, but I think it’s far from a lock he’ll go first overall next April. I’ve been sceptical too of Stanford’s Andrew Luck, but he made a solid start against Sacramento State with four TD’s and 316 yards. If he can do that against the better teams he’ll face this year, it’ll make it more likely he declares in 2011 and goes high in the draft.