Week eight review: McCarron/Barkley hit form, Smith struggles

A.J. McCarron had another big day for Alabama

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.


  1. kevin mullen

    Was watching that Stanford/Cal game, Levine Toilolo especially, though not an exciting game, but he did grab a td and in the red zone, which I liked. Dude is massive for a TE. Not very quick, but dude is a huge target.

    Is it just me or is this guy just +20lbs away from being a tackle?!

  2. AlaskaHawk

    So Smith has lost his glamour and may fall to where Seattle can pick him!

    • Rob Staton

      I suspect there’s only one QB the Seahawks will consider drafting early next year.

      • MJ

        AJ McCarron?…

        Just kidding. I think they would consider Smith and Barkley in the 16-25 range, which I think there’s a decent chance both might be available. I don’t see either guy as a QB that really excites anybody in the top 10. Both have some massive question marks (Smith adjustment to Pro set, Barkley w/ severe physical limitations).

        Not a great year for QBs, and not many teams desperately needing one. Will be very interesting.

        • Michael

          if you think Barkley and Smith are both lasting into the 20’s you haven’t been paying attention.

          In Roger Goodell’s new pass happy NFL QB’s will always get pushed up the board and end up being drafted higher than maybe they should. Ponder, Locker and Gabbert were all gone in the top 12… Brandon Weeden is about to start collecting social security and he came off the board at 22.

          to address the other side of your argument that there are, “not many teams desperately needing one”. I submit to you that any team that doesn’t have “their guy” could fall into that category. Like any other year there will be some coaching/GM turnover and inevitably the new regime will want to do things there own way…

          Browns, Chiefs, Raiders, Jaguars and Cardinals will all be taking a good look at QB in this draft. Do you still honestly think Barkley and Smith fall into the “16-25 range”?

          • MJ

            No need to be insulting Michael. I apologize that my opinion upset you so much.

            I agree with you that the CBA has changed. That said, we have seen a huge influx of young, highly drafted QBs. Yes, teams are not as financially tied to these players now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it takes time for a QB to hit stride. For one of those teams to cut bait after a year or 2, would mean they believe Barkley/Smith would be that much better. I have a really hard time seeing that. Barkley is a good QB who is very limited and needs a good team to succeed. He’s not a game changer IMO. Smith, on the other hand, is going to need quite a bit of time to adjust to a radically different offense in the NFL.

            Neither guy is RGIII or Andrew Luck quality, and they don’t possess the tools of Newton, Locker, or Gabbert. I have award time seeing a new GM or HC banging the table for wither guy to pin their careers on.

            I don’t care if you don’t agree with, as this is what these boards are for. That said, it’s pretty insulting to say “I’m not paying attention.” I gave insight as to why I think what I think. Just because I don’t think a guy is top 10, doesn’t mean I think they are bad players. It’s not just about the CBA, but the idea that a 1st round QB decides careers for a lot of people. I personally don’t think Barkley/Smith are guys that will give GMs a lot of conviction.

            • MJ

              *hard, not award (iPad typing, apologies)

            • Michael

              I really didn’t mean to be insulting… like you said that’s what these boards are for, and I really just enjoy a good debate. I suppose I should watch what I type because that wasn’t an emotional reaction but a careless one.

              I absolutely agree with you that neither guy is top 10 quality, I would simply point out that that has never stopped front offices from drafting players there anyway. The last time there was not a QB drafted in the top 10 was over a decade ago and that class was headed by the likes of Chad Pennington (you wanna talk about physical limitations), Giovanni Carmazzi, and Chris Redman… of course it also included Tom Brady, but that’s beside the point. haha. Is this class as bad as that one in your opinion?

              If you think back to this time last year you might remember that a lot of people were saying these same kinds of things about RGIII (adapting to the pro offense… etc.) and had him pegged in the middle of round 1. Now clearly RGIII is a freak of nature and there isn’t a QB in this draft with his physical tools, but if he can rise from the middle of the round to being picked in the first round of 3 consecutive drafts surely Barkley and Smith have a shot at the top ten of theirs.

              • MJ

                Honestly, my apologies Michael. I totally misinterpreted your ‘tone’ and what you wrote. And I think we do agree on the same principles. I think out disconnect is with how soon teams cut bait. But, you are right. New regimes don’t care what the draft was before and I didn’t take that into account dying my rebuttal.

                This will be a really interesting year as both QBs could be valued at drastically different levels depending on the team.

          • AlaskaHawk

            the hope is that 2-3 other QBs will be picked first, so we might have Barkley or Smith fall to us. I can see that happening with Smith.

          • Attyla the Hawk

            I think I detailed as many as 9 teams that might be willing to spend a first round pick on a QB.

            I agree on the importance of QB. But the lack of a real alpha talent affects how QBs will be taken. Further, there are really 4 positions that tend to be highly valued other than QB: LT, DT and DE. You either need a passer. Need to protect a passer. Or take out passers down.

            This year is a deep and bumper crop for both pass rush specialists and for DT talent. Those teams mentioned are all in the market for those talents (outside of AZ maybe). As the season moves on, I think the Browns will find themselves out of the QB market. That team has a lot of other holes to fill and without a 2nd round pick to fill them with.

            The Chiefs are very likely going to take one. They are just beyond desperate and have neglected the position much as we have here. But I kind of see this draft much like 2008. Matt Ryan went high, but was passed over even by QB desperate teams. He was not an alpha prospect, but the top prospect in his class. Flacco a late entry into the mix. But otherwise a lackluster QB class. I really doubt that we’ll see as many as 2 QBs taken in the top 10. Based on both lack of good talent, but just as importantly a glut of real excellent talent at important alternative positions. Get a high risk project QB, or a instant impact 10 year pass rusher?

            And when you get past the 10th pick, it’s kind of a crap shoot on how far the next QB drops, since most teams after 12 don’t really need a QB. It’s still really early. But there isn’t an RG3 type talent that is forcing their way into the top 10 discussion. Considering how well Tannehill, Ponder Dalton and even Locker (considered a teens to twenty prospect) are faring, it’s not inconceivable that the Geno Smiths and Tyler Wilson prospects may not get gobbled up late in the first by teams in a GB/Aaron Rodgers situation. Get a prospect to let sit behind the likes of Vick or Brees.

            Hard to tell now. But I don’t necessarily see a big push up the board for these QB prospects. If they do, it’ll be a post combine hype type deal. Which isn’t all that bad of an indicator considering how well these non elite prospects have produced.

  3. Barry

    Something that stands out to me is when a player who not only gets into the back field but also leads his team or has a good number of tackles. You noticed Suh for it and Damontre Moore leads his team and should finish in the 70’s for number of tackles. Shows effort and skill. Sounds like a cant miss first rounder.

    • Barry

      *Edit* I should have said cant miss talent* . And I agree with Rob he’s rising- Would be a monster in the Steelers system.

  4. Kenny Sloth

    Ew Ansah is slllloooww. He takes good angles in pursuit, but he doesn’t have a high motor. He doesn’t use his arms well. No way he’s a first rounder.

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