For the rest of the 2012 college football regular season, I will be listing "Five prospects" each Friday that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend.
*Photo courtesy of Dak Dillon, US Presswire.
In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, not just the five I've highlighted below. The players listed are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.
Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores as the season goes on. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.*
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: A week after West Virginia's Geno Smith continued his assault on record books, Heisman voters and NFL draft boards by slicing up an extremely talented and well-coached Texas defense, Jones will get his opportunity to do the same in the Red River Rivalry. Frankly, Jones needs to play well. While his touchdown to interception ratio (7-2) has been impressive thus far in 2012, Jones' completion percentage (63.3%) and yards per attempt (7.02) are the lowest of his career, raising scouts' concerns about his ability to carry a team on his shoulders -- a critical trait if Jones is to rebuild the momentum he'd once had as a possible first round pick. One of the ways in which he can ease these concerns would be to lead the Sooners to a victory in the Cotton Bowl. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by ABC.
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: Two desperate Pac-12 teams which entered the 2012 season with high hopes face off when the Bruins (1-2 in conference play) travel to Utah (0-2). Much of the pre-game hype will focus on Utah's "star" defensive lineman Star Lotulelei. Frankly, considering that he's been my top-rated senior defensive prospect since last May (and currently my No. 3 overall prospect), I can't disagree with that. The Bruins have their own star in Jones, however, who certainly deserves more attention nationwide than he's received thus far. The 6-4, 275 Jones is moved up and down the Bruins' defensive line and yet ranks among the Pac-12 leaders with 10 tackles for loss, including three sacks. He has also blocked a kick, forced a fumble and recorded a safety for the Bruins this season. The muscle-bound Jones has the strength, athleticism and motor scouts are looking for. Considering the NFL's willingness to gamble on talented defensive linemen, should Jones' breakout senior campaign continue, he could wind up joining Lotulelei as a top 50 candidate come April. This game begins at 3:00 pm eastern and will be televised by FOX.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri*: Having signed with Missouri in 2009 as one of the more highly touted prep players in the entire country, much has been expected of Richardson (pictured above) throughout his career. Unfortunately for Tigers' fans, he's had a few detours along the way, most notably a stop at the College of the Sequoias when he wasn't able to fulfill his initial academic obligations at Missouri. After briefly considering signing with Southern Cal following his junior college stint, Richardson returned to Missouri amid great fanfare a season ago. He wasn't handed the starting job but even while working his way up the depth chart, demonstrated the strength and athleticism to pique the interest of NFL scouts. Richardson earned honorable mention all-conference honors with 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks last season and despite the competition improving this season with Missouri's move to the SEC, the redshirt junior has been even better, recording 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks already. The competition, however, doesn't get any tougher at the collegiate level than this week when Missouri hosts No. 1 Alabama and the best duo of interior linemen in the country in seniors Barrett Jones, the reigning Outland Trophy winner, and Chance Warmack, each of whom rank my top 32 overall prospects for the 2013 NFL draft. With a strong showing against the Tide, Richardson could put himself in position to join his SEC linemates. This game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 pm eastern and will be televised by CBS.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: In the days leading up to his Huskies hosting Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and the rest of the USC Trojans, Trufant was championed by his head coach, Steve Sarkisian. While it certainly isn't newsworthy that a coach would glowingly mention one of his senior leaders prior to a big game, the specifics of Sarkisian's comments were interesting, as he revealed that in his conversations with NFL scouts traveling through Seattle recently, he's been told that Trufant is being ranked among the top two or three senior cornerbacks in the entire country. That's a bit higher than NFLDraftScout.com currently ranks him, but there is no denying that Trufant has played well this season. Frankly, he's played well throughout much of a career that includes starting the past 40 consecutive games. Like his older brothers Marcus Trufant (Seattle Seahawks) and Isaiah Trufant (New York Jets), Desmond possesses the top-flight athleticism scouts are looking for at cornerback. He also possesses excellent ball skills and has shown improved physicality in his game this season. He'll need all of these traits and, frankly, some help in the pass rush department from his Husky teammates to pull the upset over the Trojans. Still, don't be surprised if Desmond follows the same path Marcus did in 2003 by capping off an impressive collegiate career with a trip to the Senior Bowl and surprisingly high draft-day outcome. This game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm eastern and will be televised by FOX.
Eric Reid, FS, LSU*: Having their chances at a BCS title shot diminished last week with an upset loss to Georgia, it will be fascinating to see how the Tigers respond with a second consecutive fearsome opponent, as the No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks come to town. Reid is among a handful of LSU defenders who entered the season with great fanfare but haven't yet posted the gaudy statistics expected of them. Nevertheless, the speed and physicality with which he plays at 6-2, 212 pounds has NFL scouts excited about his potential. I'm particularly interested to see how Reid and LSU's undersized defensive line handles the tough running by Marcus Lattimore and the obvious play-action deep passing that the Gamecocks build off of their All-American candidate. Reid has been a bit inconsistent this year in coverage. If he is in this contest, it will be obvious as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who is completing an eye-popping 75.7% of his passes, isn't afraid to challenge defenses over the top. This game is scheduled to begin at 8:00 pm eastern and will be televised by ESPN.