Pair of ACC Stars' Stock Heading in Opposite Directions
Having led North Carolina State to an upset victory over Florida State October 6 and coming off a career high 467 yards and five touchdowns against state rival North Carolina, senior quarterback Mike Glennon had quickly been rising up NFL draft boards.
Just as other prominent senior passers Geno Smith and Matt Barkley failed to build off their early season momentum, however, Glennon struggled to maintain his hot play Saturday, despite playing in front of a homecoming crowd against the lowly Virginia Cavaliers, who entered this contest at just 2-6 and 0-4 in conference play.
To be fair, the Cavs had an extra week to prepare for this contest and Glennon (pictured right) wasn't aided by some untimely drops from his receiving corps.
Glennon wasn't able to help himself in this contest, however, as the 6-5, 232 pounder struggled to escape pressure and too often failed to pull the trigger when he did have receivers open downfield. Glennon was sacked in the endzone for a safety in the second quarter and shortly thereafter fumbled after another sack. It was Glennon's third turnover of the first half and helped Virginia take a 16-0 lead into halftime.
Scouts love Glennon's size and arm strength. His experience in head coach Tom O'Brien's pro-style offense is also a significant plus. For as statistically impressive as Glennon was against the Tar Heels last week, however, two of his five touchdowns were the result of coverage lapses (32, 83 yarders) and, frankly, his day could have been even more impressive had his passes been more accurate. Glennon completed "just" 29 of his 52 passes (55.7%) against the Tar Heels, often forcing his receivers to adjust and ruining some opportunities to gain additional yardage after the catch. He also threw two interceptions in this contest.
The same inconsistent ball placement was on display against Virginia. At halftime, Glennon had completed 11 of 22 passes for just 95 yards and he didn't lead the Wolfpack into the redzone until midway through the fourth quarter. By that time, Virginia owned a commanding 26-0 lead.
While NC State's star struggled, Virginia's top prospect once again impressed.
Perhaps due to the fact that the Cavaliers have been mired in a disappointing season, senior left tackle Oday Aboushi hasn't generated much hype outside of the ACC. That's a shame, because like the quarterbacks class, the 2013 crop of senior offensive tackles leaves a lot to be desired, especially following the season-ending injury to North Carolina's Brennan Williams.
NFL teams looking for an upgrade at offensive tackle via the 2013 NFL draft are hoping that Texas A&M's dominant duo Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, as well as Michigan's Taylor Lewan (among others) elect to make themselves eligible early. Each has demonstrated the athleticism to handle NFL-caliber speed off the edge.
Aboushi doesn't possess elite quickness or balance in pass protection. He'll most likely be asked to move to right tackle or even inside at guard in the NFL. He does, however, have great length, as well as very good upper body strength and the nastiness that offensive line coaches love -- traits which will aid in that potential transition.
There are, perhaps, other offensive tackles in this draft class with greater upside but Aboushi's relative pro-readiness will be highly valued by top NFL decision-makers and could earn the Cavalier standout a similar grade as the one Kelechi Osemele earned a year ago out of Iowa State. The Baltimore Ravens wound up selecting the 6-6, 333 pound Osemele in the second round (60th overall) in April. He's since started all seven games for the Ravens as a rookie -- all of them on the right side after starring at left tackle for the Cyclones.
Versatility Could Push WVU's Austin into Top 32
While his quarterback continues to struggle with consistency, West Virginia's Do-Everything dynamo Tavon Austin may be emerging as the country's top senior receiver.
It wasn't long ago that the idea of a 5-09, 172 pound slot receiver like Austin ranking as a potential first round pick would have generated laughter from NFL scouts. In today's highly specialized NFL, however, where versatile playmakers like the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin (5-11, 192) and Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith (5-09, 184) have emerged as one of the league's most difficult matchups, the possibilities for Austin seem limitless.
Limitless might be the word to use when describing the way in which West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has used Austin (pictured left) over his career. Austin led the country in all-purpose yardage a season ago, averaging 198 yards per game. He's been even more productive thus far in 2012, averaging 201.86 yards heading into Saturday's showdown.
With the Mountaineers having lost their last two games, they needed Austin to be even better Saturday. He was, registering 203 all-purpose yards and, more importantly, scoring two critical touchdowns that put West Virginia in position to beat TCU in their showdown as members of the Big 12.
Austin made his first significant contribution as a receiver. Later, it was on special teams.
Down 14-7 and with Smith having thrown an interception in his third consecutive game, Austin took a short push-pass from his quarterback while in motion, went around the left end, circled back all the way across the field, resulting in a dazzling 43-yard touchdown to give the Mountaineers momentum.
The touchdown catch was Austin's 10th of the year. The eight he'd scored each of the past two seasons had previously been his career high.
Austin wasn't finished, however. While he'd scored 32 touchdowns heading into this contest (25 as a receiver, four on kickoffs and three as a rusher), Austin had never scored on a punt return.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, it was on a punt return Saturday that Austin appeared to give the Mountaineers the score they needed to put this game away, taking a TCU punt 76 yards to give his team a 31-24 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
On both plays, Austin showcased the stop-and-start maneuverability and explosive acceleration that makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Like many short receivers, Austin has very good lateral agility to elude. His ability to instantly accelerate after changing directions, however, is perhaps what makes him so difficult for defenders to track down. Though he was clearly Smith's favorite target in this contest -- especially with fellow playmaking wideout Stedman Bailey continuing to nurse a sore ankle -- Austin was rarely tackled by the first TCU defender he faced. Considering that the Horned Frogs have generally been one of the nation's more schematically sound and reliable open field tackling teams in the country, that's saying something.
Austin currently ranks second on NFLDraftScout.com's senior receiver rankings behind Baylor's Terrance Williams. At 6-2, 205 pounds, Williams has the more traditional blend of size and speed to warrant a high round selection. It isn't difficult to understand why an NFL team already featuring playmakers on the outside would value Austin as a late first round pick, just as Dane Brugler projects in his latest mock draft.
Oregon's Offense Frightening, But Defense Boasts Top 2013 Prospects
Explosive doesn't begin to describe Chip Kelly's offense but it might surprise fans to learn that the Oregon Ducks' top NFL prospects -- at least those eligible for the 2013 NFL draft -- line up on the defensive side of the ball.
Hybrid pass rusher Dion Jordan has earned plenty of respect. The 6-5, 240 pound defensive end/outside linebacker/nickel cornerback currently ranks No. 21 on my Big Board and I'm certainly not alone in my appreciation for his unique combination of size and athleticism. With the Ducks' top defender sidelined early in the highly anticipated matchup against Southern Cal, however, Oregon had to turn to others on that side of the ball to slow down Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and the rest of the dynamic Trojans' offense.
Though he hasn't registered nearly the national hype as his teammate Jordan, those paying attention to the Oregon defense certainly have recognized the terrific all-around play from senior middle linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Alonso entered Saturday's showdown having already posted 42 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and a sack on the season. He's also proved to be a turnover magnet, registering two interceptions and has both forced and recovered a fumble.
Despite playing the same position, Alonso isn't a mauler in the middle like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, the unquestioned top inside linebacker in the country. Whereas the Irish star has the perfect build for stuffing the run at 6-2, 255 pounds, Alonso has a slimmer, more athletic build at 6-3, 242 pounds that some scouts believe could make him valuable in the NFL because he'll likely be able to play all three positions in a normal 4-3 alignment.
Alonso showcased his versatility early in this contest, demonstrating great awareness, flexibility and closing speed to pick off a Barkley pass in the second quarter. He was impressive in coverage throughout the game, lining up against backs, tight ends and even USC's dynamic receivers. This same combination of mental and physical traits was also evident in how he quickly diagnosed the run, slicing through gaps, at times, to corral USC's tailbacks at the line of scrimmage, as well as the vision and hustle to pursue downfield. Though he wasn't often asked to rush Barkley, when he did so, Alonso's speed and strong hands helped him get off blocks quickly and prove a hindrance to the senior quarterback.
Before NFL teams are going to be willing to invest a top 100 pick in Alonso, they'll certainly want to do their homework as he's had multiple run-ins with police in the past.
There is no denying, however, that he has this kind of talent.
Alabama Scores Big With Williams
Serving as a perfect cap to a terrific day of intense rivalry games, Alabama-LSU proved to be every bit worth its billing.
There were, of course, standouts from both teams. Alabama true freshman running back T.J. Yeldon was appropriately named the game's MVP for his spectacular performance, including the weaving game-winning touchdown catch and run with just 51 seconds remaining.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger enjoyed the best game of his career with the Tigers, demonstrating -- perhaps for the first time this season -- a legitimate NFL combination of poise, accuracy and arm strength.
Perhaps the NFL prospect who quietly enjoyed the most impressive performance, however, was fearsome Alabama nose guard Jesse Williams (pictured below).
Prior to the start of the season I asked several NFL scouts who had traveled through Tuscaloosa who would be this year's "breakout" performer for the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Perhaps as an indication of the talent Nick Saban has collected, I received several answers. Every scout questioned, however, mentioned Williams, which in part prompted me to list him the Australia native as one of the five most intriguing prospects for the Tide over more accomplished talents like cornerback Dee Milliner, linebacker C.J. Mosley and even quarterback A.J. McCarron.
Williams, 6-3 and 320 pounds, played outside as a five technique defensive end a year ago, registering 24 tackles, including four tackles for loss. Due to his great strength (reportedly he has a 600-pound bench press) and surprising agility, Williams has been an even better fit this year inside at nose guard.
With just 14 tackles on the season (entering the LSU game), it will be difficult for some to understand why scouts are so enamored with Williams. True nose guards don't often register gaudy statistics and the versatility and specialization Alabama boasts also contributes to Williams' lack of eye-popping production.
As good as Williams is, his primary strength is his ability to clog running lanes. He is not, however, a consistent pass rusher, which is one of the reasons why he's been rotated often as the Tide has faced multiple spread offenses over the first half of the regular season.
Against LSU's power running game, however, Williams saw a lot of action and enjoyed his best game to date. CBS' announcing crew of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson pointed him out on multiple occasions and for good reason. The No. 28 rated overall prospect in the 2013 draft according to NFLDraftScout.com, Williams' quick swim move made him a terror in the middle, often forcing LSU's talented running backs to adjust before they'd even secured the hand-off. The Tigers certainly acknowledged his talents, as well, often dedicating multiple blockers to slowing him down.
Williams' size and strength played a key role in what turned out to be one of the game's most critical plays. Nursing a 17-14 lead, LSU head coach Les Miles elected to pass up the chance at extending the lead with a field goal to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Alabama 24-yard line. The Tigers attempted to run directly at Williams. The massive defender was initially moved back by a impressively executed double-team block, but slid up and, with the help of multiple other Tide defenders, stopped LSU's Spencer Ware for no gain.
It is precisely this type of run-stuffing ability that could make Williams the latest Alabama defensive lineman to earn a first round selection in the NFL draft.