NFL Prospects who HELPED themselves this weekend:
QB Blake Bortles, UCF
When discussing the top quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel are the top underclassmen mentioned. But it's time Bortles is included in that mix. The strong, well-built passer has Central Florida at nine wins and a shot at a BCS game in January. And if Bortles decides to test the NFL waters after this season, he will be mentioned as a possible first-rounder. The junior had a strong performance against Rutgers last Thursday, finishing 21 for 30 (70 percent) for 335 yards and a passing touchdown while adding 35 yards on the ground with a rush score. Bortles moves well for his size with quick feet to avoid the rush and is a hard-nosed finisher as a ballcarrier. He does an excellent job anticipating pressure and shows outstanding feel and vision despite all the noise around him, always knowing where his targets are on the field. Bortles quickly surveys, identifies his reads and delivers with an Andrew Luck-type release and arm strength. The Ben Roethlisberger comparisons are overdone, but Bortles might best resemble the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback over other college prospects in recent memory.
DE Frank Clark, Michigan
For a seven-win team, Michigan hasn't been impressive this season, but certain prospects have shown flashes on both sides of the ball. On offense, it has been wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. On defense, Clark has stood out and he had one of his best games on Saturday against Iowa. He finished with five total tackles, including 2½ for loss, but his impact was felt on every snap with his ball awareness to quickly locate, strength at the point to overwhelm offensive linemen and balanced athleticism to quickly close on the ballcarrier. Clark has strong hands and a powerful upper body to rip through locked out blockers and abuse them with his resilient hustle. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and gives top effort to finish every snap. Only a junior, Clark cracked the starting line-up last season and has been one of the more consistent defenders for the Wolverines in 2013 and is a prospect to watch as a senior next year.
OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
While Clark was a terror for Michigan, Scherff was just as impressive for Iowa. The Hawkeyes junior left tackle has been one of the most consistent offensive linemen in all of college football and will be a possible top-40 pick if he decides to bolt Iowa City for the NFL. Scherff had a strong performance against the Wolverines on Saturday, showing his patience and discipline in his set-up as well as his athleticism to get to the second level and throw his body around. He is strong at the point of attack and has a violent initial punch, but he needs to improve his hand placement on moving targets. Scherff needs to play with better pad level to win with leverage, but he is quick-footed and coordinated in space with the natural balance to block well on the move. He brings it on every snap and is a nasty finisher, something that shows in pass pro and as a run blocker. Scherff's NFL arrow is pointing toward the sky.
WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
Yes, fellow LSU receiver Odell Beckham is deserving of this spot too, but Landry's two-touchdown performance against Texas A&M on Saturday gives him the nod. Landry finished the game with four catches for 87 yards and a pair of scores, giving him 10 touchdowns on the season, which ranks second in the SEC (behind only Mike Evans, who has 12 receiving scores). He does a nice job attacking soft zones in coverage before showing his numbers to the quarterback. Landry has big, soft hands and with fluid body control and coordination to make it look easy plucking the ball out the air. He is tough and brave in tight coverage and routinely shows the ability to win in contested situations. While Beckham is probably more of a home run threat, Landry is the better pro prospect because of his large, reliable hands and natural build and athleticism to do something with the catch. He's among a group of a handful of underclassmen receivers who will receive top-40 consideration if they declare for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Prospect who HURT himself this weekend:
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
Although he wasn't the reason for Baylor's loss Saturday night to Oklahoma State, Petty's performance was underwhelming and disappointing on the big stage. His final stats from Stillwater aren't bad (58 percent, 359 yards, two touchdowns), but he didn't convert key third downs and struggled to make the clutch throws when the Bears needed them. Petty showed good awareness and mobility to scramble and pick up yards on the ground, but his failure to finish on a first quarter run with a wide open lane to the end zone was a turning point in the game. He has a strong arm and can spray the ball to all levels of the field, but he appeared to be pressing and put a lot of pressure on his shoulders, forcing him to be somewhat gun shy against the Cowboys defense. Petty doesn't always see every defender on the field and his recognition skills are a strong question mark when it comes to his NFL evaluation.
Other Draft Notes:
- Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage planned to announce Monday that Georgia QB Aaron Murray was one of the confirmed players for the Senior Bowl, securing one of the coveted six quarterback spots. But Saturday in the Bulldogs' win over Kentucky, Murray suffered a gruesome injury to his left knee and on Sunday it was confirmed he'll need surgery to repair a torn ACL. Georgia's athletic department released a statement on Sunday: "Murray experienced minimal swelling and it was determined to proceed with the surgery this week, according to UGA Sr. Associate Athletic Director and Director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson." The injury ends the most productive career in SEC history for a passer as Murray finishes with 13,166 passing yards and 121 touchdowns, both conference records. But with a rigorous rehab in his future, Murray will be shelved for the next few months, almost certainly keeping him from participating in the Senior Bowl (Jan. 25) or combine (Feb. 19-25). The injury shouldn't hurt his draft grade too badly, but Murray will miss out on some opportunities to convert some doubters during the pre-draft process.
- Besides Murray being held out for much of the pre-draft process, the other implication of his injury will be an opening on the Senior Bowl roster for another quarterback to get a chance. Thus far, Fresno State QB Derek Carr has been the only prospect at the position to have publically accepted his invitation. With five roster spots left, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd, Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Miami QB Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas are six senior passers to watch for those five roster spots.
- Speaking of Carr, it's about time he was included in the Heisman finalist discussion. The Fresno State senior leads the nation with 39 passing touchdowns and is second in passing yards (3,948), averaging 394.8 yards per game. Carr is completing 69.7 percent of his passes (350 for 502) while throwing only four interceptions this season. And oh yeah, his Bulldogs are undefeated and might earn a spot in a BCS game. Whether or not he should win is a different conversation, but, in my opinion, the future first-rounder has at least earned a ticket to New York City.
- The Senior Bowl announced several players who have accepted their invitation to the annual exhibition. Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland, Florida State FS Terrence Brooks, Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Tulane WR Ryan Grant, Wyoming WR Robert Herron, Utah CB Keith McGill, Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort, Virginia OT Morgan Moses and Princeton DT Caraun Reid.
For a full list of players who have accepted Senior Bowl invitations, click here. The 2014 Senior Bowl will be played January 25 in Mobile, Ala.