One player who won't be falling off the radar any time soon is Clemson DE Andre Branch. He gets a primetime showdown in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech and a likely solid bowl game -- win or lose next weekend -- to put an exclamation point on his 10.5-sack season.
Who else elevated their draft stock last week? Check out this week's Risers and Fallers.
|Risers and Fallers - Chad Reuter -- (Updated 11/27/2011)|
|DE||Clemson||The Tigers lost the Palmetto State battle against Steve Spurrier's South Carolina squad on Saturday, but Branch's play alerted scouts of his potential as a NFL 3-4 linebacker. One of his three tackles came after dropping into the flat, then breaking down to corral Gamecocks' running back Brandon Wilds for no gain. The other two stops were sacks of quarterback Connor Shaw, giving him 10.5 sacks on the year, which ranks tenth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Branch did look a bit stiff trying to turn the corner as a defensive end, but players like San Francisco rookie Aldon Smith have down that power and closing speed can overcome average flexibility to allow for a successful conversion to linebacker.|
|TE||Stanford||If quarterback Andrew Luck wins the Heisman based on his play against Notre Dame Saturday night, he had better bring Fleener to New York City with him. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound senior lined up multiple times outside against a solid cornerback in Robert Blanton, winning more battles then he lost. Two of his four catches were for touchdowns, including one against Blanton where he looked as fluid as many college receivers. And since the Cardinal lack true game-breakers on the outside, Luck and the rest of the team needed Fleener to step up after a couple of games where the ball didn't always stay glued to his hands. He was more than reliable this week, however, which could mean a Heisman for Luck and a BCS berth for Stanford.|
|OLB||Pittsburgh||Initially it seemed like Lindsey could be a misfit in Todd Graham's 3-3-5 scheme. But even in the Backyard Brawl loss to West Virginia on Friday night, he looked as strong as ever. He attacked the ball whether standing up at linebacker or putting his hand on the ground as a defensive end. Among his six tackles were two sacks of Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, and he also made multiple stops against the run and in coverage due to his strength at the point of attack, constant motor, and change of direction ability. His numbers are down from 2010 (18 TFL, 10 sacks to 10 and 7.5, but scouts watching the tape see that he is the same talented player they liked coming into the year.|
|WR||LSU||This year's class of senior receivers is as deep as any in recent memory, but NFL scouts will be very interested in Randle's skills if he decides to declare for the 2012 draft. His nine catches for 134 yards in the Tigers' 41-17 victory over Arkansas showed he can use his speed, agility and reliable hands to make plays against all three levels of the defense. His season stats are not exceptional (48 receptions, 889 yards, eight touchdowns) because LSU's uneven quarterback play and frequent blow-outs make them the 100th-rated passing offense in the country. But even in a deep class at the position, Randle's all-around skills make him a solid top 75 value.|
|FS||Arkansas||Although Thomas' team was on the wrong side of a big score put up by Randle and LSU, it was hard not to notice the play of Thomas. He had multiple big hits during the game, including one that forced a first-half fumble leading to a scoop-six by linebacker Alonzo Highsmith. Thomas also stepped in front of one of Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson's low passes to the sideline, somehow staying in-bounds. Eleven of his 14 tackles were assisted, but scouts won't mind a safety that aids teammates trying to stop ballcarriers from getting that extra yard. They'll also like a safety with 12 interceptions, 13 pass break-ups, and six forced fumbles in his career.|
|QB||Florida||It's been a tough senior season for Brantley. It was hoped new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis could help the former top recruit reach his potential, but inconsistent play and an ankle injury had limited his progress. He had a great day against Furman two weeks ago (16-28, 329 yards, 4 TDs), but against a strong FBS defense in Florida State he reverted to his 2010 form. He completed just nine of 15 passes for a grand total of 104 yards, and three of his misthrows ended up in the arms of defenders (two of which the Seminoles turned into touchdowns). Injury was then added to insult, as he suffered a concussion while being sandwiched during a sack. It is likely Brantley will get a chance to show scouts his wares during all-star game season, but he'll need to play very well to make them forget his game film from this game or most others during his career with the Gators.|
|ILB||Arizona State||The Sun Devils were expected to compete for the title of the Pac-12's new South Division this year, but a four game losing streak snuffed out that dream and cost head coach Dennis Erickson his job. Burfict's draft stock also dropped this season, as his inability to make any sort of play (23 tackles, just one for loss, in the past month) is actually a bigger program for scouts than his regular penalties for undisciplined play and unsportsmanlike conduct. In fact, his three of his five sacks (and seven tackles for loss) came in the season opener against Cal-Davis. Though the coaching change may push Burfict to the NFL draft this year, a big senior year in a new regime where he improves his instincts and consistently makes plays could ensure him a top 50 draft slot that is not guaranteed if he comes out after this season.|
|TE||Missouri||Just one season after catching 90 passes and gaining more than 50 yards in nine of 13 games, Egnew has been more sparsely used as a senior. His production has been halved in 2011, catching just 47 passes and putting up four 50-yard performances. And in the past two weeks, wins over poor defensive teams Texas Tech and Kansas, he had a total of two catches for 22 yards and a score. He'll tower over some NFL linebackers at 6-foot-5, and runs hard after the catch. That should earn him a mid-round draft slot, but his average agility and straight-line speed are not exactly what scouts envision in the game-changing tight end worth the top 100 selection many projected for him after his 2010 All-American campaign.|
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