Each week, we'll rewind the game film from the week just completed to highlight five star-worthy performances that could impact the 2011 draft rankings:
• Touted as a classic weekend kickoff game between Miami (Fla.) and Pittsburgh last Thursday -- and treated as such with 25 NFL teams present in Pittsburgh -- the game itself turned out to be a lopsided 31-3 laugher for the Hurricanes.
But the matchup within the matchup between NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4-rated junior wide receiver, Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin, and Miami's secondary, which includes another top junior prospect, cornerback Brandon Harris (rated as the No. 3 junior cornerback by NDS) and senior CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, was full of intrigue.
Harris and Van Dyke did an outstanding job of eliminating Baldwin, limiting his touches to the degree of three receptions for 26 yards. Pitt's first-year starter at quarterback, sophomore Tino Sunseri, didn't help matters. Even though the Panthers offensive line struggled to give Sunseri time to set and read the defense in the pocket, Sunseri's indecisiveness and unwillingness to drive the ball downfield to Baldwin was disturbing and could ultimately affect Baldwin's production throughout the season.
Through Pitt's first three games, Baldwin has 13 receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers compare to what he produced in the first three games last season -- 13-225-0. But, this is a big year for Baldwin. It's a chance for him to separate himself from the other top junior receivers in the nation.
When NDS asked Baldwin prior to the season if he was worried about the change at quarterback affecting his production, he said, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried, because Tino and I haven't been on the field together that much. This is a big year for me, and I made [Tino] aware of that; he knows it's an important year for me, and he's going to try to help me have a big year."
• It only took the 43rd game of his illustrious career at Michigan State, but NDS' top-rated senior inside linebacker, Greg Jones, recorded his first career interception; he also hauled in his second during the Spartans' 45-7 blowout win over Northern Colorado. The first INT of Jones' career occurred during the first quarter when he picked off QB Dylan Orms at the Bears' 39-yard line and returned it 34 yards, which set up the first touchdown of the game on the ensuing play for Michigan State.
At 6-feet-1, 235 pounds, Jones has been a durable performer for the Spartans and has amassed 392 tackles, 38.5 for a loss, 16.5 sacks and two interceptions. He's expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in April.
• Penn State running back Evan Royster has had a tough start to the 2010 season. Up until Saturday's game against Temple, he hadn't showcased the skills to warrant his standing among the top RBs in the nation. In the first three games of the season -- against Youngstown State, Alabama and Kent State -- Royster carried the ball just 31 times for 110 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and scored one touchdown. However, against Temple, Royster again looked like the workhorse he was in the past with 26 carries for 187 yards.
Because of his struggles to begin the season, Royster (6-0, 212) dropped in NDS' rankings and is currently the fifth-rated senior running back. Scouts are concerned with his straight-line speed, lateral agility and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. But, while there are concerns about Royster's professional future, his performance on Saturday could be the spark that helps the 3-1 Nittany Lions compete for a Big 10 crown.
• The first two weeks of the season were a struggle for the UCLA defense. They surrendered a total of 66 points in their losses to Kansas State and Stanford. But something changed after their humiliating 35-0 defeat to Stanford, and that change was schematic. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough has adjusted the way he uses highly touted linebacker Akeem Ayers.
One of the most athletic linebackers in the country, Ayers, who stands an imposing 6-4, 254 and is currently NDS' No. 1-rated junior outside linebacker, has been moving from linebacker to defensive end to create matchup problems for the past two games. And, it's worked.
Since the shakeup, Ayers has recorded 11 tackles, four for a loss, a sack and two interceptions; not to mention, the Bruins are 2-0, have allowed just 25 points in those games, and have beaten two ranked opponents: Houston, ranked 23rd before UCLA's 31-13 win, and No. 7 Texas, who UCLA upset in Austin, 34-12 on Saturday.
• It's been publicized by many outlets, including NDS, that the senior wide receiver crop is severely lacking in comparison to the underclassmen at the position. And that's true. But, this past weekend you witnessed two of the top senior receivers, Boise State's Austin Pettis and Troy's Jerrel Jernigan, have breakout performances in a winning cause.
At 6-3, 201, Pettis -- currently NDS' No. 1-rated senior receiver -- had been solid leading up to Saturday's showdown with Oregon State, but under the lights and on a national stage, Pettis showcased his complete arsenal. He caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown and also threw for a touchdown in the Broncos' 37-24 win over the 24th-ranked Beavers.
The 5-9, 185-pound Jernigan doesn't receive the same kind of national press, mainly because he plays in the Sun Belt on a 2-2 Troy team. Although they've produced NFL talent in recent years, the Trojans are a long shot to play in a bowl game this season. But Jernigan has played well, and in the Trojans' 35-28 win over Arkansas State on Saturday, he showed scouts in attendance the kind of impact he can have. Jernigan caught 10 passes for 209 yards, including a 70-yard TD. He also rushed for 31 yards and amassed 71 yards on returns.
Jernigan is currently NDS' fifth-rated senior wide receiver and is projected to be a third-round pick next April.