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Rewind: Luck stock rises even higher; Ingram's sags

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2011 draft rankings:

 Considering that he entered the week No. 1 in my mock draft, it appeared impossible for Stanford redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck to raise his stock.

Luck did just that as the Cardinal annihilated Oregon State 38-0 Saturday night to position themselves for a berth in a BCS bowl game.

Luck was deadly efficient, completing 21 of 30 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. His four TD passes give him 28 on the year, a new Stanford record formerly held by a guy named Elway.

It is hyperbole to compare Luck to any of the all-time greats. Luck, for as good as he is, obviously hasn't done a thing at the professional level.

A number of scouts over the long weekend made it clear that the comparison to some of the all-time greats aren't merely media hype -- the scouts are drawing parallels, too.

Luck's size, arm strength and surprising speed earn high grades from scouts. His accuracy, ability to read defenses and poise are earning even more exemplary marks.

One key to disrupting any quarterback is pressure up the middle -- and most any mechanism that would throw off a passer's timing. Oregon State senior DT Stephen Paea was again dominant (he led OSU with eight tackles and contributed two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble), but Luck's ability to side-step him while keeping his eyes downfield and firing strikes gave an emphatic answer to one of scouts' few remaining questions -- whether Luck had the ability to translate to the speed and pressure of the NFL.

Luck's four touchdown passes covered an average of 36 yards. They came on a variety of routes and reads by Luck. On the first, taking the ball from center, Luck dropped back looked right to move the free safety, turned and fired quickly down the left seam. He perfectly led tight end Zach Ertz for a 21-yard score. Luck split the free safety and cornerback to hit wideout Doug Baldwin on a deep post for a 42-yard touchdown moments later.

Luck's most impressive touchdown of the night was actually among his shortest throws. Pressure from OSU's front four forced him to step up into the pocket and hit Baldwin on a drag route for approximately 10 yards. Baldwin avoided defenders for the final 20 yards to the end zone. The annual race to be the first pick or highest-rated player at a given position doesn't, in itself, provide the historical data to demonstrate how highly a player is rated by scouts. Obviously, someone is going to be the first pick, regardless of if the draft is considered strong or weak as a whole.

Luck is more than just the best quarterback -- or best player -- potentially available for the 2011 draft, however.

He's the best quarterback AND elite prospect -- including LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh -- I've scouted, including every Senior Bowl since 2001.

 After highlighting the play of Maryland free safety Kenny Tate last week, I had hoped to point out a stellar performance from a prospect playing for another program. Terrapins' wideout Torrey Smith wouldn't allow it.

Smith and his Maryland teammates kept N.C. State out of the ACC championship game with a 38-31 home victory.

Smith had a career-high 14 receptions for 224 yards and all four of freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien's touchdown passes in the game. The four touchdown receptions set a Maryland single-game record and gave him 12 on the season, also a team record.

While it was Smith's receiving prowess that decimated the Wolfpack on Saturday, the 6-1, 205-pounder with blazing speed has previously wowed with his ability as a kick returner. Earlier this season he passed former North Carolina standout (and current New England Patriot) Brandon Tate as the most productive kick returner in ACC history (2,909 yards).

Combining his receiving (224) and kick return (48) yardage Saturday, Smith now has 5,183 all-purpose yards over his career, eclipsing former Terrapin (and NFL) running back Lamont Jordan for (you guessed it), yet another school record.

Smith's production is all the more impressive considering that the Terrapins and Wolfpack were fighting strong winds throughout the game; five of the seven touchdown passes thrown in this contest occurred with the wind at the offense's back.

Georgia junior A.J. Green is unquestionably the top receiver prospect in the country. Several others -- Alabama's Julio Jones, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Pittsburgh's Jon Baldwin, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, among them -- are often characterized as other underclassmen deserving of lofty 2011 draft consideration.

Saturday's performance served as a blunt reminder that Smith deserves to be part of the conversation.

 For scouts, it is just as important to recognize prospects slipping down the board as to highlight those players whose performance helped their cause.

There were plenty of heroes in Auburn's shocking comeback over Alabama, not the least of which was Heisman frontrunner Cam Newton.

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, however, was among the goats in this contest.

Fair or not, scouts put a lot of stock in how prospects perform in rivalry games. For the second consecutive year, Ingram struggled against Auburn.

Ingram was held to only 30 rushing yards last season. The Tigers kept him to 36 rushing yards Friday.

Perhaps the aspect scouts appreciated most about Ingram's game -- even more than his vision, low center of gravity and leg drive -- was his ball security. Ingram entered Friday's game having only lost one fumble in 607 "touches" over his career. He'd only put the ball on the ground twice.

Against the Tigers, Ingram fumbled twice (lost one) and actually put the ball on the ground a third time but replay proved that was caused by the ground. His lost fumble, which came after an impressive catch and run for 41 yards, was punched out by hustling defensive end Antoine Carter and went out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.

It wouldn't be fair to Ingram, his Alabama teammates or Auburn to suggest that the fumble was the turning point in the game. It's worth noting that at the time, the Tide looked well on the way to extending their 21-0 lead. Instead, Auburn outscored Alabama 28-6 the rest of the way.

Ingram, a junior, remains the elite running back prospect potentially available for the 2011 draft. But Ingram's dramatic drop in production on the ground this season cannot be overlooked.

Friday marked the eighth consecutive game in which Ingram has been held under 100 rushing yards this season.

Ingram may prove to be a star in the NFL. But with his relatively mediocre production (816 yards, 11 TDs), he isn't the top 10 prospect that some have labeled him. In fact, there are some scouts who question whether Ingram would make the first round at all if he chose to leave Alabama early.

Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.

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