|Plenty of scouts will be watching if Case Keenum can produce as he did before his season-ending injury in 2010. (US Presswire)|
Two marquee matchups dominate the buzz surrounding kickoff weekend in college football: Oregon against LSU at Cowboys Stadium and Boise State-Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Oregon's small but explosive LaMichael James is a player scouts want to see against an undersized, senior-laden linebacking corps of the Tigers. They are interested further in how undersized Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore acquits himself against a Southeastern Conference defense starring cornerback Brandon Boykin; the way Bulldogs' new left tackle Cordy Glenn handles Broncos' sack-master Shea McClellan, as well as Georgia center Ben Jones taking on Boise's active defensive tackle Billy Winn. There are plenty of other games and players of interest aside from the two most-hyped contests -- which will air at the same time despite being televised on two related networks.
Each week during the season, NFLDraftScout.com will take a detailed look at players through the scouting lens, identifying who might impress scouts and zeroing in on individual matchups that could help NFL teams identify the best prospects.
This week's edition includes two quarterbacks attempting to start their senior season with a bang, three other lesser-known passers trying to make a name for themselves facing top-notch defenses and a few small-school prospects looking to impress scouts -- even if their teams are overmatched in openers against FBS powers.
This week's five on the spot
1. QB Case Keenum, Houston: Keenum expected to be fighting for a roster spot in the NFL in 2011, but he tore his right ACL tackling UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers (a second-round pick of the Titans in April) after an interception last September. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility (he missed his initial season at Houston with a separated shoulder suffered in high school), giving him a chance to pay back the Bruins this week in the second game of the home-and-home series. If scouts are to believe Keenum can continue his production (11,681 yards, 69.0 completion pct, 88 TD in 2008-2009) at the next level despite his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame, a big game against a strong Pac-12 defense is necessary. The Bruins are the lone BCS opponent on Houston's 2011 schedule. Keenum throws a tight, accurate ball in the short-plus passing game and has good mobility. He keeps his eyes downfield and looks to throw when scrambling. But many throws in the Houston offense are behind or near the line of scrimmage; proving he has the arm strength to stretch defenses vertically is mandatory if Keenum wants to be a mid-to-late round pick in the 2012 draft.
2. CB Troy Woolfolk, Michigan: Wolverine fans anticipated a great career from the son of All-American running back Butch Woolfolk, who went on to have a solid NFL career with the Giants, Oilers and Lions. Troy Woolfolk dislocated his right ankle and broke his fibula during 2010 preseason practices, putting his career on hold.
Woolfolk returns against Western Michigan, a team that likes to throw the ball around the yard from a spread alignment. Woolfolk has the chance to show NFL teams not only that his injuries are fully healed, but also that he has the short-area quickness and footwork to be an NFL cornerback, defending a horizontal passing game. WMU's sixth-year receiver, Jordan White, is also coming back from a knee injury. Watching the six-foot, 215-pound White battle the six-foot, 191-pound Woolfolk would afford scouts a chance to assess the physicality and agility of both players.
3. QB John Brantley, Florida: His career has not gone according to plan, but the former national Gatorade Player of the Year could potentially see a big jump in his draft stock if he takes to the coaching of new Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Urban Meyer's option scheme was not a good fit for Brantley, who looks the part of a NFL quarterback with his size and arm strength.
Florida Atlantic pass rusher Kevin Cyrille is an interesting prospect to note in this game. The Owls' defense as a whole should not be a significant hurdle for Brantley on Saturday. Making a few short throws to his quick receivers will certainly move the ball down the field, but Brantley needs to move well within the pocket and make well-placed intermediate and deep sideline throws against a less-talented FAU squad to alert NFL general managers that he's back on track.
4. WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: Arrested in March -- his third alcohol-related offense since 2009 -- Floyd was suspended by Irish coach Brian Kelly until the team needed him back for fall practice. Floyd returns but his miles to go in trying to earn back the respect of fans, coaches, teammates -- and NFL scouts.
Getting back to the Saturday showcase can only help his cause based on the last time Floyd took the field, making plays over Miami (Fla.) cornerback Brandon Harris using his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame in the Irish Sun Bowl win. He uses his thick upper body and long arms to win physical battles downfield. Proving his straight-line speed and foot quickness, both needed to make strong cuts against veteran NFL corners, is the prerequisite for Floyd to earn a first-round grade. Floyd also must improve his consistency using his hands to secure catches against a hungry South Florida team this weekend, as they will challenge him during and after the catch.
5. Kansas State ILB Arthur Brown/RB Bryce Brown: The talented Brown Brothers make their Wildcat debuts in Manhattan this weekend against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky. Arthur played two seasons at Miami (2008-2009) on special teams and Bryce one as a reserve at Tennessee (2009) before deciding to play for Bill Snyder at KSU. They redshirted the 2010 season together as transfers.
There's a fair chance one or both underclassmen could leave school early for the NFL if they have productive, healthy seasons. The undersized (6-1, 223) but hard-striking Arthur does not fit all NFL defenses, but would be an intriguing fit outside for teams like the Eagles or Colts. Tough-running Bryce has a similar game and build to Green Bay Packers' playoff star James Starks, but needs to prove his toughness as a regular contributor before earning the top 100 grade Starks would have received if not for injury.
Five matchups to watch
1. East Carolina QB Dominique Davis/WR Lance Lewis vs. South Carolina CBs Stephon Gilmore/Akeem Auguste: Davis and Lewis became a deadly combination for defenses last year, as the former Boston College and Fort Scott Community College quarterback found his fellow junior college alum 89 times for 1,116 yards and 14 scores in 2010. But South Carolina has very aggressive and talented corners in Gilmore and Auguste, and their deep front four could also force Davis into bad decisions.
Davis must be able to lead Lewis open against trail coverage over the middle and down the sideline -- as well as find other receivers if his top target is covered instead of immediately taking off from the pocket -- if NFL scouts are to consider him a potential starter or reliable backup. Lewis needs to show ability to beat the jam from either Gamecocks corner, as well as separate during his route using his hands and quick cuts, to make an impression on scouts.
2. SMU QB Kyle Padron vs. Texas A&M CBs Coryell Judie/Terrence Frederick: Head coach June Jones has the Mustangs on the upswing, partially because of the play of 6-foot-4 rising junior Padron (3,828 yards, 31 TD in 2010). He'll miss having 2011 sixth-round pick Aldrick Robinson in his receiving crew, however, especially when throwing against two draftable corner prospects in Judie and Frederick. They combined for five interceptions and 13 pass break-ups in 2010, and will look to do more damage as seniors.
Padron's arm strength has not been exceptional, but should be better as he continues to mature physically. Placing balls where only his receivers, and not Judie and Frederick, on slants and stop routes in Jones' spread offense can make plays would be a fine way to get on scouts' radars for the 2012 or 2013 drafts.
3. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne vs. Oklahoma defense: Kinne began his career at Texas, where he had hoped to play Oklahoma in big games every year. Now he'll have to settle for an opening weekend match-up against the Sooners' defense. The 2010 Conference USA Player of the Year (3,650 passing yards, 31 TD) may be without diminutive (5-8) but very elusive star receiver/returner Damaris Johnson due to suspension, so he'll need to be on the same page with his younger receivers to succeed.
Though quite productive for the Golden Hurricane, Kinne's downfield accuracy, especially outside the hashes, has not been spectacular. His average height (listed at 6-2, probably closer to 6-1) and arm strength make it imperative he shows quick decision-making, better anticipation and accuracy -- especially against an aggressive defense like Oklahoma's -- to earn a draftable grade.
4. Brigham Young LT Matt Reynolds vs. Ole Miss DE Kentrell Lockett: Two older-than-most prospects face off in Oxford on Saturday, with Reynolds waiting to begin his collegiate career until after completing his LDS mission and Lockett receiving a sixth year of eligibility due to missing the 2006 (shoulder) and 2010 (torn ACL) seasons due to injuries. Lockett was also sidelined with a heart rhythm issue in 2010 preseason practices.
Reynolds' build looks more like one of a guard or right tackle, but dealing with Lockett's length off the edge (he had five sacks in 2009) could help prove his ability to stay on the left side at the next level. The Rebels' defensive leader must show he has the burst off the snap and bend to turn the corner against NFL-caliber talent like Reynolds in order to overcome scouts' durability concerns.
5. Clemson RT Landon Walker vs. Troy DE/OLB Jonathan Massaquoi: Even though Massaquoi is only 6-foot-2, 250 pounds and will likely move to linebacker in the NFL, he racked up 13.5 sacks on the strong side of the formation for the Trojans in 2010. A big day for the one-year star at Butler County Community College (13.5 sacks in 2008) against an ACC opponent could lead to another big season, and possibly an early entry into the 2012 draft.
Walker's 6-foot-6 frame and strong anchor will make it tough for Massaquoi to turn the corner or bull rush, as he does against Sun Belt tackles. Teammate Antoine McClain may get higher grades from scouts now, but a strong performance by Walker here and against bigger opponents down the line in 2011 may make him a draftable prospect.
Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green vs. Oklahoma State Defense
San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley vs. Cal Poly CB Asa Jackson
Colorado OG Ryan Miller vs. Hawaii DT Vaughn Meatoga
Utah State ILB Bobby Wagner vs. Auburn Offense
Eastern Washington DT Renard Williams vs. Washington Offensive Line