Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2012 draft rankings:
• Heading into the Alabama-Florida showdown, I highlighted Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower as one to watch. It was obvious the Gators needed to be able to run the football to stick around in this game. Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and the rest of the talented Alabama defense provided a resounding answer to the challenge, limiting Florida to only 15 combined rushing yards and cruising to a 38-10 win.
As impressive as Alabama's team defense was Saturday night, however, it was the sterling performance from junior running back Trent Richardson that had scouts leaving Gainesville excited.
"Clearly he's the elite back," one scout told me on the condition of anonymity, "but I don't know if that says enough. It's like with Andrew Luck at quarterback. (Matt) Barkley and (Landry) Jones are good, but Luck is a whole other level ahead of them. That's how it goes with Richardson. He's at a whole other level than the other guys (potentially available in the 2012 draft) at that position."
The 5-11, 224-pound Richardson bulldozed, side-stepped and accelerated past Florida defenders for a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns. Though his offensive line blocked well, much of Richardson's success was self-created. On seemingly every carry the Alabama running back dragged a Florida defender for yardage after initial contact. Even when there appeared to be no hole, Richardson often generated at least a few yards simply due to his leg drive, balance and pure determination.
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Richardson is a man amongst boys at the collegiate level -- and that doesn't occur often in the SEC. The Alabama runner evokes memories of current St. Louis Rams' star Steven Jackson's days playing for Oregon State as the only collegiate back in recent memory with a similar combination of pure power, lateral agility, speed and soft hands out of the backfield.
• Any chance of a senior quarterback earning a selection in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft may be ending as certainly as a Texas A&M halftime lead. The Aggies feature NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior passer in Ryan Tannehill, but for the second time in two weeks, Tannehill and the rest of Mike Sherman's team was unable to turn a dominating first half performance into a victory, getting outscored 25-3 in the second half and losing to Arkansas 42-38 in the Southwest Classic held at Cowboys Stadium.
At 6-4, 222 pounds, Tannehill possesses the size scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback. A former all-conference receiver, he also has the athleticism. Playing in a pro-style offense under Sherman -- formerly the head coach of the Green Bay Packers -- Tannehill has also demonstrated the football intelligence to handle the multiple formations and complicated game plans that typically are the bugaboo of collegiate quarterbacks ascending to the pro game.
Against Oklahoma State a week earlier, one could point to Tannehill's three second-half interceptions as a reason why the Aggies lost. Two of the three interceptions were the result of shoddy route-running from senior receiver Jeff Fuller, but the turnovers nevertheless came from Tannehill's hand. Tannehill threw one interception against Arkansas Saturday, a deep ball left too far inside in the first quarter that defender Greg Gatson capitalized on. He did not, however, make the mistakes down the stretch that caused A&M to lose this game.
Tannehill also -- for the second consecutive week -- was unable to make the big play with the game on the line. It is a trait Tannehill must develop if he is to become a consistent winning quarterback at the collegiate level and earn first-round notice from the NFL.
Against Arkansas, Tannehill was equally effective dropping back from center out of the I-formation as he was collecting the snap in the shotgun spread. He showed poise in the pocket, the maneuverability to escape as it collapsed and the wherewithal to check down when his primary read was covered. He read the defense prior to the snap and audibled effectively. He showed impressive anticipation firing passes before his receivers turned. On multiple occasions, Tannehill fired deep outs and dig routes to the sideline from the opposite hash, demonstrating more than enough arm strength.
The shorter and longer routes gave him trouble. Too often Tannehill forced running backs and receivers to reach high or behind adjusting to short throws, limiting their opportunities to create after the catch. When throwing deep (as in the case of his first-quarter interception), Tannehill also must do a better job of throwing his receiver open rather than leading him towards the defense.
As mentioned previously, Tannehill is a former receiver for Texas A&M. He only became the Aggies' starting quarterback halfway through last season. Arkansas was only his 10th career start at quarterback.
With his rare skill set, it is easy to see why scouts are excited about Tannehill's future. Even the improvement shown from the Oklahoma State loss to the Arkansas letdown was impressive. As such, Tannehill is the type of quarterback who could see a huge leap up rankings as he gains experience this season and in any postseason all-star games. At this point, however, he remains a raw prospect clearly a tier below the likes of juniors Luck, Barkley and Jones.
• Virginia Tech was humbled at home by Clemson, but one Hokie who boosted his pro stock Saturday was junior cornerback Jayron Hosley.
Scouts certainly know Hosley, who earned All-American honors last season in leading the nation with nine interceptions. Though he had two more in his first four games this year, some were concerned that he'd snuck up on offenses in 2010 and hadn't really been challenged by a top passing attack in 2011.
Against Clemson, however, Hosley was asked to shadow big-play receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins had teamed with quarterback Tajh Boyd to the tune of 17 catches for 296 yards and four touchdowns in Clemson's victories over Auburn and Florida State the past two weeks. Though only a freshman, Watkins had been one of the country's most impressive receivers the first quarter of the season.
Largely due to Hosley's ability to blanket the 6-1, 200-pound Watson, however, Clemson struggled to pass the ball consistently. Watson was limited to only three catches for 38 yards. When not covering Watson one on one, Hosley proved just as effective in zone, snaring his third interception of the year. Hosley, playing back in zone coverage, read the eyes of Boyd and broke 5 yards to slip in front of Tigers receiver DeAndre Hopkins to steal the pass for his 12th interception in Virginia Tech's last 16 games. Hosley certainly lacks the bulk scouts would prefer, but his quick feet, loose hips and burst to the ball all but erased his opponent throughout this game. His coverage skills, in fact, made Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster comfortable in allowing the 5-10, 172 pound Hosley to even cover Clemson's 6-4, 255-pound tight end, Dwayne Allen, on occasion.
• Upon Further Review highlights a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment.
Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael is a perfect example of a player taking advantage of an opportunity.
The backup quarterback for a team that had a total of five wins over the past three seasons, Lobbestael entered his senior season about as unlikely a candidate to move into potential NFL consideration as any across the country.
A broken collarbone sent starter Jeff Tuel to the sideline and thrust Lobbestael onto the field, where he's helped lead a vastly improved team to 3-1 start, including beating Colorado on the road in the Pac-12 conference opener for both teams.
Lobbestael completed 32 of 49 passes against the Buffaloes for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Colorado had successfully slowed a Washington State attack that entered the game ranked sixth in the country in total offense, but Lobbestael and the Cougars came alive to score twice in the final 2:35 to steal the victory.
At 6-3, 220 pounds, Lobbestael has NFL size. While not owning a howitzer, he demonstrated enough arm strength to drive the ball to the sideline and the touch to attack deep. It was a deep ball down the left sideline, in fact, that gave Washington State the dramatic win. Facing a Colorado blitz, Lobbestael stood poised in the pocket, gave a pump fake to get the free safety to bite and hit a streaking Marquess Wilson perfectly in stride for a 63-yard touchdown with just 1:10 left.
When Tuel returns to health, Lobbestael may wind up back on the sideline. Even if that is the case, the senior quarterback may have already shown scouts enough in his limited duty to get a tryout as an undrafted free agent.
That's only if the former backup isn't drafted outright.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.