Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2012 draft rankings:
• Oklahoma junior quarterback Landry Jones proved once again Saturday against Texas that he can be downright surgical when he feels comfortable in the pocket.
Against Texas, Jones stretched the defense vertically with deep fades and horizontally with screens and crossing routes to the tune of 367 yards and three touchdowns. Jones did not throw an interception. The fact that Jones didn't throw an interception in such a big game and hostile environment is significant -- it has been a problem for him in the past.
Jones worked to exorcise another demon with his very first pass attempt -- it came from center and not out of shotgun, which is the norm for the Sooners and most spread-based offenses.
Just four seconds into the game, Jones dropped back from center, extended the ball in a play-fake to tailback Dominique Whaley, collected himself and fired a deep out to star receiver Ryan Broyles. Broyles turned on the jets to turn Jones' 20-yard pass into a 40-yard reception that would set the tone early for the Sooners, who won 55-17 in one of the most lopsided outcomes in the long, storied history of the Red River Rivalry.
|More on NFL Draft|
Jones showed a strong, accurate arm, which has endeared him to scouts. He also showed better poise than in past big games, calmly attacking a talented Texas secondary.
Jones threw for three touchdowns, but perhaps his most impressive play of the game came when facing a third-and-25 early in the second quarter. Ahead 13-3, Jones saw Texas threatening a blitz and trusted his offensive line to pick up the extra defenders. They held strong, though a Longhorn defensive lineman did sneak through to give Jones a pop just after he released a strike to sophomore receiver Jaz Reynolds streaking down the right sideline for a 30-yard gain that gave the Sooners first-and-goal.
It was the little things -- delivering an accurate pass while taking the hit -- that made Jones' performance Saturday especially strong. Jones was similarly impressive on his first touchdown pass of the game moments earlier.
In giving a quick pump fake to sell the screen pass, Jones manipulated the Texas defense, opening up Kenny Stills for an easy 19-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone.
As Brent Musberger noted during the telecast, this was the same route Jones threw to perfection for the game-winning touchdown against Florida State.
As impressive as Jones was, there remain elements of his game that make scouts nervous.
For example, like quarterbacks for many offenses throughout the country, Jones is often asked to check back to the sideline before starting the play. His coaches, reading the pre-snap defense, relay an audible when necessary.
Stanford's Andrew Luck and Southern Cal's Matt Barkley are not in systems that require a pre-snap decision-making handoff. Whatever audibles their teams make at the line of scrimmage come from their minds, not their coaches. This gives scouts the easy opportunity to gauge each player's football intelligence and readiness to lead an NFL offense.
The fact that the Oklahoma coaches relay in their adjustments certainly does not mean that Jones lacks in this department. The same was largely true of 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford in this very OU system, and 2011 top pick Cam Newton.
Even so, the fact remains Luck and Barkley have proven the ability to handle what will be a requirement in the NFL. Jones has not.
It is one reason why Jones is viewed as a potential top 10 pick in the 2012 draft, but not necessarily as high as either Luck or Barkley.
• Some believe Landry Jones has been hampered by constant comparisons to former Sooner and 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. If expectations and comparisons were a problem for Iowa junior left tackle Riley Reiff, he probably shouldn't have signed with Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes, which boasts as stellar a reputation for churning out NFL offensive linemen as any program in the country.
Matching up against a quality Penn State defensive line, Reiff proved that Iowa's reputation is in good hands. Despite his 6-6, 300-pound build, Reiff (pronounced Reef) is quick off the snap and shows good core flexibility to handle bull rushes. Reiff is sometimes pushed back initially, but stiffens and consistently turned Penn State defensive ends outside to create running lanes for Iowa's backs.
Reiff efficiently gets to the second level when run blocking. He's a reliable enough run blocker that some believe he'll ultimately be asked to move to the right side.
Reiff's quickness, flexibility and balance are evident when in pass protection. He eases out of his stance and catches the defensive end. Reiff shows strong hands with good inside placement to control the defender. Though effective against Penn State, Reiff did show a tendency to ease onto his heels and stop moving laterally upon contact.
Speedier ends will give him trouble if he doesn't play lighter, more active feet. When Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg took longer than he should to get rid of the football, Reiff's opponent was able to get late pressure. This correction in technique could allow Reiff to remain at left tackle in the NFL, as he has the athleticism to handle the jump in competition. Reiff showed that he also has the toughness to play in the NFL by coming back from a injury scare in the fourth quarter. Play was delayed as Reiff lay near the Iowa sideline on his back with medical personnel peeking at his right leg. Reiff flexed his knee and apparently comforted, popped up. Ferentz, who doubles as Iowa's line coach, gave his star left tackle an appropriate slap on the rear as he walked past.
Reiff returned to the field on the next series, demonstrating that he has the toughness, as well as the size, athleticism and technique to rank among the elite prospects at his position.
• Largely due to the brilliant passing of junior quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Baylor Bears have become a national story. Against Iowa State Saturday, running back Terrance Ganaway exploited huge rushing lanes for 200 yards and three touchdowns to steal the show.
Quietly, it is senior wideout Kendall Wright's stellar play that is making things easier on each.
Considering that he's caught at least one touchdown in every game this season - and has nine through five games - Wright's production should be getting more national attention. In fact, only his relative lack of name recognition is keeping Wright from getting the same hype as two of his fellow senior receivers from the Big 12, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller.
Iowa State played a lot of deep quarters coverage forcing Griffin III to go away from what he does best - throwing deep - and instead be patient in completing underneath throws.
Luckily for "RGIII" and Baylor, his senior wideout is just as effective in shaking free of coverage on short and intermediate routes as he is in slipping past the defense on verticals.
He demonstrated as much on his touchdown catch, turning a quick dig route into a score by slipping through two defenders into the end zone. Later, he showed off his acceleration in another second quarter scoring drive, taking an end around for 11 yards.
For a 5-10, 190-pound receiver, Wright shows surprising toughness and aggression. Wright was upended on the end-around and got into the face of Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson, a potential top 100 pick in the 2012 draft himself. On the next series, Wright demonstrated his willingness to go over the middle, taking a big hit (and hanging on to the ball) on a crossing route.
Wright's night seemed likely to end early when he suffered an injury to his right leg in the third quarter when getting cut by a defender.
Again, he proved his toughness, shaking off the injury to return to the field, catching two of his eight passes following the injury.
NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter compares Wright to Green Bay Packers' rookie Randall Cobb. The comparison has merit. While Wright won't approach the success Cobb had at Kentucky as a returner, his toughness, reliability and versatility could result in a similar pro grade as the defending champs' 2011 second round pick.
• Upon Further Review highlights a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment.
Entering this week, Ohio State center Mike Brewster was NFLDraftScout.com's second-rated senior center prospect behind Georgia's Ben Jones.
Based on Brewster's performance against a proud Nebraska defense still smarting from a whipping from Wisconsin a week earlier, the two should be switched.
Brewster isn't flashy but the four-year starter knows how to play the game. Equally comfortable snapping with the quarterback near him or in shotgun, Brewster quickly gets his hands into his opponent. Brewster has good upper body strength to jolt the defender and keeps his legs driving on contact to knock him out of the hole. He can't be characterized as explosive getting to the second level, but is efficient in switching off from double-teams and effectively sealing off the linebacker from the action. In pass protection, Brewster plays with a wide base, showing good strength and flexibility to handle the bull rush. He has good balance and quickness sliding laterally and looks to help his teammates when not covered up, even peeling back to stone rushers pursuing Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller from behind.
Brewster's steady individual effort serves as an effective microcosm of the dominating effort put forth by the entire Ohio State offensive line. Despite suffering a bitterly disappointing loss, the Buckeyes can take some solace in the improvement shown by their offensive line. Ohio State gave up only one sack and rushed for 253 yards against a talented and well-coached Nebraska defense playing at home - this after surrendering five sacks and officially rushing for just 35 yards last week in a 10-7 loss to Michigan State.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.