|Houston star Case Keenum has a glum game in an otherwise big season. (US Presswire)|
Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2012 draft rankings:
• Just as the nation seemed to be coming to grips with the idea of an LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS Championship game, an overwhelming effort by No. 3 Oklahoma State -- destroying rival Oklahoma Saturday night -- again embroiled the bowl selection process in controversy.
What won't be controversial is the NFL draft stock of Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden -- at least not in the eyes of scouts. Considering his gaudy statistics and winning ways, Weeden's draft ranking could be met with some surprise from fans.
With 217 yards against the Sooners, Weeden broke his own school record for most passing yards in a season, throwing for 4,328 yards through the air in 2011, beating the mark he set last year (4,277). For the first time in 24 games, Weeden did not throw a touchdown pass.
In rushing for a season-high 278 yards and four touchdowns, Oklahoma State didn't need him to attack the Sooners through the air. That isn't to say Weeden wasn't able to demonstrate the traits that endear him to scouts.
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Yet, the concerns scouts have about the Cowboys' quarterback were just as clear.
At 6-4, 218 pounds, Weeden has the size scouts like at the position. He also boasts a strong and generally accurate arm, the recognition to pick apart defenses and the presence to step into an NFL locker room and earn respect quickly.
The Cowboys thoroughly dominated the Sooners at the line of scrimmage in this 106th running of the Bedlam rivalry. OSU averaged 8.4 yards per carry and didn't surrender a sack. In fact, the only time Weeden needed to move his feet was on designed deception plays like screens or designed rollouts. This greatly exaggerates Weeden's accuracy and likelihood of success in the NFL.
As with most quarterbacks at this high level, if allowed to become comfortable in the pocket, Weeden can slice apart a defense with surgical precision. Due to the spread attack Oklahoma State employs, Weeden is rarely pressured. When he's not taking snaps out of the shotgun, he's typically in the Pistol. He's been sacked just 11 times in 12 games this season.
That, of course, won't continue in the NFL. As with most spread quarterbacks, Weeden has obvious issues in a muddled pocket. He doesn't reset his feet well and lacks the athleticism to buy time inside or out of the pocket. When asked to roll out -- a staple of most pro-style systems -- Weeden loses accuracy, sailing passes in the direction he's running. This was the case when he overthrew receiver Tracy Moore on the right sideline to end the Cowboys' first drive of the second quarter.
Perhaps most importantly, having spent years in the New York Yankees' farm system as a pitcher, Weeden is significantly older than virtually all NFL prospects at 28 years old, which while less of a factor at the quarterback position than perhaps any other position, is important, nonetheless. Teams are leery of using high draft picks on players who physically may be at or beyond their peak, especially those who are going to be asked to demonstrate more athleticism in the NFL.
NFL teams operating out of a primarily shotgun attack -- the Saints, Patriots, Packers and Colts chief among them -- value Weeden's quick delivery and strong, accurate right arm. For teams that ask their quarterbacks to do more than simply collect shotgun snaps and fire away, however, Weeden may generate just middle or even late-round interest.
• The Stanford Cardinal may have given the country a game plan in how to beat Virginia Tech in last year's Orange Bowl. It is much easier said than done, of course, but the Hokies proved to be susceptible to a power running attack which, as their defense is drawn to the line, further softens coverage from their safeties. A team can attack over the top, especially if it has a seam-splitting receiver in the slot or at tight end.
This is the game plan Clemson used to record a second victory over Virginia Tech this season. Though he only caught two passes, Tigers' tight end Dwayne Allen could have earned MVP honors for this game due to his all-around performance that resulted in two scores of his own and some key blocks from multiple positions.
Allen, a 6-4, 255-pound junior, scored Clemson's first touchdown, taking a short pass up the left sideline around and through the Virginia Tech defense, showing an impressive combination of agility, acceleration and power. His second touchdown came from just 8 yards out, but demonstrated different skills -- the burst to get a clean release off the line, sell the quick post to get Hokie safety Detrick Bonner turned away and the soft hands and body control to make the diving reception to his right. The second score gave Clemson a 17-10 lead on its first drive of the second half.
Quite frankly, Allen's two touchdowns were as easy as any he's caught all season. It was the versatility he showed throughout the rest of the game that will catch the attention of scouts.
Allen has the size and strength to hold up nicely as an in-line blocker. While he's not a dominator, Allen showed good initial quickness to get upfield, turn and seal the Hokies' defensive end off from the play, creating outside running lanes for Clemson's speedy Andre Ellington to get to the flanks. Serving as a testament to Allen's athleticism and reliability, he was moved to H-back on occasion to confuse the Virginia Tech defense and even to fullback when Clemson changed to a jumbo, three-tight end package.
Teams looking for a difference-making tight end capable of stretching defenses deep may want to look elsewhere because Allen does not boast elite athleticism. In terms of blocking and being a security blanket underneath, however, Allen staked a claim as the best all-around tight end in the country.
• While Oklahoma State was doing its best to convince voters it deserved a shot at the BCS championship game, No. 1 LSU just kept steamrolling opponents, including Georgia's multi-talented senior cornerback and return man Brandon Boykin during Saturday's SEC championship game.
Having returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, the Tigers certainly were aware of Boykin's reputation as a game-breaker. Despite this reputation, a sterling effort from the LSU special teams bottled up the 5-10, 183-pound senior. Boykin returned three kicks for a just 49 yards and was held without a gained yard after fielding four punts. Even worse, twice Boykin bobbled returns.
While his special teams' prowess was managed by LSU, Boykin, at times, flashed the closing speed and tenacity in coverage to pique the interest of pro scouts. Twice Boykin closed in front of LSU receivers to bat away passes, knocking away a deep ball intended for Rueben Randle on the second play from scrimmage and slipping past Odell Beckham to knock away another well-thrown pass just a drive later.
As impressive as Boykin's coverage skills were Saturday, his unwillingness to take on ball carriers proved to be one of the key reasons LSU rattled off 42 unanswered points to blow out Georgia. Boykin, who infamously gave little effort to slow down South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram on his way to a stunning 68-yard fake punt for a touchdown on Sept. 10, again demonstrated his fickle competitiveness against the Tigers.
As LSU was pulling away, Georgia needed its seniors to step up and make a play. Instead, the senior cornerback twice backed down from physical confrontations against bigger ball carriers. LSU tailback Kenny Hilliard blew past Boykin for a rushing score in the second quarter. Boykin's unwillingness to sacrifice his body for the good of the team was even more obvious later in the game when he was unable to slow down Hilliard after the freshman running back caught a quick swing pass in the right flat.
Hilliard had just Boykin between himself and the end zone and made short work of the diminutive corner, scoring his third touchdown of the game and leaving a bad taste in the mouth of any scout considering Boykin as a potential top-75 prospect in next April's draft.
• Upon Further Review highlights a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment.
Houston quarterback Case Keenum entered the weekend a growing Heisman candidate and the leader of a Cougars' team hoping to land a BCS bowl game. Due to his hype, some believed he was gaining traction as a middle-round NFL prospect.
Instead, a swarming Southern Miss defense proved that Keenum, while a wonderful story, is significantly flawed as a pro prospect.
Keenum's lofty statistics (he's the all-time FBS passing leader with 18,865 passing yards) belie the fact that he's rarely asked to make NFL throws in Houston's spread offense. He's also been the beneficiary of weak competition. Keenum only faced one defense all season ranked among the country's top 50 in pass defense. Southern Miss, which held Keenum to "just" 373 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions, was ranked 55th heading into the Conference USA championship.
Against Southern Miss, Houston attempted to attack the field just as it had all year with a never-ending barrage of the quick screens and crossing routes popular in the spread attack. Keenum racked up his yardage on a season-high 67 attempts, rarely completing passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield. In fairness, Keenum did throw some beautiful passes in the loss.
A deep ball that Patrick Edwards dropped in the first quarter couldn't have been thrown with better accuracy. When he feels comfortable in the pocket, Keenum can throw the ball with nice touch.
The problem is, even when Keenum is throwing the ball accurately, his passes lack the sizzle to get through an NFL secondary unimpeded.
Southern Miss physically challenged Houston's receivers, often forcing them outside. Because he possesses only average arm strength, Keenum struggled to drive passes to the sidelines, effectively limiting where Houston could successfully attack the field.
Keenum ascension as the most successful quarterback in FBS history is a heart-warming story. Scouts with whom I've spoken throughout the season agree that Keenum is short on the NFL traits needed to give him a draftable grade.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.