For the rest of the 2012 college football regular season, I will be listing "Five prospects" each Friday that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend. For those of you who would like to scout "alongside" me, feel free to do so and leave your comments below.
In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, not just the five I've highlighted below. The players listed are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.
Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores as the season goes on. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.*
WR Aaron Mellette, Elon: Entering the 2012 season as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 rated senior wide receiver, Mellette has a great opportunity to prove worthy of his hype by starting out against a North Carolina defense loaded with NFL athleticism. The 6-3, 218 pound Mellette, however, looks up to the task. He certainly demonstrated the ability to step up his level of play a season ago, catching 11 passes for 180 yards against a Vanderbilt secondary that ranked sixth in the SEC a season ago in defense. He broke school and conference records last year with 1,639 receiving yards and caught 11 touchdowns. On tape, Mellette doesn't appear to be an elite athlete like last year's small school star Brian Quick (Appalachian State) but he is a more consistent route-runner, hands-catcher and downfield blocker than the St. Louis Rams' second round pick.
DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn*: The 2011 college football season may have been a disappointing one for the then-defending BCS champions, but Lemonier (pronounced Lemon-eer) explosion onto the national scene certainly provided a highlight. Lining up as a defensive end for the Tigers, Lemonier registered 47 tackles, including a team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, which earned him First Team All-SEC honors. He has the explosive first step to give Clemson's big offensive tackles trouble, but I'm curious to see if his secondary moves have improved from last year. A season ago, Lemonier would get caught up to often once tackles got their hands on him. To earn a high grade from NFL scouts, he'll have to show improvement in that area this season. Clemson will give him a great first test.
DE Craig Roh, Michigan: The biggest game of opening weekend presents the most intriguing individual matchup for my money with the Wolverines' talented Roh against Alabama, the most gifted offensive line in college football. Roh, a former linebacker who has bulked up to become one of the more physical defensive ends in the country, is expected to line up often against the Tide's equally powerful right tackle D.J. Fluker, who I currently rate as the No. 23 prospect in the country. A season ago Roh (pronounced Row) lined up all along the defensive line for the Wolverines as the team sought out favorable matchups. There are few weaknesses on this Alabama offensive line, however. Roh registered 32 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and four sacks a season ago, earning Honorable Mention all-conference honors. Those close to the program believe he'll significantly improve upon those numbers in a breakout senior campaign. Roh, who started eight games at outside linebacker in 2010, should improve as the season goes on. Until invited to prominent senior all-star game, he won't face a stiffer test (and thus greater opportunity to impress scouts) than Saturday night's primetime tilt against the defending champs.
CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State: Though his Washington counterpart, Desmond Trufant, might have the most recognizable name of cornerbacks on the west coast, McFadden is one of the first names out of the mouths of NFL scouts when it comes to previewing the elite defensive backs on this side of the country. Few outside of the Mountain West Conference likely know McFadden's name but the playmaking cornerback was named the conference's preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He's a two-time defending MWC First-Team defender who led the conference a season ago with 17 passes defensed. The 5-10, 190 pound McFadden will face a stiff test Saturday night against a Washington passing attack that looked every bit as lethal as Baylor's a year ago in the Alamo Bowl. McFadden is an athletic and competitive press corner -- precisely the type that has given the Huskies' wide receivers trouble in the past. Washington sophomore Kasen Williams should be a particularly interesting draw for McFadden, who enters the 2012 season as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 senior cornerback prospect.
QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech*: The general consensus among NFL scouts is that Southern Cal's Matt Barkley and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson enter the 2012 season as the favorite to be the first quarterbacks selected in the 2013 draft. Each of these players are seniors who have already faced and succeeded against top competition. Thomas, however, could play the role that Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III have played each of the past two years as the surprising breakout candidate to leap into argument. The 6-5, 254 pound Thomas is a good athlete with a strong arm. He demonstrated surprising accuracy and poise in the pocket a year ago despite it being his first season as a starter and only the third year removed from signing with the Hokies as a highly regarded prep tight end. Thomas showed improvement from week to week a season ago and finished the year completing 59.8% of his passes for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. He also ran for 469 yards and two more touchdowns (11 total) than star running back David Wilson, who the New York Giants selected in the first round. Thomas dominated Georgia Tech a year ago in the air (three TDs/0 INTs) and on the ground (70 yards, two TDs) and no doubt the Yellow Jackets will be better prepared to face him this year, especially considering the game's primetime Monday night platform.