Observations and analysis from the tenth week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top offensive prospects.
Is it time for Pike to start worrying?
It was just a couple weeks ago that Cincinnati QB Tony Pike was starting to make a big push for himself as the nation’s top senior quarterback prospect. But after missing the last three games with a forearm injury, Pike watched backup quarterback Zach Collaros take the reigns of the Bearcats offense and perform about as well as any signal caller in the country. Questions are now starting to pop up not just about Pike’s future as an NFL quarterback but also his chances of getting back on the field and regaining his starting job. Collaros has been brilliant in his past three outings, and it’s going to be extremely tough for head coach Brian Kelly to bench his hot quarterback. Kelly’s decision will not only have a direct bearing on his team’s fate the rest of the season, it will also impact Pike’s draft stock. If Pike ends up getting benched the rest of the season and sees another quarterback come in and lead his team to a successful postseason run, it could have a detrimental effect on his draft status in April.
Late riser who looks poised for a big future
I was turned on recently to Connecticut wideout Marcus Easley, a former walk-on who has never been real productive at the college level. However, over the past five games, Easley has caught 24 balls for 533 yards and five touchdowns and has emerged as Connecticut’s go-to receiver. The 6-2, 216-pound wideout showcases impressive initial burst off the line and does a great job widening his routes and giving himself additional space to operate down the field. He’s a coordinated receiver who possesses the balance to cleanly get out of his breaks and adjust to the football. He looked so natural this weekend vs. Cincinnati setting up his routes and easily creating separation from the Bearcats’ corners down the field that he looks like a guy who could potentially develop into a starting-caliber wideout at the next level. He did have two bad drops and needs to improve his concentration in traffic, but I think that will come with more experience.
Louisville wideout fails to impress
Another wideout who’s been making noise as of late is Louisville’s Scott Long. Long is a big 6-2, 214-pound target who’s been productive in the Cardinals’ lethargic offense, and I was excited to see how he would perform vs. an athletic West Virginia secondary on Saturday. However, Long failed to impress as he struggled to separate consistently down the field, and even when he did have a chance to make a play in traffic, he lacked the type of body control/coordination to adjust to the throw and pluck the football away from his frame. He looked slow off the line and didn’t exhibit any kind of burst out of his breaks. He did showcase above-average balance for his size and did a nice job shielding defenders from the football once he gained inside position. But he doesn’t possess the type of athleticism or quickness to routinely beat press and separate from man coverage at the next level.
The more I watch Penn State running back Evan Royster, the less impressed I am with his game. Sure, the guy is a strong, well-built athlete who displays above-average vision and patience running between the tackles. But there’s simply no dynamic element to his game. He lacks a great first step attacking the line of scrimmage and struggles to make people miss in space, and even when he does gain a step, he doesn’t separate in the open field. Royster is a guy who needs his offensive line to give him substantial creases initially off the snap inside because he lacks the type of lateral agility to quickly reach cutback lanes and simply can’t create on his own. I still think he can be somewhat effective as a downhill runner for a team that wants to run power inside, but I don’t see him being a threat at the second level, and he will struggle throughout his NFL career to average over 4.0 yards per carry. He’s a poor man’s Matt Forte.
It all starts with his base
Virginia Tech offensive lineman Ed Wang entered the season as a promising potential left tackle prospect who possessed the type of athletic ability to make you think he really has a chance to develop into a starter at the next level. His performance last Thursday vs. East Carolina, however, left me shaking my head. Wang’s inability to play with power on the edge consistently keeps him from engaging with pass rushers on contact. He doesn’t exhibit much flexibility off the snap, which causes him to struggle maintaining his balance and generating power from his upper body on his punch. His hands are easily batted away when trying to reach pass rushers on the corner, and he simply doesn’t have the strength to stay on blocks through contact. Wang does possess intriguing athletic ability for the position, but until he learns to keep his base down and play with more balance, he won’t have a chance to be successful at the next level.
Remember the name
One name to store in the memory bank and pull out at draft time is Miami TE Jimmy Graham. Graham is a former Miami basketball player who decided to come out for the football team this year after exhausting his basketball eligibility after the 2008-09 season. He’s proven to be a quick learner. The 6-8, 265-pound tight end recorded his fourth touchdown catch of the season vs. Virginia and has displayed a real feel for the red zone. He’s still raw in all areas of the game and has only caught eight passes on the year, but he’s a gifted athlete for his size who looks natural high pointing the ball and has the type of upside that’s definitely worth a look at the next level.
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