Scout’s notebook: offensive review

Observations and analysis from the sixth week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top offensive prospects.

Don’t start buying the hype… yet

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford returned Saturday and threw for 389 yards and a touchdown vs. the Baylor Bears. The more telling stat, however, was Bradford’s 55.1-completion percentage against a very average Big 12 defense. Bradford looked rusty at times, which can be expected after missing over a month with a sprained AC joint in this throwing shoulder. But the point is, it was only an average first game back, and I’ll be withholding judgment on him until I see how he handles the pressure the Texas Longhorns are going to bring this week.

The real top prospects on the Florida offense

With Florida quarterback Tim Tebow consistently getting most of the publicity on the Gators offense, it’s easy to overlook some of the more unsung heroes up front. However, the play of center Maurkice Pouncey and guard Michael Pouncey has been absolutely brilliant in recent weeks, and their ability to consistently control the line of scrimmage and create a push in the run game was one of the main reasons the Gators where able to wear down LSU. It’s tough to tell these two brothers apart because they both play with impressive bend, fluidity and power in both the run and pass game. Maurkice does a great job firing off the ball quickly after the snap, gaining leverage and driving his legs through contact. Michael, on the other hand, doesn’t play with quite as much leverage, but he’s very powerful in his own right and showcases good lateral agility in pass protection. Both guys look like potential high-caliber starting interior linemen at the next level and are, without a doubt, Florida’s top offensive prospects.

A big play in a small package

One of my favorite running backs in this season’s draft class has to be Arkansas’ Michael Smith. He’s an undersized guy at 5-9, 180 pounds, but boy, is he lighting in a bottle. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and finished Saturday’s game vs. Auburn with 145 yards on 18 carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run. Smith exhibits an explosive first step with the lateral agility to make a man miss and create in the open field. He also showcases impressive run instincts inside and knows how to follow his blockers, find a crease and accelerate into daylight. He lacks the size and body to take the pounding of an every-down back, but he’s a big play waiting to happen and could prove to be a very effective piece on an NFL offense as a third-down/scatback.

Free falling

I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the play of Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead has been downright terrible in recent weeks, and it seemed to hit an all-time low on Saturday vs. Alabama. The Crimson Tide defense is closest thing there is to an NFL-caliber defense in college football, and it was clear that Snead simply isn’t ready to handle that kind of pressure yet. He’s slow to decipher information, struggles to find his check-down guy and simply doesn’t processes information at an NFL-caliber rate. Snead had a strong showing at the end of last season, throwing the football down the field and creating some big plays, but he’s never completed a high percentage of his throws and just doesn’t look like a guy capable of carrying an SEC offense at this point. There’s no doubting his physical skill set, but he isn’t a sound decision-maker and doesn’t look anything more than a developmental-type guy who will need a lot of grooming before he’s ready for the next level.

Don’t count out production

There’s always something to be said for production. It isn’t the end all of scouting, but if a prospect finds a way to consistently produce at a high level week in and week out, he must be doing something right. That’s why the play of Bowling Green wideout Freddie Barnes definitely deserves mention after he finished with 22 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns vs. Kent State. I know this was only one game and yes, it does seem a bit fluky, but Barnes caught a combined 42 balls during his first three games and is on pace for 150 receptions. He currently leads the NCAA with 75 catches -- 28 more than his nearest competitor. Barnes possesses good size at 6-1, 205 pounds, but he lacks great straight-line speed and looks more like a mid 4.5 guy on tape. However, he’s a coordinated route runner who knows how to catch the ball in traffic and adjust to the throw. He isn’t going to ever “wow” scouts with his overall athletic ability, but one thing is for sure: He knows how to get open in the pass game and make plays on the football. NFL executives will likely question his level of competition and overall upside at the position, but in this weak wide receiver class, he’s one guy I could certainly see making an NFL roster as a late-round pick.

Another right tackle only

This weekend, I got to take close look at the Auburn offense, in particular the play of left tackle Lee Ziemba. Ziemba is a former freshman All-American who has started on the Tigers’ offensive line since 2007. He’s a big 6-8, 310-pound, long-armed offensive tackle who displays a good initial pop on contact and does a nice job generating a push in the run game. However, when watching him in pass protection, he isn’t the most flexible of linemen and struggles to stay balanced and compact with his footwork when asked to reach the edge. He does a nice job extending his long arms but isn’t much of a Velcro player and doesn’t consistently stay on his blocks in space. Ziemba is an above-average athlete for his size, but he doesn’t possess the type of footwork needed for the left side in the NFL and projects more as a right tackle.

Some small school love

Two small school backs to keep an eye on the rest of the season are Southern Illinois’s Deji Karim and North Dakota State’s Pat Paschall. Karim is coming off a 28-carry, 273-yard, three-touchdown performance against Illinois State, while Paschall is averaging 7.3 yards a carry and is on pace for 1,593 rushing yards. Both players showcases natural running ability on all areas of the field and are two small-schools prospects who could really make some noise during the postseason process.

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