Scout’s notebook: offensive review

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

Changing of the tackles?

I got a chance this weekend to study the nation’s top two offensive tackle prospects in Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga and Rutgers’ Anthony Davis and once again came away impressed with both. However, after watching the downright dominating play of Davis vs. Connecticut’s pass-rushing specialist Lindsey Witten, I’m starting to think it might be Davis who could end up being the nation’s top overall left tackle prospect. Davis showcases impressive body control, footwork and fluidity off the edge and possesses the type of power to consistently stonewall defenders at the point of attack. He did a great job easily reaching the corner vs. Witten, maintaining his balance and anchoring at the point of attack. He consistently was able to keep the left side of the pocket clean and made it all look so easy. There are some guys you just know are NFL-ready when watching tape, and Davis is certainly one of them.

Reggie Bush he’s not -- and that’s a good thing

Coming out of high school, USC running back Joe McKnight was touted as the second coming of Reggie Bush, with big-play ability in the open field. He was also a threat to take it the distance every time he touched the ball. However, McKnight is proving to be a much more instinctive/natural runner than Bush ever was between the tackles. McKnight finished the weekend vs. Oregon with 95 yards on 15 carries and is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry this season. He’s showcasing a lot more strength and balance in his lower half than last season and is doing a better job being patient inside, allowing his blocks to set up in front of him and exploding toward daylight. Now, he isn’t quite the same type of dynamic playmaker at the college level that Bush was, but I see McKnight being much more productive running the ball in the NFL.

A tale of two SEC backs

Ben Tate, Auburn (5-11, 218)

What you see is what you get from Auburn running back Ben Tate. He isn’t the flashiest runner and lacks the kind of speed to consistently create big plays at the next level, but he’s a tough, hard-nosed runner who exhibits good patience and vision inside and knows how to keep an offense in manageable down-and-distance situations. He isn’t even a guy you always really take notice of throughout the game. But at the end of the day, the guy always has 20-plus carriers for over 100 yards. He finished with 25 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown in a win over Mississippi and has rushed for over 100 yards in five of his last six SEC games. Tate isn’t going to be selected too high on draft day, but you can bet his tough/instinctive running style will help him find a role on an NFL offense very quickly.

Montario Hardesty, Tennessee (6-1, 215)

The main question I had about Hardesty coming into the year was: Can he stay healthy for an entire season? So far, he has proved that and much more. Hardesty not only possesses the size and power to fight for the tough yards inside, he showcases an impressive burst attacking the line of scrimmage with the patience and agility to set up blocks and step through tackles in the hole. On top of all that, he has also does a great job catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up SEC linebackers blitzing in the pass game. He carried the Tennessee offense again with 23 carries, 121 yards and two touchdowns vs. South Carolina, and if he checks out medically, he looks like one of the nation’s top senior running backs.

The senior QB everyone should be talking about

I know I’ve boasted a bit in the past for having Northwestern’s Mike Kafka as the nation’s seventh-best quarterback prospect in my preseason rankings. But after watching him operate again this weekend and absolutely pick apart the Penn State defense, I’m now convinced he may have more upside than any other senior quarterback in the nation. Kafka’s combination of athleticism, timing and accuracy in the pass game makes him really tough to defend. He finished 14 of 18 for 128 yards and also ran eight times for 42 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game in the second quarter with a leg injury. He definitely looks like one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects, and I think with time he has the ability to mature into a Tony Romo-type QB and will eventually compete for a starting job at the next level.

An Iowa offensive lineman I don’t like

It’s no secret that I love Iowa offensive linemen, as the Hawkeyes consistently produce underrated prospects up front who end up overachieving and developing into solid NFL players. However, one guy who failed to impress me Saturday was center Rafael Eubanks. Although Eubanks is an athletic kid who snaps and steps quickly and can mirror laterally in pass protection, he simply struggles to be physical in all areas of his game. He lacks the type of power to anchor vs. the bull-rush inside, fails to stay on blocks in the run game and is easily disengaged on contact. He’s limited to a zone blocking scheme at the next level, but even then, if he struggles to handle the power of college interior linemen, I can’t see him having much of chance of holding up inside in the NFL.

Big play in a small package

I agree that Rutgers wideout Tim Brown doesn’t have the size to be a starting-caliber receiver on the outside at the next level. However, the notion that he’s simply too small to find any kind of niche in the NFL is preposterous. Brown exhibits impressive vertical speed down the field and has the body control and overall toughness to create separation out of his breaks vs. man coverage and take a hit over the middle. Against Connecticut, he finished with five catches for 162 yards and two touchdown and is on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Brown is listed at only 5-8, 165 pounds and will struggle to fight his way through any type of contact/press at the next level, but he’s too explosive and too dynamic down the field to not make an NFL roster. I can definitely see him having a career similar to Steelers wideout Shaun McDonald.

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