Scout’s notebook: offensive review

Observations and analysis from the 11th week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top offensive prospects.

My bad

I have to admit that I vastly underrated the talents of Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon in my latest senior rankings and that he looks like a potential starting back in the NFL. After talking to some scouts in the league last week and watching his performance Saturday against Alabama, I’m starting to believe Dixon has the makings of a real workhorse in the NFL. Sure, his stats were only modest vs. the Crimson Tide (22 carries for 81 yards, six catches for 59 yards), but he consistently was able to pick up tough yards at the line of scrimmage and bail out his overmatched offensive line. Dixon’s combination of instincts, lateral quickness and power makes him tough to bring down inside, and he exhibits a much better first step than given credit for. He isn’t the most explosive straight-line athlete and isn’t going to be a big-time threat at the second level, but the guy has consistently been able to manufacture yards behind a poor Mississippi State offensive line while running against the best defenses in the country. And although his stats won’t blow you away, Dixon looks capable stepping into an NFL training camp and improving a team’s run game.

Bigger than his size would suggest

I was really impressed with the play of Pittsburgh left tackle Jason Pinkston vs. Notre Dame. The junior lineman is listed at 6-4, 305 pounds, but he possesses a thick, broad upper body and displays impressive coordination in all areas of his game. He looked very natural reaching the corner in pass protection and consistently was able to keep his base down and anchor at the point of attack. Plus, he generates impressive power on contact and was very fluid when asked to pull and hit a moving target in space. Now, although he possesses good length for his size, I don’t think he’s a left tackle at the next level. But he definitely has me intrigued enough to warrant major consideration as a potential starting right tackle or guard in the NFL.

Maybe he’s the better prospect

LSU running back Keiland Williams finally got his chance to start in the absence of former starting back Charles Scott and didn’t disappoint. Williams finished the game against Louisiana Tech with 116 yards on only 15 carries for two touchdowns and averaged 7.7 yards per carry. Louisiana Tech isn’t the most talented of defenses, but it’s notable that Williams gives the LSU offense a little more playmaking ability in the run game than Scott ever did. Williams looks much more instinctive inside and possesses the short-area quickness to make a man miss and create on his own if everything isn’t blocked to perfection -- unlike Scott, who, although he runs with good power, struggles to be effective if the offensive line doesn’t win up front. I’ve always like Williams’ base off his game tape and thought that he simply needed to chance to shine. And now, with a strong finish to the season, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it’s Williams who ended up being the top running back selected out of LSU at draft time.

Hard to overlook

Say what you want about Stanford running back Toby Gerhart not being the greatest of athletes, but the guy simply finds a way to get the job done. Gerhart has rushed for 401 yards in his last two games -- vs. Oregon and Southern Cal -- and has the type of power to absolutely wear down opposing front sevens. He exhibits impressive vision and patience at the line of scrimmage and does a great job allowing his blocks to set up, dropping his pad level and churning out tough yards inside. Gerhart also possesses impressive balance for his size and is a much more gifted short-area athlete than given credit for. He’s sudden enough to sidestep a defender in space and consistently runs through would-be tackles at the line. I don’t think he’s a featured back in the NFL because he struggles to create on his own and lacks much of a second gear. But if you’re in need of a physical No. 2 type of back who can block in the pass game and convert short-yardage situations, Gerhart is your guy.

MAC wideouts just don’t stack up

Bryan Anderson, Central Michigan (6-5, 215)

Anderson is a tall, well-built receiver who possesses impressive body control and coordination for a receiver his size. However, his lack of initial burst in all areas of his game really has me concerned about his upside at the next level. He does a nice job using his body to shield defenders and attack the football, but he isn’t a real sudden athlete and gets too leggy when trying to change directions and get back up to speed. His size and ball skills will definitely get him a shot at the next level, but the idea that he has the potential to start on the outside for an NFL team is wishful at best.

Taylor Price, Ohio (6-1, 212)

Although Price is a good-looking receiver who possesses the speed to threaten defenses vertically, he fails to consistently beat press coverage and get into his routes quickly. He exhibits a good initial burst off the line and possesses the body control to snap off routes cleanly vs. off man/zone. However, he isn’t nearly as explosive when asked to fight his way through any kind of a bump and lacks the type of short-area quickness and strength to routinely win battles off the line. Price will likely get over-drafted because of his size/speed numbers, but he’s never going to make an impact in the NFL until he learns to beat press man.

Stephen Williams, Toledo (6-5, 199)

Williams is another tall wideout who has shown the ability to pluck the football away from his frame and does a nice job setting up his routes underneath. Williams, however, struggles to play with any kind of suddenness and takes way too long to get out of his breaks to separate at the next level. Although he’s been productive this season and does a nice job finding soft spots in zone coverage, there’s simply nothing dynamic about his game that would threaten cornerbacks at the next level, and he will struggle to make plays vs. any kind of man coverage in the NFL.

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