Josh Norris - With the understanding that this section would need more long form evaluations and write-ups to complement the daily blurbs, I reached out to Ryan Lownes who I have come to respect over the last year, not only because of his evaluations but for how he seemingly answers every question he receives on Twitter. That is quite a feat. Ryan will be helping us throughout the season by taking a look at non-senior draft-eligible prospects while I focus on the players that are in their final year of eligibility.
Also, I really appreciate the support this section has received thus far. As always, feel free to reach out with any comments or suggestions you may have. Now, I will turn it over to Ryan...
College football's first week is officially in the books and already many of us are looking at the future implications of the first batch of games. While seniors will obviously make up majority of the upcoming draft class, underclassmen have played a significant role in recent years. Each week I will be highlighting a number of non-seniors that are eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. This week, five athletes stood out most:
Michigan State junior RB Le’Veon Bell (6’2/245) - Michigan State kicked off their season Friday with a prime-time matchup against a pesky Boise State team. While I am certainly not a doctor, I have to imagine Le’Veon Bell’s back is hurting after carrying the Spartans to a 17-13 victory. The physically imposing back, standing 6’2/245, wore down the Broncos with a total of fifty touches on the night. Bell shows an impressive combination of balance and power, keeping his legs churning on contact and fighting for extra yards. He also displays surprisingly light feet for a back his size, running with agility and elusiveness. While he lacks breakaway speed, Bell is a long strider that can make defenders miss in the open field. Though he did drop one ball, he was able to catch six passes on the night and appears to be the safety valve for an inexperienced Spartans quarterback. It was also nice to see Bell getting involved in pass-protection, where he proved to be assignment-sound. On Friday Le’Veon Bell showed plenty of attributes valued at the next level, but moving forward, his workload may be a concern to NFL teams come April.
Alabama junior LB C.J. Mosley (6’2/232) - Perhaps no unit has bigger shoes to fill than that of Alabama defenders. After a victory in January’s BCS National Championship Game, the Tide lost six key starters to the NFL Draft. Listed at 6’2/232, C.J. Mosley lacks the bulk of former teammates Don’ta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, but is similarly versatile. While he will not be playing as much with his hand on the ground, he will spend the season rotating between the “mike” and “will” linebacker spots. In Alabama’s victory against Michigan, Mosley stepped up as an impact player for the Tide defense. He proved to be a solid wrap-up tackler who willingly fights through traffic to track the ball. Additionally, he showed the ability to stack and shed at the point of attack. While occasionally out of position in the opener, Mosley displayed instincts and range in coverage as well as against the run. Notable stat: he returned his third interception for a touchdown Saturday, tying a school record that has stood for almost twenty years.
Alabama junior CB Dee Milliner (6’1/199) - Though the Tide lost three-fourths of their starting secondary to the NFL, many believe the unit is still one of the nation’s strongest. On Saturday, we may have witnessed the arrival of a new star in the Alabama defensive backfield: Dee Milliner. Listed at 6’1/199, Milliner is a tall, athletic corner with long arms and impressive closing speed. In this particular game, his tremendous ball skills were on full display as he broke up four passes in impressive fashion. While he fell down and was beat for a long touchdown, Milliner generally blanketed receivers in coverage, showing loose hips to turn and run with the Wolverines wideouts. If there is one area in which he must improve to be a first round prospect in April, it is his tackling. He willingly plays the run, but too often he drops his head and lunges at ball carriers. If he is able to correct a few minor flaws in his game, there is reason to believe that Milliner could be an even better pro prospect than former teammate and first round pick, Dre Kirkpatrick.
Tennessee junior WR Cordarrelle Patterson (6’3/205) - When star receiver Da’Rick Rogers left the program following multiple failed drug tests, many predicted the Tennessee passing game would take a step back. What those people had not counted on, however, was a top JUCO prospect waiting in the wings for such an opportunity. In Friday night’s faceoff with North Carolina State, Cordarelle Patterson made a name for himself and allowed Volunteers fans to breathe easier. At 6’3/205 with remarkable speed and acceleration, he fits right into the Vols’ recent mold of big, athletic receivers. It did not take long for Patterson to strike, as he burnt All-ACC cornerback David Amerson deep on a double move for his first touchdown of the night. Later in the first quarter, he exploded off an end around, eluding and outrunning defenders for a 67-yard touchdown. In his Tennessee debut, Patterson finishes with six receptions for 93 yards as well as 72 yards on the ground. While this was only one game, it was one that certainly caught the attention of pro scouts. With a promising quarterback at the helm in Tyler Bray, the future looks bright for this former JUCO star.
Florida State junior DE Bjoern Werner (6’4/255) - Formerly an exchange student from Germany, a physically imposing Bjoern Werner came to Florida State with only two years of high school football experience. Fast forward to this past Saturday: Werner is among the most dominant defensive players in the country and is no longer a blip on the NFL radar. A year ago he made a splash in the ACC, doubling his freshman sack total to seven. Now a draft-eligible junior, Werner started his season with a bang, setting personal records with five TFLs, four sacks against an overmatched Murray State line. While the level of competition must be taken into consideration, these are enormous numbers worth highlighting. Though still a bit raw, Werner has flashed the talent that could make him a highly coveted lineman. Fitting best as a left end in a four man front, he has displayed exceptional raw strength as well as a good motor. He may not be an elite pass-rushing prospect, but his ability to make an impact vs. the run as well as the pass reminds me a bit of former Wisconsin standout, J.J. Watt. Werner will be one to keep an eye on as he appears to be among the nation’s premier juniors.