September 13, 2017, 10:36 am
A look at NFL prospects who helped themselves - or didn't - in college football last week.
Who helped themselves?
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, rSR. (6-0, 218, 4.65, #6)
After the Sooners were defeated handedly by the Buckeyes last year, Oklahoma marched into Columbus last Saturday and defeated a very talented Ohio State squad. Urban Meyer's squad was out-played and out-coached, but the most noticeable difference was one team had a playmaker at quarterback, the other team didn't. Undersized quarterbacks with average arm strength usually don't last long in the NFL, at least as a starter, but Mayfield has NFL scouts highly intrigued due to his competitive edge and improvisation skills. He makes up for his lack of elite physical traits with his ability to play off-script, make quick decisions and deliver with different arm angles to each level of the field. Mayfield doesn't have the same type of arm as Russell Wilson, but the Jeff Garcia comparisons have merit due to his fearless demeanor and willingness to give his targets a chance. He won't be for every NFL team or coach, but in a scheme heavily influenced by west coast principles, Mayfield could flourish, which is why he is a candidate to be the first senior quarterback drafted next April.
Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia, SR. (6-5, 242, 4.79, #7)
The entire Georgia front-seven deserves mentioned as DE/OLB Devin Bellamy, MLB Roquan Smith, NT John Atkins, DL Trenton Thompson, DL Jonathan Ledbetter and others had an outstanding performance in South Bend as the Bulldogs upset the Irish. But it was Carter who frequently jumped off the screen, finishing Saturday's game with seven tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 1.0 sack, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and numerous other pressures. Lining up as a hybrid edge rusher in Georgia's hybrid 3-4 scheme, Carter has the edge quickness to beat blockers off the snap, using his natural bend to contort his body around the corner without losing speed to the quarterback. He has a lean frame and doesn't play with the brute strength to overpower blockers at the point of attack, but his active hands allow him to bat jabs, sink and sidestep, using his length to keep himself clean and find the ball. Carter has also practiced as a nickel defensive back for the Bulldogs, which is a testament to his athleticism.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC, rSO. (6-3, 225, 4.74, #14)
After a solid, but unspectacular 2017 debut, Darnold was outstanding against Stanford as the Trojans stretched their win streak to 11 games with the redshirt sophomore quarterback at the helm. He competed 80.8 percent of his passes (21-for-26) for 316 yards and four touchdowns, making several impressive throws and showing tremendous chemistry with junior WR Deontay Burnett. Darnold showed off his full skill-set, using his feet to navigate the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and find a passing window. He was pinpoint accurate with an accuracy rating of 66.7 percent (4-for-6) on throws that traveled 11-20 yards in the air and 60.0 percent (3-for-5) on throws that traveled over 20 yards. Darnold also made a few mistakes, including two interceptions, which were both a result of not setting his feet and attempting to fit the ball into tight coverage. Aided by a productive run game, the USC offense was efficient against a physical Stanford defense and Darnold showed why he entered the season as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan, rSR. (5-10, 191, 4.52, #4)
A schedule that leads off with road games against USC and Michigan State is a tough road, especially for a MAC program like Western Michigan. After hanging tough with the Trojans in the opener, the Broncos traveled to East Lansing this past weekend where they were shutout on offense, but -- thanks to Phillips -- WMU finished with 14 points. Early in the third quarter, Phillips helped string out a run towards the sideline and mid-tackle, ripped the ball out and returned it 67 yards for the first points of the game for the Broncos. Then in the fourth quarter, Phillips fielded a kickoff in his end zone and returned it the length of the field for the touchdown, his second 100-yard kickoff return in as many weeks. If that wasn't enough, he also added an interception and three pass break-ups on defense. A proven playmaker with the ball in his hands, Phillips has 13 career touchdowns: five kickoff returns, four interception returns, one fumble return, one punt return and two receiving scores when he played receiver as a freshman. Although he doesn't have desired NFL size for the position, Phillips' speed, ball instincts and return skills will fuel his draft grade.
Marcus Allen, FS, Penn State, SR. (6-1, 202, 4.55, #2)
With Ohio State underperforming through two weeks, Penn State is looking more and more like the favorite to win the Big Ten. Not many would disagree that junior RB Saquon Barkley is the most valuable player on the roster, but No. 2 on that list might be Allen, who is arguably the top senior safety prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. Against Pitt on Saturday, Allen displayed his timing and toughness, posting a game-best 12 tackles and one pass break-up. He also registered one tackle for loss when he beat the pulling blocker to the spot and made a sound tackle on the ballcarrier at the goal line for the safety, adding two points to the Penn State total. Allen lacks desired build for the position and even left the game for a series in the third quarter after getting banged up, but he makes an impact at contact due to his technique and quickness, wrapping as a tackler and finishing. Allen's performance the rest of the season will likely determine if he is a day two or day three prospect.
Who hurt themselves?
Luke Falk, QB, Washington State, rSR. (6-0, 218, 4.65, #6)
In the same game that he became Washington State's all-time passing yardage leader, Falk was largely ineffective and was even benched in the third quarter as Boise State built a three-touchdown lead. He returned the following series, but was knocked out of the game after he was knocked to the ground. Meanwhile, back-up QB Tyler Hilinski helped lead the Cougars to a comeback win, knocking off the Broncos in triple overtime, 47-44. For Falk, it was a performance that highlighted the many concerns scouts have with his transition to the next level, specifically his tendency to go through stretches of indecision. Boise State often dropped seven or eight into coverage, eliminating those large passing windows that the WSU offense usually creates, and Falk looked lost most of the game. The positives with him are clear: Falk is a touch passer with outstanding chemistry and timing with his targets. But when evaluating the quarterback the position, the most telling film to grade is when the prospect must navigate without a clean pocket and that is one area where Falk has consistently struggled. Polling people in NFL circles over the summer, Falk was widely considered the top senior quarterback prospect, but that could change very quickly.
--Washington senior WR Dante Pettis (6-0, 192, 4.49, #8) set a new Pac-12 record on Saturday with his seventh career punt return for a touchdown, breaking the old mark set by former Cal wideout DeSean Jackson. Pettis, who is arguably the top senior wideout in the 2018 NFL Draft class, isn't known as a dynamic athlete like Jackson, but he understands angles and shows tremendous vision with the ball in his hands. He is one away from the NCAA record -- if teams are crazy enough to keep punting his way.
--Penn State RB Saquon Barkley (5-11, 223, 4.49, #26) was outstanding against Pitt on Saturday, leading the team in rushing yards (88) and receiving yards (45) and scoring twice. He is on track to be a high first round pick next April, but one area where NFL teams are hoping to see improvement is pass protection. Barkley has the core power and quickness to match up with blitzing linebackers, but his technique isn't there, struggling to slow down rushers. Although he doesn't need to be perfect in this area or on the same level as Ezekiel Elliott when he came out of Ohio State, but scouts are hoping to see him progress to at least keep defenders busy, buying extra half-seconds for the quarterback.
--Keeping with the running backs, USC RB Ronald Jones (6-0, 200, 4.49, #25) was part of the Trojans' offense that ran all over Stanford on Saturday, accumulating 307 total rushing yards as a team. With his 200-pound frame, he doesn't sport an ideal build for the position, but he runs much tougher than he looks. Against the Cardinal, Jones gained 116 rushing yards -- 53 yards (or 45.7-percent) of those yards came after initial contact. Of his 23 rushes, only four went outside the tackles as Jones thrived between the hashes. He received six carries on third downs, which resulted in four first downs and two touchdowns. Bottom line, even though Jones doesn't have a powerful body type, he runs with such acceleration and toughness that he can shoot through holes and arm tackles, finishing with leg drive to fall forward. Built in the Jamaal Charles mold, Jones is a speed back with surprising run strength, putting him in the top-40 discussion next April.
--Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (6-2, 212, 4.42, #8) vs. the Clemson front-seven, led by junior DL Christian Wilkins (6-3, 310, 5.04, #42), will be the match-up of the upcoming weekend for NFL evaluators. Jackson has been outstanding through two weeks vs. two shaky defenses -- can he create his magic against the Tigers' loaded front?
--The early favorite to be the top receiver drafted next April, SMU redshirt junior WR Courtland Sutton (6-3, 218, 4.58, #16) dominated against North Texas on Saturday, finishing with eight catches for 163 yards and four touchdowns. SMU faces a fast and physical TCU defense this weekend in the battle of Dallas-Fort Worth, presenting an interesting challenge for Sutton, who has gone over 100-yards receiving against the Horned Frogs each of the past two seasons.