Here’s a look at what NFL.com analysts learned about prospects in Week 11 of the college football season.
1. For about half of Saturday’s game vs. Pitt, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson was directing the Tigers’ offense well. He made too many mistakes, though, throwing three picks as the Panthers upset the No. 2 team in the nation.
Watson, who intends to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, put up career-high numbers, throwing the ball 70 times a week after he left a game with a shoulder injury. If his shoulder was still bothering him at all, scouts will certainly appreciate his toughness in gutting out a game in which he was asked to put the offense on his back. However, scouts aren’t going to like to see the interceptions. His last pick resulted in a fourth-quarter score for Pitt as it rallied for a win.
Overall, I don’t think this game takes Watson out of the discussion when it comes to college football’s top quarterbacks, but he didn’t do anything to change the narrative that he’s too inconsistent as a passer. — Chad Reuter
2. It’s uncommon for a highly anticipated matchup to live up to the hype, but the battle on Saturday between USC CB Adoree’ Jackson and Washington WR John Ross certainly exceeded expectations within the NFL scouting community. Jackson and Ross each delivered a handful of splash plays that solidified their grades as top prospects at their respective positions. Jackson was magnificent on the island with a pair of interceptions and solid coverage throughout the night. Although he allowed Ross to slip past him on a long touchdown when he missed a jam at the line, Jackson showed scouts his unshakable confidence and grit by coming back with timely plays, including a game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter.
Not to be outdone, Ross delivered a number of spectacular plays. He finished with eight receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Ross showed outstanding route-running skills, hands and playmaking ability in getting loose against the Trojans’ secondary. He has rare speed, excellent stop-start quickness and burst. Ross explodes out of breaks and quickly turns short passes into big gains. With the Huskies’ star also displaying dazzling return skills, it’s hard to find a more polished playmaker in college football.
Overall, it was an impressive performance by a pair of ultra-talented players with all of the tools scouts cover in blue-chip prospects. — Bucky Brooks
3. I know Alabama QB Jalen Hurts is only a freshman, but I believe scouts are already monitoring his progress as a potential franchise quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound dual threat put on a spectacular show against Mississippi State in a 51-3 win that showcased his impressive repertoire of skills.
Hurts became the first player in Alabama history to amass 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game. He racked up 447 total yards (347 passing; 100 rushing) and five scores in only three quarters of work. Those numbers are certainly eye-popping, but it’s how Hurts goes about his business that will pique the interest of scouts. Despite his inexperience, he shows a level of poise and maturity that is well beyond his age. Hurts makes sound decisions with the ball, yet he pushes the envelope with his playmaking ability. Hurts will exploit vulnerable edges with his legs, (see his four-yard touchdown run) or deliver a pinpoint strike to a streaking receiver when he spots a hole in coverage (connected with ArDarius Stewart on a beautiful crossing route for a 24-yard gain that showed his accuracy/ball placement).
Sure, it’s easy to pick apart defenses when you have an NFL-caliber supporting cast on the perimeter, but it’s uncommon to see a teenager do it during his first season. With the Crimson Tide poised to make another run at a national title with a dynamic freshman quarterback leading the way, the NFL world will have plenty of chances to see if the young player can be the next great one at the position. — Bucky Brooks
4. When it’s time to put a draft grade on Joe Mixon, there is no getting around the fact that NFL teams will investigate a 2014 incident in which he was charged with punching a female student. His personal character could become a factor that causes issues for him. The football part? That won’t be an issue at all. The redshirt sophomore (6-foot-1, 226 pounds, per school measurements) might be the best all-around running back in the game today. He’s outstanding out of the backfield and it’s hard to find a weakness in him as a runner. His 56-yard touchdown run against Baylor featured his entire tool box of skills. On an outside zone run to the right, he made his cut-back read, got downhill, shook off a tackler while maintaining his balance and then outran the Baylor secondary over the last 40 yards. — Lance Zierlein
5. While the college football world will focus on the result of the Pitt-Clemson game, I was more focused on Pitt running back James Conner‘s performance. Statistically, Conner, a cancer survivor, had a strong day with 132 yards on 20 carries, but his 20-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was eye-opening to me. I know Conner is a downhill banger, but his ability to stop sharply, jump-cut out of trouble and make his way around the corner for the touchdown run was something I don’t think he could have done back in 2014, which, prior to this year, was the last season in which he was healthy. — Lance Zierlein
6. Alabama’s ArDarius Stewart has quietly developed into one of the better wide receiver prospects in the country. He had another big game today (3 TDs) against Mississippi State. He has the size and speed to win on the outside, but I’m more impressed with his work in the middle of the field. He attacks the ball in high traffic areas, knowing he’s going to get hit. He deserves more recognition than he gets from scouts and the media. — Daniel Jeremiah
7. Alabama TE O.J. Howard doesn’t nearly get the ball enough in Alabama’s offense. Lane Kiffin did call a screen play early Saturday vs. Mississippi State, and Howard turned it into a good play with a strong stiff arm. Howard also caught a pass in the flat with his back to the defense, but couldn’t break a tackle to get upfield. When Alabama gave Howard the ball in a position in which he can use his strider’s speed, he showed his great potential. Howard’s blocking has also improved this year, both in-line and on the move. He threw the key cut block in space on ArDarius Stewart‘s 67-yard touchdown on a jet sweep, and eclipsed other defenders to create room for quarterback Jalen Hurts‘ runs. — Chad Reuter
8. While most of the focus in Knoxville has been on the running back who left the program this season (Jalen Hurd), one RB who stayed continued his successful junior campaign on Saturday. Alvin Kamara is one of the most well-rounded runners in the country. He put up big numbers against Kentucky today (10-128 and 2 TDs). I’d like to see him get more involved in the passing game, but he wasn’t needed in that area today. — Daniel Jeremiah
9. The Illini struggled to stop Wisconsin’s offense on Saturday, despite the hype about Dawuane Smoot and his fellow defensive end, Carroll Phillips. Tight ends handled Smoot in the run game quite often, and he couldn’t make much hay against offensive tackles, either. On containment plays, Smoot was usually sound in his ability to stay outside, though he lacks the quickness to stop better running backs and he bit hard on a fake that resulted in a bootleg pass for a touchdown in the first half. Certainly, Smoot flashed the quickness to win the inside gap, as he has all year, but his impact this weekend was not one you’d expect from a first-round prospect. — Chad Reuter
10. Pitt pulled off the big upset of Clemson in Death Valley, thanks in part to the play of Panthers OG Dorian Johnson. Against a very tough and athletic Clemson defensive front, Johnson stood his ground and moved his man off the ball. He pancaked defenders multiple times, putting them on the ground. Quarterback Nathan Peterman surely appreciated his willingness to hop outside in pass protection to pick up blitzing linebackers. Johnson’s mobility makes him a likely NFL starter at left guard for a team utilizing zone-blocking schemes. — Chad Reuter
11. Mississippi State OT Justin Senior is rare SEC lineman who doesn’t get his due credit. When Alabama’s stud linebackers, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, tested Senior on pass-rush plays Saturday, the Bulldogs’ starter stood his ground. He plays with a wide base, gets a good punch and extends his arms to maintain the block in pass protection. In the run game, Senior combos to the linebacker effectively. He got beat a couple of times in the second half when he forgot to keep his feet alive off the snap and throughout the play. But because NFL scouts use Alabama film to check out the pro-readiness of Tide opponents, teams will take note of this performance when looking for a mid-to-late-round right tackle prospect. — Chad Reuter
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