Each week, analysts pick out specific games involving NFL draft talent to iron out grades, learn more about a given prospect, or simply look for new faces to emerge.
Only redshirt sophomores, juniors, and seniors will ever be discussed in this weekly posting, as prospects must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the draft, and since I cover the Midwest region specifically, this post will generally contain notes on SEC, Big 12, or other lower level conferences in the central part of the U.S.
This week, I evaluated a trio of SEC matchups, involving Kentucky-Florida, Missouri-South Carolina, and Auburn-LSU.
Kentucky vs. Florida
Larry Warford proved why he belongs among the top offensive line prospects in the 2013 draft class with a strong performance versus an explosive Florida front four.
This thickly built and reliable four-year starter at Kentucky, is the total package in terms of scheme versatility; Warford can down block effectively as the playside guard or pull and lead as the backside guard on power-o runs; he can reach block on zone calls; and he can eliminate the second-level defenders on combo blocks.
Punching and resetting with sudden, firm hands at the point of attack, Warford directs and turns his defender in the hole to create a running lane.
The only concern is Warford’s conditioning, as he seemed to tire as the game wore along. A strong second-round prospect with a plug-and-play skill set, Warford should be a long-term starter at the next level. Currently, Warford is our third-highest-graded senior offensive guard prospect at Optimum Scouting.
Inside linebacker Avery Williamson won't wow you in any way, but he will attack the line of scrimmage, take on blockers with aggressive hands, and fill correctly versus the run. A hard-hitting backer with surprising point-of-attack strength, Williamson could be an intriguing prospect for 3-4 defensive teams.
A senior running back that continues to climb our 2013 draft rankings at Optimum Scouting is Florida’s Mike Gillislee. Displaying plus balance, toughness, and leg drive to run through arm tacklers and pick up yardage after first contact, Gillislee is setting himself apart with between-the-tackles effectiveness.
Additionally able to string sharp, sudden cuts in succession without loss off speed, Gillislee consistently hits the second level at top speed. Rarely missing a cutback or bounce opportunity, he exhibits outstanding vision, instincts, and feel for the position—a skill set often overlooked at a position dominated by all-speed or all-power backs.
Having a well rounded, balanced skill set with the ability to run inside or outside, Gillislee is a fast rising prospect to watch closely.
Capable of becoming the next hot item at tight end is junior Jordan Reed. A very fluid mover with plus speed to attack the seams, Reed avoided contact very well in his route stem with subtle hand usage and good awareness of the defender's leverage.
Though listed at 6'3", 243 pounds, Reed played much bigger over the middle of the field, extending his long arms and snatching the football with firm hands at the point of the catch. Showing a willingness to expose his body in traffic, take a hit, and secure the catch, Reed displayed the mentality and focus needed at the next level.
Disappointing in this game was Florida defensive lineman Shariff Floyd. As you have already read, Larry Warford undoubtedly got the best of Floyd in this matchup.
Not firing off the ball with consistent motor or burst, Floyd continued to take plays off and allow himself to be controlled at the point of attack. I say allowed here, because whenever he does come off the football, he does so in a violent, sudden, and disruptive manner.
Capable of playing in the opposition's backfield yet content with staying at the line of scrimmage, Floyd's lack of activity and motor in this game hurt his relatively high draft stock. With his physical skill set, at 6'3", 305 pounds, being sudden and quick off the football with heavy hands, Floyd should be a high Day 2 pick; however, he is not performing up to his potential and looks more like a fourth-round guy.
Missouri vs. South Carolina
In a losing effort, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson impressed wildly with his highly active and dominant play. Relentlessly pursuing the football, Richardson put his plus motor and surprising chase speed on display.
Quick-twitched off the line with suddenness and burst, Richardson showcased very good hand usage and counter ability to disrupt plays in the backfield. Utilizing a nice arm-over, short-swim move, Richardson’s lightning-quick hands were too much for South Carolina blockers to handle.
Inside linebacker Will Ebner exhibited the instincts and feel for run flow that teams look for at the Mike linebacker position, and he appeared more and more like a draftable prospect in this game.
Consistently reading and reacting properly to run flow, Ebner made tackles inside and outside the box by either wrapping up the runner or spilling the action to his teammates. Not a height/weight/speed guy or physical specimen by any means, Ebner make an impact with his understanding of the game and feel for the position.
Though almost everyone realizes Marcus Lattimore is an elite-level talent, what often goes unnoticed is the fact that he possesses a very well-rounded, three-down skill set.
The most complete back in college football today and my top junior prospect in the SEC, Marcus Lattimore further proved why he's ready to take the next step towards the NFL; adjusting to off-target throws and cleanly snatching the ball off his frame, Lattimore showed off his excellent receiving skills all afternoon.
As a runner, his lacking in the top end speed department is counteracted by his plus initial burst to and through the hole, outstanding vision to locate open running lanes, and decisive cutting skills to take advantage of said holes.
Pressing each run laterally, setting up his blockers, and reacting to the pursuit of second-level defenders, Lattimore continually exhibits elite instincts and understanding of how to play the running back position at the next level.
An undersized, slot-only prospect at 5’8 175 pounds, Ace Sanders showcased his elite start-and-stop agility, suddenness in traffic, and balance through contact on multiple punt returns.
More importantly, Sanders won versus press-man coverage for a corner route touchdown reception. Quickly releasing off the line, Sanders immediately stacked the cornerback and tracked the throw for an excellent over-the-shoulder grab.
Auburn vs. LSU
Defensive end Corey Lemonier brought his A-game against LSU, showing off his non-stop motor and quick-twitch athletic ability. Lemonier, who wins with initial quickness and plus effort, displayed more bend than usual in this game, planting his outside foot at the end of his rush and working back inside to the quarterback.
Despite leading the SEC in total tackles, Daren Bates of Auburn clearly struggled with missed tackles in Auburn’s two losses to Clemson and Mississippi State. Flipping the script versus LSU, Bates made key stop after key stop, while not missing a single tackle on my count.
Decisive with his reads and quick to fill his gap assignment, Bates compensated for his lack of ideal strength with instinctive, fast-flowing linebacker play. As a will linebacker prospect only at the next level, Bates is a late-rounder that could even go undrafted. Nevertheless, Bates’ productivity and fearless play versus LSU is certainly a step towards a Day 3 draft selection.
While Zach Mettenberger of LSU flashed his elite arm talent and plus size early in this game, he more consistently held onto the football too long in locking onto his primary target.
Slow in progressing to his second and third reads, and also lacking a great feel or presence of the pocket, Mettenberger was affected all night by Auburn’s pass rush.
On a positive note, Mettenberger did show the toughness to step up in the face of pressure and deliver the football while taking a hit. At the same time, he must quicken his reads and release of the football in order to keep himself upright and healthy for the duration of the season.
Who is the better LSU defensive end prospect?
And finally, defensive end Sam Montgomery made a living in Auburn’s backfield by exploding off the football each and every snap to disrupt the timing of running plays and collapse the throwing pocket.
Montgomery’s powerful yet quick hands at the point of attack enable him to snap blockers backward, creating separation to disengage with full arm extension. A top 4-3 defensive end eligible for the 2013 draft, Montgomery looks the part of a top-10 pick.
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