Auburn vs. Arkansas
Continuing to show the versatility that has characterized his career at Auburn, Philip Lutzenkirchen impressed with his ability to effectively block in space and in line on pass protections. Though he’ll never dominate with drive-blocking ability, Lutzenkirchen gives more than enough effort and fights with fairly decent technique.
What will be the biggest selling point for this senior tight end is his surprising athletic ability and great ball skills. Capable of adjusting and extending for off-target throws, Lutzenkirchen snatches the football away from his frame with crisp, consistent hands. A well-rounded prospect with few glaring weaknesses other than average strength, Lutzenkirchen can be expected to fill an H-back and/or a No. 2 tight end role at the next level.
Tyler Wilson bounced back after four consecutive losses by winning on the road versus an improving Auburn defense. Displaying the naturally fluid and seemingly effortless release that made evaluators fall in love with his 2011 play, Wilson showcased the velocity and trajectory control to complete a wide array of completions across the field.
Climbing the pocket or escaping to either side dependent upon the pass rush, Wilson also showed off his instincts and feel for pressure; continually extending the pass with his legs and maximizing his protection with subtle pocket movements, Wilson was able to avoid sacks and keep drives alive. The issue that has begun to arise with Wilson is his increased tendency to lock onto the primary target and forgo his progression reads altogether.
Officially in the doghouse at Arkansas, Knile Davis didn’t capitalized on a heavy workload through the first portion of the 2012 season, resulting in a minimum amount of touches versus Auburn. Simply lacking the one-cut-and-go decisiveness on zone stretch runs that made him so effective 2010, Davis appears both hesitant and slower as a runner.
The ankle surgery that ended his 2011 season prematurely and the third surgery for the same injury seem to have sapped the explosive cutting ability that made Davis such an excellent next-level prospect. Davis is still a big, fast and surprisingly elusive back with the ability to avoid direct contact to and through, making him, still, a solid third or fourth round prospect with the potential to start. The problem right now is Davis’ decisiveness on perimeter runs, as he’s taking far too many negative yardage plays.
Finally earning the lion’s share of the carries in this game, Dennis Johnson, on the other hand, proved more than capable as the lead back. Extremely well built, thick and powerful in his lower half, Johnson combines his grounded frame and low center of gravity with lateral agility, light feet and excellent burst to and through the hole.
Just as impressive, however, could be Johnson’s third-down skill set, as he excels in blitz pickups due to his wide body, thick trunk and explosive hips at the point of attack. He is being favorably comparing to Maurice Jones-Drew, and we could potentially see Dennis Johnson climbing into the second day of the NFL Draft.
LSU at Florida
Playing a better game than his future first-round teammates, Lavar Edwards showed why he belongs in the NFL Draft conversation as a draftable prospect. Pressing the corner with a very good first step considering his 6’5", 264-pound frame, Edwards displayed the redirect ability to plant and back inside with a sudden counter move. Able to cloud passing lanes with length and size, in addition to having the open-field athleticism and chase speed to make plays in pursuit, Edwards affected the game in a number of ways on Saturday.
And while he can speed rush and counter back to the inside, Edwards' most impressive attribute as a rusher may be his leverage and leg drive on bull rushes; getting low and driving through the “V of the neck” of his opponent, Edwards walked the right tackle back into the quarterback to collapse the pocket and force the quarterback outside. Big, long, tall, strong and fast off the edge, Edwards looks every bit the part of an NFL specimen.
Recording upwards of 20 tackles, Kevin Minter played like the best defender on LSU’s roster. Filling hard downhill and initiating contact with the blocker by firing his sudden, powerful hands to snap his opponent backward at the point of attack, Minter worked off blockers with outstanding hand usage and shouldering technique.
What enables Minter to be so productive and impactful as a linebacker is how quickly he reads, reacts and steps to flow. Rarely ever taking a misstep in his run/pass read, Minter locates and tracks the football exceptionally well for an inside backer. Moreover, Minter is not just a hard hitting, two-down run stuffer; timing up back-to-back stunts for a sack and tackle for loss, and opening his hips to the sideline and running down throws to the perimeter, Minter showcased his ability versus the pass, as a coverage-defender and stunting linebacker.
This game-changing backer could very well be an early declarer for the 2013 draft and high-round draft choice.
Continuing to run with burst, balance and vision between the tackles, Mike Gillislee appeared to be gaining steam as the game wore along. Versus a dominant front seven from LSU, Gillislee took what was presented to him and consistently gained positive yardage with a one-cut, downhill attitude.
Reading his blockers exceptionally well and having the feet to jump cut across multiple gaps or plant and drive on cutback lanes, Gillislee once again exhibited the vision and instincts to burn opposing defenders that overpursue to run flow. Deceptively strong through first contact, Gillislee does an outstanding job of keeping his feet in traffic and pounding the dirt to drive the pile. An impressive showing from the workhorse back, Gillislee’s draft value continues to rise with his level of play.
While Kevin Minter was the MVP for LSU, Matt Elam was undoubtedly the MVP for the game. Making plays all over the field with his plus closing speed and instincts, Matt Elam looked a lot like former Texas safety and current Seattle Seahawks NFL’er Earl Thomas. Running down the alley under control, squaring up the ball-carrier and exploding through the ball-carrier, Elam was an absolute force in the running game.
In two words, Elam is an explosive tackler. Beyond his hitting power though, Elam made the game-changing play of the day by chasing down Odell Beckham Jr. following a coverage lapse, to wrap up, punch and rip the football out 40 yards down the field. Elam’s total package of instincts, tackling ability and coverage skills will certainly be a valuable asset and chess piece for defensive coordinators at the NFL level.
Texas vs. West Virginia
Efficient, poised, calm and collected are a few words that aptly describe Geno Smith’s primetime performance in Darrell K. Royal Stadium. On target with all five slant throws, Geno Smith exhibited the quick release to catch, rocker-step and deliver in the short passing game; 4-of-5 slant throws were completed to Stedman Bailey, with the lone incompletion coming as a drop by receiver J.D. Woods. Despite an onslaught of pressure and a continually collapsing pocket, Smith hung tough in the pocket, kept a balanced throwing base with active feet and utilized a high release point to avoid pass deflections at the line of scrimmage.
Converting all four fourth-down opportunities in the game, Geno Smith pulled out some of his best throws of the night; he completed 3-of-3 pass attempts on such downs, the foremost of which was an out route to slot receiver Tavon Austin, where he placed the ball high and away from the trailing cornerback. It was not a perfect game, and Geno Smith does have a penchant for forcing the seam football regardless of coverage, but it was enough to win a tough game on the road against a talented bunch of Texas defenders.
Putting on display his explosive, get-up-and-go speed, Tavon Austin scorched the Texas secondary on a fourth-down stick-nod reception; on the play, he set up the middle hook defender with a double move, located the hole in zone coverage and outran multiple defenders to the sideline for a catch-and-run score.
His speed showed up on kick returns as well, with Austin consistently picking up big chunks of yardage by exploding and accelerating through the smallest of creases. Unexpectedly, Austin also did a solid job blocking safety Kenny Vaccaro from the slot; Austin gave plus effort and utilized good technique in cutting off his opponent by keeping an athletic base and swinging his hips into position.
Dominating Texas cornerback Carrington Byndum in this matchup of top junior-eligible draft prospects, Stedman Bailey consistently won off the line with his release, sharp route breaks and firm hands at the catch point. Bailey put on a slant route clinic, by sticking the corner on his back hip off the line and snatching four slants for three red-zone touchdowns. Should he declare, Bailey may end up being drafted in the top two rounds.
Lost in the mix of 5-star freshman and sophomore tailbacks at Texas is a legit NFL prospect in Jeremy Hills. Not on my radar by any means this season, Hills has proven himself in limited touches and third-down opportunities. Having the second gear to explode to and through the hole, I was really intrigued with Hills’ toughness, balance and motor through initial contact, as he fought through arm tackles and finished each run with plus effort. On passing downs, Hills did an excellent job of picking up the free rusher, snapping his head around as the checkdown target and converting first downs late with his receiving ability.
Making his case to be the top-rated pass rusher out of Austin, Texas, Alex Okafor turned in a strong performance against an overmatched West Virginia offensive line. Bending his rushes back inside with powerful hand usage, leg drive and ideal leverage, Okafor finished with two momentum-shifting strip sacks, both of which turned into touchdowns for Texas. Able to win with his lateral burst and fluid athleticism in the run game, Okafor did an equally impressive job of breaking down at heel depth as unblocked backside defender and redirecting to the football.
One of my personal favorite senior prospects in this draft, Kenny Vaccaro, continued to show why he’s a rare slot defender and movable safety piece. Covering sideline to sideline, rolling down into the box as an added run defender and manning up the slot versus Tavon Austin (after Austin’s score versus zone coverage on fourth down), Vaccaro showcased his all-around skill set and playmaking ability.
Positives aside, one concern through the early portion of the season is Vaccaro’s tackling technique. Closing on the runner out of control and without properly breaking down, centering and squaring his shoulders and base to the target, Vaccaro is leaving his feet, launching and unable to consistently wrap up on first contact. In the second week in a row, Vaccaro has missed open field and in-the-box tackles. An outstanding run defender with the game speed, instincts and closing burst to constantly be around the football, Vaccaro must do a better job of controlling his attack of the ball-carrier.