Clemson's Tajh Boyd won a hard-fought battle with Georgia's Aaron Murray
The 2013 college football season may only be just one week old, but there are already some notable NFL prospects who are starting to generate quite a buzz.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 draft class, may have underwhelmed and failed to perform up to expectations in his first game of the season. However, there were plenty of other big-name players who were able to handle the spotlight and show scouts what they were really made of.
Here's a look at the 2014 NFL draft prospects who had the most impressive performances in Week 1.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd bypassed the chance to be possibly the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return for his senior year and compete for a national title. Some critics initially questioned the decision, however, after one game, it looks like Boyd made the right choice after all.
The athletic 6'1'', 225-pound senior took advantage of an inexperienced and tired Georgia defense to lead the Tigers to a huge 38-35 victory over the Bulldogs. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 270 yards, ran for 42 yards and accounted for all five of his team's touchdowns.
Most importantly, he showed the leadership skills, toughness and playmaking ability that you want to see from a potential franchise quarterback.
Boyd appears to be a unique hybrid of former NFL quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair—two players who also relied on their mobility to make plays.
After one week, the Clemson QB has to be considered the early No. 1 contender for the Heisman Trophy, as well as one of the top challengers to be the first quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
No other quarterback in the country came into the 2013 season with as much as hype to live up to as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Following a magnificent, eye-opening performance in a win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl last year, Bridgewater is now considered by many to be the top overall quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
He certainly didn't let his supporters down in Week 1. The premier player in the new-look American Athletic Conference completed 23 of his 28 passes for 355 yards and five touchdowns, as he led the Cardinals to a huge 49-7 win over a quality Ohio team.
The 6'3'', 196-pound pro-style passer started his all-important junior campaign with what can be considered the football equivalent of a perfect game.
It will be interesting to see how Bridgewater fares the rest of the season with the spotlight shining on him.
Derek Carr attempted an astounding 74 total passes in Fresno State's season-opener against Rutgers, which was the most of any quarterback in the country. Nevertheless, he still managed to finish the game with a 71 percent completion percentage, as he completed 53 of those throws for 470 yards, including five touchdown strikes in the 52-51 win over the Scarlet Knights.
The younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr displayed NFL-caliber arm strength, accuracy and coverage awareness, and he proved that he could lead the Bulldogs to a big victory over a BCS opponent.
The 6'3'', 218-pound Carr has one of the most dangerous receiving trios in the country—comprised of Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and TE Marcel Jensen—at his disposal, so there's no reason he shouldn't put up big passing numbers on a weekly basis in 2013.
Right now, it looks like Carr and the Bulldogs are the clear favorite to win the Mountain West, and they could even be a potential BCS buster.
The Pac-12 is loaded with talented quarterbacks for the 2013 season, such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Washington's Keith Price. However, no other quarterback in the conference possesses as much natural ability as UCLA's Brett Hundley.
Hundley showed off his incredible physical gifts against Nevada, as he totaled 340 yards of offense and accounted for four touchdowns in a dominant 58-20 victory.
The 6'3'', 222-pound redshirt sophomore was riding a wave of momentum following a sensational debut performance last year. He managed to keep it going with a big performance in his first game of the 2013 season.
The rest of the conference better be on high alert, because big Brett looks even better now than he did during his dazzling 2012 season.
After waiting his turn behind Denard Robinson for the first few years of his career, Michigan's Devin Gardner has finally been handed the keys to Michigan's offense. In his first start of the season against Central Michigan, Gardner definitely looked like the right player to lead Al Borges' offensive attack.
The dynamic dual-threat signal-caller threw the ball only 15 times, but he still managed to complete 10 passes for 162 yards, while adding 52 yards on seven carries and accounting for three touchdowns in the 59-9 win.
Admittedly, Gardner did throw two interceptions, but the playmaking ability and natural feel for the game that he displayed more than made up for his two picks.
The 6'4'', 210-pound junior is obviously one of the most gifted athletes in all of college football, and he's got the potential to be one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2013 season.
Gardner's an underclassmen quarterback whom NFL scouts will be paying very close attention to this fall.
One of the big questions surrounding Oregon's offense this season is whether or not De'Anthony Thomas is ready to be a true featured back in 2013.
At just 5'9'', 176 pounds, Thomas lacks the desired size you look for in a No. 1 running back. However, he makes up for his smaller stature with an explosive burst and knack for hitting home-run plays.
After two years waiting in the shadows of heralded rushers such as LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, Thomas finally got the opportunity to prove himself in the Ducks' season-opener against Nicholls State. He carried the ball 18 times—the most ever in his collegiate career—for 128 yards and scored two touchdowns.
If Thomas can continue to handle a heavy workload against tougher defenses, it will elevate his draft stock and help answer questions about his size and durability.
After Wisconsin lost star RB Montee Ball, one of the most productive rushers in college football history, you would naturally think that the Badgers' running game would be diminished this season.
However, that doesn't seem to be the case.
The Badgers have found two new potential star backs in sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White, who both look like they're ready to emerge from Ball's shadow and make a name for themselves.
The two backs obliterated a weak UMass defense, totaling a combined 287 yards on the ground. Each scored a touchdown in the 45-0 victory.
Gordon may wait another year before he declares for the NFL, but White is a player whom scouts will be watching closely, since he is shaping up to be one of the top senior backs in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey may have been the Pac-12 running back who received most of the recognition throughout the offseason.
But on opening weekend, it was clear who the conference's best back really is.
Washington's Bishop Sankey, who ran for over 1,400 yards and scored 16 rushing touchdowns in 2012, carried over his success from last season into 2013. He put together a big showing against Boise State in front of the Husky faithful, totaling 173 yards of offense and scoring two touchdowns in the 38-6 blowout win over the 19th-ranked Broncos.
Though Washington has plenty of capable playmakers such as QB Keith Price, WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, there's no doubt that Sankey will be the real key to the offense's success in 2013.
QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins are the two superstars of Clemson's offense. However, it now looks like the Tigers have a third weapon, running back Roderick McDowell, who opposing defenses will have to fear.
McDowell stepped in for departed starter Andre Ellington and shined against Georgia's athletic but inexperienced defense, rushing for 132 yards on 22 carries.
The 5'10'', 200-pound senior is a former highly touted 4-star recruit, who has been forced to wait his turn at Clemson. Now that he's got the opportunity to prove himself, McDowell should be able to step up and follow in the footsteps of recent standout backs for the Tigers such as Ellington, C.J. Spiller and James Davis.
The stout and physical runner should be a perfect complement to Boyd in the backfield this season.
Tennessee quietly averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season, which ranked fourth in the SEC. With one of the best offensive lines in the country and a running back like Rajion Neal returning, the Volunteers' rushing attack should be even stronger and more formidable in 2013.
In the first game of the season, Neal came out firing on all cylinders, following his big blockers up front for 141 rushing yards on just 16 carries in a 45-0 win over Austin Peay.
For the past few seasons, Tennessee has lacked a true bell-cow back. However, it looks like the 5'11'', 212-pound senior can now fill that role in 2013.
There's no reason Neal shouldn't be in contention for an SEC rushing title this year. If he can put together more big outings like his first performance of the season, his draft stock will only continue to climb.
Jeff Scott produced one of the most memorable highlights of Week 1, when he scored on a spectacular 75-yard touchdown run to give Ole Miss a come-from-behind 39-35 victory over Vanderbilt.
Scott finished the game with 164 all-purpose yards, and he proved to be a versatile threat as a runner, receiver and returner.
The 5'7'', 162-pound senior may be undersized, but he still could ultimately develop into a similar type of prospect as former Rebels RB Dexter McCluster.
Before the 2013 season even started, Jordan Matthews had already pretty much solidified his status as the best senior receiver in the 2014 NFL draft class, following an outstanding junior campaign, in which he led the SEC with 94 catches.
Matthews distanced himself even more from the rest of his peers with a tremendous performance against Ole Miss in the season opener. The 6'3'', 206-pound senior hauled in 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he showed his toughness by playing through an injury that caused him to vomit on the field.
Though he may regret letting his team's final pass of the night slip threw his hands and into the waiting arms of Rebel safety Cody Prewitt for a game-ending interception, Matthews still has to be proud of what he was able to accomplish in his first game of 2013.
After suffering through a disappointing sophomore campaign last year, Sammy Watkins came into the 2013 season with something to prove. Watkins wants to show the college football world that he's still the same elite playmaker that we saw in 2011.
The former Freshman All-American took steps toward rebuilding his once stellar reputation with a strong showing against Georgia in the first game of the season. Watkins hauled in six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, finishing the game with a whopping 21-yards-per-catch average.
Few players in the country have the type of explosiveness and dynamic playmaking ability that Watkins does. If he can put his subpar sophomore season firmly in the rearview mirror and focus on reaching his full potential this year, there's no telling just how good the speedy 6'1'', 185-pound junior could be.
Alabama's offense was much more sluggish and stale against Virginia Tech than many were expecting. But luckily, the Tide was able to get a big boost from receiver/returner Christion Jones, who scored three of the team's five touchdowns in the 35-10 win.
Jones averaged 25.0 yards on four punt returns, 23.5 yards on two catches and 54.5 yards on two kickoff returns, scoring a touchdown on one of each and totaling 256 all-purpose yards.
The versatile and extremely explosive 5'11'', 180-pound junior gives Alabama a dangerous game-changer both on offense and in the return game.
Derek Carr may be the catalyst and centerpiece of Fresno State's high-powered passing attack. But the Bulldogs' top two receivers, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse, are just as important to the offense's success.
After combining to catch 159 passes in 2012, Adams and Burse proved their worth yet again in the season-opener against Rutgers. Adams hauled in 14 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, while Burse nearly matched him with 13 catches for 118 yards.
If the two receivers can keep producing at this rate, the speedy duo should start to receive more national recognition as the season unfolds.
New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will likely get most of the credit for LSU QB Zach Mettenberger's noticeably improved play against TCU in the season-opener. However, Mettenberger was also aided by the emergence of WR Jarvis Landry, who looked great against the talented Horned Frogs secondary.
Landry hauled in eight of Mettenberger's 16 completions, finishing the game with 109 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The fast and physical former 5-star recruit has obviously gained the trust of his quarterback. The two of them should form one of college football's most powerful passing partnerships in 2013.
It seems like every year there's at least one highly athletic edge-rusher who becomes a hot name in the scouting community and makes a huge surge up draft boards.
This year, Clemson's Vic Beasley is a player who could follow in the footsteps of recent first-round draft picks such as Ezekiel Ansah, Bruce Irvin, Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul and become college football's next breakout star pass-rusher.
Beasley looked like a beast in the Tigers win over Georgia. He totaled two sacks and a quarterback hurry, and he showed remarkable burst off the edge and a relentless attitude.
The 6'2'', 235-pound junior may not have the size to be a 4-3 defensive end at the next level, but he does have the desired skill set to make the transition to a 3-4 rush linebacker in the pros.
During the offseason, senior Chris Smith was the Arkansas defensive end that folks around the SEC were buzzing about. However, in the Razorbacks' season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, fellow DE Trey Flowers proved to be every bit as valuable as his more heralded teammate.
The 6'4'', 262-pound junior looked basically unblockable, as he totaled two sacks, three tackles for loss, four solo tackles, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Flowers showed that he's capable of causing plenty of chaos in the trenches, and he proved that he could be the type of disruptive defensive difference-maker that NFL teams are searching for.
The emerging star end will be the leader and the face of an Arkansas defensive line that should be one of the best front fours in college football in 2013.
Penn State's defense allowed Syracuse's two-headed backfield of Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley to gain just 97 combined rushing yards on 28 carries in the team's season opener at MetLife Stadium.
The play of DT DaQuan Jones was one of the main reasons why the Nittany Lions were so stout against the run. Jones finished the game with nine total tackles, including eight solo stops and three tackles for loss, as well as a sack.
Now that Jordan Hill is gone, the intimidating 6'3'', 318-pound senior will be asked to step up and be the team's key run-stopper in the interior. It's a role that Jones should flourish in during his final season.
If you're looking for an off-the-radar prospect from a non-BCS school to watch for this season, then look no further than Arkansas State's Ryan Carrethers.
The 6'2'', 330-pound defensive tackle possesses the size, strength, quickness and toughness that scouts look for in a typical run-stopping interior lineman. He showed off those skills in the Red Wolves' season opener, totaling eight tackles, including three solo stops, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He was the main reason why the Red Wolves held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to just 12 total rushing yards in a 62-11 victory.
Carrethers has started off his senior year in strong fashion, and he should continue to build on that success throughout the year.
Everyone wanted to focus on Ohio State's big-name stars during the Buckeyes battle with Buffalo in Week 1. However, the Bulls had a player of their own, LB Khalil Mack, who left quite an impression as well.
Mack proved that he could handle playing with the big boys from a BCS conference, as he totaled nine tackles, including seven solo stops, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown.
After totaling eight sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2012, Mack entered the 2013 season as one of the favorites to win the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award.
If he keeps playing at the same level as we saw in Columbus, not only will the 6'3'', 245-pound senior bring home plenty of hardware this season, he'll also be one of the most sought-after linebacker prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Connecticut had an absolutely embarrassing performance in its Week 1 loss at home to FCS opponent Towson. However, there was at least one bright spot for the Huskies in the disastrous defeat, and that was the play of their defensive leader, linebacker Yawin Smallwood.
Smallwood was all over the field, racking up 16 total tackles, which tied for the fourth most of any linebacker in the country.
The highly athletic and instinctive 6'4'', 236-pound junior is one of the most underrated defenders in the nation. Unfortunately, since his team is shaping up to once again be just another also-ran, it's unlikely that Smallwood will actually receive the amount of attention and publicity he deserves for his terrific play.
After putting together an All-American-caliber campaign in 2012, in which he totaled six interceptions, 16 pass breakups and 46 solo tackles, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett is now looking to win the Jim Thorpe Award and earn the distinction of being the best defensive back in all of college football.
Verrett started off his quest in strong fashion with a standout performance against LSU. Though the Horned Frogs may have lost the game, their top defender proved his worth against two of the most talented receivers in the SEC, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
The 5'10'', 176-pound senior totaled seven tackles, three pass breakups and a sack, as he proved to be a true ball-hawk who has a nose for the football.
Though his lack of prototypical size may concern some scouts, Verrett clearly has the playmaking instincts and coverage skills to develop into one of the top corner prospects for the next spring's draft.
You have to give credit to Virginia Tech's defense for keeping Alabama's offense grounded. Surprisingly, the Hokies allowed the Tide to complete just 10 passes for 110 yards, including just one pass of over 20 yards.
The star of the secondary was cornerback Kyle Fuller. With fellow CB Antone Exum sidelined with an injury, Fuller knew he had to step up and shoulder even more of the burden against the top-ranked Tide, and he ended up doing exactly that.
The 6'0'', 194-pound senior kept Alabama's top pass-catcher Amari Cooper out of sync the entire game, and he had two impressive pass breakups and an interception.
Over the last decade, Virginia Tech is a program that's had 13 defensive backs drafted by NFL teams. It now looks like Fuller is destined to be the next big DB prospect to come out of Blacksburg.
Last year, Bene Benwikere caught the attention of NFL scouts when he led the WAC with seven interceptions, while also totaling 44 solo tackles. Following that breakout performance in 2012, Benwikere entered this season as one of the top-rated senior cornerbacks in the country.
So far, he certainly hasn't disappointed.
In his first game of the season against Sacramento State, Benwikere picked off a pass and returned it 33 yards, broke up another three throws and made three solo tackles.
If the top-flight 6'0'', 192-pound cover man can continue to play that way against more notable opponents such as Stanford, Fresno State and Utah State, his name will continue to ascend up draft boards.
There doesn't seem to be much of an incentive to tune into a Washington State game this season. After dropping their opening game to Auburn, the Cougars are likely destined for another lackluster and forgettable season.
However, they do at least have one must-watch player: free safety Deone Bucannon.
After leading the Cougars with 106 tackles and four interceptions last season, Bucannon is once again on pace to be the team's most productive defender in 2013.
Bucannon racked up 12 solo tackles, forced a fumble and laid a bone-crunching hit on Tigers running back Corey Grant during the losing effort. The 6'1'', 215-pound senior may not play for a powerhouse program. Still, he's clearly got the skills, makeup and physical attributes that scouts are looking for in a young safety.