It is at this point of the college football season that scouts can really get an idea of what a player's strengths and weaknesses are. They can also get a good idea of where they may go in next year's draft.
This early in the season, just like after the season ends, no two big boards or mock drafts are alike, and players could be first-round picks for one person yet barely make the third round for another.
One player in particular I consider to be a first-round talent is not a Day 1 selection for The Sporting News or Sports Illustrated, and he is not even considered a top-five player at his position in Matt Miller's latest rankings.
Despite the cool reception he has in draft circles so far this season, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has all of the skills necessary to be selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
His stats are not much to look at, admittedly. He had no interceptions last year and only this past week against Arkansas finally got his first pick, which he took 42 yards for a touchdown.
However, stats often do not tell the whole story when it comes to cornerbacks. Fellow cornerback Marcus Roberson, a Day 2 selection in his own right, is the ball hawk corner who can find the ball and make the technical adjustments to get interceptions.
Purifoy, meanwhile, is the player who shuts down the opposing wide receivers and keeps them out of the game. There has not been a single wide receiver who has looked great against Florida this season, and with Roberson out due to injury, Purifoy is the primary reason for Florida's sustained dominance in the secondary.
His game last week against Arkansas is proof of that. Besides the interception, he had three pass breakups, a forced fumble, helped out in special teams and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Honors, like stats, only tell part of the story, however. To really understand what makes him a first-round selection, like with any other draft prospect, you have to look at the game film.
In Purifoy's case, one of the big things I gathered watching film on him is what makes him tough to rate at first. Simply put, many quarterbacks avoid throwing to him. Even if he gives the wide receiver a bit of room by design, opposing teams try to find another opening if they can.
The exception is Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, and Purifoy's film against Georgia really shows what his strengths and weaknesses are.
When he is running hot and when he is a playmaker, he's one of the best in college football. In zone coverage, he can be effective, since he allows wide receivers to make the catch. He tackles them quickly enough afterward, but it's still a completion. Man coverage can be an issue, however. He locks down wide receivers on the deep ball, but on shorter routes, he tends to hold up.
His main weakness is simply that he tends to overthink and ends a step too far ahead of the play.
At the seven-minute mark of the above game, he abandons the coverage to try to tackle Murray, leading to a completion, and in the second-to-last play, he concentrates on the tackle rather than forcing an incompletion. The end result is a rare piece of film that makes him look bad.
The South Carolina game, which made him look like an elite cornerback, and the Georgia game, which made him look merely average, showed him at his best and worst last year. His physicality and ability to perform beyond what a typical cornerback is asked to do make his draft stock that much better.
His ability to make blitz plays is something few cornerbacks can do with ease. The first play in the film against South Carolina shows precisely that, and since Purifoy was unaccounted for, he not only forced the fumble, but arguably got in the quarterback's head, since he was rarely thrown to in that game.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Purifoy's game is that while he can be hot and cold on awareness of the wide receivers, his awareness of the quarterback is spot on. He knows what the quarterback is planning, and if it looks like there is going to be a scramble on the play, he usually can get in position to make a tackle.
Speaking of tackles, that is one of his other strengths. In his game film against Florida State last year, he was able to wrap up offensive players with ease, and while he was not as much of a playmaker in that game, he kept anything thrown his way from being an issue for Florida.
In short, I can't say I'm surprised through watching film that Purifoy is not on the first-round radars of scouts, since if you look at his numbers and his coverage ability, then he looks more like a second-round guy.
If you look at his raw athleticism and physicality, combined with his ball awareness and ability to make big plays, then taking him with a late first-round selection looks a lot more clear.
Purifoy is not a finished product. He has a lot of fine-tuning that needs to be done yet, especially if he will have to cover possession receivers who cut back up the middle in the NFL. That being said, his weaknesses are not red flags. Rather, they are issues that are fixable with the right coaching staff in the NFL.
Can he become a first-round pick by the end of the season should he continue to perform? He has all the tools to be one, and the lack of production simply means that he will be a boom-or-bust guy in the NFL rather than a low draft pick.