Seems like just yesterday that the 2010 college football season began. It is now mid-October, and the season is flying by like a pack of thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby.
Reaching the half-way post of the season is a good time to give some perspective and observation regarding some of the senior NFL draft prospects who are eligible for the 2011 draft. There are a few surprises, a few disappointments and a few who are who we thought they were.
We will begin with the bad news first.
Washington QB Jake Locker. He was the consensus No. 1 prospect at the beginning of the year. However, Locker's inconsistent performances against Nebraska, Brigham Young and Arizona State have resurrected concerns about his accuracy and ability to recognize defensive coverages. Locker is still on pace to have his best statistical season, but his draft grade may have slipped just a bit. Regardless, his intriguing skills should keep him in the top half of round one.
Penn State HB Evan Royster. Although Royster will most likely become Penn State's all-time leading rusher by the end of the season, his overall performance has drawn some criticism from Coach Paterno. His 388 yards with a 5.0 average leads the team in rushing, but those numbers are a bit deceptive. His only strong performance was at home against Temple, when he racked up 187 yards. The offensive line and freshman QB woes don't help, but Royster seems a bit sluggish and his draft value could fall to round three or beyond.
North Carolina DT Marvin Austin, WR Greg Little, DE Robert Quinn. North Carolina's dreams of a possible ACC title and BCS birth were shot down quickly after 13 players missed time due to improper dealings with agents. Austin, Quinn and Little were among the highest rated draft prospects of the bunch. The trio, who will miss the entire year, will still be drafted rather highly, especially pass rushing DE Quinn. Unfortunately, they will all be marked with asterisks for the always dreaded "character" questions.
Now for the good news.
Hawaii WR Greg Salas. Currently Salas ranks second in the FBS with 910 yards receiving on 61 receptions. He possesses good size at 6'2", 210 and has shown the ability to adjust his body on the move to make the tough catch. His average speed will probably keep him out of the draft's upper echelon. However, Salas should be a nice mid-round fit for a team needing a big possession-type receiver.
Arizona DE Ricky Elmore. Not considered more than a marginal prospect entering the season, Elmore has already compiled six sacks to go along with 28 tackles—eight for loss. In 2009, he registered 10.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. His initial strength on the line will have to be addressed, so NFL Combine workouts will be important. NFL coaches will love his relentless style of play, however, and should find a place for him as a pass rusher.
Nevada HB Vai Taua. The fact that Nevada's running attack is once again dominant is not a surprise. The fact that Taua ranks second in FBS rushing yards with 928 is a surprise, considering the fact QB Colin Kaepernick has also gained 669 yards all by himself. Taua is considered a late round pick, but his steady production deserves a higher grade. His body control, patience to follow blocks and ability to slash through the line of scrimmage should make him a valuable asset in an NFL rotation backfield.
Indiana QB Ben Chappell. Chappell is another under-the-radar prospect who gets no national acclaim. Being a starting QB at a Midwestern "basketball" school doesn't help the publicity, either. However, NFL scouts will take notice of Chappell's good arm strength, nice size at 6'3", 239, and his toughness in the pocket. Thus far, he has completed 68.7 percent of his throws with 16 touchdowns on the season. While he struggled somewhat against superior opponent Ohio State, Chappell will be a nice addition for an NFL team looking to develop a big, strong-armed QB.
Finally, the status quo.
They Are Who We Thought They Were
Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi. Carimi is another in a long line of great Badger offensive linemen to trudge through Madison. On the Outland and Lombardi Award Watch List, Carimi proved his metal with a strong showing against Cameron Heyward and the Ohio State defensive line in Wisconsin's upset win. Carimi is a tough, bullish run blocker who would be able to play the right or left side in the NFL. He is big at 6'7", 322 and athletic enough to protect the blind side. Should be a sure first-round pick in 2011.
Michigan State MLB Greg Jones. In 2009, Jones finished as a first-team, All-American with 154 total tackles. So far in 2010, Jones has 60 stops and three forced fumbles for the seventh ranked Spartans and their 28th ranked defense. Jones has the agility to cover the field from sideline to sideline. While he is a bit small at 6'1", 235, he has good instincts and knows how to slip around blocks. Jones could be a similar player to Jon Beason in the NFL, an undersized MLB who makes plays and could also play on the outside.
Oklahoma HB DeMarco Murray. If Alabama's Mark Ingram declares for the 2011 draft, Murray will not be the first running back chosen. He is doing his best to secure a spot in the late first or early second round, however. By scoring three rushing touchdowns against Iowa State, Murray broke the Sooners all-time record set by Steve Owens. That's an impressive feat considering the great backs who have passed through Norman, Oklahoma...Owens, Joe Washington, Billy Sims, Quentin Griffin and Adrian Peterson. Murray has good size at 6'1", 214, with sub-4.5 speed. Not a dominant player, but very solid with Pro Bowl potential.