Week Three of the college season included several outstanding head-to-head match-ups which scouts will evaluate carefully. A trio of defenders from the Big East turned in eye-catching performances while a top-rated quarterback will want to forget his play.
Yawin Smallwood*/LB/Connecticut: Smallwood has played productive football all season yet his performance during the victory over Maryland was incredible. He stood out in all phases as Smallwood forcefully defended the run, showed strength on the blitz as well as smarts in pass coverage. His statistics, which included 14 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble as well as several pass deflections, just scratches the surface of the performance Smallwood turned in. The third-year sophomore is a complete linebacker and three-down defender that will soon be NFL ready.
Jesse Williams/NT/Alabama: Williams has silently developed into one of the better interior defensive lineman from the senior class. Rotated at a variety of spots last year, Williams moved to nose tackle this season and has been a force. He's impossible to move off the line of scrimmage and his play on Saturday helped hold Arkansas to 58 yards rushing and four rushing first downs. Most impressively, Williams battled a pair of Arkansas interior linemen (Alvin Bailey and Travis Swanson) who are legitimate NFL prospects and almost always came out on top.
Mario Benavides/C/Louisville: Benavides was considered a street free agent entering the season but the center gave scouts something to think about on Saturday. The underrated prospect went face-to-face against defensive tackle Sylvester Williams of North Carolina, universally considered a first-round pick in April's draft. Benavides held his own throughout the contest and, on a number of occasions, got the better of Williams as Louisville racked up 187 yards rushing during the victory over the Tar Heels. Benavides is not a dominant center rather a fundamentally sound blocker who plays smart football and gets the most from his ability. He best fits a zone blocking scheme at the next level and Benavides could slide into the late rounds with more performances similar to the one against Williams.
StepfanTaylor/RB/Stanford: Taylor was a one-man show during Stanford's upset victory over USC. He scored scored twice, first on the ground then later through the air, each time helping Stanford even the score. Late in the game with time winding down and Stanford leading by a touchdown, Taylor ran roughshod over the USC defense on the Cardinal's final drive. His numbers included 156 yards rushing on 29 carries and 61 yards on four receptions. Taylor is a tough ballcarrier that grinds it out on the inside yet shows a surprising burst with the ability to beat defenders into the open field. Considered a mid-round choice entering the season, Taylor will now get third-round consideration, based on the skills he's displayed this season.
Logan Ryan*/CB/Rutgers: Logan was outstanding from the opening kick-off and responsible for several big plays during Rutgers victory over South Florida. He shut down opposing receivers all game and played physical, smart football. Ryan forced an interception in the third quarter as he battled tight end Evan Landi, a much bigger opponent, to defend the pass as South Florida was moving towards the game-tying score. The junior cornerback also stood out on special teams. Ryan possesses the size and ball skills to be a top 60 pick in the draft, and his play on the field has consistently improved.
Dwayne Gratz/CB/Connecticut: Gratz is another NFL prospect from the Connecticut program who deserves mention off the Maryland victory. He shut down the Terps vertical passing game all day, intercepting one throw then breaking up another. Late in the game, it seemed Maryland purposely threw away from Gratz. Gratz also showed a lot of toughness in run defense. He does not come with the same high grades as teammate Blidi Wreh-Wilson yet, but Gratz is a legitimate next-level prospect who will play on Sundays.
Bradley Roby*/CB/Ohio State: Roby is poised to become the next big-time cornerback prospect from Ohio State. He's a forceful defender with the size and skill to start in the NFL. Roby was omnipresent as the Buckeyes eked out a victory over Cal. His totals included nine tackles, two tackles for loss as well as one pass broken up against the Bears' pro-style offense.
Ray Graham/RB/Pittsburgh: The senior ball carrier has shown no ill-effects from the devastating knee injury which prematurely ended his 2011 campaign and he was stellar against Virginia Tech. During the Panthers' victory, Graham was a game-changer, registering first downs during important moments and scoring touchdowns both rushing and receiving. Graham's elusive style was too much for Virginia Tech's defense, which is characterized by small yet quick defensive linemen and linebackers most effective in pursuit. His performance was even more impressive considering Graham missed practice most of the week and his availability on game day was unknown prior to kickoff. His uncanny ability to create yardage, slip defenders as well as the toughness Graham displays carrying the ball up the middle, will intrigue offensive coordinators at the next level.
Logan Thomas*/QB/Virginia Tech: We were complimentary of his Week 1 performance against Georgia Tech, but Thomas made several poor decisions in the loss to Pittsburgh, including three interceptions during the first half. Thomas seemed to be pressing from the start, forcing the ball into covered targets and incorrectly reading the Panthers' defense.
Knile Davis*/RB/Arkansas: Davis has struggled returning from the ankle injury which cut short his 2011 season and has looked a fraction of his former self during the early going this year. He has averaged less than four years per carry this season and against Alabama his totals included a paltry 59 yards on 20 attempts. Considered a potential top-60 choice, Davis may have to stay at Arkansas for his senior season unless he quickly turns his game around.
Justin Hunter*/WR/Tennessee: Hunter is considered the top NFL prospect at receiver in some circles, yet his play this season leaves a lot to be desired. His average of 15 yards on five receptions against Florida was impressive, yet Hunter had several untimely drops which halted Tennessee drives. Hunter offers a good deal of upside, but he is neither NFL ready nor first-round worthy.
• Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison is starting to draw comparisons to former Scarlet Knight star Ray Rice, and justifiably so. The sophomore has a ball-carrying style similar Rice as he runs hard on the inside but also shows great elusiveness as defenders try and track him down. He also shows the ability to handle a lot of carries during the game as Rice did for Rutgers. Jamison is a running back to keep on the scouting radar for the future.
• Scouts have found the play of Virginia Tech receiver Marcus Davis inconsistent during the early part of the season. Graded as a potential top 45 choice, scouts are in awe how the 6-foot, 3-inch, 225-pound Davis stretches the field with 4.45-second speed. Davis put these skills on display during the third quarter of his team's loss to Pittsburgh by outracing defenders down the field for an 85-yard touchdown reception. At the same time Davis, a first-year starter, is rough around the edges. The big wideout does not always come away with the difficult reception, as evidenced by the first quarter pass he failed to grab which resulted in an interception, and his pass-catching production has been disappointing.
• There were a number of eyes in the scouting community watching Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray during the contest against Florida. After a few early mistakes, Bray settled down and looked good during the middle portion. As the contest proceeded, there were a number of breakdowns on the Tennessee offensive line, mistakes made by his receivers and poor choices by the quarterback himself. Bray did nothing to elevate his stock in the eyes of scouts yet has several upcoming opportunities on the schedule. Following next week's contest against Akron, the Volunteers play a string of games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama, teams with an abundance of next-level talent on defense. Those three games could determine if Bray opts for the NFL and where he ultimately falls in April's draft.
* Denotes Underclassman