The third week of play in September has included some wild finishes and more than a few outstanding performances from next level prospects. Several lesser-known players, many from the defensive side of the ball, impressed NFL scouts with their play this weekend. Here are the standouts who raised their draft stock and a few that have been disappointing.
Khalil Mack*/DE-OLB/Buffalo: The Bulls of Buffalo lost a conference game to Kent State earlier this week yet Mack won the day. Rarely mentioned outside of scouting circles, Mack was effective in all facets of the game. He made his presence felt finishing with a career-high 12 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and one pass breakup. Mack was constantly applying pressure up the field and showed great skill in pursuit. For most of the game he faced off against Kent State left tackle Brian Winters, considered by scouts to be a potential top 75 draft pick. Mack beat the future NFL lineman on a number of occasions. The athletic prospect lines up at defensive end for Buffalo yet projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
Eric Fisher/T/Central Michigan: Fisher is another NFL talent from the Mid-American Conference who stood out against top competition. Fisher struggled earlier this season against Michigan State yet rebounded and looked stellar against Iowa. He displayed outstanding pass protection skills as well as the ability to block in motion. The 6-foot, 7-inch Fisher is a solid athlete who easily moves his body around the field, adjusting to stop blitzes and easily annihilating linebackers on the second level. He's a mid-round prospect with starting potential.
Jamar Taylor/CB/Boise State: Taylor was considered a late round pick entering the season yet his play in 2012 has scouts reconsidering that opinion. Against BYU he was largely responsible for holding the usually reliable Cougar air attack to just 61-yards passing during the Bronco's one point win. Taylor ranked second on the team with seven tackles during the contest while also registering one interception and one sack. He possesses the size (5-feet, 11-inches) and speed (4.4-forty) NFL teams want in a starter and seemingly has rounded out his game this year.
Tavon Austin/WR-RS/West Virginia: Austin stepped up in a big way against a feisty Maryland defense that made life tough for the Mountaineers. His statistics, which included 13 receptions, 179 receiving yards and three touchdowns, tell a fraction of the story. Austin came away with critical receptions during the games' important moments, including his final touchdown grab, which put the game away for West Virginia as the Terrapins tried to claw their way back. Austin also lent a hand on special teams, bringing one kick back for 20 yards as well as returning three punts. Austin's slight frame (5-feet, 8.5-inches and 175-pounds) will limit his draft stock yet a team needing a slot receiver that doubles as a return specialist will undoubtedly look his way during the draft's second day next April.
Shariff Floyd*/DT/Florida: Floyd has been on a tear during the early part of the season and displayed a great deal of toughness during the victory over Kentucky. Playing much of the game injured, Floyd's play helped shutdown Kentucky, as the Gators won handily, 38-0. He faced off against the Wildcats highly-rated lineman Lawrence Warford throughout much of the contest and beat his opponent more times than not.
Scott Crichton*/DE-OLB/Oregon State: Crichton has been the difference maker for an Oregon State defense which has pulled off a pair of upsets over ranked opponents. During the victory over UCLA, the redshirt sophomore posted six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and broke up a pass. He's an explosive athlete that can line up at numerous spots in the defensive front seven and must always be accounted for. Crichton lacks elite size for the next level yet has the natural playmaking skills that will have teams clamoring for his services.
Sean Mannion*/QB/Oregon State: Mannion is another redshirt sophomore from the Beavers' roster who is well thought of by scouts. He possesses next level physical skills as well as a frame that will only get stronger in time. Mannion also plays smart and poised under center, as displayed during the UCLA contest. He torched a Bruin defense that had been playing well to date, throwing for 379 yards and two scores while completing 68.5% of his throws. Mannion gets lost in the shuffle playing in a conference that has produced Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley yet there's no denying his NFL potential.
EJ Manuel/QB/Florida State: Manuel was impressive in what many considered the most important game to date in his Florida State career. He was almost flawless during the Seminoles' victory over conference foe Clemson, turning in a career performance. Manuel completed 77% of his passes for 380 yards with a pair of scoring tosses. He also added 102 yards rushing on 11 carries. Most importantly Manuel made good decisions in the pocket and was on the money with his defensive reads. Scouts understand Manuel possesses the physical skills to lead a franchise at the next level. He's starting to translate those abilities to the quarterback position and could make a big leap up draft boards.
Khaseem Greene/OLB/Rutgers: Greene, the former safety who moved to linebacker as a junior, continues to impress NFL scouts. Entering the season 15 pounds heavier and stronger, he's developed a complete game at his new position. Greene was effective against the run and pass during the victory over Arkansas. On successive plays early in the game he made two important stops in the running game that denied Arkansas a first down. This included holding Knile Davis to a one-yard gain on fourth and 2. Greene made several impressive plays in coverage and finished the evening breaking up two passes and recording seven tackles. He affirmed himself as a top 75 choice.
Corey Lemonier*/DE-OLB/Auburn: The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to LSU yet Lemonier stood out during the loss. The pass rushing terror was a constant presence behind the line of scrimmage, registering two sacks, two tackles for loss and forcing a fumble. He's an undersized college defensive end that must complete his game yet the ability to disrupt opponents out of a three-point stance will endear him to NFL decision makers.
Cobi Hamilton/WR/Arkansas: Hamilton, the one time highly-rated receiver prospect who struggled through a poor campaign in 2011, was brilliant against Rutgers. The senior wide out caught 10 passes for an SEC record 303 receiving yards. He also added three scores. His receiving yardage against Rutgers was more than half the total of his entire junior season, and the Scarlet Knights boast a dominant defense. Hamilton's performance was even more impressive considering tight end Chris Gragg, the Razorbacks leading pass catcher this season, left the game with injury. Hamilton possesses the physical and football skills to line up as a second receiver in the NFL but needs to consistently play at a high level, as he did against Rutgers.
James Franklin*/QB/Missouri: Franklin returned to the starting line up after a week of controversy and looked pedestrian during the loss to South Carolina. The junior passed for just 92 yards with six yards rushing and was never able to get Missouri's offense moving. The usually dynamic signal caller has not met expectations this season and is not as far along in his development as many had hoped.
Dayne Crist/QB/Kansas: Crist hoped to rejuvenate his career after transferring from Notre Dame yet his play this season has not improved despite the tutelage of Charlie Weis. Against Northern Illinois, a defense that allowed a combined 76 points in successive weeks to FBS program Tennessee-Martin then Army, the quarterback completed just 38.5% of his throws for 147 yards. For the season, Crist is connecting on barely 50% of his passes and has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). Rated as a potential late round choice entering the season, Crist will be fighting to sign a free-agent contract next April.
Landry Jones/QB/Oklahoma: Despite passing for 298 yards, Jones' performance in the loss to Kansas State will disappoint NFL decision makers. He looked confused, hesitant and out of sync all evening. Jones missed open receivers throughout the game and made poor decisions that resulted in lost opportunities for the Sooners offense. His second quarter fumble was recovered in the end zone by Kansas State and Jones struggled to move the Sooner offense during the games' second half. Once again Jones showed he's an adequate NFL prospect yet not the special signal caller some have labeled him to be.
Notes: Wisconsin Badger running back Montee Ball, rated as a potential first round pick and the top ball carrier from the senior class, suffered a head injury during a scoring run in the win over UTEP and was forced to leave the game. The situation bears watching as Ball suffered a concussion over the summer when he was assaulted in Madison, Wisconsin, an attack which was well documented. Many were of the opinion Ball should have entered the 2012 NFL Draft considering the grade he was handed by scouts and his workload as Wisconsin's feature runner.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore looks more comfortable as the weeks pass by and he's further removed from the knee injury that shortened his 2011 campaign. He turned in several electrifying runs during the victory over Missouri, averaging four yards on 21 carries with a pair of scores. Lattimore also added seven receptions and leads the Gamecocks with 13 catches on the season. The Gamecocks play Kentucky next week followed by successive games against Georgia, LSU and Florida, which will be great measuring sticks for Lattimore.
Looking for a super sleeper after the first month of the college season? Remember the name Ezekiel Ansah, the defensive end/outside linebacker from BYU. Ansah, who was born in Ghana, came to BYU as a track and field athlete but has shown massive improvement on the field this season and his upside potential is the talk of the scouting community.
* - Denotes underclassman