Week 5 of the college season has witnessed some wild games as the conference schedule starts to heat up. Thus far the final weekend in September has seen several highly rated juniors and lesser-named seniors step to the forefront as prospects continue to rise up draft boards.
Sheldon Richardson/DL/Missouri: Richardson has improved almost weekly since stepping into the starting lineup this season and was a one-man wrecking crew against Central Florida. His 9 tackles were impressive as Richardson also forced a fumble, recorded one sack and posted two quarterback hurries. He's an athletic prospect who commands double teams and either makes a play on the ball or creates opportunities for his teammates. Richardson is not a household name yet, but highly regarded in the scouting community.
Stephen Morris*/QB/Miami-FL: Morris turned in a career performance during the Hurricanes' last-second victory over North Carolina State. His record-setting numbers included 566 passing yards and 5 TDs. While many will focus only on the numbers, Morris looked good in all aspects of the game. The junior showed great patience, awareness and made terrific decisions in the pocket. He connected on five passes of 40 yards or more, including the game-winner of 62 yards. Morris is slowly developing into the complete package, melding his incredible physical skills into consistent, smart play at quarterback.
Desmond Trufant/CB/Washington: The senior cornerback is the latest edition from the Trufant family to star at the position. He came up big during Washington's upset victory over Stanford, breaking up two passes and intercepting a throw in the fourth quarter that prevented the game-winning score. Trufant has been inconsistent in the past, yet possesses the physical skills to start in the NFL. He's expected to be a middle-round choice. Trufant will be playing on Sunday's next season like his brothers Marcus (Seattle Seahawks) and Isaiah (New York Jets).
Zach Ertz*/TE/Stanford: Ertz has proven his big-play ability all season long and looked NFL ready during Stanford's loss to Washington. The junior tight end led all Cardinal pass catchers during the contest, collecting 6 receptions and 106 receiving yards. Four of his catches resulted in first downs. Ertz is averaging just under 17-yards per reception during the season's initial four games. He compares favorably to former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, the 34th selection of last April's draft. Like Fleener, he is also a reliable pass catcher that stretches the field, yet Ertz is much more advanced as a blocker.
Michael Mauti/OLB/Penn State: Mauti, considered a potential second-round choice entering the season, continues to impress NFL front offices. Missing almost the entire 2011 campaign with a knee injury, Mauti was effective defending the run and covering the pass during Penn State's lopsided victory over Illinois on Saturday. He finished the contest with 6 tackles, 2 interceptions and was active all game. Mauti plays smart, tough football and looks every bit like a three-down defender.
Larry Warford/G/Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a second-half lead to South Carolina and ultimately the game, yet Warford stood out. The dominant guard constantly opened large holes on the right side of the field, overwhelming the talented defenders who lined up against him. Warford is a powerful lineman and controls anyone he gets his hands on. He's best suited for a power-running offense and the senior should be selected toward the end of the draft's second day.
Sanders Commings/CB/Georgia: Commings missed the first two games of the season via suspension yet announced his arrival on Saturday with a tremendous performance. The talented cornerback picked off two passes, broke up another and tallied five tackles against Tennessee's high-powered offense. Commings possesses the size, skill and upside potential to start in the NFL. He could end up as a top-75 pick if he continues to play at a high level on the field and shows maturity off the field.
Cornellius Carradine/DE/Florida State: Conventional wisdom said the Seminoles defense would take a big hit after Brandon Jenkins went down with a serious foot injury during the first game of the season. Carradine quickly put that concern to rest. Since moving into the starting line-up, he leads the Seminole defense in total tackles (28) and sacks (seven). Nine of his tackles came during the victory over South Florida and he also forced a fumble, which was returned for a touchdown. Carradine was considered a seventh-round prospect entering the year, but his play this season has pushed him into the draft's initial 75 choices.
Will Sutton*/DL/Arizona State: Sutton was another very productive defensive lineman who was a major factor in his team's victory. Against Pac-12 foe Cal, Sutton finished with 6.5 tackles, including four for loss and two sacks while also forcing a fumble. Five games into the season, Sutton lists second on the Sun Devils' defense with 34 tackles and has 10 tackles for loss. At barely 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds, he lacks classic size for the next level, yet his intensity and nose for the football will have defensive coordinators at the next level moving him around the field ala former Pro Bowl player Mike Vrabel.
Akeem Spence*/DL/Illinois: Spence recorded 9 tackles during the loss to Penn State, but the statistics don't tell the whole story. The junior tackle was manhandled most of the game and pushed off the line of scrimmage or controlled in man-on-man blocking. Spence did not turn in a terrible performance, but did not look like the first-round prospect most believe him to be.
William Gholston*/DE/Michigan State: Gholston failed to impress during the Spartans' devastating conference defeat at the hands of Ohio State. Though he continued to play despite being injured in the first half, Gholston provided no impact and was minimally productive. In five games this season, he has posted just a single sack.
• It was another tough outing for North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson. Our Week 1 slider was consistently victimized throughout the Wolfpack's loss to Miami, giving up two long touchdowns receptions in the first quarter then making questionable decisions on another pair of scoring tosses late in the game. Many touted Amerson as a potential first-round pick after the junior intercepted 13 passes in 2011, yet there are major questions about his speed and overall playing skill.
• Arkansas running back Knile Davis is another NFL prospect who continues to struggle. The junior fumbled the ball three times during a blowout loss to Texas A&M, though Arkansas recovered two of the fumbles. Davis finished the game with 18 carries for 65 yards. Aggie defender, Damontre Moore, who was highlighted in our Draft Watch video, forced the third fumble as well as totaling five tackles, 2.5 for a loss and one sack.
• Quarterback Tyler Bray of Tennessee was another we previewed during our draft watch video and his grade against Georgia comes back incomplete. Perry looked uncomfortable starting the game and seemed to lose poise in the latter stages. He was able to move the Volunteer offense down the field, yet his overall performance was erratic.
• During the Buckeyes' victory over Michigan State, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins showed flashes of dominance and why scouts love his ability. Hankins almost single-handedly controlled the line of scrimmage and was impossible to move off the point. The end result was a Michigan State offense which rushed for just 34 yards, more than 140 below its season average. Hankins is more than a big-bodied lineman who plugs the middle of the field -- rather he's a 320-pound athlete who makes plays down the line of scrimmage and outside the box. The criticism from scouts is Hankins does not consistently play up to his ability. There's plenty of season left for him to silence his critics if he turns up the intensity.