Week six of the college season has been highlighted by skill position players as several receivers and running backs have impressed NFL decision makers with their performances in the early going. Unfortunately a few higher rated players have also been big disappointments on this Saturday.
John Simon/DE/Ohio State: Simon is not a defender who passes the eyeball test as he's neither tall (6-feet-1½), big (258 pounds) or fast (4.8 in the 40-yard dash). Yet the senior is an intense prospect who gets the most from his ability and finds a way to make plays. He was dominant against Nebraska, posting seven tackles [including five for loss], two sacks and one forced fumble. He's likely to fall into the draft's final day, yet a creative NFL defensive coordinator will develop a spot for Simon and use his tools to produce on Sundays.
Levine Toilolo*/TE/Stanford: Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz was a riser last week and this Saturday it was his teammate's turn to shine. Toilo looks more like a power forward on the football field as the athletic 6-7 prospect swiftly moves about the field. He's displayed flashes of brilliance the past two seasons and turned in a breakout game during Stanford's overtime victory over Arizona. Toilo's numbers included five receptions for 141 yards (28.2 per catch average) and two scores. His blocking is better than advertised and he has an abundance of talent. Scouts hope his performance on Saturday is just the beginning.
Conner Vernon/WR/Duke: Don't look now, but the Blue Devils are one victory shy from being bowl eligible and Vernon is a big reason why. The senior set the ACC record for career receptions in the team's win over Virginia. He caught seven passes [giving him 239 for his career] for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Vernon lacks classic athleticism for the next level, yet scouts love his toughness, reliability and football smarts. He's late-round worthy and will end up as a fifth receiver in the NFL.
Alex Okafor/DL/Texas: The Longhorn defense allowed 460 total yards and 48 points in the loss to West Virginia, so its usually tough pointing to any defensive player as a standout. Okafor is the exception as he single-handedly gave Texas the opportunity to take control of the game on several occasions. He registered two tackles for loss, two sacks, forced two fumbles and was credited with three quarterback hurries. Okafor also blocked a field goal. His forced fumbles were recovered deep in West Virginia territory with one resulting in a touchdown. The intensity, diversity and athleticism Okafor displayed all four quarters will please NFL decision-makers and improve his draft stock.
Braxston Cave/C/Notre Dame: The Irish controlled the line of scrimmage during their 38-point victory over Miami and Cave led the way. Notre Dame finished with 376 rushing yards, much of it running behind Cave. The senior is a blue-collar lineman who brings his lunch pail to work every day and gets the most from his ability. Cave won't blow scouts away with his athleticism, yet the ability to consistently play at a high level will be a draw.
Lerentee McCray/OLB/Florida: The Gators defense allowed eight first downs and six points during the upset victory over LSU and McCray loomed large all game. The athletic linebacker lined up all over the field, effectively stuffing the run and rushing the passer. He's a three-down defender with NFL size and the ability to play in a variety of systems at the next level.
Khaseem Greene/OLB/Rutgers: Greene has been a consistent force all season long for Rutgers dominant defense and has elevated his game as a senior. He's a former safety who moved to linebacker as a junior, developing weekly at his new position. Greene, always known as a stout run defender, posted eight tackles in the victory over UConn, adding to his team-leading 41 tackles. He also intercepted a pass late in the game and forced the Husky offense into mistakes with three quarterback hurries. Greene offers the size, speed and skill to line up at weak side linebacker at the next level and his play this year secures him as a second-day draft pick.
Jawan Jamison*/RB/Rutgers: The more scouts watch Jamison the more they are convinced the underclassman is developing into the next Ray Rice. Jamison lacks classic NFL ball-carrier size yet he's a smart, tough running back who plays big. Jamison totaled 110 yards on 28 carries against UConn, adding two important receptions for 19 yards. Like Rice, Jamison gets stronger deep into the game, turning in big plays during the critical moments. He's a complete player effective in all areas of the running back position. Word is Jamison will look at his NFL options after the season.
Chris Harper/WR/Kansas State: Scouts stamped Harper as a potential middle-round choice as they love the receivers size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and speed (4.45 in the 40-yard dash). Harper is beginning to reward that opinion by transitioning his athletic skills onto the football field. During the lopsided victory over in-state rival Kansas, Harper posted four receptions for 69 yards, an average of 17.3 yards per catch. The past three games Harper's average on 11 receptions is 15.4 yards, a significant improvement from the start of the season. He's a big-play receiver with terrific upside and a player who should only improve over time.
Montel Harris/RB/Temple: Harris had been preoccupied with injury and off the field issues much of the past 12 months yet showed Saturday why scouts feel he offers NFL talent. The undersized yet creative running back carried Temple to victory upon the program's return to Big East play. His career day included 133 yards on 24 carries (5.5 average) with a pair of scores in the victory over South Florida. Harris had been struggling with hamstring issues during the first month of the season after missing most of last year with a knee injury. He transferred to Temple over the summer after his dismissal from Boston College for repeated violations of team rules. NFL scouts feel Harris is a draftable player who could fit the role of situational runner/third down back at the next level.
Emory Blake/WR/Auburn: The Tigers have had problems at the quarterback position all season, yet despite this, Blake has stood out as a big-play threat and the team's most consistent pass-catcher. During the loss to Arkansas he finished with 11 receptions for 130 yards and one score. Missing from the statistics was a sure touchdown reception when a wide open Blake was over-thrown 30 yards down the field during the third quarter. Blake possesses NFL size as well as deceptive speed and could be a real find on the draft's final day.
Darius Smith/DT/Miami-Fla: Smith was highly rated by a number of scouts entering the season, who thought the big lineman could sneak into the third round. He offers tremendous size and the ability to control the line of scrimmage, but all too often Smith disappears and is a non-factor. Such was the case in the loss to Notre Dame as he was handled by one-on-one blocking all game.
Cory Grissom/DT/South Florida: Grissom was well thought of entering the season yet has struggled the first half of the year. He's a big bodied lineman that's shown the ability to control the line of scrimmage in the past yet has been regularly handled in 2012. He was a non-factor in the loss to Temple as the Owl had no issue running the ball all game.
• The Indianapolis Colts are making the transition from one franchise signal caller, Peyton Manning, to another, Andrew Luck. It also looks like Luck's former college is moving on to its next dominant signal caller. Since taking over for Luck at Stanford this season, Josh Nunes has improved each week and his play against Arizona was outstanding. Nunes is a step below Luck in every area, but the junior has next-level skills and has impressed scouts through the first half of the season.
• Impressing scouts is what West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has done every week this season. Highlighted earlier during our NFL Draft Watch segment, Smith was impressive and answered every challenge when he faced off against Texas. Despite relentless pressure from the Longhorn defense, Smith showed tremendous poise, leadership and continually made good decisions in the pocket. He led the Mountaineers from behind on several occasions in the second half and consistently converted on third and fourth down during the game's critical moments. Look for Smith to move into the top half of Round 1 if he continues to play at this level.
• Connecticut cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson has struggled with leg issues this season yet showed flashes of dominance against Rutgers. He's a well sized corner who needs to stay healthy and improve his fundamentals but comes with a big upside.
• The struggles continue for Arkansas running back Knile Davis. During the teams much needed victory over Auburn, Davis carried the ball three times, finishing with minus four yards. Considered a potential top 60 pick at one time, it would be a mistake for the junior to enter the 2013 draft.