Prospect Watch: Mike Davis, Jay Ajayi among running backs on the rise
After this weekend, the next Saturday of the college football season will take place in November. So 2015 NFL draft hopefuls are running short on chances to impress scouts with their in-game performances.
Here are five intriguing prospects to track this weekend as October comes to a close:
1. Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State (vs. BYU, Friday, 9 p.m. ET): Looping in one of the four Friday night games because SI's Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans reported this week that Ajayi, a redshirt junior, now is "expected to leave early for the draft."
The six-foot, 215-pound back is in the midst of his second standout campaign as Boise State's lead ball-carrier. Headed into Friday, Ajayi is approaching 1,200 yards from scrimmage -- he has 867 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground plus 35 receptions for 317 more yards.
That every-down potential will boost Ajayi's stock should he head for the NFL after this season. The stats are no fluke, either. Ajayi can do damage between the tackles or beat defenders with moves on the outside.
He has a nationally-televised opportunity to show off Friday night.
2. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh (vs. Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET): Clemmings has not joined some of his fellow tackles in the early Round 1 buzz, but his name is one to remember the closer we get to the draft.
Right now, the former defensive end is mashing Pitt's opponents from his right tackle spot. Clemmings (6-6, 315) is coming off an extremely impressive performance in the Panthers' win over Virginia Tech last Thursday. And one of the main reasons NFL scouts are keeping an eye on him is that, because of his rather recent move from defensive line to offensive line, there looks to be a decent amount of potential here.
As one might expect given his background, Clemmings moves well at the point of attack and is able to get outside, pull or clear to the second level. Guard or tackle could be in his NFL future. Either way, he could wind up an early-round pick.
3. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (at Auburn, 7:30 p.m. ET): Hampered by a rib injury out of the gate, Davis has not taken off in his junior season the way some thought he might, which explains why his name doesn't come up as much as Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley.
That said, Davis is still averaging 5.5 yards per carry and is on pace to top 1,000 yards this season. The NFL will be more concerned with how his game projects forward, too.
The answer? Extremely well. At 5-9 and a solid 223 pounds, Davis is built to withstand the punishment of being an NFL running back. He also has a knack for using that 223-pound frame to deliver a jolt to any prospective tacklers.
While Davis may not be a first-round guy, he won't slip too far into the second day should he decide to leave South Carolina after this season.
4. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State (at Penn State, 8 p.m. ET): Checking in at No. 39 on our latest 2015 Big Board, Bennett (6-3, 285) could land in Round 1 before all is said and done. He's quick off the line and can collapse the pocket from multiple spots up front, an important skill given how many teams now vary their schemes.
Bennett's stats so far this season (10 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, one sack) do not measure up to his 2013 totals (42 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks). There's still time to load up, starting with a prime-time matchup against the Nittany Lions' beleaguered offensive line.
5. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State (at Washington, 10:30 p.m. ET): The Sun Devils' senior starter has not played since Sept. 13 but is on track to rejoin the lineup Saturday night. He needs to hit the ground running, figuratively and literally.
Kelly's appeal to NFL front offices will be in his dual-threat ability -- he's rushed for a combined 1,124 yards and thrown for an average of 3,374 yards over the past two season, showing enough arm to pair with Arizona State's rather wide-open spread attack.
It's not all sunshine and roses for the lanky 6-2, 211-pound quarterback. Kelly is not going to wow anyone with his passing tools -- most of his completions come courtesy of quick strikes granted by that spread offense. He does not have ideal size to begin with, and his foot injury will only add to teams' durability concerns.
Oh, and backup Mike Bercovici arguably has been playing better in Kelly's absence than Kelly was before his injury.
Kelly's athleticism probably will still get him a shot somewhere. Finishing out 2014 strong could provide a boost.