NFL Draft 2014 Risers/Fallers: Thursday night slate to showcase several top prospects
So perhaps more so than any weeks prior, football fans will turn their mid-week attention to the college ranks. And this week, there are a pair of must-see games on Thursday night. The first pits Oklahoma and Baylor, followed about 90 minutes later by Oregon and Stanford. All four teams are stacked with potential NFL talent, so there is plenty to see even if the thought of four top-10 teams playing on a Thursday night does not get the juices flowing.
The headliner, as everyone knows by now, is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who could continue to close the gap on Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater by picking apart a stout Stanford D. But that Cardinal defense has its own stars: LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov and S Ed Reynolds, among others.
Baylor, meanwhile, could boast the top guard and running back available for 2014 -- Cyril Richardson and Lache Seastrunk, respectively. Oklahoma's talent includes WR Jalen Saunders and CB/S Aaron Colvin.
RGIII vs. Adrian Peterson might be reason enough to keep the NFL tuned in Thursday. If not, it ought to be a huge night in the NCAA.
• Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State: Is Freeman, a junior, moving himself closer to a spot in the 2014 draft? NFL scouts cannot ignore what he has been doing on a Florida State team that is in national-title contention.
Saturday night, in a showcase game against Miami, Freeman grinded out 78 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, plus led the Seminoles in receiving (six catches for 98 yards) and took a 48-yarder to the house. His size (5-foot-8) will be much discussed if and when he turns pro, but Freeman has emerged ahead of talented counterpart James Wilder as the Seminoles' go-to backfield option.
He may be wise to head to the NFL this coming May, too. The 2014 draft class looks as if it will boast an average running back group, with no clear-cut first-rounders. While Freeman might not be able to leapfrog the likes of Melvin Gordon or Lache Seastrunk, he could solidify himself a spot in the mid-rounds.
• Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: Carr's numbers are off the charts -- 3,061 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, just four interceptions. He delivered another gem this week: 487 yards and three TDs in a win over Nevada.
More than that, however, Carr has shown progression from his past two seasons as the Fresno State quarterback. He's making better decisions and has started to clean up his footwork. The natural abilities are all there, and Carr will head to the NFL with plenty of experience tucked in his back pocket.
• Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State: The Spartans humiliated Michigan on Saturday, and it was Allen at the center of their defensive firestorm. He finished with nine tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss -- enough to earn him the conference's Defensive Player of the Week honor.
As with Freeman, the biggest question about Allen may be his size (5-11, 218). The NFL team that can live with that will land an aggressive defender who has proven himself to be a terror near the line.
• Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois' last standout quarterback, Chandler Harnish, was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2012 draft and has settled in on the Colts' practice squad. Is there a similar fate awaiting Lynch at the next level?
Maybe. He is, however, doing what he can to earn a shot. Lynch totaled 279 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a win over Massachusetts. The lack of upper-echelon competition could hurt Lynch's cause (though Northern Illinois could crash the BCS party), as could his size (6-0). That said, Lynch has enough arm strength to make most throws, and he runs as hard as any quarterback you'll find.
• Andre Williams, RB, Boston College: Another backfield star to tuck away for later discussion. Williams gashed Virginia Tech for 166 yards (6.0 yards-per-carry average) Saturday, his sixth time topping the century mark this season. His 5.4 average for the season has come on a combination of long runs and broken tackles -- he had a 62-yarder vs. Virginia Tech and a 56-yarder the previous week at North Carolina. Again, the RB board may be in flux right up until the draft, so Williams has a shot to climb it.
• Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest: The problem for Campanaro isn't that he suffered a fluke broken collarbone. It is that he continues to find himself injured, time and again. That brittleness will drive his stock down come the draft, even though he has been a consistent and productive receiver for the Demon Deacons throughout his career.
• Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina: Other than injuring his throwing shoulder (which could sideline him for the remainder of the season) and firing an interception, Renner did not do all that much of note in Saturday's win at N.C. State. Therein lies the problem for the Tar Heels' senior, who entered this season as part of the upperclassman jumble at quarterback. While others (see above: Carr) have separated themselves out, Renner has drifted further back into the pack.
In seven games this season, Renner has managed a mere 10 touchdown passes -- 18 shy of his 2012 total. He needs a strong finish to the year, followed by impressive pre-draft work if he's to be anything more than a late-round gamble.
• Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: An eye on the 2015 draft here ... Mannion torched opposing defenses through the first seven weeks of the season, to the point that he leads the league in total offense and had a commanding edge in TD passes (31 right now). But facing his two toughest tests the past two weeks -- Stanford and USC -- Mannion has flopped. He hit on 41 passes (in 57 attempts) against Stanford but averaged less than seven yards per completion, then finished with just a 57.8 completion percentage and three INTs against the Trojans.