September 16, 2008

Week Three of the college football season saw outstanding performances by a number of pass-rushers and linebackers. Several highly rated defensive backs watched their draft stock take a hit after poor play.

Brian Cushing/OLB/USC: Cushing was a dominant presence for the USC defense, holding Ohio State to just three points. He led the Trojans with 10 tackles and was a disruptive force up the field. Cushing showed his versatility, lining up at a variety of spots up front and impressed scouts with his intangibles and instincts, in addition to his terrific play.

Eric Norwood/DE/South Carolina: The Gamecocks' undersized defensive end was omnipresent in the Georgia backfield, continually harassing quarterback Matt Stafford last Saturday. Norwood also made a lot of plays in pursuit, showing a lot of speed on the field. The Bulldogs struggled to stop his upfield momentum, as Norwood finished with six tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries.

Jeremy Maclin/WR/Missouri: Mizzou's multi-purpose skill player is presenting himself as a homerun hitter every time he touches the ball. Maclin totaled 239 all-purpose yards and three scores, as Missouri drubbed Nevada 69-17. His receiving numbers included 172 yards on six receptions.

Jamie Thomas/G/Maryland: Thomas, a sleeper of sorts outside the scouting community, is highly regarded by NFL insiders. He threw a number of key blocks early in the Terrapins' upset win over Cal, which resulted in Maryland ball carriers scoring on long runs from the line of scrimmage.

Derek Pegues/S/Mississippi State: Pegues in one of the best all-around safeties in the nation and showed why against Auburn. He posted seven tackles and helped limit the Tigers offense to just three points.

Jacoby Ford/WR/Clemson: Ford gets lost amongst the number of outstanding skill players on the Tigers offense. He's a quality wideout that's displayed game-breaking skills the past two seasons. Ford's touchdown reception early in the first quarter enabled Clemson to get back in the game against North Carolina State and his 17-yard average on six receptions led all receivers.

DeAndre Levy/OLB/Wisconsin: Levy had a dominant game in helping the Badgers hold the potent Fresno State offense to just 10 points. He led the Wisconsin defense with nine tackles, three tackles-for-loss and made several key plays in pass coverage, including an interception. NFL scouting services gave Levy a free agent grade at the start of the season, but that opinion has changed.

Nick Reed/DE/Oregon: Reed helped lead a resurgent Oregon defense, which had been shredded early against Purdue last week. His play late in the game was critical in stopping the Boilermakers offense. Reed totaled two sacks and two tackles-for-loss during the Ducks' come-from-behind victory.

Sleeper Alert

Moise Fokou/OLB/Maryland: Fokou, a former walk-on who moved into the starting lineup as a junior, has taken his game to another level and is developing into a complete defender. He's one of the fastest linebackers in the ACC and plays sideline-to-sideline, showing a nose for the football.

Morgan Trent/CB/Michigan: His stats looked good as Trent led the Wolverines with nine tackles and picked off two passes. Trent was also beaten badly for long receptions on several occasions in the first half, setting the tone for Michigan's blowout loss at the hands of Notre Dame.

Courtney Greene/S/Rutgers: Greene, rated by NFL scouting services as one of the better safeties in the nation, has watched his play regress according to sources. His play this year has been uninspired, as evidenced in the Scarlet Knights' loss to North Carolina. Greene was constantly late in coverage, resulting in big pass completions for the Tar Heels.

Andrew Gardner/T/Georgia Tech: Gardner struggled mightily against Virginia Tech's speedy pass-rushers during the team's defeat at the hands of the Hokies. The Jackets left tackle looked out of sorts blocking in motion and, for the most part, was ineffective protecting the edge.

Todd Boeckman/QB/Ohio State: Boeckman, one of the most overrated signal-callers in college football, played terribly against USC and, as a result, the Buckeyes never got into the end zone. He struggled handling the Trojans pass rush, did a poor job reading the defense and was not in synce with his receivers. Boekman is graded by many as a mid-round draft pick for next April's draft, an opinion never shared by this columnist.

Notes: Wisconsin defensive tackle Jason Chapman has made a triumphant return from the knee injury, which sidelined him late last year. After three games this season, Chapman leads the UW defensive line in tackles and has been a disruptive force on the inside. He's an explosive one-gap lineman who could slide into the middle rounds next April.

Auburn running back Brad Lester was strapped to a gurney and carted off the field Saturday night after injuring his neck against Mississippi State. Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville said Lester appears to be OK, as the MRI performed on Lester's neck was negative. He will be re-checked by a neurosurgeon in Birmingham this week. Lester was graded as a potential top 100 pick by NFL scouts and, should he miss time with the injury, it will give junior Ben Tate a big opportunity. Scouts think that Tate, who is off to a fast start this season, has better next-level potential than his senior teammate.

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper played well against North Carolina State, leading the Tigers to their first conference win; but injuries could red flag him as we get closer to the draft. Harper had surgery on his throwing shoulder last year then sprained the joint in the loss against Alabama. Harper admitted the injury has affected his play, claiming it left him with a "tired" throwing arm during the team's second game against the Citadel.

East Carolina received its first bit of bad news with Quentin Cotton likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. A smallish weak-side linebacker prospect with adequate speed, Cotton posted two interceptions and five pass defenses during the Pirates' first three games -- all wins. The injury could leave him unselected next April.

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