The college season started with a bang this weekend and already one major contender for the national title has gone down to defeat. NFL scouts were closely monitoring games around the nation in preparation for the 2010 draft. Several prospects from the defensive front seven along with a number of receivers really stood out. Here's Edition No. 1 of the NFL prospects watching their draft stock rise this season -- and those moving in the other direction.
Gerald McCoy/DT/Oklahoma: McCoy was a relentless presence during the Sooners' loss to BYU, making plays all over the field. He registered five tackles with another four tackles-for-loss. McCoy put his athleticism on display and his ability to pursue the action sideline-to-sideline really stood out all four quarters.
Arthur Jones/DT/Syracuse: Jones registered five tackles during the Orange's overtime loss to Minnesota -- yet the numbers tell a fraction of the story. Jones was constantly doubled in the middle of the line and still made plays all game long and helped provide opportunities for teammates. He consistently plays at a high level and the ability to be used as a conventional defensive tackle or two gap end should cement Jones as a top-15 pick.
Eric Norwood/LB/South Carolina: Norwood made a last minute decision to return to the Gamecocks for his senior campaign, and it looks like a wise choice. He continues to improve at linebacker after moving from his former position of defensive end. He was omnipresent in the win over North Carolina State, posting eight tackles with two for loss and another pair of sacks. Norwood's versatility has caught the eye of a number of 3-4 defenses around the league.
Greg Middleton/DE/Indiana: Middleton, who had a horrid junior campaign in '08, showed a lot more fire in his belly during the Hoosiers' opener against Eastern Kentucky. He looked fast, explosive and was a disruptive force up the field, causing a safety in the first quarter that dictated the tempo of the game. Middleton followed up an incredible sophomore campaign in which he registered 16 sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss with only four sacks and five tackles-for-loss last season. He dedicated himself to a rigorous off-season training regiment in the hopes of returning to the form he displayed in 2007; and thus far it's working.
Jan Jorgensen/DL/BYU: Jorgensen epitomized the effort of the BYU defense in the upset win over Oklahoma. He was physically over-matched by many of the talented Sooners he faced, yet Jorgensen used hustle and intelligence to make plays all evening. Jorgensen was given a free-agent grade coming into the season but often plays like a top-45 selection once the ball is snapped. His effort Saturday will force NFL teams to rethink their opinions about his next level potential.
Mike Williams/WR/Syracuse: Williams return to the football field this season was long awaited by NFL scouts and the big-play receiver did not disappoint on Saturday. He was forced to the sidelines during the '08 campaign due to academic suspension, yet showed little rust upon his return against Minnesota. He registered seven receptions for 94 yards with one score and stood out as a downfield blocker during the Syracuse opener. Williams, a third-year junior, is expected to enter the draft and will make a big move up draft boards.
Eric Decker/WR/Minnesota: Decker is considered by scouts as one of the better possession receivers in the nation and proved as much on Saturday. He was silent for most of the first half but finished the game with nine receptions for 183 yards, with seven coming in the fourth quarter. During Minnesota's final drive in regulation, which resulted in a game-tying field goal, Decker was responsible for three receptions and a pair of critical first downs, keeping the drive alive.
Ryan Reynolds/MLB/Oklahoma: Reynolds lacks the true measurables scouts look for in an NFL prospect and has suffered with knee injuries in the past. That aside, his play and production is something that cannot be overlooked. Reynolds posted 10 tackles with one sack besides an interception against BYU. He was the rock of the Oklahoma defense last season before being lost to a knee injury six games into the campaign. He's the type of prospect that teams stay away from in the draft because of poor size/speed numbers, yet at the same time a player that organizations may have a tough time cutting once he gets into an NFL camp.
LeGarrette Blount/RB/Oregon: Blount's transgressions on the field are now well-known to even the most passive football fan. NFL scouting services ranked him as one of the top five senior running backs coming into the season. Scouts hoped Blount could improve upon a junior season which saw him rush for 1,002 yards and school-record 17 touchdowns. His stats for his final season at Oregon will read eight rushing attempts for 5 yards. Blount's college career is likely over and his pro prospects are in peril. With so much focus on anger management issues in today's NFL, Blount's draft stock has gone from a potential top-60 pick to a likely late-round selection.
Trent Williams/OT/Oklahoma: Williams was far and away graded as the top senior tackle prospect in the nation by NFL scouting services coming into the season but did not live up to that ranking against BYU. Williams moved to left tackle after spending his junior season on the right side for all but one contest. He was called for penalties early in the game, and it was Williams who do not pick up the blitz on the play in which Bradford got injured. There's plenty of time for Williams to recover, but he must start to play at a high level on a consistent basis and stay away from the mental errors which sometimes plague him.
Kam Chancellor/S/Virginia Tech: Chancellor struggled all evening in Virginia Tech's opening loss against Alabama. The Tide exploited him for big pass plays by taking advantage of his poor coverage skills. Chancellor also had tackles broken throughout the game.
Notes: Buffalo's James Starks is another highly rated running back prospect who saw his college career coming to a premature end. Rated as a mid-round pick by scouting services, Starks will miss the entire '09 campaign with a serious shoulder injury. A fifth-year senior, Starks must now apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship if he wants a sixth season of eligibility or roll the dice and enter next April's draft.
NFL scouts who pass through the state of Alabama usually spend most of their time inspecting the Crimson Tide or Auburn Tigers. Both schools are still high on the radar of the NFL scouts, yet many will be spending a lot of their time watching the North Alabama Lions this fall, a Division II program. Since taking the helm as head coach at UNA, Terry Bowden has brought in every major transfer from a BCS school he could get his hands on. Many of these players are legit NFL prospects. Seniors such as receiver Preston Parker (Florida State), safety Quinton Andrews (West Virginia), offensive tackle Calvin Wilson (Southern Mississippi), fullback Marcus Sims (Florida State) and linebacker Brandon Fanney (Alabama) are considered everything from potential top-100 selections to late round picks.