Risers/Sliders for '09 NFL draft
The college football season kicked off with a number of top games, some of which turned out to be surprisingly lopsided. Even more surprising was the poor play by a number of highly rated prospects, many who must use the oncoming weeks to turn their draft stock around.
Rey Maualuga/LB/USC: Maualuga was a dominant and intimidating force right from the get-go in the Trojans' blowout victory over Virginia. He forced turnovers, pressured the passer and even created penalties, as the Cavalier offensive line was routinely playing back on their heels. Maualuga had to be spelled in the second half with cramping yet looked every bit the part of being an early first-round pick.
Mark Sanchez/QB/USC: Sanchez was given the green light to play just days before the opener, after dislocating his knee cap three weeks earlier. He showed no signs of being slowed by the injury and torched a usually tough Virginia defense for 338 passing yards and three touchdown strikes.
Andre Smith/OT/Alabama: Smith was the main force upfront as Alabama's offensive line pushed a talented Clemson defense all over the field. His stellar pass protection kept quarterback John Parker Wilson upright and productive as the Tide rolled to a stunning victory.
Davon Drew/TE/East Carolina: The Pirates' big, athletic tight end led the team in receiving as East Carolina upset Virginia Tech. He came up with several important receptions late in the game, which kept drives alive and helped the Pirates overcome a fourth-quarter deficit.
Aaron Curry/OLB/Wake Forest: Scouts around the league like Curry's athleticism and forceful play, traits he showed when Wake Forest upended Baylor. Curry was omnipresent, making plays sideline to sideline and was the persistent force as Wake allowed Baylor just 94 yards rushing.
Jermaine Cunningham/DE/Florida: Cunningham is the next in the recent crop of top defensive end prospects to come from Gainesville. He displayed terrific speed and force up the field, helping to hold the Hawaii offense scoreless for three quarters.
Tyrell Sutton/RB/Northwestern: Sutton was limited to just seven games last season due to a lower leg injury but returned with a vengeance Saturday. He rushed for 144 yards and added another 41 yards on four receptions, as the Wildcats dismantled the Syracuse Orange. He's one of the better third down backs in the nation heading toward the draft.
Brennan Marion/WR/Tulsa: The Golden Hurricanes wideout was featured as one of the lesser-known, big-play receivers available in next year's draft during our prospect preview last week. He did not disappoint and started the season strong, catching four passes for 125 yards -- a 31.3 average -- against UAB.
Sleeper Alert: Stanley Bryant/OT/East Carolina: Bryant became East Carolina's full-time starter at left tackle this season after playing eight games with the first-team a year ago. He's an athletic prospect who combines strength and footwork. Bryant did a terrific job protecting his quarterback and gave up no sacks during the upset victory over Virginia Tech. Bryant has no time to rest as next week will be another measuring stick when the Pirates go up against West Virginia.
Michael Hamlin/S/Clemson: The Tigers' defense was so awful against Alabama that any number of players from the unit could have pointed fingers, but Hamlin's poor play stood out. He blew coverage assignments, seemed uninterested in stopping the run and was unworthy of the first-round grade many have bestowed on him.
Hunter Cantwell/QB/Louisville: Cantwell looked like his bio read coming into the game against Kentucky: a physically gifted passer who's played little football the past three years. He struggled reading the Wildcats' defense, forced many of his throws into coverage and did not seem to be on the same page as his receivers. Cantwell has plenty of time to turn it around, but the opening of his season was not an auspicious one.
Sean Glennon/QB/Virginia Tech: Glennon needs a big season to push himself into the late rounds of the draft and is off to a poor start. Two interceptions in the first half, both which were costly, and the inability to move the offense in the fourth quarter is not what scouts wanted to see.
Dorrell Scott/DT/Clemson: Scott is an athletic 310-pound plugger in the middle with a reputation for being an underachiever. He did nothing to quell those criticisms, as he was pushed around the field by the Alabama offensive line.
It remains to be seen how much the foot injury Ohio State running back Beanie Wells suffered against Youngstown State will affect him the rest of the season. But it bears watching as the junior could be the first pick in next April's draft.
The defensive tackle position took a big hit when Jeff Owens, rated as a first-round pick by one of two NFL scouting services, had his season come to an abrupt end after tearing a knee ligament.
Pittsburgh receiver Derek Kinder, considered a potential mid-round choice, had a successful return after missing the '07 campaign with a knee injury. Kinder totaled six receptions and one score during the Panthers' loss to Bowling Green.
B.J. Raji who also sat on the sidelines last season because of academic suspension, looked solid in his return to play. Raji took a while to get back to playing form, yet was a force in the middle for the Boston College defense.
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