Linebackers boost draft stock in Week 3 with strong showings
Zach Brown, Sean Spence could be first-round LBs after dominant weeks
Riley Reiff is set to continue a long Iowa tradition of first-round offensive linemen
Michael Floyd continues to impress, but will need to quell character concerns
Week 3 in the college season offered a number of standout performances from many of the top teams in the nation. Several well-known NFL prospects impressed pro scouts, but so did a few players flying under the radar. Here are 10 players who really caught the eye of NFL decision-makers.
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina -- Considered the most complete linebacker from the senior class, Brown proved as much during the Tar Heels' victory over Virginia. He led the defense in tackles (24), tackles for loss (4) and sacks (2.5). He also broke up one pass and forced a fumble. Brown is an exciting three-down linebacker who should break into the second half of the first round in April's draft.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU* -- The heir apparent to Patrick Peterson announced his arrival to the big leagues in a nationally televised game last week against Mississippi State. Claiborne was near dominant during the Tigers' victory over their SEC West foe. His two interceptions and standout play in general helped keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone. Like his former teammate Peterson, Claiborne offers size and athleticism. He has starting potential at the NFL level.
Sean Spence, LB, Miami-Fl -- After sitting out the first game of the season due to suspension, Spence returned with a vengeance against Ohio State. The speedy linebacker showcased his elite athleticism, making plays sideline-to-sideline and factoring in on both running and passing downs. Spence led the Hurricane defense, which did not give up a touchdown to Ohio State, with six tackles. The senior is starting to put together a complete game a could end up an early selection next April.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame* -- The Irish shut down the Michigan State running game on Saturday, holding the losing squad to just 29 yards rushing and one first down on the ground. Te'o was a large reason why. The junior registered 12 tackles, which led the Irish, and Te'o was constantly around the ball making positive plays. Scouts consider the linebacker one of the premier run-stoppers in the nation.
Terence Garvin, S, West Virginia* -- Scouts have to take notice, as Garvin has stepped up his game this season. The massive safety (6-foot-2, 218 lbs) hits like a linebacker, yet displays solid cover skills. Against the lethal Maryland passing offense, Garvin intercepted a pass, broke up another and totaled nine tackles. He offers better next-level skills than former teammate Robert Sands, selected by the Bengals in the fifth round of last April's draft.
Riley Reiff, T, Iowa* -- Iowa has sent several offensive tackles to the first round of the NFL Draft, and Reiff will be the next from the program. His pass protection skills against Pittsburgh during the Hawkeyes' come-from-behind victory were stellar. Reiff shut out Brandon Lindsey, one of the better pass rushers from the Big East and a prospect highly rated by scouts. Reiff's run blocking also looked much improved as he continues to refine his game.
David DeCastro, G, Stanford* -- The Cardinal junior is considered one of the top guard prospects in the nation, and his play against Arizona proved why. DeCastro is a large, dominant blocker who plays with a nasty disposition. He moves defenders off the line and works to drive them into the field. DeCastro is a tremendous run blocker who also effectively protects quarterback Andrew Luck.
Sean Renfree, QB, Duke* -- One of the best kept secrets at the quarterback position wears a Duke uniform and ran roughshod over Boston College last weekend. Renfree has NFL size and the arm strength to match. He plays a smart brand of football, spreads the ball around to all his targets and makes all the throws. He led Duke to victory on Saturday with some lofty numbers, completing 77 percent of his passes for 359 yards and two scores. If Renfree was not on the radar screen of NFL scouts before last weekend, he is now.
Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas -- Taken at face value, Randall's game against UCLA did not seem extraordinary, as the senior was credited with just a single pass broken up and no tackles. The game film told a different story. Randall was double- and triple-teamed by the Bruins, and the attention he demanded created opportunities for teammates. Early in the game Randall forced his way behind the line of scrimmage and viciously drove Bruin signal caller Kevin Prince into the turf. The UCLA offense never recovered. Randall is surprisingly graded as a late-round pick by scouts, yet his play could push him into the draft's second day.
Sleeper: Donald Stephenson, T, Oklahoma -- It's tough to classify any player from Oklahoma as a sleeper. Yet when you consider that scouts grade Stephenson as an undrafted free agent prospect, then watch the senior consistently shut down Florida State pass rushers, its easy to understand why Stephenson could be underrated. The tackle has NFL size and the skills to be used at either tackle spot. He gets the most from his ability and displays a good understanding of his position. Solid pre-draft workouts will push Stephenson into the late or possibly middle rounds of April's draft.
Notes: Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd continues to impress NFL scouts. In the victory over Michigan State, he hauled in eight catches for 84 yards. Half of those receptions resulted in first downs. Floyd has established himself as a first-round pick, but where he ends up in the frame will depend on how fast he runs prior to the draft and how he answers questions about several off-field incidents.
One highly rated prospect that's been disappointing thus far is linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Arizona State junior is ranked as a top-10 prospect on our board, but has totaled just 17 tackles in three games. What's more disconcerting are the tackles Burfict seems to continually miss as he often plays out of control. Some feel Burfict lacks the discipline to be a truly great player at this time.
Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden is starting to build a buzz around himself in scouting circles. Against Tulsa, the senior connected on almost 75 percent of his throws and totaled 369 passing yards. Weeden does have a bad touchdown-to-interception ratio this season and is presently 27 years old, both red flags. The Cowboys travel to College Station to face off against Texas A&M on Saturday. Scouts will be watching how Weeden performs against the stingy Aggie defense.