Top prospects cement their draft status in college football's Week 5
T.J. McDonald could be the best DB prospect in years to come from USC
Top 3-4 LB prospect Courtney Upshaw was all over the field against Florida
Ryan Lindley missed a chance to turn heads with a bad game vs. Michigan
Week 5 in the college football season saw all of the nationally televised games turn into blowouts. There were several solid contests from the ranks of second-tier teams and some terrific performances by NFL prospects. Here are a few players who made names for themselves this past weekend, plus a note on a well-known senior passer.
Courtney Upshaw, DE-OLB, Alabama -- Considered by many as the top 3-4 linebacker prospect from the senior class, Upshaw showed why during Alabama's demolition of Florida. He was omnipresent throughout the game, leading the Tide with 4 solo tackles and 3 tackles for loss, while also adding a sack and an interception. Though he measures just 6-foot-2, Upshaw offers a complete game and the skills to start at the next level.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC* -- The Trojans have a storied history of sending talented defensive backs into the NFL, and McDonald is next in line. Against Arizona he came away with a pair of drive-killing interceptions in the first quarter and broke up a third pass. McDonald also added six tackles to his tally. His cover skills are good enough that he can be relied upon to play over the slot receiver, and he displays a large degree of toughness against the run. McDonald is easily the most complete next-level secondary prospect from USC since Troy Polamalu.
Ben Jones, C, Georgia -- The Bulldog is highly thought-of by league scouts, and Jones continues to impress NFL decision-makers with his play. His blocking helped pave the way for a 155-yard rushing attack during the Bulldogs' victory over Mississippi State. Jones is impressive protecting the passer, effective as a run blocker and also skilled blocking in motion. He has separated himself as the top center from the senior class.
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin* -- If Jones is the top center from the senior class, then Konz could be the best player at the position in the nation. The junior combines size, power and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. He handled the talented Cornhusker defensive line and, more times than not, won out when he faced Jared Crick, long considered a first-round pick in next April's draft.
Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas -- The Razorback roster has a handful of receivers with NFL ability and Wright has outplayed them all. The senior turned in a stunning performance during the team's comeback victory over Texas A&M. Wright hauled in 13 receptions for 281 yards and two scores. The 180-pound receiver made several important receptions over the middle in traffic, adding a 68-yard touchdown reception. He's a legitimate game-breaker who plays larger than his size and is not afraid to battle for the ball. Wright projects as a top 100 pick and can effectively line up as a slot receiver in the NFL.
J.J. McDermott, QB, SMU -- Last week, McDermott was mentioned in this column as a player to watch and, almost on cue, he displayed why scouts are excited about his next-level potential. During the contest against TCU, the crosstown program which had dominated SMU for almost six years, McDermott helped give the Mustangs an early lead, then answered anytime TCU tried to claw back into the game. The senior completed 51 percent of his passes for 349 yards and four scores, including the game-winning throw in overtime. Though he has some mechanical aspects to iron out, McDermott displays the skills and tools necessary to play at the NFL level. Never even mentioned by scouts entering the season, he has now firmly positioned himself as a draftable prospect.
A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois -- Considered a potential late-round choice before the season, Jenkins' play this year could push him into the middle frames. His performance during the Fighting Illini comeback victory over Northwestern was nothing less than spectacular. Jenkins finished with 12 receptions, totaled 268 receiving yards and posted three touchdowns. His 41-yard reception with one minute left in the game helped put Illinois in a position to score the winning touchdown. He boasts just average size/speed numbers, yet the senior plays big and fast on the field. Jenkins offers the tools required to be a productive fourth receiver as a pro.
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh* -- The Panthers have a recent history of sending smallish yet talented ball-carriers into the NFL, including LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis, who presently reside on the Philadelphia Eagles roster. There's no doubting Graham is next in line. The elusive ball carrier has registered impressive numbers this season, most recently posting 226 yards rushing against South Florida. Like his predecessors, Graham has the ability to elude defenders and create his own yardage. He's also an accomplished pass-catcher out of the backfield and projects well as a situational runner/third down back in the NFL.
Sleeper: Matt McCants, T, Alabama-Birmingham -- The athletic McCants has NFL size and the pass protection skills to play at the next level. He's fundamentally sound and possessing a long, lean build. McCants helped stifle the Troy defense, which possesses several top pass rushers, during the Blazers' one point loss on Saturday. He's a prospect who will need time to physically mature, yet McCants comes with a great deal of upside potential.
Notes: Prior to the season I referred to San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley as one of the most underrated prospects from the senior class. After a fast start to his campaign, NFL scouts were of the same opinion. Yet Lindley faltered in Ann Arbor against Michigan one week ago, a game that was likely to be the toughest challenge he'll face on the field this season. He completed just 48 percent of his passes and struggled to get the offense into the end zone. While this is far from the end game for the signal caller, several insiders from the scouting community have confided in me that Lindley missed a big opportunity to establish himself as one of the top senior quarterbacks available in next April's draft.