NFL draft risers, sliders: Week 9
Ezekiel Ansah's may land in the draft's first round after Saturday's big game
Tackle Tanner Hawkinson paved the way the Jayhawks bested the Longhorns
James Vandenberg threw for 214 yards vs. the Big Ten's worst pass defense
A number of razor-close conference games came down to the wire in Week 9 of the college football season. There was also a devastating injury which will impact the first round of next April's draft (* -- denotes underclassmen).
Ezekiel Ansah/OLB-DE/BYU: Ansah, the former track athlete from Ghana we spoke of in Week 4, is quickly transferring his athleticism onto the football field and is flying up draft boards. He's shown improvement on a weekly basis and stood out during the Cougars' victory over Georgia Tech, leading the team with eight tackles and helping to hold the lethal Yellow Jacket offense to 17 points and 12 first downs. For the season, he's registered 44 tackles -- including 11 tackles for loss -- as well as five pass defenses. Ansah needed assistance on how to properly put on his football equipment when he joined the BYU football team in 2010. There's now talk in the scouting community he could be the surprise pick of Round 1 in April.
Dallas Thomas/OL/Tennessee: The Volunteers moved the ball up and down the field against a talented South Carolina defense and totaled 478 yards in a game they lost by three points. Thomas lead the way for Tennessee on the offensive line. He's a versatile blocker who played left tackle as a junior before moving into guard this season. Thomas has NFL talent and combines fundamentals with power to control opponents. His leadership skills and football instinct are evident in games and the ability to line-up at several blocking positions will serve him well at the next level.
Tanner Hawkinson/T/Kansas: Hawkinson is another offensive lineman who displays versatility. He made a seamless transition to the all-important left tackle spot this season after manning the right side as a junior. The Jayhawks posted 273 rushing yards, much of it behind Hawkinson, during their four-point loss to Texas. He's been compared to New England Patriots three-time Pro Bowler Matt Light by Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and Hawkinson offers starting potential for the next level. The senior should end up in the middle rounds next April.
Brian Winters/OL/Kent State: Winters makes it a trio of offensive line prospects rising up draft boards. The senior received high marks during the upset victory over Rutgers. Kent State totaled 355 yards against the talented Rutgers defense, 224 yards which came on the ground. Winters kept the running lanes open all game and handled opponents throughout. He's a college left tackle who will end up moving to right tackle or guard at the next level. Scouts are impressed with Winters, who could sneak into the third round.
Shawn Williams/S/Georgia: Scouts gave Williams an early-round grade entering the season and the senior has done nothing to disappoint. His totals during the victory over Florida included six tackles, which will be added to his team-leading 51 for the season. Williams does not get the notoriety many of his defensive teammates receive on a weekly basis, yet scouts love how he does the little things well and rarely makes mental mistakes. He should be off the board somewhere in Round 2 next April.
Gavin Escobar*/TE/San Diego State: Scouts considered Escobar a terrific athlete who needed to develop as a football player entering the 2011 season. He's answered many of those concerns eight games into his junior campaign and is soaring up draft boards. Escobar leads the Aztecs in all receiving categories this year with 26 receptions, 317 yards and four touchdowns. He's shown better consistency catching the ball and is a legitimate downfield threat who creates mismatches in the secondary. Escobar also flashes skill as a blocker. He grades out as a potential second-round choice and word is Escobar will enter the draft at season's end.
Greg Blair/LB/Cincinnati: Blair played in just a single contest last season after transferring from Lackawanna Community College, but has since taken his game to another level. Seven games into the 2012 campaign, he leads the Cincinnati defense with 73 tackles, including a 19-tackle effort during an overtime loss to Louisville on Friday. His five pass defenses also leads the defense. He's displaying himself as a tough, run defender with the ability to handle the inside/middle linebacker spot in a variety of defensive schemes. Blair wasn't considered free agent material entering the season, but has since moved into the late rounds of April's draft.
Tim McDonald/S/USC: McDonald entered the year with first-round grades after opting to return for his senior season, yet has played uninspired in 2012. His instincts have been marginal and he always seems a half step late arriving to the play. At the top of his game, McDonald enforces the action in centerfield, yet he's not met expectations this season.
James Vandenberg/QB/Iowa: Vandenberg was graded as a fringe late-round choice entering the season, yet his struggles in 2012 will leave him unselected next April. His most recent effort included just 214 yards passing against Northwestern, whose pass defense ranks last in the Big Ten. For the season, Vandenberg is completing under 56 percentof his passes and has tossed five interceptions, compared to three touchdowns.
The big news coming from the college football world Saturday centers around the gruesome injury suffered by South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. The junior was carted off the field then taken to the hospital after significant contact to his right knee during the closing moments of the second quarter. Lattimore tore ligaments and cartilage in his left knee a year ago, which prematurely ended his season. While there are hopes Lattimore recovers, there's no escaping his injury will shake up the running back position and first round of next April's draft. North Carolina junior Giovanni Bernard, a week eight riser, is now the top draft eligible ball carrier on scouting sheets. Bernard turned in another tremendous performance today in the victory over North Carolina State. His totals included 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 23 carries and 95 receiving yards on eight receptions. Bernard also returned a punt 74 yards for the game-winning score with :13 left.
BYU has been the surprise of the scouting community thus far in 2012. Entering the season with a pair of seniors graded as late-round picks, the Cougars now have three players who are considered top-90 selections. Besides Ezekiel Ansah, the senior defender previously mentioned as a potential first-round pick, junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy presently grades as a second rounder and offensive lineman Braden Brown is receiving third-round consideration.
Illinois is on the other side of the spectrum, with three defensive prospects tumbling down draft boards. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence may have played himself out of the first round, while cornerback Terry Hawthorne is struggling to keep a spot in Round 2. Defensive end Michael Buchanan has watched his stock take a significant tumble and may fall out of the draft's top 75 choices.
Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M continues to impress NFL scouts. The junior left tackle followed up his tremendous performance against LSU by shutting down Corey Lemonier of Auburn. Lemonier entered the game with five sacks and eight bquarterback hurries, yet was held to just two tackles by Joeckel, who now grades as a mid first-round pick.
NHL playoff preview: Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
NHL playoff preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets