College stock watch: Barkley's game continues to grow

Associated Press
USC junior Matt Barkley has completed 69 percent of his passes in three games this season, all Trojans victories.

Each Monday throughout the college football season, draft expert Bucky Brooks will share his notes and evaluations on potential NFL prospects for the 2012 draft and beyond. An asterisk (*) denotes players who aren't seniors.

» Matt Barkley* is the real deal. The Southern Cal star has been sensational through the first three weeks of the season and scouts are starting to take notice of his spectacular start. Barkley has completed 69 percent of his passes for 892 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception. Against Syracuse, he completed 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards with five touchdowns. He distributed the ball to eight different receivers and avoided costly mistakes by routinely taking the second and third option.

Although Barkley's patient approach lacks pizzazz, his game will certainly appeal to evaluators searching for a future franchise quarterback with the skills to thrive in a pro-style passing game. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Barkley is a classic pocket passer with outstanding arm strength. He throws the ball with zip, and is superb with his ball placement. He routinely leads his receivers into open areas with pinpoint throws while showing excellent anticipation and awareness. His keen understanding of coverage results in few turnovers or risky throws from the pocket.

Barkley has made tremendous progress as a passer and game manager over the past two-plus seasons, and his spectacular play through three games has certainly placed him among the top passers in the country.

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» Alabama might be the new Tailback U. The Crimson Tide lost Mark Ingram to the NFL, but their new tandem of Trent Richardson* and Eddie Lacy* are emerging as a dominant force on the college landscape. Both are punishing, hard-nosed runners with speed and power. They show impressive quickness attacking the line of scrimmage, and their ability to make decisive cuts works well in Alabama's zone-based system.

Richardson, a junior, is already regarded as the top runner in his class based on his impressive flashes of brilliance during his first two seasons. He has averaged 5.8 yards per carry for his career and has 22 touchdowns in only 307 carries. His big-play ability is evident whenever he touches the ball, and he put those talents on display with his performance against North Texas (11 carries for 167 yards with three touchdowns).

Lacy, a second-year player, has been impressive as a complementary back. He has 304 yards on only 28 carries with three touchdowns, including Saturday's nine-carry, 161-yard performance with two scores. His ridiculous 10.9-yards-per-carry average is indicative of his explosiveness as a runner. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, he has the size and strength to run over defenders in the hole and also displays the nimble footwork to be elusive in traffic. He has a knack for finding seams against overaggressive defenses, and his decisive running style results in few negative runs.

Nick Saban has certainly established a pipeline to the pros during his brief tenure at Alabama, and his talented tandem appears destined to make its mark at the professional level.

Word on the street

» Stanford's Andrew Luck* is not only earning rave reviews from scouts based on his impressive physical skills, but his impeccable character and leadership ability. According to an NFC scout, the junior quarterback is the "real deal" in every facet on and off the field. The scout spoke at length about the reverence Luck's teammates have for his affable personality and tremendous work ethic. Those traits are essential to thriving as the face of an NFL franchise.

» Washington's Alameda Ta'amu has drawn favorable comparisons to former Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Chicago Bears second-round draft pick Stephen Paea. An NFC South scout recently compared the two and called Ta'amu more athletic and powerful. He went on to rave about Ta'amu's strength at the point of attack and his ability to create penetration as a low leverage player. With his combination of strength, power and skill, Ta'amu is currently rated as a late first-round prospect on most draft boards.

» Oregon CB Cliff Harris* recently returned from an early season suspension, but scouts harbor concerns about his slender frame and build. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, he lacks the size to battle big receivers and his bow-legged build lead to concerns about his movement. Although Harris still rates among the best corners in the 2013 draft class, the looming questions about his body type could work against him.

Stock up

Marcus Lattimore*, South Carolina, RB: Lattimore rushed for 246 yards on 37 carries with three touchdowns while displaying a combination of speed, power and elusiveness that makes him look like an ideal feature back at the next level. With a downhill running style that is reminiscent of Eric Dickerson, Lattimore has certainly jumped onto the radar of scouts looking for a future star at the position.

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Morris Claiborne*, LSU, CB: Claiborne's two-interception performance in the Tigers' win over Mississippi State showcased the instincts and ball skills that have led some to tab him as the top cover corner in college football. He has the rare ability to suffocate receivers in bump-and-run or shadow coverage, and that versatility certainly makes him an intriguing future prospect despite concerns about his slender frame.

Chris Rainey, Florida, RB: Rainey's sensational all-around performance against Tennessee provided scouts with a glimpse of his impressive skill set as a multipurpose playmaker. He rushed for 108 yards on 21 carries, added another 104 receiving yards on two receptions and blocked the fifth punt of his career. Although his diminutive size (5-foot-8, 178 pounds) likely means a shift to slot receiver as a pro, Rainey's speed, quickness and open-field running skills will make him a coveted prospect in the spring.

Stock down

Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders, Florida State, OTs: The tandem struggled against the speed and quickness of Oklahoma's pass rushers. They combined to surrender three sacks in the fourth quarter and their inability to provide solid protection prevented Florida State from mustering an effective comeback in their 23-13 loss to the Sooners.

Jacory Harris, Miami, QB: Harris returned from a one-game suspension to deliver an underwhelming performance in the Hurricanes' upset win over Ohio State. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 123 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His turnovers were particularly disturbing due to his late throws and questionable decisions. He repeatedly failed to deliver the ball on time, which raises questions about his anticipation and awareness. While Harris' ability to guide the Hurricanes to a win is important, his uneven play during the game will lead to concerns about his potential effectiveness as a pro.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks



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