|Jason O. Watson / US Presswire|
|Stanford QB Andrew Luck continues to impress with his play and ability to command the offense.|
Each Monday throughout the college football season, NFL.com 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.
Andrew Luck* is the best quarterback in college football. After there was speculation he could have been the No.1 pick in last year's draft, his play during the first half of this season has solidified his stature as the nation's top passer. He's completed 73 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and two picks. That efficiency has resulted in few negative plays -- two turnovers and two sacks -- and has 5-0 Stanford steamrolling Pac-12 competition.
Against Colorado, Luck displayed the traits that have scouts tabbing him as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Luck can make all of the requisite pro throws with accuracy and touch. Although he doesn't have exceptional arm strength, he throws the ball with enough zip to squeeze it into tight windows. His timing, anticipation and ball placement are all extraordinary. He's also shown the patience to string together completions of all varieties to exploit open areas in coverage.
Luck isn't just a drop-back passer, though. He has the athleticism to maneuver outside of the pocket on bootlegs and rollouts. His ability to move is underrated and defenders have to account for him making plays with his feet.
Luck's physical tools are only surpassed by his football intelligence. He's comfortable running the game from the line of scrimmage, which has led Stanford to utilize the no-huddle. He calls plays with little assistance from the sideline and the fact that he usually makes the right call indicates his mastery of their system. With few college quarterbacks able to handle the responsibility of directing the offense at that level, Luck continues to separate from the competition.
While Oregon's LaMichael James* has special skills, there are concerns. Scouts will have questions about his size, durability and schematic fit. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, he is much lighter than most feature backs and his frail frame could lead to numerous injuries moving forward. He simply lacks the size to handle the punishment of being given a heavy workload.
In looking at his spectacular performance against Cal, James' speed and explosiveness stood out every time he touched the ball. He gets up to top speed within a few steps and his burst allows him to get through holes prior to defenders filling the gap. That makes him dangerous in the open field and part of the reason why he has surpassed 200 yards rushing in three straight games.
That kind of production obviously opens eyes, but there are questions about his numbers being a byproduct of playing in a spread offense. The lateral nature of the zone-read makes it difficult to forecast how James would assimilate to a downhill running game. Reading blocks and anticipating holes from the I-formation demands better vision and agility, skills it might take James time to develop.
Lamar Miller* is the next great Miami running back. The program has produced the likes of Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, and Miller is proving he belongs with that group. The redshirt sophomore has five straight 100-yard rushing games, averages nearly seven yards a carry and has five rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are great, but Miller's display of skill is what really caught my eye as an evaluator.
Miller is a smooth runner with speed, quickness and burst. He accelerates through traffic and his vision allows him to find creases against over-aggressive defenses. At 5-10, 212 pounds, Miller also shows the strength to run through tackles. His ability to bang and slither through holes is reminiscent of Portis in his prime.
Word on the street
The lack of cornerbacks with prototypical size and speed has sent the stock of Montana's Trumaine Johnson soaring. At 6-2, 210 pounds, he has the length scouts want in cover corners and his ability to excel in press or shadow coverage makes him a good fit in most systems. According to an NFC scout who recently paid a visit to Missoula, Johnson has "rare physical tools" and he should be one of the first corners drafted based on his size, speed and potential.
» Tony Jefferson* and Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, DBs: Jefferson is quietly developing a reputation as a ball hawk. The sophomore had a pick in the blowout win over Texas, giving him four over the past two games, and provided a glimpse of his potential. Fleming also put on a show with 13 tackles, two stops for loss and a forced fumble that he returned for a score. His all-around performance set the tone for an Oklahoma defense that finished with three defensive touchdowns.
» Sammy Watkins*, Clemson, WR: Watkins might be the most explosive freshman pass-catcher in the country. He has topped the 100-yard receiving mark in three of his past four games, including his seven-catch, 152-yard output against Boston College. His speed, athleticism and ball skills make him nearly indefensible in one-on-one matchups. He's quickly becoming the Tigers' No. 1 weapon.
» Michael Dyer*, Auburn, RB: He didn't spark his team to a win over SEC rival Arkansas, but he went over 100 yards rushing for the fourth time this season. His 21-carry, 112-yard effort showcased the speed, quickness and power that makes him one of the most dangerous runners in the conference.
» Jeff Demps, Florida, RB: He didn't gain a single yard on two carries against LSU. This is the second straight week he has failed to get going against a highly touted defense, which raises serious concerns about whether he can develop into a key contributor as a pro.
» Kheeston Randall, Texas, DT: A major factor in Oklahoma's drubbing of Texas was its inability to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback. Randall, who finished with just one tackle, failed to dominate at the line of scrimmage and continued to provide little as a pass rusher. For a player held in high regard prior to the season, his disappointing numbers will make evaluators re-check their notes before submitting a high grade.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.