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College Stock Watch: Griffin III has skills to change game

Associated Press
Baylor's Robert Griffin III has showcased his passing and running skills from the QB position.


 

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.

»Robert Griffin III* will be the next quarterback to revolutionize the game. I remain convinced that the Baylor QB will change the way the game is played on the next level. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Griffin possesses the speed and explosiveness of Michael Vick and the arm strength and pocket presence of Drew Brees. He combines those remarkable athletic traits with a keen football sense that translates into spectacular play on the field.

Griffin has completed 72.9 percent of his passes for 3,572 yards with 33 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also has 550 rushing yards with five scores. Griffin has the arm strength to make all the throws from the pocket. He routinely delivers pinpoint throws on the receiver's proper shoulder, while showing the anticipation to lead pass catchers into open areas. Although he gets sloppy with his fundamentals at times, his superior talent allows him to make accurate throws despite his technical flaws.

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Against Oklahoma, Griffin put all those skills on display in leading the Bears to a stunning upset. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 479 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his ability to deliver with the game hanging in the balance that stood out in my mind. He never appeared rattled, and his impressive poise indicates a leader with the moxie to thrive in critical moments.

Scouts have few concerns about Griffin's physical skills, but there were questions about his ability to beat a superior team after Baylor's lopsided losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. In the win over Oklahoma, Griffin erased those doubts with an unconventional game that blends improvisation with precision playmaking from the pocket. If the Broncos are willing to overhaul their offense to fit the talents of Tim Tebow, imagine what a creative offensive mind will do with a mercurial talent like Griffin.

»USC's Matt Barkley* is benefitting from having great wideouts. The emergence of the USC QB's young receiving corps has made Barkley look like a potential franchise quarterback. That is not intended to diminish his wonderful accomplishments this season, but the fact that Robert Woods* and Marquise Lee* have blossomed into big-time playmakers has keyed Barkley's stellar play during the second half of the season.

Woods, the Trojans' leading receiver with 99 receptions for 1,179 yards and 13 scores, is a refined route runner with size, speed and athleticism. He specializes in wrestling balls away from cornerbacks. For instance, Barkley's 12-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of the Trojans' 38-35 upset of the Ducks on Saturday was the result of Woods winning on a fade route against Oregon's Avery Patterson. Even though Patterson was draped all over him, Woods won the tug of war for possession prior to hitting the ground.

Lee, a freshman with 60 receptions for 919 yards and nine touchdowns, has become the Trojans' big-play threat on the outside. His explosiveness allows him to run past defenders, and Barkley has shown a willingness to throw the ball to him down the field. On Lee's 59-yard score in the first quarter, Barkley launched a high-arcing pass in his direction despite the Oregon defender trailing Lee in hip-pocket position. Although the pass was slightly underthrown, Lee worked back to catch it at its highest point and waltzed into the end zone after shaking the defender at the 10-yard line.

»The Notre Dame-Boston College game provided a glimpse of the two top linebackers in the country. Manti Te'o* of the Irish and Eagles LB Luke Kuechly* are dominant as juniors and considered to be the top inside linebackers in college football.

Te'o, who leads the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles and 4.5 sacks, has impressive instincts. He finds and flows to the ball quickly and is a punishing hitter in the hole. Although he shows an uncanny knack for getting to the quarterback, he's also quite good in coverage. He is active in his drops and closes quickly to receivers in his area. In looking for a flaw in his game, I would point to his struggles taking on blockers in the hole. He doesn't consistently use his hands to ward off potential blockers and he is unable to get away after engagement.

Kuechly, the Eagles' leading tackler with 182 stops, is a productive playmaker in the middle with the kind of instincts coaches covet. He diagnoses plays quickly and is ultra-aggressive attacking the line of scrimmage. At 6-3, 237 pounds, he packs a wallop when playing downhill and can stop runners in their tracks. If I had to point out a potential concern for Kuechly as a pro, it would be his athleticism and coverage. He appears to have limited range and might have issues matching up with tight ends over the middle in man-to-man. This could limit his ability to be a three-down player as a pro.

Word on the street

» Iowa's Reilly Reiff* is emerging as the top offensive tackle in college football. According to an NFC West personnel executive who has seen USC's Matt Kalil*, Stanford's Jonathan Martin* and Reiff, the Iowa standout is more polished and refined than his counterparts. He is also regarded as a more consistent player and still has the potential to improve. With Iowa's reputation for producing fundamentally sound offensive linemen, Reiff could leapfrog the competition.

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» Even though the buzz suggests that Barkley is gaining ground on Luck as the top quarterback prospect, several scouts I've spoken with recently dismiss that notion. They point to Barkley's impressive supporting cast as the catalyst to his strong performance over the past month and used former Trojans QB Matt Leinart as an example of why Barkley's increased production should be kept in perspective. Much like Leinart, Barkley is surrounding by a set of playmakers who should be early-round selections some day, and scouts wonder if he will succeed as a pro with lesser players. Their doubts have led most to rank him significantly behind Luck.

Stock up

» Montee Ball*, Wisconsin, RB: Ball continues to create a buzz in scouting circles with his outstanding production. He added three more touchdowns to the Big Ten single-season touchdown mark (30), while amassing 228 rushing yards on 38 attempts. In addition to posting extraordinary numbers, he displayed impressive elusiveness with his nifty spin move on a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Stock down

» Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State, QB: The Oklahoma State star continues to baffle scouts with his maddeningly inconsistent play in the pocket. While his gaudy numbers (42 of 58 passes for 476 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions) are impressive at first glance, it is his suspect decision-making that worries evaluators. He inexplicably forces throws into traffic and costly turnovers typically result from tips or deflections. If he continues to take unnecessary chances with the ball, it will be hard for scouts to ignore his penchant for poor decisions despite his exceptional arm.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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