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.*
Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict* is a young Ray Lewis. That's lofty praise, but the third-year junior is a talent with a penchant for delivering teeth-rattling shots. His intimidating presence puts fear in the hearts of opponents and sets the tone for an emerging defense.
While his knockout shots have made him an Internet sensation, it has been his skills that have put him on scouts' radar. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Burfict is a throwback linebacker with strength and power. He excels at controlling the tackle-to-tackle box and is a dominating force against the run. He violently attacks lead blockers in the hole and has a knack for relocating the ball when runners squirt free. Even though his technique isn't always textbook, his desire for getting to the ball results in impact plays.
Burfict is equally impressive as a pass defender. He shows natural instincts and awareness for identifying receivers in his area. He also has a keen understanding of route recognition and quickly plasters to his assigned receiver in zone. His vision and anticipation often lead to collisions with receivers, which result in drops or deflections.
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Against USC, Burfict demonstrated how those traits could also produce turnovers. On second-and-8 with the Trojans inside the red zone, Burfict picked off Matt Barkley's floater on a wide receiver screen. What made the play so remarkable was the fact that he initially started to rush the quarterback, but sensed the screen developing behind him and had the wherewithal to get into the passing lane.
In an earlier outing, Burfict used those same instincts to produce three sacks against UC-Davis. His timing and effort overwhelmed the point of attack and showcased his versatility.
With scouts and coaches on the hunt for difference-makers, Burfict's all-around game has started to create buzz.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III* might be the best player in the Big 12. The conference features Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, but Griffin has been absolutely sensational so far.
The junior has completed 85.4 percent of his passes for 962 yards for 13 touchdowns and no picks. He has topped the 300-yard mark in two of three games, including a 338-yard performance against Rice that included six total touchdowns.
He has picked apart defenses with precise throws. From quick-rhythm screens to high-arcing deep balls, Griffin has shown the full repertoire. He also has excellent poise, patience and awareness. His timely delivery and ball placement has forced opponents to defend more than an extraordinary athlete in a devastating spread offense.
With future dates against the likes of Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming, Griffin will get the opportunity to showcase his diverse game on the big stage. If he can continue to direct Baylor's offense with the same efficiency, he will not only make a strong case as the best player in the conference but in college football.
Word on the street
» Oklahoma's Landry Jones* might not be a lock to remain the top signal-caller in the 2013 draft class according to an NFC scout. Although the scout raved about Jones' arm strength, he still has reservations about the quarterback's anticipation, awareness and decision-making. He questioned Jones' poise under pressure and wondered about his game translating well to the pros. The scout went on to dismiss the comparison between Jones and his predecessor, Sam Bradford, saying Jones is not nearly as polished.
» A cornerback might not be selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, according to a high-ranking NFC official. He cited the small stature and questionable measurables of some of the top-rated corners in this year's class. North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins (5-10, 182) and Nebraska's Alfonso Dennard (5-10, 205) fall below the ideal height-weight standard, while prototypical corners like Texas A&M's Coryell Judie and Virginia's Chase Minnifield lack the overall skill to clearly carry first-round grades.
Best running back prospects
Draft guru Gil Brandt is keeping his eye on the next crop of young talent trying to make the transition to the NFL. Here's his list of the top senior running back prospects.
Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
Doug Martin, Boise State
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Dan Herron, Ohio State
Brandon Bolden, Mississippi
Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
» Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State, QB: Weeden put on an amazing show against Texas A&M. He completed 47 of 60 passes for 438 yards with two touchdowns. He distributed the ball to 11 different receivers while rallying his team back from a 17-point halftime deficit. He displayed patience by stringing together completions, showing his poise is vastly improved from earlier in the season.
» Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati, RB: His all-around showing against North Carolina State should cement his status as one of the top running backs in the 2012 class. With 191 total yards from scrimmage and two scores, he displayed outstanding speed, quickness and vision. His ability to make nifty cuts at the line of scrimmage resulted in several big runs when holes appeared clogged initially. Pead also has good hands out of the backfield, which is another thing scouts like about his game.
» T.J. Graham, North Carolina State, WR: Graham looked spectacular against Cincinnati, demonstrating his speed and burst. He finished with seven receptions for 176 yards and two scores, including an 87-yard catch-and-run that left defenders in the dust. As a track standout with return skills, Graham was certainly on scouts' radar as a developmental prospect. However, his rapid development as a receiver could vault him up draft boards.
» Marquis Maze, Alabama, WR/KR: The diminutive playmaker (5-10, 180) continues to make big plays as a receiver and returner. Against Arkansas, he caught five passes for 40 yards and added an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. Although he lacks the speed and explosiveness of some of his peers, Maze's return skills and refined game makes him a potential No.3 receiver at the next level.
Ryan Tannehill and Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M, QB/RB: The dynamic duo didn't perform well in a critical tilt against Oklahoma State. Tannehill passed for 309 yards, but had three costly interceptions that allowed the Cowboys to rally. Gray's 100-yard rushing streak was snapped at nine games, and his ineffectiveness limited the Aggies' choices on offense.
Vick Ballard, Mississippi State, RB: Ballard generated buzz as one of the top senior runners based on strong outings vs. Memphis and Auburn, but his disappointing performance against Louisiana Tech was his second consecutive game with fewer than 70 rushing yards. Although his rugged running style is conducive to the pro game, his inability to produce against inferior competition will certainly raise some eyebrows in scouting circles.