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.*
Everybody knows Stanford has the best quarterback in college football. But it's another position group that is the driving force of the success of Andrew Luck and the Cardinal's offense this season.
Led by Jonathan Martin* and David DeCastro*, Stanford has been mauling defenders at the point of attack and their dominance has allowed the offense to use a balanced approach to carve up its opponents. On most nights, that results in Luck picking apart defenses with pinpoint throws from a clean pocket. He has only been sacked twice in 204 pass attempts, which is a major reason he has been able to connect on over 71 percent of his throws.
While the Cardinal's explosive aerial attack rightfully has garnered headlines, it has been a rugged ground game that drew my eyes to its frontline. Stanford is ranked 17th in rush offense with an average of 219.4 rush yards per game. Their 5.93 yards per carry average ranks fourth in the nation.
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Those numbers are remarkable when considering the fact that Stanford is utilizing a pro-style offensive approach that doesn't rely on gimmicks or trickery in the backfield. The Cardinal feature a zone-based scheme that pits blockers on defenders within their assigned area, and the synchronization of the frontline makes the scheme work. The offense's ability to work to and through defenders in an aggressive manner creates huge seams for runners, which leads to explosive plays for the offense.
In watching Stanford's performance against Washington, it was the combination of aggressiveness and execution that allowed the Cardinal to rack up 446 rushing yards while scoring on its first eight possessions. Stanford completely dominated a talented defensive front that entered the game ranked among the top rush defenses in the country.
Martin and DeCastro particularly were effective blowing their defenders off the ball. Both junior blockers are regarded as the blue chip prospects at their respective positions, and their performance against the Huskies did little to sway that perception. Martin, who was discussed extensively in my column last week, is an athletic blocker with the size, strength and athleticism to maul on the edges. He excels at the sealing the corner on reach blocks and also is adept at working to the second level on the backside of zone runs in the opposite direction.
DeCastro is a rugged blocker with the power to forcefully move defenders off the ball. He is masterful working within tight confines and has enough athleticism to be used on movement blocks. His combination of skills has endeared him to scouts around the league looking for dominant interior blockers.
Next big USC star
USC has another star in the making in WR Robert Woods*. The sophomore receiver quietly has emerged as the top receiver in the Pac-12 and his performance against Notre Dame showcased his remarkable talent as a playmaker.
Woods finished the night with 12 receptions for 119 yards with two touchdowns. It was his third game with 10-plus receptions and the fifth time he has totaled 100-plus receiving yards this season. Those numbers not only speak to his dominance as the Trojans' top receiving option, but also suggest he is worthy of being considered one of the premier pass catchers in the country.
In studying Woods' overall game, the first thing that stands out is his remarkable polish as a route runner. He has a tremendous grasp of the route tree that is advanced well beyond his years of experience. He already understands the subtleties of stemming and utilizing clever head-and-shoulder fakes to set up defenders, which is rare for a second-year player.
Woods also is an exceptional pass catcher with great ball skills. He tracks and adjusts well to errant throws and shows focus while making difficult grabs in traffic. He routinely snags balls with defenders in close proximity over the middle of the field, which also speaks to his courage and toughness.
At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, he isn't the prototypical big, physical receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson, but he plays bigger than his physical dimensions and is one of the most dangerous playmakers with the ball in his hands. He specializes in making tacklers miss in space and possesses the balance to run through contact. This allows the Trojans to get him the ball on an assortment of screens and quick routes designed to get him loose on the perimeter.
USC has a distinguished history of producing some of the top receivers in college football, and Robert Woods is well on his way to being the next great receiver to represent the program.
Word on the street
A prominent quarterback coach who has tutored several of the top quarterbacks in the past few drafts believes Florida State's E.J. Manuel* has the potential to blossom into an all-star at the next level. He stated that Manuel is further along in his development than Cam Newton was at this stage of his career. While he gave Newton the edge in athleticism, he graded Manuel's arm talent as comparable and cited his experience directing the Seminoles' pro-style offense as a significant advantage. With another year to develop his game under the watchful eye of Jimbo Fisher, Manuel could emerge as the top quarterback in college football by the end of the 2012 season.
Seth Doege*, Texas Tech, QB: Doege was sensational leading the Red Raiders to an upset win over Oklahoma. He connected on 33 of 52 passes for 441 yards with four touchdowns. He distributed the ball to 11 different receivers and picked apart the Sooners' defense with an assortment of pinpoint throws of all varieties. More importantly, he made big plays when his team needed it the most and that was ultimately the difference in the game.
Silas Redd*, Penn State, RB: The Nittany Lions' offense has finally found its stride behind the strong running of Redd. He rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games, including his 18-carry, 164-yard output against Northwestern. Redd primarily did most of the damage between the tackles, but also flashed the speed and quickness to get to the edges. With a versatile feature back capable of picking up big yards against any eight-man fronts, Penn State has found an answer to their offensive woes.
Chandler Jones, Syracuse, DE: After missing the Orange's previous five games nursing an injury, Jones celebrated his return with a breakout performance against West Virginia. He recorded two sacks and added six solo stops in helping Syracuse pull off a stunning upset over their Big East rival.
Kawann Short*, Purdue, DT: Short was the most dominant defender on the field in Boilermakers' win over Illinois. The junior defensive tackle recorded two of their five sacks and spent most of the night harassing Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the pocket.
Tyler Lockett*, Kansas State, WR/KR: It is not often that I get the opportunity to tout one of my former teammate's kids as an up-and-comer, but Lockett put on a spectacular showing against Kansas that is worthy of recognition. He tallied five receptions for 110 yards with a touchdown, and returned a kickoff for a score for the second straight week. Given the fact that his father Kevin spent seven seasons in the NFL, Lockett will certainly remain on the radar of scouts for the next few years.
Tevin Washington*, Georgia Tech, QB: Washington has been off the mark during the Yellow Jackets' two-game losing streak. He has thrown three interceptions during that span and completed only 40 percent of his passes. More importantly, he was held to only 36 rush yards on 20 carries, which is the first time he has failed to rush for 100-plus yards in three weeks.
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame, WR: Floyd was limited to only four receptions for 28 yards against USC. He was suffocated by the Trojans' athletic defenders and was a non-factor in the Irish game plan.