Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes for Week 6 of the college football season, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' scouting report on the biggest breakout star of the 2017 season.
"Who is Bryce Love?"
It's a question rumbling through the NFL scouting community after the Stanford standout rushed for an FBS-best 1,088 yards in the first five games of the college football season (217.6 yards per game). That's the fourth-most rushing yards through five games by any player in FBS history.
The 5-foot-10, 196-pound runner (school measurements) has risen from relative obscurity as Christian McCaffrey's former backup to become the hottest name on the scouting circuit as the top playmaker for the Cardinal. He's averaging 11.1 yards per carry while running the ball effectively between the tackles and around the corner in a power-based offense that certainly isn't for timid runners.
Based on my study of the all-22 coaches' tape, Love is a slippery back with outstanding speed, quickness and burst. He can go for from zero to 60 in a heartbeat while flashing the top-end speed to take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Although his size would suggest that he works the edges most effectively, Love is a dynamic inside runner with excellent patience, vision and wiggle. He uses a nifty jump cut at the point of attack to get to creases on power runs between the tackles, but he's not a dancer in traffic. He simply makes the first defender miss before getting downhill to get to the second level.
As a sub-200-pound runner, Love isn't a classic power back, but he flashes outstanding strength and body control running through arm tackles at the point of attack. He breaks more tackles than you might expect for a smaller back, and exhibits the kind of toughness that coaches covet in feature backs.
In the passing game, Love is a dangerous weapon due to his speed and playmaking ability. He catches the ball well in the open field and flashes the elusiveness to create big plays in space on screens, swings and checkdowns. He has only 2 catches for 5 yards this season, but I don't view his production in this area as an issue. He's shown on tape that he can be a factor in the passing game and has a career average of 13.5 yards per catch. However, Love needs to continue to work on his route-running skills to become the new-school hybrid who can contribute as a runner or receiver from the slot or out wide. If he can master the nuances of route running, he can rival his predecessor, McCaffrey, as a versatile offensive weapon.
From a critical standpoint, Love needs to work on his blocking in pass protection. He gets knocked around by hard-charging rushers, which leaves the quarterback vulnerable to big hits when the diminutive RB1 is in the game. Love has to show evaluators that he can hold his own in pass pro to earn a top grade as a feature back.
Overall, Love is an intriguing back with the skills and production to entice evaluators looking for a rotational back with big-play potential. If I had to make a player comp for the Stanford RB, I'd liken him to the Bengals' Giovani Bernard. Although some scouts will downgrade Love a bit for his size, his production as a workhorse will squash some of the concerns about his ability to play at the next level. --Bucky Brooks
STATEMENT GAME FOR TOP WR?
If you're an NFL fan looking for your team to make an upgrade at the WR position, you're going to want to tune in for Saturday's Alabama-Texas A&M game. This contest features arguably the best slot receiver (Aggies' Christian Kirk) and the best outside receiver (Tide's Calvin Ridley) in college football.
While they're built differently and play with a little different style, they have two things in common. Both of them have outstanding top speed and they're both incredibly tough.
Of the two players, Kirk will be more relied upon in this game. Alabama has a lot of other options on offense, while Texas A&M doesn't quite have the same firepower, but Kirk will be matched up against the best cover man in the country when he lines up across from the Tide's Minkah Fitzpatrick.
If Kirk finds a way to make a major impact in this game, considering whom he's playing with and whom he's playing against, it would be a strong statement for his draft stock. -- Daniel Jeremiah
STUD OL IN ND PIPELINE
Most NFL scouts have already visited all of their primary schools and they are beginning to circle back around for a second time. They usually visit the top schools in their area at least twice and sometimes three times during the fall. I enjoy chatting with them during this time of the year because they have a good feel for the talent in their part of the country. During one of those conversations, I was told I needed to study Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson. A scout told me Nelson was by far the best player he's studied this fall. While his teammate, Mike McGlinchey, gets most of the attention, Nelson is viewed as the better pro prospect in scouting circles.
I went back and studied two Notre Dame games -- vs. Georgia and Miami (Ohio) -- and came away very impressed. Nelson has an ideal NFL frame (6-5, 330, per school measurements) and he plays with excellent technique, awareness and toughness. He more than held his own against an outstanding UGA defensive line. He has drawn some comparisons to Zack Martin, but he reminds me of David DeCastro coming out of Stanford. Nelson isn't quite as athletic in space as Martin, but he does play with the same finishing mentality. He's a plug-and-play NFL starter and should have a long, successful pro career. -- Daniel Jeremiah
DON'T SLEEP ON 'CANES RUSHER
Prior to the start of the season, some of us in the media dubbed 2017 as the "Year of the QB". In hindsight, maybe we should've labeled the 2017 campaign as the "Year of the RB". Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and Stanford's Bryce Love, whom my podcast partner Bucky Brooks wrote about at the top of this notebook, isn't far behind on most lists. Here's one running back deserving more attention: Miami's Mark Walton.
Walton isn't a big back (listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds) but he has outstanding vision, instincts and balance. He is ultra quick in short areas and he's also a capable receiver out of the backfield. He doesn't have Love's home-run speed but he hits a lot of doubles and triples. The Hurricanes are off to a hot start (3-0) and Walton will be instrumental in the gameplan against rival FSU on Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing who comes out on top when he meets Seminoles stud safety Derwin James in the hole. -- Daniel Jeremiah