With September in the books and one-third of the college football season complete, College Football 24/7 checks in on some of the top NFL draft prospects in the Southeastern Conference with help and insight from a couple of NFL scouts and personnel experts.
Five that shined
Five that have met high expectations in September:
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It wouldn't be possible for Manziel to surpass expectations, so meeting them is the best the defending Heisman Trophy winner can do. And with a lights-out home performance against Alabama, albeit in a loss, Manziel showed he can carve up any defense. In a 4-1 start for A&M, he's done exactly that. You want accuracy? Manziel has completed 100 of 140 passes for the best completion percentage in the league (71.4). He also leads the SEC in touchdown passes with 14. It's beginning to look like Manziel, at least at the college level, may not have a single bad Saturday in him.
2. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: The best offensive guard in the Southeastern Conference has played like it. He is a devastatingly powerful presence for the inside running game, and surprisingly deft as a pass protector for a 335-pounder. Jackson is rated the No. 6 senior prospect in the nation by NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt, and Jackson's play has supported that ranking. As MSU linebacker Benardrick McKinney told College Football 24/7 at SEC Media Days, "When he gets his hands on you, it's over with."
3. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: The only question about Mosley entering the season was whether he could hold his own against a power-running game, something he didn't have to do in past years while platooning with Nico Johnson at UA's weakside linebacker spot. And while the two best power-rushing attacks on Alabama's schedule still remain ahead -- Arkansas and LSU -- the senior has been impressive enough against the run to maintain his status as one of the nation's top senior prospects. He makes line calls and checks quickly and effectively pre-snap, and the UA coaching staff has named him a player of the week after every game this season. He leads UA with 35 tackles.
4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Despite ever-changing circumstances such as his top wide receiver (Malcolm Mitchell) being lost for the season to an injury and his defense playing inconsistently at best, Murray has been outstanding every week. Murray-led wins over South Carolina and LSU have placed the Bulldogs in the driver's seat in the SEC East. Even in the Bulldogs' only loss, against Clemson, Murray was effective. His 334.5 passing yards per game leads the SEC by a margin of 37 yards.
5. Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M: Matthews' pass-blocking skills can't be measured by sacks allowed, because quarterback Johnny Manziel can avoid sacks almost at will. But TAMU left tackle Matthews and right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi afford Manziel the luxury of knowing both corners of the pocket will be secure. As a run blocker, Matthews can reach linebackers on the second level with outstanding athleticism, and drive-blocks nearly as well. "To nobody's surprise, he is kicking ass," one scout said of the early returns on Matthews' junior season.
Five that surprised
Five that have surpassed expectations in September:
1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: NFL Media analysts Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah both lauded Mettenberger's performance in last week's losing effort against Georgia. Brooks noted his big-game moxy on the road, and Jeremiah reported rave reviews from scouting contacts about his skill set. One scout told College Football 24/7 that Mettenberger has bolstered his NFL draft stock in the last month more than any player in the league. Remember, there were legitimate questions about Mettenberger's makeup and decision-making just a year ago. Those questions are quickly being put to rest.
2. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Two factors conspired to set Matthews up for a backslide in production his senior season: A first-year, transfer quarterback, and the absence of dismissed receiver Chris Boyd on the opposite side of the field. The former threatened the quality of the passes coming his way, the latter accurately foretold heavy double-teaming and safety help. Neither factor has slowed him down, as Matthews has averaged eight catches and more than 100 yards receiving per game. The senior's stock is unquestionably up.
3. HaHa Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama: The Crimson Tide junior drew scouts' attention with his pass-coverage ability as a sophomore last season, especially late in the year, intercepting a pass in both the SEC Championship game and the BCS National Championship game. His raw talent already was highly regarded, but the question entering this season was whether he would take a step forward in run support. According to one scout, Clinton-Dix has been outstanding in that regard. Just as Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell, whom Clinton-Dix flipped on his head (photo, Anniston Star) for no gain on a 4th-and-inches play Saturday night. Clinton-Dix is positioning himself as a prime early-entry candidate.
4. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas: Smith entered the season considered among the more promising pass rushers in college football, but his production to date has helped quell questions about his whether size (6-3, 268) will translate in the NFL. The senior has six sacks already, ranking him seventh in the entire NCAA in sacks per game (1.2). According to one personnel expert, he could be an ideal fit for a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Smith had an assisted sack last week on Texas A&M waterbug quarterback Johnny Manziel, never an easy feat, beginning a six-week schedule stretch that includes most of the best offensive tackles he'll face this season.
5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: After pulling in nearly 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman last year, it's not as if big things weren't expected from Evans this season. But much like Vandy's Matthews, Evans figured to face more bracketed coverage this season without a star counterpart, Ryan Swope, who graduated last year. Instead, Evans has lit up SEC secondaries even more than a year ago, averaging 138.2 yards per game to lead the league. The landmark game was a 279-yard day against No. 1-ranked Alabama. As good as Evans has been, one scout told College Football 24/7 that he may project better as a flex tight end in the NFL than as a receiver, which would allow him to more easily beat safeties and linebackers in coverage than pro cornerbacks.
Five that slipped
Five SEC prospects that didn't meet expectations in September:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Between illness, bone spurs in his foot that will require surgery after the season and offenses scheming away from him, it's been a less-than-stellar start to the season for the nation's top-rated defensive prospect. He's made only two sacks on the year, and at times has clearly been frustrated with not only his production, but that of his teammates as well. Ultimately, it's not likely to affect his status as an elite draft prospect, but the drumbeat waiting for Clowney's production to ignite is only getting louder.
2. Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, Alabama: It looked like little more than a hiccup when Kouandjio was flagged twice for holding in the season opener against Virginia Tech, but his play has been relatively inconsistent ever since, and the Crimson Tide's star left tackle is looking to turn his fortunes around as quickly as possible. One scout told College Football 24/7 that Kouandjio remains one of the top-five tackle prospects in the nation. Like Clowney, perception of his potential remains unshaken for now.
3. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss: Moncrief's season got off to a relatively slow start against Vanderbilt, when he was well-blanketed by standout Vandy cornerback Andre Hal. Since then, he's not been as much of a focal point of the Rebels' offense as many expected. He's one of the top-five receivers in the SEC in terms of raw talent, but he's outside the top 10 in terms of production this season. Thus far, the junior isn't having the kind of season that would prompt an early jump to the NFL.
4. Anthony Johnson, DL, LSU: It's not that Johnson had a bad September -- he didn't. But those that anointed him the next Michael Brockers or Drake Nevis are still waiting for validation. Johnson has only five solo tackles on the year, no sacks, and one quarterback hurry. It hasn't helped Johnson that LSU's pass rush off the edge from ends and linebackers has been less effective this season than last, allowing running backs in pass protection to keep a closer eye on the interior.
5. Ja'Wuan James, OL, Tennessee: The Volunteers' right tackle has been effective enough for the Volunteers, but there are some doubts about how his skill set will translate to the NFL. One scout told College Football 24/7 that James may not have the quickness to remain on the edge in the NFL, and could project better at guard.
Five that arrived
Five SEC prospects that found their way onto the NFL radar in September:
1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks sophomore has blistered the competition this season with a combination of power and speed that put him in the same conversation with the SEC's three other elite backs (T.J. Yeldon, Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill). At 215 pounds, Davis has shown enough strength to break tackles while navigating the defensive front seven, and enough speed to outrun a secondary as a legitimate home-run threat. With Gurley now nursing an ankle sprain and Yeldon running behind a rebuilt offensive line, don't be surprised if Davis leads the league in rushing this season.
2. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU: In only a month, Landry already has more touchdown catches (7) than he did all of last season, and leads the league in that category. He'll likely pass his yardage total from last year against Mississippi State on Saturday, so from a production standpoint, Landry has made quite a splash. He reminded one scout of former Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins, a 2012 first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers.
3. Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With 4.5 sacks on the year, ranking second in the league, the junior college transfer is well on his way to the magic number of 10. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, Smith is a bit light to play with his hand on the ground in the NFL. But he has another year after this one to add some size if necessary, and he has the requisite length and athleticism to harass the quarterback. Over the next two weeks, Smith sees South Carolina's Corey Robinson and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, two of the biggest challenges he'll face this season.
4. James Franklin, QB, Missouri: The Tigers' senior would have qualified as one to watch in 2011, when he set the Big 12 on its defensive ear as a sophomore, but he completely fell off the NFL radar last year with an injury-plagued and ineffective season. This year, Franklin is steadily working his way back to showing his potential. Arm strength remains the primary question with Franklin, but his size, mobility and decision-making will serve to help his cause. Franklin is averaging 336 yards of total offense per game, just 25 behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
5. Cameron Clear, TE, Texas A&M: The junior college transfer's role in the Texas A&M offense is steadily expanding. He has the size (6-6, 270 pounds) to block effectively for the TAMU rushing attack, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. And while his September as a receiver has only a 1-yard touchdown catch on a play-action pass against Alabama to show for itself, that production belies Clear's athleticism and skills as a receiver. By season's end, look for the junior to be a more consistent weapon for quarterback Johnny Manziel. His NFL time is coming, but more likely in 2015.
Five on the shelf
Five whose seasons never really got started:
1. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia: The Bulldogs' top returning receiver tore an ACL while celebrating a 75-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley in a season-opening loss to Clemson. One of the best pure athletes in the SEC, Mitchell is out for the year, but will be back at Georgia next season.
2. Dominique Easley, DL, Florida: While pivoting to defend a screen pass in practice last week, one of the Gators' top defensive talents tore an ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Easley, a senior defensive tackle, will enter the 2014 NFL Draft rather than apply for a medical redshirt for a fifth college season.
3. Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt: It was disciplinary action, not injury, that cost Boyd his junior season. The 6-4, 210-pound receiver was indefinitely suspended, then dismissed from school, for an accessory-after-the-fact charge in a campus rape. It's unclear if Boyd, who was accused of assisting a cover-up effort, will enter the 2014 draft or catch on with another college next season.
4. Floyd Raven, DB, Texas A&M: One of the more talented safeties in the SEC hasn't played a full game all season. The junior was suspended for the first half of TAMU's opener against Rice, then broke his collarbone in a win over Sam Houston State the next week. He hasn't played since, and it's unclear when he'll return.
5. Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State: The Mississippi State quarterback sustained a concussion against Oklahoma State in the Bulldogs' season opener on Aug. 31, and hasn't played since. Russell is expected back in the MSU lineup this weekend at home against LSU, but with backup Dak Prescott playing well in his absence, it will be interesting to see if both get to play.