Our analysts are constantly talking to their NFL and college sources about players in the college game. In this space each week, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis share some of what NFL folks are discussing in their circles.
The scoop: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is drawing favorable comparisons to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by NFL scouts. A general manager for an AFC team recently raved about Mariota's athleticism, improvisational skills and poise. He said Mariota displays similar traits to the 49ers' QB, which makes him an intriguing option for teams with an innovative offensive coordinator who is willing to adapt and adjust to Mariota's talent. Although the GM noted that Mariota has a noticeably weaker arm than Kaepernick, he doesn't believe his arm talent will be an issue as a pro, saying that his overall athleticism and physical tools make him a possible franchise quarterback.
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The scoop: "I've seen three big-time backs this fall. (Georgia's Todd) Gurley is special. (Wisconsin's Melvin) Gordon is better than any of the runners from the last draft class, and the kid at Indiana (Tevin Coleman) has rare explosiveness." -- AFC team executive
The skinny: Gurley and Gordon were the consensus top running back prospects in college football coming into the season, and nothing they have done to this point has changed anyone's mind. Suspended by Georgia since Oct. 9, Gurley is still the SEC's leading rusher with 773 yards and eight touchdowns. Gordon leads all FBS rushers with a per-game average of 174.3 yards, 4 yards ahead of Coleman, who has really picked up steam in scouting circles. All three players are underclassmen. Notably absent from the executive's short list is the top senior prospect, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. One thing is for sure: The Big Ten might be shut out of the College Football Playoff, but it won't be for a lack of talent at running back.
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The scoop: "Tevin Coleman is quickly playing his way into second-round consideration with his ability not just to run but also catch the football." -- NFC scout
The skinny: This is the second mention of Coleman by an NFL scout this week. Coleman has an FBS-best 1,192 rushing yards (he's played one more game than Gordon) and has caught 17 passes for 140 yards. He's also improved his pass protection, which bodes well for him at the next level if he wants to be considered a three-down back. Even with the improvement in that area, he might be smart to return for his senior season given that Gurley and Gordon are likely to leave early and there's no guarantee he'd even go in the second round.
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The scoop: An AFC team executive likes what he's seeing from Ohio State this season. "After they lost to Virginia Tech, everybody forgot about Ohio State," the exec said. "But their young quarterback (J.T. Barrett) is really starting to play at a high level. They don't have any high draft picks on their roster, but they are really well-coached and I think they could hang with the top SEC teams right now."
The skinny: A couple of interesting things here: High praise for the freshman Barrett and the fact that the Buckeyes lack top-shelf talent. The latter statement is really eye-opening, given that senior DT Michael Bennett is considered one of the top DL prospects in college football. DE Joey Bosa, while just a sophomore, has next-level talent, too. It's also interesting that this executive believes Ohio State belongs with the big boys in the SEC, despite the lack of top NFL talent.
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The skinny: That's about the highest praise a center can receive. Interesting, too, because Auburn's Reese Dismukes entered the season as the near unanimous top prospect at the position, although Grasu was certainly in the conversation.
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The scoop: When the Bednarik Award (best college defensive player) watch list was released in July, TCU linebacker Paul Dawson was not among the 76 players mentioned. He was recently added to the list, but it's not only the college community that is keeping an eye on him; so is the NFL. "The more spread out the game is becoming, the more you need linebackers like him who can cover," said an AFC scout.
The skinny: Dawson's production continues to rise. He's recorded double-digit tackles in each of the past three games. He's always been known as more of a run-and-chase linebacker, and he's doing an even better job of playing in space now. He's become a very intriguing prospect.
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The scoop: Speaking of TCU, quarterback Trevone Boykin has a bright future ahead of him at quarterback. TCU believes that and so does the NFL. "With the way the NFL game is morphing with the college game, his style of play plays right into what the league is looking at right now," said an NFC personnel director.
The skinny: Boykin has put up monster numbers in TCU's revamped offense (fourth nationally in total offense with 369.8 yards per game, plus 17 total TDs) and has inserted himself into the Heisman conversation. Earlier this season he was competing with transfer Matt Joeckel for first-team practice reps at QB and is only a year removed from playing wide receiver. But he is no longer just an athlete playing quarterback. With each game, he's becoming much more of a QB with tremendous athletic ability. He's coming off his first career 400-yard passing game. He will need another year of development, and as a redshirt junior, he has the luxury of doing it in college.