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:*Kevin White* isn't the only prospect at West Virginia. Fellow wide receiver Mario Alford has generated a lot of buzz in scouting circles for his ability to get deep.
The skinny: White has deservedly received a lot of attention -- from opposing defensive backs and media alike -- but Alford hasn't gone unnoticed by opposing coaches and NFL scouts. Texas coach Charlie Strong went out of his way this week to mention Alford in the same sentence with White as the Longhorns prep to defend the dynamic receiving duo. The two receivers are built very differently and have different styles to their games. White (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) is bigger and more powerful, but Alford (5-9, 177) has a knack for taking the top off a defense. He has 48 receptions for 679 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014, and over the last two seasons he has three catches of at least 70 yards, including a 79-yarder to help the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma State two weeks ago.
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The scoop: NFL general manager after watching Oregon QB Marcus Mariota against Stanford: "He's special."
The skinny: Mariota has to be the Heisman front-runner at this point. He's having a phenomenal season, even by his own standards, with 26 TD passes and just two interceptions. His 187.2 rating leads all FBS quarterbacks. On the ground, he's averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has seven rushing touchdowns. His ability to protect the ball separates him from his peers. He has just the two picks this season in 248 attempts, and in three seasons as a starter has just 12 INTs (vs. 89 touchdowns) in 30 attempts short of a thousand. His calmness on the field is a strength, even if some believe his chill behavior off of it makes him a less-than-desirable leader.
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The scoop: In a year where much was expected from UCLA QB Brett Hundley, scouts have expressed disappointment in his play and progression.
The skinny: Hundley revealed this week how he had been trying to please NFL scouts by becoming a more accomplished pocket passer, even though it didn't play to the strengths of his game as a mobile QB. The pressure facing all prospects is intense during their final season, but the presence of "TV scouts" ramps up the internal pressure on a prospect to tweak his game to address perceived concerns by NFL teams. Ultimately, prospects are better served to play to the strengths of their game and allow scouts to figure out whether they fit within their team's respective scheme. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for Hundley, who has vowed to run the football more and do what's best for his team.
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The scoop: "He caught my eye during the Notre Dame game, and I made a note to watch him again later. After last week, I am definitely going to take a closer look." -- NFC scout on Rice DE Zach Patt
The skinny: After three nondescript seasons, Patt made his starting debut in the opener against Notre Dame in which he had six tackles and a sack of Irish QB Everett Golson. Patt has no doubt been helped by playing alongside DT prospect Christian Covington, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep up the production with Covington out several weeks with a knee injury. Patt, himself, missed three games this season with a leg injury, but appears to be at full strength. Last week in a victory against Florida International, he was a one-man wrecking crew with five sacks (second most in Conference USA history) and three forced fumbles. He's a late-bloomer who just now is starting to get on the radar of scouts.
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The skinny: Thanks to the play of Grayson and Higgins, Colorado State is 8-1 this season (its lone loss coming to Boise State in Week 2) and has a chance to be the a non-Power Five team selected to play in a major bowl game. Grayson has fueled the team's rise, showing grit in playing through injuries (shoulder, groin) along the way. Higgins leads the nation in receiving yards (1,280) and TD catches (13), but he's also battling a shoulder injury and might not play this week against Hawaii. He will not be eligible to declare for the draft until after next season.
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The scoop: "Nelson Spruce is a good-looking player. Not sure if he's better suited to outside the numbers or in the slot, but his production is impressive." -- AFC West scout on Colorado's leading receiver
The skinny: Colorado is home to two of college football's most productive wideouts -- Higgins and Spruce. Spruce leads the nation with 90 catches (a school single-season record) after making 13 last week against Washington. He is also fifth in the nation in receiving yards (1,002) and nipping at Higgins' heels for the lead in TD catches (11). The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder will have a decision to make regarding the NFL draft after the season, as he's a redshirt junior.
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The scoop: While Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has compiled impressive takeaway statistics this season (nine INTs and seven forced fumbles), an NFC South scout expressed concerns about his ability to hold up in man coverage against big-bodied receivers. The evaluator pointed to issues that showed up in the Washington State game in late September in which Ekpre-Olomu allowed three TDs and struggled playing the fade ball along the boundary. The scout suggested that Ekpre-Olomu lacked the "fluidity" to play on the outside as an every-down corner in the NFL and is better suited to play as a nickel back. He went on to say Ekpre-Olomu could be a fit in a Tampa-2 system that features a lot of zone concepts with the corners assigned to play cloud coverage in the flats.
The skinny: There were always going to be concerns about Ekpre-Olomu's size (5-9, 185) based on the presence of so many big-bodied receivers dominating the league at the moment. Scouts are always concerned about smallish corners holding up in one-on-one battles on the perimeter and the inability to defend alley-oop passes near the goal line. While the concerns are certainly valid, it is hard to find a hard-nosed corner capable of executing the hit, run and cover principles like Ekpre-Olomu can.
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The scoop: NFL scouts we've spoken with are down on Florida State OT Cameron Erving's development, and the entire FSU offensive line in general.
The skinny: FSU's offensive line might be the nation's most underachieving unit this season. Despite having four senior starters -- all considered draftable, including Erving -- the line has really struggled. Erving has had issues this season with speed rushers (Clemson's Vic Beasley beat him twice) and hasn't been that strong in run-blocking, either. His best game last season was against Clemson, when he shut down Beasley. That could have played into the pre-season hype this year.