Here are some of my notes on the earlier games. I will have more notes on the Nevada-Boise State game later since it ended so late. I’ll probably have those up sometime on Saturday afternoon.

Pitt-WVU Notes:

Lindsey, the DE on PITT, looks really good to me. Pretty good speed off the ball, impressive motor so far and he knows how to stay disciplined. Only a junior, but he has replaced Romeus very nicely and has 15 TFL this year. He has also showed some nice hand usage with a couple of nice swim moves to beat either shoulder of the LT he is going up against. He has 10 sacks this year, and has a sack in all but three of his games… he might fly up boards. I need to see more of him.

He looked less impressive on this past series, he wasn’t coming off the edge as quickly… but that might have something to do with their defensive scheme to contain Geno Smith. I will definitely be watching more of him though.

J.T. Thomas of WVU has made a couple of nice plays. He comes off the edge nicely. He had a great speed rush to get a sack and force a fumble and on the very next play he did a good job to get a TFL versus the run. He looks like he has a pretty good motor, some speed off the edge and he knew just what to do to strip the ball out. He’s a senior and he isn’t the biggest guy at about 6’1 or 6’2”, 225 pounds but he’s got special teams potential and if he can add some weight (his frame doesn’t look like he can have much more than 230-240 on it though…) he could be a solid OLB in a 3-4 in my opinion.

I was wondering when Noel Devine was going to show up and make a play and he took a pass out in the flat and he nearly broke it. He turned a dump off pass into a 48 yard reception and got tackled on the three yard line. That is dynamic playmaking at its finest. Before this play WVU had 25 yards of total offense. Devine was not in a lot in this game and he seemed to be cramping up on the sideline, but when he came in he did not do a lot of running up the middle and was used more to get outside to use his speed. He is a quality change of pace prospect, but I worry about him getting nicked up frequently and not being very effective running the ball between the tackles in the NFL.

Geno Smith has looked solid today. He hasn’t made a lot of NFL throws, but he has been incredibly efficient.

Brandon Hogan has had an up and down game. He had an interception early but he got called for a PI later on in the game. He hasn’t been thrown at a lot, #8 has been targeted more, so I haven’t seen much of him. I still need to evaluate how he is in his back-pedal, how well he can turn and run and how much burst he has to break on the ball. It’s just hard to watch DB’s with TV camera angles.

I didn’t pay particular attention to Bruce Irvin in the game today. I’ll look for him when I re-watch the game, but live I didn’t notice much except that I don’t think he will stick at DE in the NFL. He’s a little light for that, but he has some potential as a 3-4 OLB because he has some edge speed.

Auburn-Alabama Notes:

Nick Fairley has looked good and bad thus far. He got downblocked very effectively by the RT of Alabama on their first series but he has also gotten nice penetration. He had a great move to get a sack but then got a celebration penalty (which I thought was questionable at best) which helped extend Alabama’s drive as they converted a 4th and short after the penalty made it more manageable. He has made some plays versus the run though, but I wonder how well he will stand up against double teams a bit. He definitely has the size, but I just haven’t seen him versus doubles enough yet to know. He reminds me a bit of Kevin Williams as far as his size and playing style. If he can anchor versus the run like Kevin Williams as well as dominate blockers and blow up plays in the backfield he is going to be a hot commodity come draft time. Fairley just made another huge play. He beat the RG very badly off the snap to the inside, Ingram tried to step up and block him and Fairley just powered through him and hit McElroy for the sack, forced the fumble and then scrambled back to the ball to recover it. This was on 2nd and goal with Auburn still down 17, so what a huge play it was for Auburn to stay in the game. Fairley has been extremely disruptive all game, he regularly beat his man off the line when he got a one on one match-up and almost demands to be double teamed. I would definitely grade him as a top 15 pick at this point.

Greg McElroy has looked fantastic thus far. That has something to do with Auburn’s secondary, but he has been delivering accurate throws and showing his whole repertoire thus far with nice zip on his short/intermediate throws as well as great touch on some of his other passes including a nice touchdown to Hanks. The most impressive play may have been when Auburn came after him on a blitz on what I believe was a 3rd down, #45 on Auburn, Carter, came completely unblocked and McElroy did a fantastic job of side stepping the rush in the pocket, setting his feet, continuing to look downfield all the while and he delivered a very nice ball to Julio Jones for a big first down. He is really smart, he has shown very nice pocket poise, good accuracy, above-average arm strength and good decision making… Auburn isn’t a very good defense as far as the pass is concerned, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the progression McElroy has made in his second season as a starter.

It’s too bad that McElroy ended up being knocked out of the game from a concussion, but you could definitely tell that he was out of it when he was trying to walk to the sideline. I would have loved to see if he could muster anything on that last drive, because I think he may have been able to make it interesting. Despite the great comeback by Auburn I was still impressed by McElroy in this game. Obviously the game didn’t go Alabama’s way, but McElroy was accurate and showed a lot of pocket poise in this game. I would definitely grade him as a 3rd or 4th round pick right now. I think he has the potential to be a starter in the NFL after some time on the bench.

On the other hand, Cam Newton has looked very bad so far today. He is being bottled up from a rushing standpoint and that is really hindering his overall effectiveness. I thought that this might happen against Alabama because their defense is so well coached that they won’t often allow him to break contain and make big plays as a result of missed tackles. They are too fast and too fundamentally sound as a defense to let him get free and make some of the ridiculous plays he has made thus far this season. He finally put together a scoring drive and capped it off with a very nice throw over the top of the defense that allowed #80 to run under it for a touchdown, but his other completions have been high throws that his receivers have made nice catches on, including two very critical completions to Kodi Burns for first downs. Now Newton has the ball with less than a minute left and he made his second good throw of the game for a nice chunk of yardage. It will be interesting to see if he plays any better in the second half, but it is absolutely laughable that people are talking about him as a 1st round pick at this point. He is nowhere near developed enough to be selected that high. He holds onto the ball far too long when he is contained in the pocket, he doesn’t have much pocket poise at all and he likes to throw off balance and without consistent mechanics. Watching him play compared to McElroy, a very fundamentally sound, poised QB, is like a night and day comparison… I hope he plays better in the second half, but he has so much work to do before he can be a quality NFL QB that if he leaves this year he will need to be on the bench for two, maybe three years and he still may not pan out considering some of the issues he is having with pocket poise, decision making and overall mechanics. He has a tough test ahead of him in the second half because Alabama has been rolling on offense and he needs to throw them back into this game.

Newton’s first pass of the second half was a touchdown, but it was not a particularly good throw. Yes, it was pretty accurate, but it was in the air a while and Mark Barron could have easily made a play on the ball but he played the ball poorly in the air and misjudged it and #81 caught the ball, stayed on his feet and got the rest of the yardage needed for the touchdown. If this safety played this better then it could have been an easy interception.

Newton has led a furious comeback. He has made probably three NFL throws the entire game, so he hasn’t been an impressive passer, but it’s hard to make an argument that anyone in the country is more valuable to his team than Newton is to Auburn. I’m impressed with his resiliency as well because he could have easily packed it in after they started so slow with two or three straight three and outs while Alabama was rolling on offense. The most impressive throw Newton has made in this game came on 4th down and 3 and he threw a very nice pass into a tight window on the sideline to #89 for a key first down to extend the drive. That was a clutch play to be sure. It’ll be interesting to see if he has another big drive left in him, because even though he might not project to the NFL yet he definitely strikes me as a winner. They’ve been in too many close games and won this year that if he wasn’t a winner and wasn’t clutch that I don’t think they would be undefeated.

Julio Jones has been an absolute beast in this game so far. He has close to 200 yards in the first half and he has been making nice catches with his hands and even though he has been targeted repeatedly he has not had a lapse in concentration that could lead to a drop. He has such great size and he uses it so well to shield smaller players from the ball on slants and curls. He also has deep speed and he is tough to bring down after he makes the catch because he runs tough. He has serious NFL potential, and he could be one of those WR’s who starts slow in his career but explodes onto the scene as a 3rd year WR. He has the highest ceiling of any of the WR’s in this draft. Unfortunately in the second half Julio had a couple lapses in concentration that led to drops that he typically has once or twice a game. That is where the risk comes into play, because his ceiling is so high but if he isn’t catching the ball in key situations his value is negated to a degree.

D’onta Hightower was regularly around the ball, and it’s interesting that he is used both at linebacker and also at defensive end in pass rush situations. That speaks to his ability to get after the passer I suppose. But he made some plays versus the run for the majority of the game. I didn’t see how well he did in coverage, but the impression I have is that he isn’t great in pass defense but that he is better versus the run and at rushing the passer. He has great size and he’s a powerful guy, but I just haven’t seen much of him in coverage specifically.

Mark Barron was pretty disappointing in this game. He was talked up as an All-American by the announcers but he didn’t look like one to me. He’s definitely a good hitter and he plays the run pretty well, though I didn’t pay particular attention to how well he tackles. I will need to see him more to evaluate that. However, I was definitely not impressed with him in coverage. He has pretty good range and enough athletic ability to close on passes, but he just doesn’t seem to play the ball well in the air. On one particular play he played the receiver’s body and the receiver managed to go up and catch the ball (which should have been intercepted in my opinion) and he stayed on his feet despite his contact with Barron and ended up scoring. So while he is a good hitter and he’s an athletic safety, I am not impressed with him as a NFL prospect, especially when it comes to coverage.

Mark Ingram was not very impressive to me yesterday either. He’s probably still the top RB in the country in my opinion, but he did not wow me yesterday to be honest. I don’t think he is going to be a terrific NFL RB, but I definitely see him being a productive workhorse back. Will he be a 1,500 yard rusher like some of the recent great backs like AP or Chris Johnson? I personally don’t think so. But 1,000+ yards and 8-10 TD’s is definitely worth a 1st-2nd round selection and that is where I would pick Ingram right now. I don’t think his stock is going to be a top-15 pick after the slow start to the year so as a later 1st rounder or maybe even an early 2nd rounder he would definitely be worth the pick. His advantage over some of the other RB’s in this class is that he is a running back who can carry the load versus other guys like Noel Devine, Demarco Murray, etc. who are more likely to be complementary backs on the next level.

I will have other notes on Oregon-Arizona (some notes, I only saw about half of the game) and more notes on Boise State and Nevada’s epic game from last night. Hopefully you enjoy these!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom