Cal WR Keenan Allen is considered one of the top prospects at his position though he's battling an injury. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Washington vs. California at California Memorial Stadium (Berkeley, CA), Friday 8 p.m. ESPN2
WR Keenan Allen*, California vs. CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
Allen’s production has been affected by inconsistent quarterback play, but he still piled up 98 receptions for 1,343 yards (13.7-yard average) and six touchdowns as a sophomore and has 56-676-5 (12.1) in eight games this season. Tall, lean and athletic, Allen (6-3, 210) has strength and quickness to beat the jam before chewing up ground with long, fluid strides. He’s a good route runner who displays body control, a big catching radius and strength after the catch. While Allen lacks elite top-end speed, shows some stiffness in his hips and has limited elusiveness, he fits well in a West Coast system, is capable of working outside or inside and has a ceiling as a productive No. 2 receiver. Just a 20-year-old junior, Allen is also averaging 14.1 yards on punt returns, including a 69-yard muff-turned-touchdown against Southern Utah.
The younger brother of Marcus (Seahawks 2003 first-round pick) and Isaiah Trufant (Jets), Desmond (6-0, 186) has NFL cornerback bloodlines and physical ability that falls somewhere in between his older brothers’. A four-year starter, Desmond has good height and balance, quick feet and the ability to turn and run vertically. He also shows the ability to make athletic plays on the ball, including game-saving interceptions against Eastern Washington in 2011 and Stanford on Oct. 27. That said, Trufant’s career ball production is just average and he hasn’t exhibited the type of instincts or consistency that made Marcus a first-round selection. Further, Trufant has proven himself to be a high, grab-and-drag tackler who shows intermittent physicality defending the run — reticent to spill, inconsistent setting the edge and leaks yards after contact. Trufant played mostly zone coverage prior to this season, but might be most effective in off-man and projects as a No. 2 or No. 3 corner in the pros. Evaluators will get a better sense of Trufant’s man-cover skills after seeing him square off with Allen this weekend and Washington State’s Marquess Wilson on Nov. 23.
Alabama vs. LSU at Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, LA) Saturday 8 p.m. CBS
OT D.J. Fluker*, Alabama vs. DE Barkevious Mingo*, LSU — Fluker looks the part of a massive road grader and is a day trip to run the arc on — has sheer mass and a robust base to stonewall bull rushes. He also plays with heavy-handed, brandishing a jarring punch and grip strength to control defenders. Fluker has big potential as a run blocker — blocks down strongly, widens the hole and has untapped power in his body. While Fluker has good feet for his size, he is not a “dancing bear.” He struggles to mirror smaller, quicker rushers, can be late to cut off linebackers and shows limited lateral agility when required to shift his weight, slide and shut down the inside rush. Additionally, Fluker is still a work in progress technically, as he can play with more consistent leverage and improve his contact balance in order to sustain and finish blocks better. A massive, physical, experienced , short-area mauler, Fluker has clear upside as a right tackle or right guard and likely will pique the interest of teams such as the 49ers, Steelers, Ravens, Bengals or Bears. Saturday’s matchup represents a measuring-stick game, as Fluker will be hard-pressed to subdue Mingo’s edge burst and flexibility.
ILB Kevin Minter*, LSU — Minter thrust himself onto the draft radar with his take-notice performance against Florida on Oct. 6th: 20 tackles, three for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. While he looks smaller than his listed size (6-2, 245), he has good movement skills and knee bend that enable him step downhill quickly and scrape and flow. He also gets depth in his zone drops and is able to run the deep middle. Minter plays and chases hard, showing physicality and playmaking (see safety caused vs. Auburn when he rocked the fullback at the point of attack and swarmed the ballcarrier).
However, he doesn't exhibit top-shelf instincts, diagnostic skills or foot speed, as you catch him taking false steps which cost him on the perimeter. Fundamentally, he can improve taking on/shedding blocks as well as tackling more consistently. He also could learn to better navigate clutter and take more precise angles to the football. That said, the Butkus semifinalist has starter-caliber ability comparable to players drafted in the second/third round range, and could be used inside or on the weak side of a fast-flowing 4-3 or perhaps as a 3-4 weak inside linebacker. A strong performance against Alabama’s loaded offensive front and multidimensional running game would confirm Minter’s legitimacy.
Aside from highlighting Fluker and Minter, the field will be full of NFL draft prospects, including Eddie Lacy (Alabama) and Spencer Ware (LSU), a pair of junior running backs we’ll feature down the road.
CB Dee Milliner*, Alabama — Milliner’s inclusion in our preseason top 25 rankings was projection-based — the junior was the Tide’s third corner last season — but he tallied five tackles and four pass breakups in the primetime season opener against Michigan, proving his talent is real. Since, he’s piled up 13 pass breakups (second nationally) and two interceptions. Millner has the size (6-1, 199), speed, cover skills, ball skills and physicality to be a No. 1 corner at the next level.
OG Chance Warmack, Alabama — Warmack was also featured in our preseason top 25 rankings (lofty praise for an offensive guard), and his play has only solidified his standing as one of the safest bets in the upcoming draft. Experienced and NFL strong, Warmack is one of the most consistent players in the country thanks to his dependable pass protection and impactful run blocking. He projects as a plug-and-play guard with Pro Bowl potential.
NT Jesse Williams, Alabama — Australian-born trench warrior with outstanding weight-room strength and the ability to create pileups inside. Has surprising movement skills and motor and flashes power to push the pocket, but has notched just a half-sack in 20 games for the Tide. Could play as a nose tackle or five-technique
SS Robert Lester, Alabama —Competitive secondary leader with experience and 13 career interceptions, though he is best in zone coverage — has man-coverage limitations. Skill set is somewhere between a free safety and a strong safety, but he has traits to stick. Could stand to improve when required to drop downhill.
C Barrett Jones, Alabama — Decorated, intelligent, four-year starter and team leader with plus intangibles who has played center, guard and tackle. Underpowered positional seal blocker who works his hips and opens running lanes. Likely projects to center in the pros — below-average foot quickness to play outside and questionable anchor strength for guard.
ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama — Physical, two-down, run-stopping, 3-4 inside linebacker with good movement skills, balance and eyes. Scrapes and flows effectively, is a solid tackler and should contribute on special teams.
TE Michael Williams, Alabama — Three-year starter who looks the part of a traditional “Y” tight end — outstanding size to line up inline and scrap with NFL defensive ends. Has just 15 career receptions, but could make a living as a blocker.
We’ve highlighted the Tigers’ premium talent, especially defensive linemen Barkevious, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan, but other notables include:
S Eric Reid* LSU — Has been a bit inconsistent this fall and left some production on the field, but his potential is undeniable. Might not have elite timed speed and flexibility, but plays fast and has size, athleticism, instincts and physicality to become an impact safety at the next level. Versatile safety capable of running the alley, matching tight ends or dropping into the short hole. Made a memorable interception in last season’s regular-season matchup against Alabama and likely will have to leave his imprint on Saturday’s game for the Tigers to score a victory.
CB Tharold Simon*, LSU — With the presence of Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu the last few years (not to mention NFL-caliber safeties), it’s no surprise that Simon has flown under the radar. As a sophomore, Simon fared very well when he was targeted and tallied 12 passes defended, including a pair of interceptions. Has intriguing length to contend with bigger receivers and make plays in the air.
Sleeper of the Week: DE Lavar Edwards, LSU — Keeping with the LSU theme, the Tigers’ “other” defensive end is Edwards, who turns up the heat as a pass rusher. A New Orleans native, Edwards played defensive line, tight end and fullback in high school, and while he wasn’t a blue-chip recruit, he garnered offers from the likes of LSU, Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma. At the time, Edwards was nearly 300 pounds and in need of a college strength and conditioning program, but his high school coached lauded his potential, telling a recruiting website, “…he can do it all. I wish he would get a little meaner. He’s just such a nice kid.”
Years later, Edwards is now leaner and seemingly meaner. Despite entering his senior season with just nine career starts, his athletic, long-armed, 6-5, 258-pound frame and explosive get-off will earn him pro looks. More specifically, his pass-rush potential is what shines through despite his “part-time” reps and limited instincts and rudimentary arsenal. Edwards backs up Mingo and Montgomery and is used as an upfield, pass-rush specialist on throwing downs, be it from the defensive spot or inside when the Tigers deploy a three-man, speed-rushing front. He needs to continue getting stronger in order to convert speed to power, but he’s athletic and flexible, closes on the quarterback and shows in flashes like when he got underneath Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel’s pads and jacked him backwards. Edwards could warrant consideration as a developmental pass rusher.