South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has a primetime showcase opportunity tonight against Georgia. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Stlouisrams.com Draft Analyst
Mississippi State vs. Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium (Lexington, KY), Saturday 11:21 a.m. SEC Network
DT Josh Boyd, Mississippi State — Last season, the emergence of Eagles first-rounder Fletcher Cox overshadowed Boyd’s (6-3, 300) presence at nose guard, but Boyd has inherited the three-technique, a position he’s better suited for and likely projects to at the next level given his size and athletic movement skills. Boyd, who will be a 24-year-old NFL rookie, has been durable and productive dating back to his high school days when he amassed triple-digit tackle numbers. He shows good initial quickness and the ability to fire off the snap with low pad level, enabling him to beat reach blocks and get into gaps. While he shows active hands (flashes a swim move), he needs to become a more sophisticated fighter and cultivate counters/pass-rush moves in order to accelerate off blocks and become more impactful. Boyd also can do a better job fighting pressure. He lacks a power element, gives ground against double teams and is too easily washed inside when he gets tall. He was pushed around in the fourth quarter against Alabama in 2011 when the Tide ran at will, grinding the clock out. Boyd likely projects best as a slanting, stunting three-technique in a one-gapping, 4-3 front, and how he matches up with Warford will affect his standing.
OG Larry Warford, Kentucky — A three-year starter, Warford (6-3, 343) has a sturdy build with NFL girth and a stout base to anchor inside. He graded out at 87.5 percent last season while posting 34 knockdowns and allowing just one sack. Warford shows good initial quickness for his size and generates movement in the run game. He also has enough flexibility to work his hips and seal defenders. While his effectiveness wanes the further he has to go — struggles to connect with moving targets or come to balance in space — Warford projects as a base-blocking, road grading, phone booth dominator best-suited for a powerful, man-blocking scheme. He has potential to become a first-year NFL starter.
LSU vs. Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Gainesville, FL), Saturday 2:30 p.m. CBS
DT Sharrif Floyd*, Florida — An elite recruit coming out of Pennsylvania, Floyd is living up to the hype. After earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2010, he started the final 11 games at defensive end in Florida’s 3-4 front last season, tallying 46 tackles, 6 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks with a batted pass and a blocked field goal attempt. While he plays a variety of techniques for the Gators, he projects inside, where he’s playing more regularly this season. Floyd is quick, athletic and disruptive, as he’s able to rip under pads and play in gaps or work an edge. He also shows the ability to stack and shed blockers and snare ballcarriers, though he does not hold up against double teams at this stage. While he’s active with his hands, Floyd could stand to play with more pop and power, particularly as a pass rusher. A true junior, Floyd isn’t a finished product, but he possesses clear upside as a penetrating three-technique.
DT Bennie Logan*, LSU — In the shadow of Rams first-rounder
Illinois vs. Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium (Madison, WI), Saturday 2:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN2
ROLB-RDE Michael Buchanan, Illinois — Buchanan was featured in our preseason top 25 prospects and, despite Illinois’ embarrassing 2-3 start, he’s been active, recording 19 tackles, 4 1/2 for loss, 2 1/2 sacks, four batted passes, an interception and a forced fumble. The INT was against Western Michigan when Buchanan spied the quarterback’s drop, tipped the pass in the air and secured the pick, illustrating his athletic ability. While he lacks ideal base strength for defensive end, he possesses intriguing length, disruptive ability and closing speed that project well to a stand-up position in an aggressive 3-4 scheme. Last week against Penn State, he flashed the ability to play and react in space. Illinois’ soft September schedule hasn’t provided many measuring-stick matchups for Buchanan, but run-ins against Wisconsin OLT Ricky Wagner should be telling.
OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin — A third-year starter in a program highly respected for its offensive line prospects, Wagner is a big, fairly athletic tackle with good base strength. He offers versatility to man the left or right side, as he has surprising foot quickness to fan rushers or widen the hole as a run blocker. He also exhibits solid awareness, eyes and reactions. That said, his best chance for sustained success will likely be on the right side in a man-blocking scheme because he does not have elite agility or balance compared to NFL blind-side protectors. Worth noting is the fact that Bob Bostad, who coached the Badgers’ offensive line and coordinated the running game 2007-11, is now on Greg Schiano’s staff in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Bostad’s replacement has already been fired. With that in mind, Wagner is not a polished, finished product. He could stand to clean up his technique, improve his sustain and become a better finisher, but Wagner has starter-caliber physical ability, smarts and toughness.
For Rams fans, a local talent will also be on display when the Illini travel to Madison. U of I’s Terry Hawthorne, a talented cornerback who has defended 16 passes in his last 18 games, starred at East St. Louis (Ill.) High School, where he won a state championship and was prep All-American before choosing Illinois over offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arkansas, among others. Hawthorne does not have “shut-down” ability, but possesses intriguing length, speed and ball skills.
Georgia vs. South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium (Columbia, SC), Saturday 6 p.m., ESPN
RB Marcus Lattimore*, South Carolina vs. Georgia front seven — Highly anticipated games have been sparse in 2012, but Saturday’s primetime matchup of the Bulldogs and Gamecocks — top-10 teams with premium NFL talent — should be appetizing, particularly the prospect of Lattimore running into a stacked UGA front seven. One of the top backs in the land, Lattimore has recovered from a torn ACL in 2011 to carry 92 times for 440 yards (4.8-yard average) and eight touchdowns with 16 catches for 109 yards (6.8) through five games this season. He has excellent size and is an effective inside runner with instincts and vision that enable him to cut decisively, run to daylight and churn through contact with forward lean. While he does not have elite top-end speed and open-field elusiveness, he’s equipped to handle 20 touches per game at the next level.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defensive front includes, most notably, NT John Jenkins, a massive run stuffer with rare size and sheer mass to create pileups inside; Jarvis Jones, an elite pro prospect with stack-and-shed ability (not to mention devastating pass-rush skills); and Alex Ogletree, a highly athletic, rangy inside linebacker who looks the part and could be on the verge of breaking out.
Sleeper of the Week: SL-RB-RS Dri Archer*, Kent State — First name is pronounced “DREE.” Last week, we highlighted West Virginia’s smallish playmaker Tavon Austin (who proceeded to rack up 215 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Baylor). For this week’s sleeper, we magnify a “mighty mite” shredding the opposition on a smaller stage. Listed at 5-8, 175 pounds, Archer compensates with blazing speed first glimpsed at Venice High in Florida, where when he finished second at the state track meet (10.61-second 100 meters) as a senior, his first full year running track.
The diminutive speedster has only gotten faster since, and his speed translates to the football field. A two-stepper, Archer accelerates in a hurry and opens up and turns over a long, fluid stride which enables him to chew up five yards in two strides. Consequently, Archer is able to compress cushion off the line, threaten the field vertically and take it the distance on kickoffs. After he was forced to sit out the 2011 season because of an academic snafu, Archer has burst out of the gate in 2012, pacing the country with 232.8 all-purpose yards per game. He’s averaging 8.7 yards per rush, 17.3 yards per catch and an eye-popping 42.7 yards per kickoff return thanks to a 98-yard score against Towson and a 99-yard score against Ball State. Three factors that could ultimately determine his next-level utility are his hands, lateral agility and durability (dropped two passes and hurt his shoulder against Ball State), but the Flashes use Archer in a variety of ways, including in the slot and out of the backfield. With reported sub-4.4 speed and another 18 months of development ahead of him, it’s easy to see how Archer could be a versatile tool on the next level. In the short term, he’ll feast against the likes of Eastern Michigan, Army and Western Michigan before the Flashes travel to Rutgers on Oct. 27th.