One of the best things about following college football players year to year is the progression they make. Some become NFL Draft prospects, while others are simply fun players to watch on Saturdays.
For the purposes of what we do here, the concentration is strictly on the former. Few players have shown more progression from 2012 to 2013 as LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The former Georgia transfer spent the offseason overworking his footwork, and it's paying off. Although he was doing it against Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday, Mettenberger was delivering on passes he couldn't a year ago. There was one deep touchdown pass Mettenberger perfectly delivered over his wide receiver's shoulder that few other quarterbacks could do.
Some of Mettenberger's improvements can be attributed to new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. While many remember Cameron for being fired by the Baltimore Ravens during the season in 2012, most forget the work he did with Joe Flacco. Like he did with Flacco, Cameron seems to know Mettenberger's strengths and is catering the passing offense to them. Mettenberger is placing the ball properly on deep throws, working intermediate routes with efficiency and timing comebacks nicely.
The arrow on Mettenberger is firing upward, same as Michigan's Devin Gardner. A weird interception thrown in his own end zone will be the takeaway, but Gardner was electric against Notre Dame. Gardner was 21 of 33 for 294 yard and four touchdowns passing. He added a Heisman-worthy 82 yard and another score on the ground. Beyond the stats, Gardner showed he can go through his reads and place the ball where he wanted.
Those two are among the players who's NFL Draft stock is on the rise. Here are a few more, and some players who didn't help themselves in Week 2 of the college football season.
Kyle Van Noy, outside linebacker, BYU
Any questions about Van Noy's athleticism were answered in BYU's win over Texas. Before the game, Texas head coach Mack Brown said Van Noy is "one of those guys that once you start watching film, you have to know where he is every play. You have to have a plan for him because he's that good." It didn't matter. Texas ran schemed away from Van Noy and he still made a play.
In the third quarter, Van Noy was lined on on the right side of the line. The play worked the opposite direction and Van Noy worked all the way down the line, got into the backfield and sacked Texas quarterback David Ash. Don't think he has enough functional strength? Stuffing a goal line run would show otherwise. The Texas wide receivers clearly were faster and more athletic than BYU's cornerbacks, so it was up to Van Noy to provide a pass rush and disrupt Ash. He did it successfully for much of the game.
By the time the draft comes around in May, teams will be comparing Van Noy with Buffalo's Khalil Mack. The two players are fairly similar as prospects. Last week, Mack had the advantage. This week, it was Van Noy.
Kenny Guitton, quarterback, Ohio State
Can a backup quarterback be an NFL Draft prospect? Of course. Can a backup quarterback be a legit NFL Draft prospect? Typically no, but Guitton isn't a normal backup. Guitton is so beloved by Ohio State coaches and teammates that he's a team captain. When Braxton Miller sprained his MCL against San Diego State, the Buckeyes didn't lose a beat with Guitton. While he's a run-first quarterback, Guitton is the kind of quarterback read option curious teams will target late in the draft.
Cyril Richardson, guard, Baylor
It's probably unwise to be overly impressed by Richardson against an overmatched Buffalo team. After all the Bears romped the Bulls 70-13 in a game that didn't even look that close. But Richardson was a major reason why Baylor was able to total 329 yards rushing on the day. If anyone is looking for this year's version of Larry Warford, it's Richardson. He's a strong blocker and hard to move off the line of scrimmage. He's not going to be a big pulling guard, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a guard better in the phone booth than Richardson.
Michael Schofield, offensive tackle, Michigan
Left tackle Taylor Lewan gets all the attention on the Michigan offensive line, but Schofield deserves some himself. Against Notre Dame Saturday, Schofield was tasked with blocking Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt for much of the game. He often did so alone and won the battle. Schofield, a senior, is listed at 6-foot-7 and 304 pounds and will continue rising up draft boards if he continues putting together games like he had Saturday. An added bonus for Schofield is his history starting at both right tackle and left guard for the Wolverines.
Jeremy Gallon, wide receiver, Michigan
Some will compare him to Victor Cruz while others say he's more Golden Tate. Whichever comparison you prefer, Gallon had a standout game against Notre Dame with eight catches for 184 yards and three scores. Some teams will be turned off by his height (5-foot-8), but he's loaded with quickness and gets open with his footwork. A 61-yard first-quarter touchdown even showed a little better speed than some thought.
Thurston Armbrister, outside linebacker, Miami
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com pointed out Miami's Denzel Perryman, but it was redshirt sophomore Thurston Armbrister who stuck out to me in Miami's win over Florida. Armbrister only had four tackles and a recovered fumble, but he was consistently near the football and did much more than his stat line would suggest. Armbrister looked comfortable dropping in coverage, which Miami asked him to do regularly. That comes a week after he was used on the line against Florida Atlantic.
De'Anthony Thomas, offensive weapon, Oregon
Sometimes in the past, Thomas looked like little more than a pure speed merchant. But this season he looks more complete. He has a filthy change of direction move and has added power to his frame. At one point against Virginia he even flashed a solid stiff arm. A team will have to be creative in how they use Thomas, but already this year he's looking like a much-improved a player, a scary proposition.
Jeff Driskel, quarterback, Florida
In Florida's loss to Miami, Driskel was completely lost in the red zone throwing two interceptions and dropping a fumble. He was always a fringe quarterback prospect, and has done little to help himself. There is athleticism and some size with Driskel, so he can turn things around. But right now, because of his lack of timing and anticipation in the passing game, it's hard to consider him a legitimate quarterback prospect.
Stephen Morris, quarterback, Miami
On Miami's first touchdown in a win against Florida, you saw the two sides of Stephen Morris. On a play inside the 10-yard line, Morris didn't place the ball properly and nearly gave up a pick-six interception. On the next play, Morris zipped the pass to the outside where only his receiver could catch the ball for a touchdown. This series of two plays is what defines Morris. He can be maddeningly inaccurate at times, but at others you can't help marvel at his pure ability. If not for some drops by Florida defensive backs, Morris would have had three interceptions in the game instead of just one. Matt Hinton of the wonderful Football Study Hall wrote up Morris before the Florida game, calling him a "loose cannon." The description was apt.
The guys over at Draft Breakdown have a look at Morris' passing chart. It's not pretty.
Cody Hoffman, wide receiver, BYU
While everyone was talking about the BYU rushing attack, it's best offensive prospect was rarely seeing the ball. Hoffman only had two receptions and didn't get many more targets. His stock won't be down due to his play. But if the Cougars continue to run the ball 72 times as they did Saturday, Hoffman will be depending on an all-star game to boost his draft stock.
Marquise Lee, wide receiver, Southern California
The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, aka the Jerry Rice of Inglewood, was one of many USC players who had a rough go of things against Washington State. While some of his struggles can be attributed to the Trojans' quarterback play, Lee didn't do a lot to help either. On 10 touches (seven receptions, three rushes), had just 24 yards. At some point, Lee has to show he can break a big play on his own accord. He didn't on Saturday.