There comes a point in every college football season where the top tier of prospects truly stands out and looks significantly better than all others. That happened in Week 9 of the college football season.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins are unquestionably the best players at their positions. Each showed why on Saturday.
Barr showed his explosive quickness dipping under Oregon star left tackle Tyler Johnstone to sack Marcus Mariota early. Barr had two first half sacks, forcing Oregon to add extra protection. In the third quarter, Barr hustled and recovered a bad snap which helped keep the game tied 14-14. Barr is Von Miller 2.0 without the lingering character issues.
There's not a lot to say about Bridgewater's 344 yard and three touchdowns in Louisville's 34-3 win against South Florida. Brigewater was as consistent as ever completing 25 of 29 passes to all areas of the field.
With Marqise Lee of Southern California hampered by injuries, Watkins has clearly emerged as the top receiver for the 2014 draft. Watkins was targeted 12 times in the first half, catching 10 passes for 127 yards. For the game, he pulled in 14 catches for 163 yards. In the second half, Maryland put coverage over the top to stop Watkins. It worked, but Watkins' first half performance showed his separation speed and hands.
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: Other than scoring a touchdown Saturday against Oregon State, there wasn't much Murphy didn't do. The senior had eight tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a pass defense and a blocked extra point. ESPN commentator Brock Huard, who is as measured as any analyst you'll hear, compared Murphy to JJ Watt. While that may be somewhat overblown, the two have similar skill sets and size. What really stood out was Murphy's first step. He often had the advantage on Beavers blockers because he could beat them to their first move.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State: Hyde's stock is on the rise following three stellar games in which he's run for 464 yards and seven touchdowns on 66 carries. Since coming back from a suspension to start the season, Hyde is running hard and he looks determined to salvage his pro potential. Whereas he previously looked like a sixth- or seventh-round pick, Hyde now looks like he could go in the fourth or fifth. At 242 pounds, he's a fairly nimble runner who can plant a foot in the ground and cut.
Give some credit to Ohio State's offensive line, particularly guard Marcus Hall against Penn State Saturday.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: In a big win against Nebraska, Hageman was disruptive and unarguably the best player on the field. The senior was consistently facing double and triple teams and still getting into the backfield to break the pocket. He had back-to-back sacks in the second quarter, but one was canceled by a personal foul. Blowing up a screen pass on another play was even more impressive. Hageman is a hustle player who could wind up in the first round with a good Senior Bowl.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo: Mack had yet another stellar game on Saturday with 10 tackles, a sack and a highlight reel one-handed interception against Kent State. Mack also forced Kent quarterback Colin Reardon into an intentional grounding penalty and another interception. Mack's acceleration is uncanny it's obvious he's secured a spot in the first round. The only issue left is how high he'll go.
Colt Lyerla, TE: Following Lyerla's drug-related arrest, he may be undraftable at this point. Some team may gamble a late-round pick on Lyerla, but it's possible he'll start his career in the NFL drug program.
Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma: It's unfortunate that Millard's season is over because of a torn ACL. Depending on how he rehabs the injury, Millard may miss the entire offseason workout process. That could get him passed over by players like J.C. Copeland of LSU and Chad Abram of Florida State.
James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State: A concussion kept Wilder out of Florida State's win against North Carolina State, and when he comes back and he may not get many carries upon his return. Junior Karlos Williams looked good on 13 carries for 86 yard and Devonta Freeman had already been Florida State's starter. In six games, Wilder has just 41 carries. The talent is there, but the opportunity may not be.
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