During my film study for this week's Kansas State-Oklahoma matchup, four NFL prospects stood out as players to keep an eye on when the Wildcats and Sooners square off.
Here's what I saw, and what to watch for, from a big-name quarterback and one of his top receivers, as well as a pair of defenders.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones
(Scouts Inc. grade: 84)
I've watched plenty of film on Jones the past two seasons, and the issues that plagued him late last year are still showing up early this season.
Jones (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) struggled mightily with his decision-making in the last five games of 2011 following a season-ending injury to WR Ryan Broyles, and the same concerns are cropping up again. He tried to stick a ball into a tight window between two defenders down the deep middle against Florida A&M, and the ball sailed on him, resulting in an interception.
Jones made two other poor decisions in that game; he got bailed out when a linebacker buzzed underneath a hook route but couldn't make a play on a ball that hit him in the chest, and when his receiver went up to make a play between two defenders on a ball Jones threw up for grabs down the field.
He simply doesn't look sharp right now, and Jones needs to prove to scouts that he can regain some confidence against tougher competition, show some mental toughness and start turning things around in a big game. Jones will tease with his ability to throw lasers into tight windows outside the hashes and drive the ball vertically, but he has to show consistency to go with his potential.
He's currently carrying a mid-second round grade, and a solid performance this week would help him gain some momentum as he looks to move up the board.
Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills (73)
Stills isn't the most explosive receiver on the board and lacks ideal suddenness, but he's a savvy route-runner who knows how to set up defenders and find soft spots in zone coverage. He's also willing to work the middle of the field, and when Jones hung him out to dry a bit against Florida A&M, Stills made a terrific one-handed grab while absorbing a big hit down the middle.
Stills (6-foot, 190) transitions out of breaks well, and he's a decisive runner after the catch who uses good vision to set up blocks and shows some elusiveness in the open field. He could play a big role against a Kansas State secondary that has struggled to limit separation, and playing well against strong competition might help Stills move from the third round into the later part of the second.
Kansas State ILB Arthur Brown (81)
Brown has been a productive player for the Wildcats since transferring from Miami after the 2009 season, and I expect him to play a big role against the Sooners.
He's an instinctive linebacker who reads and reacts quickly, takes on blocks with the proper shoulder and always seems to be around the ball. Brown (6-0.5, 224) is also an above-average athlete who moves well, shows very good range and holds up well in space. He's a reliable tackler who breaks down and takes on ball carriers with leverage, and he holds up well underneath in both man and zone coverage.
He will show up this week when the Sooners spread the field and look to create things in the underneath area, both in the running game and the passing game. Brown has an innate ability to find the ball and get into position, so look for him to be in the middle of the action all day. A strong showing against Oklahoma would help Brown begin to solidify a spot in the second round.
Kansas State CB Nigel Malone (62)
I liked the awareness and short-area burst I saw from Malone during preseason film study, and he showed off his ball skills with two interceptions against Oklahoma last season. That earned Malone a late-third round grade heading into the season, but his tape against Miami earlier this season shows late breaks on balls in front of him and some missed tackles. He looked more like a Day 3 prospect in that game.
I'm interested to see how Malone (5-10⅛, 182) holds up against some bigger wideouts this week. Oklahoma's Trey Metoyer (6-1, 190) and Justin Brown (6-3, 214) will challenge Malone's ability to turn and run downfield before locating and playing the ball. If he holds up well this week, Malone could help keep his stock in the later portion of Day 2.