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Insider

Where do top Heisman candidates stand?

9/18/2012

The latest edition of ESPN.com's Heisman Watch has been posted, and it's sure to spark debate among college football fans.

The list is also of interest to scouts, though, because most of the players on the list will get a chance to play in the NFL one day. With that in mind, let's take a look at where each player stands in terms of the draft.

It's important to note that, at this point, Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded only seniors and those draft-eligible underclassmen who seem likely to declare for the 2013 draft.

I've included blurbs on the other underclassmen on the list, but they have not received full evaluations or official draft grades. Players are listed in order of their standing in the current Heisman Watch.

West Virginia QB Geno Smith
(Scouts Inc. grade: 89)

Marshall and James Madison aren't exactly the 1986 Bears, so it's important to keep Smith's strong start (9 TD passes, 9 incompletions in two games) in perspective. Still, Smith (6-foot-2¾, 208 pounds) appears to be in complete control in his second year of running coach Dana Holgorsen's high-octane attack.

He has shown excellent accuracy, is poised in the pocket and takes care of the football. In addition, he appears to be making strides in terms of downfield touch and accuracy. Smith is working his way toward a solid first-round grade.

Oregon RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas (No grade)

There's a lot to like about the explosiveness and versatility Thomas shows. He is a threat to go the distance on running plays, after the catch and in the return game. The sophomore is undersized, though, and doesn't project as an every-down back in the NFL. Also, his slight frame (5-9, 176) raises concerns about his ability to handle the physical beating backs and slot receivers take at the next level.

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin (49)

Franklin graded out as a late-fifth- or early-sixth-round pick based on his 2011 film, and he has done about as much as he can to improve his stock so far this season. He has gone more than 200 yards in two of the Bruins' first three games, including an upset win over Nebraska.

He showcased his balance, burst and determination as a runner against the Huskers, and he took a swing pass for a touchdown in that game. There is one stat that pops out as a negative, though: Franklin (5-10, 205) entered his senior season with 506 career carries and has 66 more this season. That kind of workload raises concerns about wear and tear on his body, especially considering his average-sized frame.

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller (No grade)

Miller (6-2, 210) is a strong runner with above-average foot speed. He still has a long way to go in terms of his development as a passer, though. Although he got into a rhythm and flashed the ability to find the open man at times in this past week's win over California, he needs to do a better job with ball placement and touch.

USC QB Matt Barkley (94)

Barkley's Heisman chances and, to a lesser extent, his draft stock took a hit in the Trojans' upset loss to Stanford. He made some poor decisions, throwing two picks, and didn't look comfortable in the pocket. In fairness, his offensive line and overall protection didn't give him much time to go through progressions or space to step into this throws. Some drops from his receivers didn't help, either, so it's important not to panic. Barkley remains the No. 1 overall prospect on the board.

Kansas State QB Collin Klein (39)

Klein is an excellent college quarterback who can pick up tough yards with his feet and make enough big throws to make defenses pay for locking in on the run. He also has prototypical size (6-5¼, 220) for an NFL prospect. So what's with the late-round grade, you ask?

Klein is still developing as a passer, and he needs to continue to show the improved accuracy he has shown so far this season. He also can do a better job of getting through his progressions and using his eyes to manipulate the coverage at times. If he builds on his strong start and continues to make strides in those areas, look for his stock to rise.

Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (No grade)

Bridgewater (6-3, 218) is a true sophomore who ended the 2011 season with a disappointing bowl performance against North Carolina State, but he didn't let that linger into 2012. In fact, he's making better decisions and showing improved accuracy so far. Don't chalk it up to weak Big East competition, either. His short but impressive career includes a win at West Virginia last year, plus wins over North Carolina and Kentucky this year.

Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones (94)

The only defender on this list, Jones' dominating performance against Missouri likely played a role in his getting some votes. Stats are often misleading, but it's tough to overlook nine tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hurries, an interception and two forced fumbles against a tough conference opponent.

Jones (6-2, 242) is nearly impossible to block one-on-one thanks to his first step and overall explosiveness, and his ability to line up outside or inside makes it tougher for offenses to account for him. Just ask the Tigers. He needs to get stronger as a run defender, but he has excellent range and carries a mid-first-round grade thanks to his overall skill set.

USC WR Marqise Lee (No grade)

To put Lee's draft prospects in perspective, consider that he's arguably the best receiver on a team that also includes possible first-round receiver Robert Woods. Sophomore Lee can produce after the catch and take the top off the coverage, and he showed excellent body control on a fourth-down catch that extended the Trojans' final drive against Stanford this past week.

Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor (61)

There are questions about Taylor's top-end speed. He doesn't appear to have the ability to outrun NFL pursuit when he gets a seam, and he's another back whose career workload (521 carries coming into the season) and average frame raise some concerns. On a more positive note, Taylor (5-8.5, 215) is a hard-nosed runner who makes the most of his blocks and fights for every yard he can get. He also can contribute as a receiver, as he showed against the Trojans on Saturday night. Taylor carries a middle-rounds grade.

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd (75)

There were questions coming into the season about Boyd's ability to manage the game and avoid pressing the issue when the big play isn't there, but he has answered them to this point. His only interception so far came on a pass that bounced off his receiver's hands right to a defender.

The fact that receiver Sammy Watkins didn't play the first two games and Boyd's receivers have dropped some passes makes Boyd's start even more impressive. However, Boyd (6-1, 225) will be tested in a big way this week at Florida State, and scouts are eager to see how Boyd responds in a big conference road game.

Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins (No grade)

Hopkins made the most of his chance to shine with Watkins out of the lineup. He has had some drops, but he flashes above-average body control and the ability to make spectacular catches. He could show better balance after the catch, but he can make the first defender miss and has the speed to make defenses pay when he gets a seam.

Hopkins (6-1, 200) is a junior, and we didn't give him a preseason grade, and, at this point, I think he could benefit from another year of college football to sharpen his game. However, it's still early, and he could make enough strides in the course of the season to change my opinion.

South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore (92)

Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-October last season, and the 6-foot 232-pounder hasn't looked quite as light on his feet as he did before the injury. That's to be expected at this point, but it's also worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Keep that in mind when South Carolina faces Georgia, LSU and Florida in October, after Lattimore has more game action under his belt. The good news is Lattimore continues to show above-average instincts and the ability to pick up yards after contact, and his overall skills put him in the first-round mix.

Georgia QB Aaron Murray (77)

Murray is one of those quarterbacks teams will be eager to measure because he appears shorter on film than his listed height of 6-1, with a weight of 212. That lack of height appears to affect his ability to scan the field from within the pocket, and he also needs to do a better job taking care of the football. Still, Murray has the arm talent, foot speed and leadership skills teams look for in a quarterback, which is why he projects as a Day 2 pick at this point.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson (68)

Robinson has rare burst and top-end speed, and his determination and leadership skills are impressive. However, he hasn't done enough to prove he can play quarterback at the next level and we currently evaluate him as a second- or third-round wide receiver prospect.

Robinson (6-foot, 195) will have a chance to showcase his arm this week against a makeshift Notre Dame secondary, though. He passed for more yards and touchdowns against the Fighting Irish than versus any other team last year. Problem is, he also threw three picks and could have been more productive had he been more accurate. He has to make better decisions and show better accuracy if teams are to believe he has a future at quarterback.