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Seeing the best and rating the rest

12/20/2013


With the regular season in the books, the bowl schedule set and Navy beating Army, it's time to take a breath, organize notes and reflect on the 2013 season. I went to seven games this year and saw a number of talented prospects. Here's a look at the top three, three who project as Day 2 picks and three sleepers. As always, draft-eligible underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.

TOP THREE PROSPECTS

Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater* (6-2½, 220)


Bridgewater completed 57 percent of his passes for 288 yards and a touchdown in addition to throwing a pick and muffing a center-quarterback exchange against Connecticut. Not the stat line you would expect from a first-round pick against a struggling pass defense, but the numbers are misleading.

Drops drove down Bridgewater's completion percentage. In fact, his ball placement on short-to-intermediate passes was spot-on for the most part. It's also worth noting that the weather -- 41 degrees with gusting winds -- played a bigger role than decision-making in the interception. He tried to make a touch throw down the right sideline and correctly looked off the safety, which should have created a one-on-one on the outside. The problem is the ball hung in the air just long enough for the safety to recover and make a play. Don't mistake this throw for a weak arm either. The ball cut through the air when he didn't arc it.

Finally, Bridgewater's ability to operate from within the pocket separates him from other quarterbacks, and it stood out in this game. He is a poised pocket passer who knows how to manipulate and attack coverage.

Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan* (6-2, 298)

Jernigan, who is the No. 2 defensive tackle on our board, didn't disappoint against Boston College. The disruptive 3-technique makes up for his below-average size with initial quickness and active hands. That doesn't mean that he can't anchor when he doesn't win with quickness. His low center of gravity makes it tough to get under him, and the way he recovers when he gives ground initially caught my attention.

Even though he didn't get to Eagles QB Chase Rettig, Jernigan relentlessly pursued him, fighting off double-teams and showing above-average balance as he worked upfield.

Michigan OT Taylor Lewan (6-7¼, 314)

Lewan dominated when he flexed his muscle and stayed low in the run game. He blocked linebacker Jefferson Ashiru 10 yards downfield and into the sideline on a second-half play. As far as pass protection goes, he locked on and stayed in front of the Huskies' pass-rushers when he got sound initial hand placement.

On the downside, Lewan came out flat and turned in an uneven overall performance. He often played too high and even got knocked back on one play. His hand placement in pass protection was up and down. He got caught ducking his head and lunging instead of sitting back and delivering a powerful punch in pass protection.

DAY 2 VALUES

Virginia Tech DE James Gayle (6-3⅜, 252)

Boston College exposed some of Gayle's weaknesses. He is on the lighter side for a 4-3 defensive end prospect, so it's no surprise that the Eagles' run-blockers neutralized him when he played high. He is too quick to chase the run as a backside defender and got caught out of position defending Boston College's play-action rollouts. While you like that he plays with an edge, he can do a better job of controlling his emotions than he did in the second half of the game.

It was far from all bad for Gayle, who left it all on the field. He flashes the ability to stack and shed when he stays low as a run defender. He closes well, and though he didn't record a sack, he delivered big hits as a pass-rusher. Finally, he showed 3-4 teams he is athletic enough to open and get to depth when asked to drop.

Connecticut DT Shamar Stephen (6-4⅝, 323)

Time and time again, Stephen caught my attention this year. He is tough to move off the ball with one man and strong enough to occupy double-teams when he keeps his pads down. His ability to stack blockers with one arm and wrap up the ball carrier with the other arm is impressive.

He is still developing as a pass-rusher and can streamline his hand fighting, but he has the potential to develop into a three-down player in the NFL. He is quick enough to beat interior offensive linemen to the point and strong enough to walk them back to the quarterback.

Boston College RB Andre Williams (5-11½, 224)