Last week, I made mention of Arkansas' Michael Smith, who has been running roughshod over SEC opponents and did so again versus Mississippi on Saturday.
The focus this week is on another outstanding, diminutive back -- West Virginia's Noel Devine. The former high school phenom lived up to all the hype as a freshman, averaging 8.6 yards per carry as the backup to Steve Slaton. Elevated to the role of feature back as a sophomore, he has not disappointed.
Devine has rushed for over 100 yards in four of the Mountaineers' past five games. In their past two games, he has amassed 395 yards on 35 carries. Included was a career-high 207-yard rushing effort against Auburn on Thursday.
His speed through the hole, vision and cutback ability are all off the charts. Although he hasn't been able to make much happen after the catch, he is second on the team with 21 receptions. And despite checking in at just 5-7, 170 pounds, he does show a willingness to give up his body in pass protection.
• Once again on Saturday, I really came away impressed with North Carolina's underrated senior right tackle Garrett Reynolds.
The 6-6½, 310-pounder controlled the defensive end he was working against the entire afternoon, displaying quite a punch as well as excellent feet in pass protection. Reynolds adjusts well to secondary moves, shows excellent awareness and is a finisher. You have to like his rugged approach, which is mandatory in a blue-chip right tackle at the pro level.
You also have to like his bloodlines. He's the nephew of former Tennessee Volunteer and Los Angeles Rams LB Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, who was one of my all-time favorite NFL players and one of the toughest football players you will ever come across.
By the way, the Tar Heels' 6-5½, 302-pound junior left tackle Kyle Jolly also received high grades in the win over Boston College on Saturday.
• With a rich history when it comes to producing topflight linebackers, Penn State has yet another name to add to the list.
I'm referring to 6-1, 229-pound sophomore Navorro Bowman. Versus Ohio State, he was all over the field, finishing with 10 tackles, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. His exceptional speed off the edge enables him to routinely chase down plays from behind. He does a good job of not getting caught up in trash, has a very good nose for the football and makes impact plays on a regular basis.
Bowman's 81 tackles are 30 more than the next closest Nittany Lion. His 10½ tackles for loss rank second on the team. In recent years, the Nittany Lions have sent Paul Posluszny (second round) and Dan Connor (fourth round) to the NFL. Of the three, Bowman clearly possesses the most potential for upside.
He set a school record versus the Cowboys with 226 receiving yards on five catches -- three of which went for touchdowns. Combining impressive physical tools with good natural receiving skills, he's established himself as one of the better young receivers in the Mountain West Conference.
Back in '06, former TCU wideout Cory Rodgers was selected in the fourth round of the draft by the Green Bay Packers. While not the all-around threat that Rodgers was, Young is a more accomplished pass-catcher at similar stages of their respective careers.
On the other side of the football, TCU boasts the nation's premier pass-rusher in junior DE Jerry Hughes.
The 6-2, 248-pound junior has proved to be very difficult to handle off the edge. He leads the nation with 12 sacks and ranks second in tackles for loss (15). Capable of being engulfed by offensive tackles if they can get their hands on him, he relies on speed and relentlessness to get the job done.
• The Boise State/San Jose State game on Friday night gave fans across the country a chance to see a prospect whose stock has steadily increased since the beginning of the season.
I'm talking about SJSU CB Coye Francies. Cited for two penalties in that contest, the former Oregon State Beaver possesses excellent size for the position (6-0¼, 182), impressive overall athletic ability and good man-to-man cover skills.
Last year's team produced a cornerback who would go on to hear his name called in the fourth round of the draft, Dwight Lowery (New York Jets). While not the ball hawk that Lowery was in college, if Francies performs well in the "Post Season," I expect him to be taken off the board in the same vicinity, if not earlier.
Francies wasn't the only senior prospect for the Spartans on whom I was keeping a close eye. The other was DT Jarron Gilbert.
A former DE, Gilbert proved to be unblockable on many occasions against the Broncos. He spent considerable time in their backfield and has been doing the same to opponents throughout the season.
At 6-5½, 280 pounds, he's obviously not a good fit for every team in the pros. But he's certainly worth a look in the latter point of Day 2 of the draft due to his versatility and production (14½ tackles for loss and six sacks through nine games).
• Filling in for the injured Dannell Ellerbe, sophomore MLB Darryl Gamble scored two touchdowns (both of which came on interception returns), as Georgia defeated LSU 52-38.
A starter at strongside linebacker prior to the move inside, Gamble impressed me with the way he read the quarterback and his instincts in coverage. Overall, it was a very impressive showing for Gamble. Along with his big-play ability in pass coverage, he also had a pass pressure that resulted in an interception. He made his presence felt versus the run. And he contributed on special teams.
• One of the bigger surprises that took place in the high school recruiting class of 2008 was when wide receiver DeAndre Brown opted not to attend an SEC school, but rather one in Conference USA.
A native of Mississippi, he signed on the dotted line with the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. While the team has struggled mightily this season, Brown has displayed future star potential. At 6-6, 228 pounds, he presents quite a challenge for college cornerbacks who are often giving up 6 or 7 inches and 40 or more pounds.
Brown uses his large frame very effectively in tight quarters to shield DBs and getting him to the ground once the catch has been made is not an easy task. Far from being just a possession receiver, he's averaging an impressive 16.2 yards per catch (the top mark on the team among players with five or more grabs). He also leads the team in receptions (46) and receiving touchdowns (9). The last time Southern Mississippi had a wide receiver with this type of natural talent was in the early 1980s with Louis Lipps.