Like we did last year last year, we will take an in-depth look at some of the most talked-about NFL draft prospects from each week. Below, NFL Draft expert Matt Richner covers Week 3. As the season progresses, we will highlight prospects who are rising up the draft boards along with others who are starting to fall off the radar due to their poor performances.
Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota* (QB, Oregon)
: Few quarterbacks in today's game of college football have the combination of size, speed, accuracy, and intangibles that are seen in Marcus Mariota. At 6'4” and 220 pounds, he has the uncanny ability to read defenses, surveying the field and delivering the ball with deadly accuracy.
A three year starter, Mariota has complete command of the high powered Oregon offense. A number of his top targets moved on to the NFL after last season, and Mariota has stepped up and become the unquestioned leader for the Ducks.
Against a Michigan State defense that finished last season ranked number two in overall defense, giving up an average of 252 yards per game. They were also the third best pass defense last season, allowing only 165 YPG and 12 TD's.
Mariota was under relentless pressure throughout most of the game, of his 28 pass attempts he was under duress on nine attempts and was sacked a total of three times. He finished the game 17-28 for 318 yards with three TD's. On the ground, he was able to pick up some key first downs and had some big runs, finishing the game with nine carries for 42 yards.
Michigan State wanted to keep Mariota in the pocket. He was 14-21 on pass attempts in the pocket, 2-5 on pass attempts when he had to escape to his right, and 1-2 on attempts to his left. He attempted only three pass attempts to the left side of the field during the entire game. It should be examined further as the season continues if this was by design or if Mariota has a tendency to not look to the left.
Below is a breakdown of Marcus Mariota's pass attempts by yards thrown to intended target:
Behind the line of scrimmage
: 5-6, 36 yards, 1 drop, avg. snap-to-pass time was 1.61 sec.
0-9 yards downfield
: 4-10, 38 yards, 1 drop, avg. snap-to-pass time was 3.13 sec.
10-19 yards downfield
: 6-9, 150 yards, 1 TD, 1 drop, avg. snap-to-pass time was 3.06 sec.
20+ yards downfield
: 2-3, 94 yards, 2 TD, avg. snap-to-pass time was 1.97 sec.
Showing quick decision-making skills, Mariota's average snap-to-pass time throughout the game was 2.74 seconds. That is an NFL caliber release time.
Putting the ball in the right spot to allow his receivers the opportunity to pick up extra yards after the catch is crucial to the success of the Oregon offense. Against Michigan State, Mariota was able to give his receivers easy, catchable balls and they were able to gain a total of 192 yards after the catch, with an average of 11.3 YPC.
Mariota was able to stand up to multiple blitz packages and pressure throughout the game. Michigan State brought five or more pass rushers on eight separate occasions. Mariota was 5-8, for 114 yards and 1 TD when going against a loaded defensive box. Mariota was sacked three times, with an average snap-to-sack time of 3.5 seconds.
While he is able to evade pressure and extended plays, Mariota is always looking to make the big play or pick up extra yards with his legs. While he can do this in college, in the NFL he will need to learn to throw the ball away and live to play another down.
Redzone efficiency is one area he will need to improve on this season. Last season, Mariota had 31 completions on 67 passing attempts, a completion percentage of 46.3 percent in the redzone. By comparison, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck had a 76 percent and a 73 percent completion rate in the redzone their final year in college.
His ability to improvise, extend plays and make something out of nothing on almost every play shows why some scouts believe Mariota will be the first quarterback selected in the next NFL Draft. Mariota has the ability to quickly get the ball out of his hands and deliver it with elite accuracy and touch. He still has a few areas to improve, but his talent and skill levels suggest he just might be the top overall selection in next year's NFL draft.
Tyler Lockett (WR, Kansas State):
Lockett, who was an All-American as a returner his freshman season, has developed into a dynamic wide receiver for the Wildcats. He has the speed to quickly get behind defenders and take the top off any defense. Lockett is ranked eighth all-time among active players in all-purpose yards, averaging 123.2 yards per game.
Against Iowa State this past weekend, Lockett put on a dazzling show that produced six receptions for 136 yards. He was targeted 12 times and had 33 yards after the catch. He also had two drops in the game, an issue that has plagued him throughout his college career. An excellent route runner, Lockett caused his opponent to grab him as he broke out of his cut, causing a defensive pass interference penalty.
At 5'11” and 175 pounds, Lockett showed the uncanny ability to make the catch and get down without taking a big hit. He lines up solely on the outside, never in the slot position. He did not have one intended target over the middle of the field, sticking to the sidelines on all of receptions.
Lockett will need to improve his ball security issues and develop into a more sure-handed receiver, but there is no denying the fact that he can be an instant offensive weapon for any NFL team. He has shown that he can make the difficult catches, he just needs to show that he can be a reliable target. He is similar to current Seattle Seahawk, and 2014 second round selection, wide receiver Paul Richardson.
Leonard Williams* (DT, USC):
There was some doubt if Williams would even play this week against Stanford as he sustained an ankle injury leading up to the game. He showed great strength and the ability to overcome a nagging injury playing in over 75% of the defensive snaps for the Trojans.
At 6'5” and 300 pounds, Williams is in all likelihood a future top-10 selection. He has the size, speed and quickness that resembles past top draft selection Gerald McCoy. Williams moves around, lining up at different positions, usually at the three-technique.
Even with his injury, Williams was a disruptive force, registering a sack on Stanford's last drive. His snap-to-sack time was an impressive 2.73 seconds. Facing a power rushing attack, Williams had 15 carries that went to his specific gap, totaling 50 yards, an average of 4.1 yards-per-carry. He had two missed tackles and allowed 19 yards after contact (though 14 of those yards came on one play) with an average of 1.5 yards-after-contact.
Williams does a great job of getting his hands up and disrupting the quarterback's vision and throwing lanes. He understands when he is not going to be able to apply pressure to the QB, and instead steps back and causes a disruption in the quarterback's timing. He already has two pass breakups this season compared to zero last year.
He showed consistent energy throughout the game, tracking down ball carriers from behind and always going after the football. While he battled through an injury, it was evident that Williams is a candidate for a future top-five pick.
Arik Armstead* (DE/DT, Oregon):
A former two sport athlete at the University of Oregon, Armstead was a nationally recruited football and basketball player. At 6'8” and 290 pounds, he moves like a power forward and is one of the more athletic defensive linemen in college football.
With all the talk about Armstead being an incredible athlete, he still has a ways to go to prove that he is an NFL caliber defensive lineman. Last season he only registered 15 tackles in 13 games, but recently quit the basketball team to focus solely on football.
Against Michigan State this past weekend, Armstead had five tackles, one sack and one QB pressure. His snap-to-sack time was 3.97 seconds. On his lone QB pressure, he was able to force the quarterback outside the pocket in 1.48 seconds. Armstead will need to work on getting his hands up and disrupting the opposing quarterback's vision. With his length and reach, he should have more than two career pass breakups.
Armstead is routinely the last defensive lineman out of his stance. While his he has the top end speed to beat his man, his opponent is two or three steps ahead of him and is already set in their stance. Once he engages with his opponent, he will only use his hands and has not shown much outside speed rush or inside rush technique. He just tries to outmuscle his opponent versus beating them with technique and skill.
He can be a liability on run support, Michigan State ran to Armstead's gap responsibility eight times, and gained 28 yards, with an average of 3.5 yards per carry and one touchdown. On the touchdown run, Armstead was manhandled out of his gap, leaving a wide open running lane and Jeremy Langford was able to score untouched.
The potential might be there, but the talent and skill levels need a lot of work. Hopefully with a continued emphasis on football and more experience, Armstead will develop into the player everyone is hoping he can become.
This Week's Top Targets
Todd Gurley* (RB, Georgia):
The top rated running back on my board, Gurley is taking a stand as the top tailback in the country. Having played just one game this season, Gurley is still the number two rated runner in the country. Against Clemson in week one, Gurley had 15 rushing attempts, 198 yards and three touchdowns with an average of 13.2 YPC. He also added a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, finishing the game with 293 all-purpose yards . He will be going up against South Carolina, which has the 76th ranked rush defense surrendering 150 yards-per-game and five rushing touchdowns this season. Gurley should have another big game this week as the Bulldogs look to pick up a road win over the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C.
Danny Shelton (Washington, DT):
Shelton enters the week as the nation's leader in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (7.5). At 6'2” and 340 pounds, he is a monster along the defensive line, showing great stamina and fitness as he rarely gets subbed out during games. Going against Illinois this week, a pass first type of team, the Huskies will need Shelton to increase his sack total. A clog in the middle, look for Illinois to execute some stretch run plays to the outside as to avoid Shelton. Shelton reminds some scouts of former Pittsburgh Steelers' nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Brett Hundley* (UCLA, QB):
Though the Bruins are 2-0 to start the season, their offense failed to show up against Virginia in the first week. Against Memphis and their injury plagued defense, they scored 42 points narrowly beating the Tigers by seven. Hundley made a big jump last week, completing 33 passes on 44 attempts for 396 yards and 3 TD's. He will be facing a Texas team that has given up some big plays in the running game, yet has only allowed 196 passing yards all season. The Longhorns have a number of quality NFL prospects on defense and should prove to an intriguing matchup for Hundley and his teammates. Texas has one of the top rated secondary players in Quandre Diggs. It will be interesting to see if Hundley goes after Diggs or steers clears of him and attacks the other side of the Longhorn defense.
*Denotes draft-eligible junior or redshirt sophomore.