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Draft King Analysis

September 12, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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It was quite the exciting weekend of football action, both pro and college, wasn't it? I'll write more tomorrow about the NFL games once tonight's doubleheader (New England/Miami and Oakland/Denver) is in the books, though there are a number of injuries from yesterday worth noting.

The injury monster hit early and hit hard, as it tends to do in the smash-mouth world of the NFL. Last year, the Colts lost FS Bob Sanders in the first quarter of the first game of the year with a season-ending injury. Every team faces injury problems, even the winners. Remember that the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers lost their starting RB, Ryan Grant, in week one, yet managed to hold on to win the Super Bowl.

But injuries can affect different teams in different ways. Major season-ending injuries of note from yesterday: Chiefs SS Eric Berry (left knee ACL tear), Panthers MLB Jon Beason (left achilles tendon tear), and Chargers K Nate Kaeding (left knee ACL tear). They all look to be heading to injured reserve and thus will be out for the year.

Berry is probably the biggest loss of the bunch since he was so dominant as a rookie and looked primed for another big year for the Chiefs. Beason missed most of the preseason, and Panthers fans looked to finally have their snake-bitten starting LB trio in place, only for Beason to be lost for the year before they could make through the first game of the season. And, for Kaeding, he tore his left ACL on the opening kickoff. It was a brutal double-whammy for Chargers fans: not only did Minnesota's Percy Harvin take the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but Kaeding injured his knee unsuccessfully trying to make a tackle, leaving San Diego to turn to punter Mike Scifres for emergency place-kicking duty.

One injury that isn't confirmed as a season-ender, but which likely will be, is the torn triceps that Steelers right OT Willie Colon sustained in the fourth quarter of yesterday's game in Baltimore. I wish I could tell you which arm sustained the injury, but I've read dozens of stories and articles and message board posts about it, and I've not been able to find any indication on which arm was injured.

Research is my strong suit, so to not be able to find it has been especially maddening for me. This sort of thing happens way too often in sports reporting (not saying which side is hurt) and it drives me crazy. Colon has two arms: it takes ONE WORD to let the reader know which one is injured.

Colon isn't a lock to go on injured reserve, but it appears extremely likely as of right now. Pittsburgh is in a very tough spot with Colon injured and left offensive tackle Jonathan Scott coming off a very disappointing performance against the Ravens. Odds are that they will look to the free agent market, perhaps signing either Flozell Adams or Max Starks, both of whom previously played for the Steelers.

In June 2010, Colon suffered a torn right achilles tendon injury while participating in off-season agility drills, which kept him sidelined for the duration of Pittsburgh's run to the Super Bowl last season. Despite that injury, just after the 2011 lockout ended, Pittsburgh signed Colon to a five-year, $29 million contract (with a reported $6 million signing bonus and a $1.5 million base for 2011), with Colon reportedly passing up a deal worth $3 million more from the Bears to stay in Pittsburgh. Strangely, even the usually outstanding, my go-to source for NFL contract information, doesn't have a breakdown of the 28-year-old Colon's contract as of this writing.

T.Y. Hilton
Miami native T.Y. Hilton is having a great 2011 for FIU. (Icon SMI)
As for the past weekend in college football, week two featured plenty of thrillers. Readers who checked out Draft King were tipped off to keep a close eye on Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton in game one of Friday's double-header, FIU playing on the road against Louisville. Hilton followed up on his strong week one performance against North Texas with an even more impressive showing, making seven catches for 201 yards and two TDs as FIU beat Louisville 24-17 on national TV.

The late game on Friday turned out to be good as well, with Arizona State holding off Missouri in overtime, 27-20. That game left me with mixed emotions about ASU middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He's an exciting playmaker, a 6'3" 250 pound tackling machine who can light up an opposing offense at any given time. He also finds himself out of position at times with overpursuit, and there are questions about his ability to pass defend at a quality NFL level.

There is no doubting Burfict's intensity, desire, and will to win. He'll very likely be a 2012 first-round NFL pick, though he will have to learn to control the fury within himself to avoid racking up personal foul penalties. But, regardless of your thoughts on how Burfict projects to the NFL, he's a fun player to watch and a strong candidate to end up as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

Most of the marquee games on Saturday ended up being thrillers. Auburn and Mississippi State went down to the final possession, with the Tigers pulling yet another escape maneuver by stopping Miss. St. QB Chris Relf on the one-yard line as time expired to squeak out a victory. Georgia and South Carolina had a thriller, one that was actually much better played (in my opinion) than the Notre Dame/Michigan nightcap, with the Gamecocks squeaking out a 45-42 shootout. South Carolina has players in freshman DE Jadeveon Clowney and RB Marcus Lattimore who could be playing in the NFL right now, though under current rules Lattimore is prohibited from early entry into the NFL until 2013 and Clowney can't join the NFL until 2014 at the very earliest.

I can't blame the NFL for working hard to maintain the status quo: NCAA big-time football works as a de facto, FREE minor league system for them. And, while rare players like Clowney and Lattimore (and guys like Mark Ingram after the 2009 season) who are NFL ready are kept out, the system works to prevent talented but still raw players from making the leap too early and ending up on the outside looking in, stuck with the UFL or CFL or Arena Football or something similar at best until possibly getting another shot at the NFL -- if they are fortunate enough for that to happen.

Isaiah Crowell
Crowell made his Georgia debut on 9/3/2011 versus Boise State. (Icon SMI)
To Georgia's credit, despite having almost no depth at running back starting the season, Mark Richt and his staff turned to true freshman RB Isaiah Crowell as their primary ball carrier, and he has responded very well. Crowell graduated from high school in May as a five star recruit, and he has lived up to his top billing big-time, rushing 16 times for 118 yards for a touchdown and receiving two passes for 40 yards and another touchdown on Saturday against South Carolina's very talented defense. The 5'11" 215 pound Crowell is a skilled playmaker who has a very bright future for Georgia, and quite possibly the NFL by 2014 or beyond.

Alabama crushed Penn State in State College on Saturday, winning 27-11 in a game that was already well in hand when the Nittany Lions got a late TD and two-point conversion. The Crimson Tide are absolutely stacked on defense. Read this article to see all of the players on the Crimson Tide's defense who could potentially be drafted in 2012. A quick overview of the positions from Alabama's 3-4 defense who all could be drafted if they all leave for the NFL after the season: NT, OLB, Mike ILB, Jack ILB, CB, FS, SS. And it's not that Alabama is weak at its other positions, but it has young (and extremely skilled) guys in those spots who aren't far enough removed from their high school graduation to be eligible for early entry into the NFL for the 2012 Draft.

My anticipation is that Alabama will crush its regular season competition, have a competitive battle in Atlanta against South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game, and then play in the BCS Championship Game against either Stanford or Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game. Maybe I'm wrong, but mark my words: the Crimson Tide are loaded.

Saturday's evening main event was a battle of two teams that aren't especially elite but which have storied histories: Notre Dame and Michigan. The Big House in Ann Arbor, one of the largest stadiums in North America, finally had lights installed to allow for night games to be played there. The atmosphere, with a sold-out, raucous crowd shaking pom-poms and cheering along with the bass line to "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, was electric.

With several score changes in the final few minutes of the game, play-by-play man Brent Musberger declared it an "instant classic", and it was very exciting. However, that had as much to do with both team's defenses, particular their secondaries, making some huge mistakes. But Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd looked like the NFL-ready star that he is, showing refinement to his game and an ability to use his great size to subtlely but effective put himself between his defender(s) and the incoming pass. On the other side, Michigan QB Denard Robinson showed yet again why he is so much fun to watch play, with a number of "How did he do that?!?" type plays to go with multiple successful efforts made out of what had turned into busted plays for one reason or another.

My friend Jon was at the game, and he described the atmosphere there as unreal -- and he went to plenty of Michigan home games during his time attending the University of Michigan. It made for great television, and again it wasn't so much a well-played game (compared with South Carolina and Georgia) as it was exciting... but there's something to be said for exciting football on any level.

One under-the-radar game with plenty of top-tier talent was North Carolina's 24-22 home win over Rutgers. Scarlet Knight WR Mohamed Sanu, who has shown flashes of brilliance but a lack of consistency, made 13 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown, improving his draft stock a bit. He'll need more performances like that as the season grinds on to be considered among the top level of the second-tier receivers below top-tier prospects South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery and Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon.

I'll have more later this week about this upcoming weekend's NCAA games. The big game for the weekend is Oklahoma at Florida State, which will be an intense nighttime matchup in Tallahassee. Oklahoma OLB Travis Lewis, who is recovering from a broken big toe on his left foot, wrote on Twitter earlier today that he won't be playing in Saturday's game with Florida State. Lewis, a redshirt projected as a 2012 second-round pick as a 4-3 OLB, is widely considered to be Oklahoma's best defensive player, and it's a blow to the Sooners that they won't have them when they clash with the Seminoles on Saturday night.


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