With the top senior quarterbacks, Cullen Harper, Curtis Painter and Hunter Cantwell off to suspect starts, the attention is shifting towards the potential underclassmen who may forego their senior year for the NFL Draft. A lot of talk surrounds Georgia’s Matthew Stafford and Florida’s Tim Tebow, whose teams were upset over the weekend, but a player who’s emerging as the top junior QB in the nation is Kansas State’s Josh Freeman. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Freeman draws comparisons to Daunte Culpepper when he starred at Central Florida. Through four games this season, including Saturday’s outstanding performance against Louisiana-Lafayette where he completed 75-percent of his passes (21-of-28) for 275 yards and three touchdowns, Freeman has completed 67-percent of his passes for 1,105 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Freeman has shown great poise and precision during the Wildcats 3 – 1 start, but the success they’ve achieved has come at the expense of an inferior opponent. In Kansas State’s three victories against North Texas, Montana State and Louisiana-Lafayette, Freeman dominated the competition by completing 75.4-percent of his passes; throwing for 792 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In the lone defeat against Louisville, Freeman wasn’t as efficient, completing just 52.4-percent of his passes for 314 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Consistency is a huge factor in a quarterback’s success, and each week you see Freeman taking steps to becoming a better player. The physical tools are there and his upside is limitless. If Freeman decides to enter the draft next April, he will be a first round pick.
I mentioned that the top senior quarterbacks are off to a slow start, but there are two seniors from small schools that are climbing up the charts, Central Arkansas’ Nathan Brown and Central Washington’s Mike Reilly. Prior to the season, I wrote an article listing my top-ten senior QBs, and I had Reilly and Brown ranked ninth and tenth respectively. My observations at the time of the two signal callers differed, but the reality is that they’re very talented.
A former Washington State transfer, Reilly has emerged as a top QB prospect at the Division II level.
AP Photo/Michael Albans
Brown is a gun-slinging fireballer, who’s had questionable decision-making in the past, but appears to have learned from his mistakes and is off to a tremendous start. A premier performer at the Division I-AA level, Brown has completed 71.2-percent of his passes for 1,458 yards, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. This past weekend, Central Arkansas was overmatched when they visited Tulsa losing 62 – 34. But it was a close game at halftime, as Tulsa led 28 – 20. Brown played exceptionally well and had one of his best games of the season in the loss.
Reilly, a former Washington State transfer, is also off to an impressive start. Through five games this season, Reilly has completed 67.1-percent of his passes for 1,560 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Playing at the Division II level, Reilly doesn’t see top-level competition, but that doesn’t take away from his status as an NFL prospect.
The reality of the matter is that since the ascension of Joe Flacco a year ago, more focus has been placed on small school quarterback prospects. Teams are always searching for that diamond in the rough, and Brown and Reilly are two players that will receive plenty of attention the remainder of the season and during the draft process.
It’s well known that Penn State wide receiver Derrick Williams has the talent to be one of the best in the nation, and on Saturday night, he demonstrated how dynamic he can be. In a whiteout setting at Beaver Stadium, Williams became the first player to score touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning in the same game since Joe Paterno’s been head coach. I profiled Williams in a Head 2 Head feature during Penn State’s Week 2 matchup against Oregon State and detailed his attributes: Williams is an explosive athlete who has tremendous ability anytime he has the ball. He’s quick off the line, reaches top speed instantly and has an outstanding burst in the open field. He has excellent body control and adjusts well to vertical throws. He’s a dynamic return specialist who has great vision and cut back ability that allows him to reach paydirt. There’s no question that Williams will be selected in next year’s draft, and if he continues to show his versatility on offense and special teams, it’s likely he could elevate his value into the second round.
I think it’s safe to say that college football is the most unpredictable happening in sports. Even if you think you know what’s going to happen, you don’t. There were a lot of upsets over the weekend, but the one that caught my attention was Michigan’s dramatic 27 – 25 comeback victory. Michigan was down 19 – 0 at halftime, but they stormed out in the second half and scored 27 unanswered points. Wisconsin had a chance to win at the end when they scored a touchdown with just 19 seconds remaining, but they missed the two-point conversion that would have tied the game. Overshadowing a great contest was the play of Michigan defensive end, junior Brandon Graham. At 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, Graham is a beast off the edge and is on his way to eclipsing his 8.5 sack performance from a year ago. Entering the game against Wisconsin, Graham had 13 tackles, 6.5 for a loss and two sacks. On Saturday, Graham added to that total in a big way; he had six tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. If Graham continues his ascension and stays consistent, he will have a tough decision to make at season’s end. Even if Graham has a breakout, double-digit sack season and leads the country in the category, he would benefit from another year in college to develop his already impressive skills.
Another major upset this past weekend was Ole Miss’ surprising 31 – 30 victory over No. 4 Florida. It was a great game for Ole Miss, but it was also another step in the right direction for last year’s SEC sack leader (10 sacks) Greg Hardy. Hardy, who missed the first three games of the season due to a foot injury, recorded a sack in his season debut against Vanderbilt on September 20th, and on Saturday, he obtained 1.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hardy is another underclassman who will be tempted by the notion of turning pro after this season. When Hardy is healthy, he’s one of the best pass rushers in the nation. He’s a big, rangy defender who can alter a game by his mere presence. He’s extremely quick off the line and uses his athleticism and wingspan to separate from the opposition to create havoc in the backfield. He plays with a high motor and never gives up on a play. He’s active in pursuit and changes direction fluidly. Hardy is a freak on the field and will be a first round pick if he declares for the draft.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.