I've watched a lot of tape on Texas A&M this week in preparation for the Aggies game against Nebraska, and while the quarterback switch from Jerrod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill has energized the offense it's also important to note that the defense is playing well and is also a big part of A&M's turnaround.
DE/OLB Von Miller has been the leader on that side of the ball. Miller dealt with nagging injuries early in the season but is now healthy and his explosiveness and change-of-direction skills are back to 100 percent.
He is playing with more confidence, showing off his unique athleticism, and people within the program tell me Miller is poised to blow up the NFL combine with a 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range and impressive strength and agility in drills.
Miller is a good bet to transition to strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, though at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds he might be too small to fit in that role for some NFL teams. However, his physical tools and athleticism will be enough to get him on the field and make him a productive pro, and Miller is in the process of solidifying his current mid-to-late first-round grade.
Aggies junior CB Coryell Judie has also burst on the scene in recent weeks, intercepting two passes over the Aggies' last three games and also becoming an impact kickoff returner. Judie had not returned kicks before the Week 10 win over Oklahoma, but in games against the Sooners and Baylor he returned seven kicks for 279 yards and took two back for touchdowns.
He's been way under the radar to this point but has a contributor on defense the entire season, and his newfound versatility will at the very least get him on the radar as a 2012 prospect to watch.
As for Tannehill, he's also a junior but his size (6-4, 219), accuracy and decision making have made him a 2012 developmental prospect worth keeping an eye on. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in four games since taking over the starting job and the Texas A&M offense has been much more efficient under his direction.
Torrey Smith making noise
I've watched some tape of Maryland WR Torrey Smith recently and have been impressed. Smith exploded for seven catches, 157 yards and a touchdown against Virginia, and at 6-1 and 200 pounds with good skills after the catch he has the tools to develop into a solid No. 2 receiver at the next level.
He's a junior and there has not been much buzz about whether he's considering jumping to the NFL, but with 44 catches for 752 yards and eight scores on the year it's likely Smith will be consulting the NFL's underclassman committee after the season to see where he stands.
The wide receiver class is not very deep at the top with Georgia's A.J. Green the clear No. 1 and Alabama's Julio Jones a notch below. There are a bunch of second-to-third round prospects behind them -- Jonathan Baldwin, Ryan Broyles, Greg Little, Jerrel Jernigan, DeVier Posey -- and based on what I've seen Smith has the ability to compete for position within that second tier.
Injury news on Locker, others
I'm interested to see how Washington QB Jake Locker fares this week in his return from a rib injury. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian says Locker has been cleared to play and Locker now has three games to turn around a nightmarish season and build some momentum heading into the draft process.
Locker has been erratic while dealing with nagging injuries and his team's failure to meet expectations, but now that he's back in the lineup after missing the Oregon game scouts want to see the kind of confidence Locker exhibited last season and will be watching his poise in the pocket. He needs to show NFL teams that his time off gave him a chance to digest all that's gone wrong and once again slow the game down.
If Locker can somehow lead Washington to wins against inconsistent UCLA and California teams and a bad Washington State squad, and get the Huskies bowl-eligible in the process, it will go a long way toward proving he can bounce back from adversity and validating his mental toughness. The former No. 1 overall player on our board has certainly damaged his stock this season but there is still time to right the ship.
The injury news isn't as good for a pair of defensive prospects, though.
Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus was the 2009 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and entered this season with a second-round grade, but an early-season back injury that required surgery sidelined Romeus until the Panthers' Week 11 game at Connecticut. Unfortunately, Romeus tore the ACL in his left knee in that game and is now done for the season.
That's two significant injuries in a two-month period, and while Romeus showed good pass-rush skills and strength against the run in '09 it seems unlikely a team will take a chance on him before the third round.
Oklahoma DT Adrian Taylor has had a hard-luck year as well. Taylor suffered a dislocated ankle in last year's Sun Bowl and showed toughness and leadership in returning to the field, and that will be noticed by NFL teams. However, those same teams will notice that he has not been an impact player this season. Taylor had just 12 total tackles and a half-sack before tearing his Achilles tendon last week, and while he won't drop off draft boards altogether he's now a Day 3 prospect.
Issues for cornerbacks
I fell in love with Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling's skill set during preseason film study and based on his 2009 tape he seemed destined to become a first-round pick. Knee, hamstring and ankle injuries have derailed his season, though, and he'll miss the remainder of the year with a fractured ankle.
He has late-first or early-second round tools but it's hard to imagine a team taking him that early in a loaded cornerback class. Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara and Janoris Jenkins are solidifying their first-round grades and players like Brandon Harris, Aaron Williams and Brandon Burton are moving into the first-round conversation, so there might not be room for a player with durability concerns that have affected his play in 2010.
Finally, Texas CB Chykie Brown won't play again this year after breaking his right forearm against Kansas State. Brown has the quickness and athleticism to contribute as a sub-package corner at the next level, though, and while he's not physical against the run or when covering bigger receivers Brown's physical tools should keep him in the third-to-fourth round area.