Injuries mounting as college season winds down

The scariest injury of the season thus far has to be the brutal fall California junior RB Jahvid Best took while leaping into the end zone last week against Oregon State.

Best was propelled into the air while hurdling a defender at the goal line and landed hard on the back of his head, losing his helmet and appearing to lose consciousness before being carted off the field wearing a neck brace and an oxygen mask.

Most of that medical attention was nothing more than precaution and Best escaped with nothing more than a concussion, but reports indicate it is his second concussion in two weeks and that is reason for NFL teams to be concerned.

Strictly from a talent standpoint Best is one of the most versatile, explosive weapons in the country. He is deadly in space and has the speed to break a big run any time he touches the ball, making him worthy of early-to-mid first round consideration.

However, he is vastly undersized (5-foot-9¾, 198) and given other minor injuries he has dealt with teams are sure to be wary. Running backs have a relatively short shelf life in the NFL and investing so much in an already-injury prone back is a risky proposition.

Add to that the presence of a back with a very similar skill set in Clemson's C.J. Spiller and it won't surprise us if Best falls to the late portion of the first round should he enter the draft.

• Another big-name running back was dealt a blow last weekend when LSU's Charles Scott was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Scott is a big back with good overall strength between the tackles and he has improved his stock with more carries in recent weeks, but a lack of burst and an inability to make defenders miss on a regular basis have held him back overall.

Based on preseason film study and what we've seen this year we do not consider Scott a potential NFL starter, and now that he has suffered a significant injury we rate him no higher than a late-third round prospect. Teammate Keiland Williams is a slightly better pro prospect but neither looks like more than a situational reserve at the next level.

• Injury has also felled Florida State junior QB Christian Ponder for the remainder of the regular season, and in Ponder's case a separated shoulder could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

There had been rumblings that Ponder was considering making the leap to the NFL but since the injury he has said he is "likely" to return for his senior season, and that would be the best thing for him.

Ponder has made progress this season and shows a lot of promise but he is nowhere near NFL-ready. He has a good arm and enough athletic ability to avoid the rush and make things happen with his legs, but there are concerns about the rest of his game.

Ponder's decision-making is questionable and he often takes too many chances with the ball. He also tends to hold the ball too long, does not have ideal size (6-2, 219) and lacks the kind of game experience NFL teams would like to see.

The vast majority of quarterbacks who succeed in the NFL are guys with two or three full seasons under their belt and Ponder would certainly benefit from another year spent with coach Jimbo Fisher to shore up his footwork and overall consistency.

Had Ponder remained healthy and tested the waters he likely would have been a third-round pick, but coming back to Florida State would give him the opportunity to mature mentally and physically, work on his deficiencies and lock down a spot in the second round. At that point he would be in a position to compete early in his career for a backup spot and eventually push for a starting job.

• We had a chance to watch film on Tulane WR Jeremy Williams recently and he is moving up our board. Williams has adequate-to-good size (6-3⅜, 205), soft hands and is a smooth, fluid route-runner.

He suffered a season-ending knee injury five games into the 2008 season and is not as quick in and out of breaks as before the injury, but if Williams can get back to 100 percent and prove to NFL teams his knee is sound he could be a steal in the third or fourth round and eventually become a solid No. 3 receiver who can work the slot and occasionally play on the outside.

• There has been some buzz about the production and promise of Texas A&M junior OLB Von Miller (18.5 TFL, 15.5 sacks), and while we do think the undersized Miller can develop into a rush-linebacker type in the NFL there are concerns about his struggles against top competition.

The biggest example of that shows up on the film of the Aggies' loss to Oklahoma State. Things got ugly when Miller faced off with Cowboys OT Russell Okung, the top offensive lineman on our board. Okung is the kind of lineman Miller will face every week in the NFL and he flat-out dominated Miller in every aspect of the game.

Miller's inability to show a second move after his pass rush was stopped initially and the fact that he was unable to at least hold his ground at the point of attack in the running game exposed him in a big way. He would do well to return to school for his senior season to get stronger and improve his array of pass rush moves.

Around the nation

• Heading into this week's game against South Carolina, Florida coach Urban Meyer praised the Gamecocks' passing game.

"They're very efficient with what they're doing," Meyer told the Palm Beach Post. "They're not running the ball quite as well, but they're throwing it much better. The future is real bright at South Carolina."

Florida could have a little more difficulty than usual rushing the passer this week. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 5) and Jermaine Cunningham (No. 51) have suffered ankle injuries this week, but are expected to play.

• TCU DE/OLB Jerry Hughes (No. 43) presents a challenge for any offensive lineman. However, the Salt Lake Tribune reports there is one Utah lineman who can't wait to test himself against the Lombardi Award finalist.

"Facing Hughes, one of the nation's top sack leaders, will be the toughest challenge (OT Tony) Bergstrom has had to date," according to the the Tribune. "The 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore described it as the 'kind of matchup you dream for. I don't know how much you shine on the offensive line no matter who you go against, but this is kind of the chance of a lifetime right here.'"

• It appears as if USC WR Damian Williams (No. 47) won't be able to play this week because of a high ankle sprain suffered last week against Arizona State, the L.A. Times reports. "It's been tough the last two days just trying to walk," Williams said. "I kind of figured out, like, 'OK, there is a possibility that I might not play,' so that's really tough for me."

Williams said it was too early to rule out his playing against the Cardinal -- "I'm a quick healer," he said -- but high ankle sprains typically take weeks to heal.

• As Penn State's season enters the homestretch there has been speculation about the future of some its better players, especially LB Navorro Bowman (No. 13) and RB Evan Royster (No. 50). Could they be headed to the NFL? Bob Flounders of PennLive.com said the pair should consider bolting.

"Bowman and Royster should at least think about leaving early. Suppose the NFL agrees with [Scouts Inc.'s Todd] McShay. If you're Bowman, how do you say no to first-round money?", writes Founders. "And there's the risk of injury. If Bowman and Royster opt to return and get hurt, they might not be viewed the same by scouts. How much money did Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford lose this year?"