Cincinnati QB Tony Pike is a perfect example of how the draft process can be a roller coaster. After stepping into the starting role part of the way through the 2008 season, Pike was very much off the radar heading into this campaign. Early on this year, his efficient play helped his stock soar. However, a few recent developments could bring his stock back to Earth.
The first, and most obvious, issue is the recent injury Pike suffered to his left wrist. It's a recurring problem that concerns NFL scouts. He previously had a plate inserted into his wrist, and now he's having surgery to have that plate realigned. Pike is going to have to undergo extensive medical examinations and physicals for this not to affect his draft value.
The second concern is about his overall mental aptitude for the game. As one scout told me, he has had some academic issues. When you watch him practice, Pike doesn't always pick up things they way you'd like to see. Scouts are concerned coach Brian Kelly does a great job of masking Pike's weaknesses and playing to his strengths, limiting the playbook.
Lastly, Pike will have to prove he is not a product of a QB-friendly system. This is the same question mark guys like Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and even Sam Bradford are dealing with in terms of NFL teams being worried about them knowing what it takes to operate an NFL offense. Like the aforementioned trio, Pike is yet another QB who works primarily out of the shotgun.
Overall, Pike is a very skilled prospect; he's talented enough to come off the board in the first two rounds. Still, taking these factors into account, it wouldn't surprise me if he fell to the third or fourth round when it's all said and done.
• It has been a frustrating season for Florida MLB Brandon Spikes, who recently suffered a strained groin. When healthy, he has played the best football of his career. He has been flying around the field and making great reads, and he has been a physical presence for the Gators' D. Unfortunately, this is the second injury to cost Spikes playing time (the first was tendonitis in his left Achilles).
His health problems certainly are becoming a greater concern now that he has suffered his second injury of the season. Of the two, the Achilles ailment is a bigger concern because it could linger. The biggest concern in his game is his lack of speed, and that injury is something that could bother him throughout his career and limit him more in terms of his change of direction and overall quickness, so NFL teams will take that very much into account.
Spikes still projects as a first-round pick, but he's going to need to test out well in agility drills and in medical examinations during the postseason to maintain that grade.
• The most significant recruiting Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is going to have to do during the offseason might involve keeping the players on the Irish's current roster from bolting early for the NFL. It'll be interesting to see whether there's a domino effect on the offensive side of the ball. WR Golden Tate is emerging as a prospect who could come off the board in the first few rounds. He has shown the quickness, playmaking skills and toughness to contribute as a No. 2 or No. 3 in the NFL. He just turned in another monster game with eight catches, 117 yards and two touchdowns against a really good USC defense. It begs the question: If Tate decides to make the leap to the NFL early, will that affect QB Jimmy Clausen, and vice-versa?
There's still a lot of football left to be played. In the NFL, teams have yet to start putting together draft boards. That said, I think there will be a huge temptation for both Clausen and Tate to leave for the NFL following this season -- especially for Clausen, after watching what happened to Sam Bradford this season. Clausen, however, could really benefit from returning for another season and continuing to develop both mentally and physically as a QB. Although his O-line will be shuffled a bit a year from now, he could return arguably the best set of skill players around any QB in the country -- with Tate, injured WR Michael Floyd, TE Kyle Rudolph and RB Armando Allen.
• In watching this past Saturday's contest between Texas and Oklahoma, one thing that stood out from a scouting prospective was that Oklahoma OT Trent Williams continues to struggle this season. It just doesn't seem that he's as comfortable with his footwork, and he's obviously battling some nagging injuries -- he left the game at least one time that I saw. Williams proved last season that he can be an outstanding RT, and maybe that is his best fit in the NFL. Regardless, he has to improve during the second half of this season in pass protection because he really can't afford for NFL scouts to see much more film like they saw Saturday -- on one play, he was flat-out beat for a sack.
• Speaking of offensive linemen, there's an unusual development going on in this year's class: Many off-the-radar schools are producing the top offensive line prospects. Sure, the top two OTs taken could be OSU's Russell Okung and Williams. However, three of the next five or six linemen could be from Idaho (Mike Iupati), Abilene Christian (Tony Washington) and UMass (Vlad Ducasse). Iupati is a thickly built, 6-foot-5, 330-pounder with long arms and good agility for his size. Washington is a tall, relatively lean OT with great feet, but he needs to improve his overall strength. Duucasse is a massive guard prospect originally from Haiti who is flying up NFL teams' boards because of his combo of size -- 6-5, 328 -- agility and toughness.
Around the Nation
• Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen knows a lot about Florida and Gators' QB Tim Tebow (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 59). Before taking the top job in Starkville, Mullen was the Gators' offensive coordinator. "This is the game of the year in the state of Mississippi," Mullen told the Biloxi Sun-Herald, "and we're expecting to have the whole state behind us to help us win this football game."
• Boise State CB Kyle Wilson (No. 72) returned three punts for touchdowns in the last five games of the 2008 season. This season? Nothing, as his longest punt return is 25 yards. According to KBCI CBS 2 in Boise, Broncos coach Chris Petersen is preaching patience. "Kyle has to continue be patient and be really smart," said Petersen. "That's the one reason we feel so good about putting him back there is that he makes good decisions. We can't let [opposing teams] bait us into doing something that's going to cause a turnover."
• Washington QB Jake Locker (No. 7) is having a stellar junior season, but will he have a senior season in Seattle? That's the question raised in a Seattle P-I blog. "The consensus agreement seems to be that Locker would be the first or second quarterback taken in the 2010 NFL draft. Even if Locker dropped to third or fourth on that list, he'd likely be looking at first-round money. Locker, for his part, is playing the role of a guy more concerned with this season than where he suits up next season.
"It's not something I'm thinking about right now," Locker said of his professional prospects.
• One of the keys to getting the Gophers' offense going is getting WR Eric Decker (No. 32) involved. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune blogged: "Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch told me today he very much wants to get receiver Eric Decker the ball more often and earlier. Decker is clearly a leader and somebody Fisch wants to get going quickly, believing that can only raise the confidence of everyone else on the offense."
• When Florida State travels to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels, the Seminoles will find a tough defense anchored by DT Marvin Austin (No. 14). "North Carolina is a very physical, tough, football team," FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher told the Panama City News Herald. "Usually teams are fast up front or big up front. They're both.
"We're going to have to play with a lot of enthusiasm and concentration because one slip-up against those guys and it can be disastrous. Not just a loss. They have the ability to hit you, sack you, cause turnovers."