Oregon's Dickson coming on strong

The 2010 tight end class took some hits early on with season-ending injuries to Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, but a pair of Pac-10 tight ends have proven that there are still some promising playmakers to be had.

The most impressive performance of Week 5 came from Oregon's Ed Dickson, who caught 11 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns in his team's rout of California, and in the process validated some important parts of his game. Dickson has enough speed to stretch the middle of the field and showed the ability to make the acrobatic catch on poorly-thrown balls as well as the elusiveness to make some defenders miss after the catch.

Dickson is a bit undersized (6-foot-3.75, 245 pounds) and projects as and H-back in the NFL, and one of the knocks on him is that he is not a physical player and not a great blocker. However, for a team looking for an H-back starter or a backup tight end who can play an H-back role at times Dickson would be a good fit. We project him in the kind of role played by former Duck and current Carolina Panther Dante Rosario.

For a look at the other tight end moving up the board, a big-name quarterback who is struggling and a pair or running backs who are opening eyes, as well as notes from around the country, become an ESPN Insider.Insider

At the other end of the Pacific coast, USC's Anthony McCoy has been inconsistent in terms of production during his career but seems to be turning that around in 2009. McCoy is averaging 22.9 yards per catch this season both by getting open down the field and creating yards after the catch. He is also the most physical of the top tight end prospects, something that will only help him as the draft process unfolds.

Both Dickson and McCoy look like second-round prospects right now but both are fighting with BYU's Dennis Pitta for the No. 2 spot in the overall tight end class right now. The group lacks a sure first-rounder with Gresham on the shelf, but NFL scouts are starting to see some encouraging depth emerge.

• Penn State QB Daryll Clark was very underwhelming in his team's home loss to Iowa in Week 4. Clark has never been a top-tier prospect but came into the season with a chance to move himself into the third or fourth round should he have an excellent senior season, but he has just not done anything to help himself.

Clark apologists will point to the poor play of the Penn State offensive line, and while I agree that protection has been an issue the three game tapes I have watched from this season (Temple, Syracuse, Iowa) show Clark continuing to make careless decisions with the ball.

The Hawkeyes were able to confuse him at times and force him into some hurried decisions, and you would think a senior would understand that putting the ball up for grabs over the middle of the field is unacceptable. Clark also needs to show an understanding of critical situations. He threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions against Iowa, including one with under four minutes remaining that saw Clark take advantage of good protection and step into the pocket. Despite that, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and there was not an open receiver in the area he was targeting.

Clark is already facing size limitations (just 6-1) and with the lack of improvement we've seen so far it's hard to imagine him coming off the board in the first four rounds.

• The 2010 running back class is getting a boost from Fresno State junior Ryan Mathews and Michigan senior Carlos Brown, both of whom are emerging from off the radar to open the eyes of NFL scouts.

Mathews is coming off a foot injury that cost him the final four games of the 2008 season, but he is built like an NFL back (5-11, 220) and has reportedly been timed in under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He has topped 100 yards in all four games this season, and what's most impressive is his burst through the hole as a north-south runner. Not many college backs with his size are able to explode through the line like Mathews does. He reminds us in some ways of Rashard Mendenhall coming out of Illinois.

Brown has made the most of his opportunities while getting carries because of lingering injuries to Brandon Minor, averaging 7.5 yards on 11 carries last week against Indiana and also catching a 61-yard touchdown pass. He has shown that kind of versatility often and like Mathews is very quick through the hole. Brown also shows impressive ability to make sharp cuts at the second level and explode to the sideline. He is not quite as big (6-0, 210) as Mathews but is a bit faster and is clearly the better all-around athlete.

The most important thing for Mathews and Brown is to prove they can stay healthy for an entire season and build on the momentum they have generated. If they do that both have a chance to start moving up the draft board.

• The throat injury suffered by USC Stafon Johnson looks like it will end his season, but Johnson has shown enough during his career that a return to form before the NFL combine and individual workouts should help him maintain his standing. At this point we rank him as the No. 3 senior running back and No. 7 overall at the position.

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• Johnson (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 85) underwent emergency surgery on his throat after a freak weight room accident on Monday. Johnson was finishing a set on the bench press when the bar slipped and landed on his throat. Teammates said they saw Johnson coughing up blood from the mouth and nose. The Los Angeles Times said while Johnson's post-surgery "prognosis is good," it is unlikely he will play again this season. "This is a guy who's been an integral part of our program for years," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Everybody loves Stafon. When you're as connected as we are, we feel every bit of this. We all feel a bit damaged today and injured. It's a bad deal."

• Could Sam Bradford (No. 1) be in uniform for the Sooners this weekend when they travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes? Bradford visited renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews las week and the visit was "an extra opinion as much as anything. Our guys have been awesome in their evaluations," Sooners coach Bob Stoops told the Norman Transcript. "When it all first happened, he got multiple opinions and everybody's were all pretty similar that our guys were on the right track and doing the right things. That was the outcome the other day as well."

• Clemson is only 2-2, but RB C.J. Spiller (No. 26) and WR Jacoby Ford (No. 55) have not been the problem. According to the Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Spiller and Ford have been the bulk of the Tigers' production. "Star players C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford are being relied on to the opposite extreme, with 56.7 percent of the offensive yardage coming through them," writes the Sun News. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney believes the Tigers are close to breaking through. "This is a team that really believes they can win," Swinney said. "I think they expect to win. Now they have to learn how to win. We have to teach them how to win. That's playing with a little more poise, a little better technique, finishing on the plays that are there."

• The debate continues to rage as to whether Florida coach Urban Meyer should have left QB Tim Tebow (No. 39) in Saturday's game against Kentucky with his team leading 31-7. Tebow suffered a concussion when Kentucky DE Taylor Wyndham flatted the Heisman Trophy winner. Jeremy Fowler of the Swamp Things blog at the Orlando Sentinel gathers a list of media critics, and one Meyer supporter in the Sentinel's Mike Bianchi. "Or should our Dud of the Week be the clanging cymbals in the media who are trying to blame Urban Meyer for Tim Tebow's injury by saying Tebow should not even have been in the game at the time?" Bianchi wrote on his blog, Open Mike. Good grief, Tebow got hurt in a football game. It happens. Why do we have to blame somebody?"

• South Florida's 17-7 victory over then-No. 18 Florida State was as convincing as it was stunning. One of the reasons the Bulls dominated the Seminoles was USF's run defense, led by George Selvie (No. 32). 'Noles QB Christian Ponder spent a lot of Saturday running from Selvie and DE Jason Pierre-Paul. This Saturday, Selvie and his mates will need to apply that pressure to Syracuse QB Greg Paulus, who has been able to rely on a great safety valve, WR Mike Williams (No. 51).

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone knows what his team is up against. "It would be a challenge for an NFL offensive line against this team," said Marrone to the Syracuse Post Standard. "This team has tremendous challenge, not only up front, but all over the field. In looking at height, weight, speed, the way this team plays, I mean this is a very, very talented football team. It creates a tremendous challenge for us. Without disrespecting anyone I haven't seen on film yet, these will be the most talented, best defensive ends we play against. I think their inside players are underrated. They can play, now, the kids inside. The linebackers are big, they can run. The defensive backs are athletic. They can run."