Week 8 of the college football season featured some excellent performances by some of college football’s top prospects for the 2014 NFL draft. However, there were also a few notable names who didn’t fare quite as well.
So which top prospects shined, and which ones were the most disappointing?
Here’s a look at the key 2014 NFL draft storylines from Week 8.
Mike Evans Stakes His Claim as the Top WR Prospect
Texas A&M may have come up short in a 45-41 loss to Auburn on Saturday. However, WR Mike Evans did everything he possibly could to lead the Aggies to victory.
Evans eviscerated the Tigers secondary, hauling in 11 catches for 287 yards and four touchdowns in a performance that managed to top the remarkable seven-catch, 279-yard game he had against Alabama just a few weeks ago.
The 6’5”, 225-pound redshirt sophomore has looked basically unstoppable this season. He’s used his rare combination of size, athleticism, sure hands, concentration and leaping ability to embarrass any defensive back that’s tried to contain him.
The former high school basketball standout has managed to make the most of his unique physical gifts and reach his full potential in his second year as a starter. Evans has shown NFL scouts that he has what it takes to be a difference-making playmaker in the passing game at the next level.
If he continues at this pace, he’ll not only win the Biletnikoff Award, he’ll likely also be a top-15 pick as well as the first wide receiver taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
Melvin Gordon Stakes His Claim as The Top RB Prospect
After showing flashes of his prodigious potential in a limited role as a freshman in 2012, this season, Melvin Gordon has stepped into the spotlight and helped Wisconsin fans forget all about Montee Ball.
Gordon put together yet another outstanding performance in Week 8, when he tore up the Illinois defense for 142 rushing yards on just 17 carries (8.3 yards per touch) and scored three touchdowns. It was his sixth 100-plus-rushing-yard game of the season.
The 6’1”, 207-pound redshirt sophomore has only carried the ball 107 times so far this season. Incredibly, though, he’s one of just two backs in the country who have topped the 1,000-rushing-yard mark at this point, and he currently is tied for third nationally with 11 rushing touchdowns.
The dynamic duo of Gordon and James White is clearly the best backfield tandem in college football this season. While White may be one of the most highly touted senior running backs in the 2014 draft class, it’s Gordon who looks like the true cream of the crop at the position. He could ultimately end up being one of the rare running back prospects who’s worthy of a first-round draft pick. The explosive rusher is truly a special talent.
Tajh Boyd Comes Up Small on the Big Stage
Coming into the 2013 season, there was plenty of buzz surrounding Clemson QB Tajh Boyd, following his sensational showing in 2012. However, there were also some questions concerning how Boyd handles big-game pressure, since two of his worst games last year came against two of the Tigers’ best opponents: Florida State and South Carolina.
Boyd had the chance to answer those questions, when he squared off against a stingy Florida State defense in the premier prime time matchup of Week 8. But instead, he unfortunately fell flat on his face.
The senior signal-caller was thoroughly outplayed by Florida State freshman sensation Jameis Winston in the embarrassing 51-14 blowout loss. He managed to complete just 17 of his 37 passes for 156 yards, and was picked off twice and sacked four times.
The poor performance in such a big spotlight showdown will certainly have scouts concerned about Boyd’s ability to handle big-game pressure against a quality opponent.
The Decline Of Aaron Murray Continues
Aaron Murray opted to forgo the chance to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return to Georgia and chase a BCS title and a Heisman Trophy. After seeing how his senior year is quickly starting to spiral out of control, you have to wonder if Murray is now regretting that decision.
Murray and the Bulldogs lost their second straight game to an SEC East opponent on Saturday, falling to Vanderbilt 31-27 on the road. The veteran quarterback managed to complete just 16 passes for 114 yards, and he threw a critical interception with 14 seconds left, which ultimately sealed his team’s fate.
Scouts already had concerns about Murray’s lack of size and arm strength before the 2013 season even started. If he continues to struggle in this fashion, his stock will only continue to drop, and he will likely regret not leaving school early and capitalizing on the momentum he had accumulated after last season.
Three Premier Underclassmen Quarterbacks Taste Defeat
Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray weren’t the only notable quarterback prospects who had rough weekends. Three of the premier underclassmen signal-caller prospects in the 2014 draft class—Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel all tasted defeat as well in Week 8.
Bridgewater and Manziel both played well enough to win, but their defenses let them down late. Hundley, on the other hand, had a poor showing against a stout Stanford defense, as he averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt, tossed two costly interceptions and was sacked four times in a 24-10 loss.
Though all three players are still on track to be first-round picks in the 2014 draft, obviously, every loss hurts, especially considering the way fellow underclassmen Oregon’s Marcus Mariota has been playing.
It’s likely that all three quarterbacks’s just saw their Heisman hopes go up in smoke.
Blake Bortles Makes a Name For Himself On the National Stage
Everyone who tuned in to the Friday night AAC showdown between Louisville and Central Florida likely did so in order to get a look at Louisville star QB Teddy Bridgewater. However, they ultimately ended up getting treated to a spectacular showing from Bridgewater’s counterpart: Knights QB Blake Bortles.
Bortles was one of college football’s hidden games in the first half of the season. however, he’s no longer an under-the-radar player now, following his breakthrough performance on the national stage. The 6’4”, 230-pound junior threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning score in the final minute to beat the previously No. 8-ranked undefeated Cardinals 38-35.
With road victories over Louisville and Penn State, and a near victory over South Carolina on his resume already, Bortles is quickly becoming one of the fastest-rising underclassmen prospects in the 2014 draft class. Though he still has come considerable work to do before he’ll be thought of on the same level as Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel and Brett Hundley, the UCF signal-caller is certainly starting to generate some serious noise in the scouting community.
If he can lead the 5-1 Knights to a conference title in their first season in the AAC, Bortles will likely have to think long and hard about declaring for the 2014 draft.
Cameron Erving Dominates the Battle With Vic Beasley
Jameis Winston and the Florida State defense garnered most of the praise and received most of the accolades after the Seminoles’ 51-14 domination in Death Valley. However, one of the best unsung individual performances was the job left tackle Cameron Erving did on Clemson’s sack-machine Vic Beasley.
Erving used his size and strength advantage to completely neutralize the Tigers’ star defensive end, rendering him a non-factor throughout the game.
The huge and highly athletic 6’6”, 320-pound junior is a former defensive tackle, who has really started to turn heads during his second season as an offensive starter. His complete domination of Beasley will only further serve to enhance his value in the eyes of scouts.
I currently have Erving ranked as the No. 1 underclassmen offensive tackle in the 2014 draft class, and I believe he could potentially challenge Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan to be the first offensive tackle selected if he decides to declare. He’s certainly a unique physical specimen.
Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks Light Up Another Defense
Following an embarrassing home loss to FCS opponent Eastern Washington in the first week of the season, it appeared that Oregon State could be in store for a disappointing campaign this year. Instead, though, the Beavers have rallied in the face of adversity and won their last six games, thanks in large part to the powerful and potent passing partnership of QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks.
Mannion and Cooks have been lighting up defenses all season long, and they continued that trend in a 49-17 win over Cal on Saturday. Mannion completed 35 of his 45 passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns. 13 of those completions were to Cooks, who totaled a whopping 232 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The two juniors are the main reason why Oregon State currently ranks first nationally in passing offense, averaging 442 yards through the air per game. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their hot streak against tougher foes such as Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and in-state rival Oregon.
Though it seems likely that Mannion will return for his senior year, the extremely explosive Cooks has the potential to be one of the most coveted junior receiver prospects in the 2014 draft if he decides to declare. The 5’10”, 186-pound track star currently leads the nation with 76 catches for 1,176 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns.
Michael Sam Continues to Open Eyes With Another Three-Sack Effort
Coming into the 2013 season, it seemed like DE Kony Ealy and CB EJ Gaines were the Missouri defenders that NFL scouts would be paying the most attention to. However, so far, it’s actually been DE Michael Sam, who has been making the most noise on the Tigers defense.
After putting together two three-sack performances in back-to-back weeks in wins over Arkansas State and Vanderbilt, Sam once again totaled three quarterback takedowns in Missouri’s 36-17 win over Florida on Saturday.
The 6’2”, 255-pound senior, who had totaled just 9.5 sacks in his first three years in Colombia, has clearly boosted his stock with his breakout performance. He’s been one of the most valuable assets for a Tigers team that is now 7-0 and currently ranked No. 5 overall in the BCS standings.
Sam has been one of the surprise stars of the 2013 season, and he’s certainly made scouts take notice of his pass-rushing skills.
Jace Amaro Has Fifth Straight Nine-Catch Game
Jace Amaro has shined in new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Up to this point in this season, he’s been the most productive tight end in all of college football. Amaro has been the focal point of the Red Raiders’ passing attack, totaling nine catches in each of his past five games.
Amaro’s latest effort against West Virginia on Saturday was his best showing of the year. The 6’5”, 260-pound junior totaled 136 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns, including a decisive score with a minute left in the game that helped seal the 37-27 victory for the Red Raiders.
The senior tight end class was decimated by early departures for the 2013 draft, and big-name underclassmen prospects such as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Colt Lyerla, who left the Oregon program last week, have not been as good as advertised. That means that the title of top tight end in the 2014 draft class is now up for grabs. Right now, no tight end in the country has looked like he deserves that label more than Amaro.
Having already more than doubled his total catch output from last season, the former 4-star recruit from San Antonio has proven that he can produce at a high level and he’s shown that he can be a true matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Eric Ebron Shows Off His Explosiveness
Jace Amaro may be the most productive tight end in college football, but as far as pure talent and natural ability are concerned, no other player at the position can compare to North Carolina’s Eric Ebron.
The explosive Ebron used his speed and athleticism to create some huge plays in the passing game against Miami, as he totaled eight catches for 199 yards and a touchdown.
According to NFL.com, there were reportedly 37 scouts, including five general managers in Chapel Hill on Thursday night. The 6’4”, 235-pound junior certainly left a big impression on all of them.
Though Amaro may have a slight edge right now, Ebron looks like he could be a viable contender to be the top tight end in the 2014 draft class as long as he puts together the type of workouts that he’s capable of.
Stephen Morris Tosses Four Picks, Still Leads Miami To Come-From-Behind Win
Stephen Morris entered the 2013 season as one of the must-watch senior quarterback prospects in the country, and he was considered to be a player who could surge up draft boards with a big campaign. So far, Morris has made headlines, as he’s led Miami to a 6-0 start to the season. However, he’s also raised some concerns recently due to his spotty decision-making and accuracy.
After tossing two interceptions in consecutive games against South Florida and Georgia Tech, Morris had his worst game of the season against North Carolina on Thursday night, as he threw four critical interceptions. Still, you have to at least give the senior signal-caller some credit for leading the Hurricanes on two fourth-quarter scoring drives and guiding them to a 27-23 win, even though second-string RB Dallas Crawford was the one who did most of the heavy lifting.
Morris clearly possesses an NFL-caliber arm, but he’s simply got to start making better decisions with the football if he wants to be considered anything more than a Day-3 developmental prospect.
Marion Grice Outshines Bishop Sankey
The Pac-12 showdown between Washington and Arizona State was a matchup that appeared to feature one of the best running back battles of the season: the Sun Devils’ Marion Grice vs. the Huskies’ Bishop Sankey. Unfortunately, though, it turned out to be a one-sided affair, which Grice won by a landslide.
The 6’0”, 207-pound senior rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries, caught four passes for 37 yards and scored three touchdowns in the 53-24 victory. Sankey, on the other hand, could only muster 22 yards on 13 carries.
Grice has already proven that he’s one of the top prospects in the senior running back class, and now his latest performance has only further boosted his already soaring stock. The dynamic playmaker possesses the type of size, toughness, speed and receiving skills that scouts are looking for.
Lamarcus Joyner Shows Off His Ball-Hawking Skills
After making the switch from strong safety to cornerback during the offseason, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner has looked like a natural at his new position so far this season. The senior defensive leader has been a critical difference-maker, who has constantly been around the football, making impact plays.
Joyner proved why he deserved the label of ball-hawk with another fantastic performance against Clemson on Saturday night. The 5’8”, 190-pound senior totaled eight solo tackles, including a sack, picked off a pass and forced two fumbles in the 51-14 win. He also helped keep Clemson WR Sammy Watkins locked down, just as he did to Maryland’s Stefon Diggs in the Seminoles’ previous game.
Though Joyner may lack the type of prototypical size that scouts look for in a top cornerback prospect, he makes up for his lack of height with his aggressive playing style and ability to constantly make game-changing plays.
Antwan Goodley Looks Like the Next Great Baylor Receiver
Art Briles has helped turn the Baylor offense into one of the most powerful passing attacks in college football. It’s an offense that has not only produced Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, it also has produced some notable receiving prospects such as Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams.
Now, it seems as if Antwan Goodley is quickly developing into the Bears’ next star receiver. After posting four straight 100-plus-yard receiving games, Goodley put together his most impressive performance of the season against Iowa State on Saturday. He hauled in 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the 71-7 rout.
Though the 5’10”, 225-pound junior’s numbers may be a bit inflated by the system he plays in, it’s still clear that he’s a dangerous big-play threat who deserves the attention of NFL scouts. Though QB Bryce Petty and RB Lache Seastrunk have received most of the publicity and recognition for Baylor’s incredible offensive success this season, it’s time that folks start giving Goodley the same level of appreciation.
Dee Ford and the Auburn Defensive Line Step Up
Auburn’s defense may have given up 41 points and 602 total yards to Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense on Saturday. However, the unit came up big when it counted the most, especially the defensive line, led by DE Dee Ford.
With A&M threatening in the final minute, Ford managed to overpower Texas A&M right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and get pressure on Manziel on the last few plays to help seal the win. The 6’2”, 240-pound senior has now totaled five sacks in the team’s last three games, and he’s established himself as one of the most feared pass-rushers in the SEC.
Though Ford may not have the size to be a 4-3 defensive end at the NFL level, he does possess the type of skill-set that scouts look for in a potential 3-4 rush linebacker prospect, just like his former teammate Corey Lemonier.
Marqise Lee Continues to Deal With Injury Issues
After a spectacular sophomore season, in which he led the nation with 118 catches for 1,721 yards and scored 14 touchdown, USC WR Marqise Lee entered the 2013 season as the consensus top-rated wide receiver prospect in the 2014 draft class. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistent play from the quarterback position have really hampered the defending Biletnikoff Award-winner.
Sadly, Lee tweaked his sprained knee in a 14-10 loss on Saturday, and was forced to sit out the second half by coach Ed Orgeron, who didn’t want the star receiver to do further damage to his injured knee. It’s just the latest setback in what is shaping up to be a disappointing campaign for the 6’0”, 195-pound junior.
The fact that Lee likely would have been a top-five pick and the first receiver selected if he was eligible for the 2013 draft makes this season even more frustrating.
Demarcus Lawrence Puts Together a Statement Performance
Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence is one of the most talented and intriguing underclassmen defensive end prospects in the 2014 draft class. After a breakout performance last year, in which he totaled 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and forced four fumbles, the highly athletic 6’3”, 245-pound junior was searching for a statement performance in 2013.
He finally had that huge showing on Saturday against Nevada. Lawrence dominated the Wolf Pack offensive line, as he racked up 3.5 sacks and six solo tackles in the 34-17 victory.
Though Boise State may not have the focus of the college football world like the Broncos did during their days as a BCS buster, Lawrence surely has the attention of scouts, who have to love his explosiveness off the edge and his ability to constantly harass quarterbacks.
Jeremy Gallon Puts Up Eye-Popping Numbers
After a disappointing loss to Penn State, Michigan needed a big-bounce back effort in Week 8 against Indiana. Luckily, the Wolverines’ two most dangerous offensive threats—QB Devin Gardner and WR Jeremy Gallon—provided the team with the type of spark it desperately needed.
Gardner and Gallon absolutely tore up Indiana’s defense in the 63-47 victory. The dynamic dual-threat quarterback completed 21 of his 29 passes for over 500 yards, rushed for 81 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns. Galllon was equally as impressive, as he hauled in 14 passes for a whopping 369 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Gardner would clearly be better served by returning to Ann Arbor for one more year instead of declaring for the 2014 draft. However, Gallon is really starting to make some noise during his final season, and he’s showing scouts why he deserves to be considered one of the top senior receivers in the 2014 class.
Ka’Deem Carey Carries a Heavy Load
Utah arrived in Tucson for its game against Arizona on Saturday night, flying high after a huge upset victory over Stanford in Week 7. However, the Utes’ celebratory mood was quickly extinguished by the Wildcats’ star RB Ka’Deem Carey.
Carey proved that he can be a true workhorse back, as he carried the rock 40 times and rushed for 236 yards in the 35-24 win.
The 5’10”, 196-pound junior may have had a rocky offseason, but he’s now starting to get back in the good graces of scouts with huge performances like the one he just had against Utah. He’s also clearly gained back the trust of head coach Rich Rodriguez, who seems content to ride his star rusher to success this season.