NC State CB David Amerson is one of the top prospects in the country and will make his debut this week against Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to StLouisRams.com
All times central
Tennessee vs. North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.), Friday 6:30 p.m. ESPNU
CB David Amerson, North Carolina State — Coming off a breakout, record-setting sophomore season in which he pilfered 13 interceptions, Amerson will be under the microscope this fall and he’ll be tested right out of the chute by the passing combination of Vols QB Tyler Bray and WR Justin Hunter (both juniors).
QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee — Bray, who completed 62 percent on third downs last season, has clear first-round potential — he’s tall with a quick, compact release for his size and NFL arm strength. He exhibits advanced field vision and makes the opposition defend horizontally and vertically. However, he forces too many throws and tends to ignore the deep safety. Bray’s confidence borders on cockiness and following a pair of childish incidents over the summer (vandalism, reckless boating), he will have to show improved on-field decision making and assuage personality/makeup concerns.
WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee — A national-caliber high jumper, Hunter hasn’t been able to put a lot of plays on tape thus far — 16 catches as a freshman in 2010, two-plus games played in 2011 because of a torn ACL injury — but his upside is glaring (averaging 22.2 yards on 33 career catches). Listed at 6-4, 200 pounds, he’s a long receiver with deep speed and outstanding leaping ability. The prospect of Hunter and Amerson locking horns is one of the most intriguing draft-related storylines of the opening weekend.
Michigan vs. Alabama at Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas), Saturday 7:00 p.m. ABC
QB-ATH Denard Robinson, Michigan — Aside from his obvious “Wildcat” utility, Robinson isn’t an NFL quarterback. That much we know. However, the Heisman candidate is certainly an NFL-caliber athlete with big-time speed and playmaking ability. If Robinson puts on a show against the Crimson Tide defense, it will be easier to envision him as a slot receiver/”slash” player capable of creating after the catch or perhaps as a kick returner. Robinson recorded 47 runs of at least 10 yards in 2011.
C Barrett Jones, Alabama — Decorated and versatile, Jones is an experienced, three-year starter and team leader with sterling intangibles. After playing right guard his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Jones manned left tackle season and won the Outland (nation’s best interior lineman), Jacobs (top offensive lineman in SEC) and Wuerffel (community service with athletic and academic achievement) trophies while garnering unanimous All-American recognition. Jones, who needs to show improved functional strength as a senior, lacks ideal foot quickness to play outside in the pros, but he’s an effective positional seal blocker. Scouts will be watching to see how he transitions to the pivot position, especially against Michigan’s starting defensive tackles Will Campbell and Quinton Washington, a pair of 300-pounders.
Boise State vs. Michigan State (Spartan Stadium), Friday 7:00 p.m. ESPN
RB D.J. Harper, Boise State — Harper has endured two torn ACL injuries, but it’s his time to shine following the departure of Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-rounder Doug Martin. A smallish, speedy slasher with the look of a third-down/change-of-pace back, Harper is not built to run between the tackles in the pros, but he runs hard and shows good leg energy for his size. The Broncos do not face many stingy run defenses, so seeing Harper in a featured role against a talented Michigan State front seven could be telling.
DE Will Gholston, Michigan State — The younger brother of Jets 2008 No. 8 overall pick (and now infamous bust) Vernon Gholston, Will is similar in that his 6-7, 278-pound muscular physique looks the part of an NFL defensive lineman, but he shows an average get-off and notched just five sacks last season. Gholston, who could grow into a five-technique, is coming off a standout Outback Bowl performance against Georgia in which he tallied seven tackles, five for loss and two sacks with a batted pass. He’ll get the chance to show improved pass-rush technique against Charles Leno, an athletic junior tackle who shifts from the right side to the left this season.
Elon vs. North Carolina at Kenan Stadium (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Saturday 11:30 a.m. ACC Network
WR Aaron Mellette, Elon — Typically, a prospect from FCS Elon would be considered a sleeper this time of year, but that’s not the case for Mellette (6-4, 220) who has piled up 99 receptions for 2,739 yards (27.6-yard average) and 24 touchdowns the last two seasons and is already on the national radar. He has the look of a West Coast possession receiver and he impressed UNC head coach Larry Fedora, who told media that Mellette is talented enough to play for any school in the country. Scouts will be watching to gauge Mellette’s play speed and ability to separate against an ACC defense.
Sleeper: QB Zac Dysert, Miami (OH) — Dysert has endured a lot during his time at Miami, including 123 sacks and an inordinate number of coaching changes. Nevertheless, the three-time captain enters his final season in Oxford ranked behind only Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and USC’s Matt Barkley in career passing yards (8,530) among active quarterbacks. Dysert shows a quick, high release with good arm strength and a clean spiral. He also recognizes mismatches, exhibits nice field vision and keeps his eyes downfield versus the rush, enabling him to make plays when the pocket caves. Durability is a question and he’s not a finished product — could stand to refine his footwork, mechanics (occasionally locks his front leg) and ball placement — but he’s an experienced starter who has shown steady improvement despite not having the supporting cast, big stage and national exposure of comparable prospects. Dysert is a rhythm passer with starter-caliber ability to emerge as the next Mid-American Conference quarterback prospect. It’ll be on his shoulders to keep the Red Hawks competitive against Ohio State this weekend and Boise State on Sept. 15 before conference play begins.