Kansas State LB Arthur Brown is looking to have a big day on a big stage against Oklahoma this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Virginia vs. TCU at Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, TX), Saturday 11 a.m. ESPN
OT Oday Aboushi, Virginia — The ninth of 10 children born to Palestinian parents, Aboushi (6-6, 310) prepped in Brooklyn, N.Y. before originally committing to Jeff Jagodzinski and Boston College. After Jagodzinski was dismissed, Aboushi changed allegiance to UVA, where he’s become a three-year starter and team captain. Aboushi is a big, strong, confident, college left tackle with base strength to anchor and length and upper-body strength to keep rushers at bay. Might be best in a zone-slide protection scheme, as he lacks ideal foot quickness and athletic ability, but has starter-caliber ability and swing value. Aboushi was the ACC’s Week Two lineman of the week after grading out at 92 percent with 12 knockdowns against Penn State on Sept. 8.
DE Stansly Maponga*, TCU — Maponga (6-2, 265) earned first-team All-Mountain West honors last season after posting 55 tackles, 13 1/2 for loss and nine sacks with two batted passes and five forced fumbles. Since starting as a redshirt freshman, the expectation is the Horned Frogs’ left defensive end will be the program’s next great edge rusher, as he flashes potential as a leverage rusher and shows nice closing speed. However, as a sophomore Maponga did not show elite-level explosion, flexibility or pass-rush prowess. He also disappears for stretches and his awareness is limited. He’ll have to show improved movement skills and strength and leverage against the run to avoid the dreaded “tweener” label. After glorified scrimmages against Grambling and Kansas, Maponga will butt heads with Virginia junior right tackle Morgan Moses, a future pro in his own right.
Kansas State vs. Oklahoma at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Norman, OK), Saturday 6:50 p.m. Fox
LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State — Brown (6-1, 231) was one of most ballyhooed recruits in the 2008 signing class, but after two relatively nondescript seasons at Miami, he transferred to KSU and closer to his Wichita roots. A two-time captain, Brown has been an impact player for the Wildcats, as he amassed 101 tackles, 9 1/2 for loss and two sacks with two pass breakups and an interception as a junior. Though small-framed, Brown is highly athletic and can run and hit. He also shows hip swivel and range in coverage. He is not as instinctive as Buccaneers second-round pick Lavonte David, a similar type of player, but “undersized” ‘backers Sean Spence and Demario Davis were third-round picks in 2012, establishing a draft range for Brown, who likely projects best on the weak side in a fast-flowing, 4-3 defense and could offer additional value as a nickel linebacker. He injured his right ankle against North Texas, but is expected to play against the Sooners.
FB-H-back-ST Trey Millard*, Oklahoma — Fullbacks are an endangered species these days, but Millard (6-2, 256) is so much more than the fullback stereotype given his multifaceted skill set. He has the size, hands and blocking ability to line up as a fullback or H-back. In 29 career games, Millard has snagged 31 catches while averaging 5.4 yards per rush, including a 61-yard touchdown against Kansas State last year. He’s also not afraid to lower his shoulder and deliver a blow with the ball in his hands. Praised for his versatility, athletic ability and smarts, Millard is highly respected, as evidenced by his selection on the All-Big 12 team (coaches) and status as a junior captain. Additionally, he projects as a core special-teams player — paced the Sooners with 14 special-teams tackles in 2012, is a protector on the punt team, covers kickoffs and serves as wing back on field goals.
Clemson vs. Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium (Tallahassee, FL), Saturday 6:00 p.m. ABC
RB Andre Ellington, Clemson — Ellington (5-10, 195) is an undersized zone runner and space player with burst and perimeter speed to contribute right away as a complementary player and kick returner. He displays excellent balance, smooth acceleration, explosive one-cut skill and the ability to rip off yards in chunks. He was key in the Tigers 26-19 season-opening victory over Auburn, including a highlight-reel 68-yard run and a late fourth-quarter 45-yard gain which led to a field goal. That said, Ellington has been nicked up and is not built to take an inside, every-down pounding. He also needs to improve as a blocker and receiver. A productive, durable season would go a long way buoying his draft stock, as would a strong performance against a Florida State defense which ranks No. 1 nationally versus the run after three games.
QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State — Manuel (6-5, 240) has a 16-4 career record as a starter and has the best completion percentage in school history (67.9). He sets up easily with a fluid, athletic drop and possesses outstanding size to see the field or shake off defenders. He is athletic to roll the pocket, escape or extend plays and has a quick, compact release with good arm action. Additionally, Manuel is smart, mature, respected and tough (played through a broken leg in a come-from-behind victory over Notre Dame in 2011) — considers ’Noles alums Charlie Ward and Myron Rolle mentors and seems like he “gets it.” He needs to make strides this fall, however. As a junior, Manuel’s accuracy waned downfield. He could stand to improve his footwork, take fewer sacks and be more cognizant of deep safeties (hangs too many throws). If he’s able to quell questions about his consistency, durability and leadership, Manuel has starter-caliber potential given his combination of size, athleticism and mobility. After three cakewalks to begin the season, he faces a considerably faster Clemson defense on Saturday.
If you’re looking for a direct matchup(s) to watch, look no further than FSU redshirt junior CB Xavier Rhodes (6-2, 217) vs. Clemson’s dynamic receiver duo of junior DeAndre Hopkins and true sophomore Sammy Watkins, one of the nation’s most explosive playmakers. Talented but inconsistent, Rhodes looks every bit the part of a physical, man-press cornerback with size, length and jam strength. He also has ball skills dating back to his days as a high school receiver. Rhodes had a breakout freshman season in 2010, establishing his first-round ceiling, but took a step back last season. He has the opportunity to make a statement about his cover ability on Saturday, but if he struggles, you can expect to hear chatter about him possibly converting to safety in the pros a la Malcolm Jenkins or FSU product Antrel Rolle.
Sleeper of the Week: LB Kyle Van Noy*, BYU — Van Noy (6-3, 235) was a standout linebacker-receiver in Nevada, where he won a state championship and competed in track (4x100, 4x200 and 4x400). Highly recruited, he chose BYU over Pac-12 offers, but was busted for DUI days before National Signing Day 2009. After sitting out the season, he enrolled in 2010, but was a non-factor early, prompting a two-hour sit-down with head coach Bronco Mendenhall. He’s been ascending ever since. In 29 career games (10 starts), BYU’s weak-side linebacker has recorded 103 tackles, 22 1/2 for loss and nine sacks with 12 hurries, two forced fumbles, five pass breakups, three interceptions and a blocked kick. Van Noy looks the part with a well-proportioned build and is athletic with good movement skills, enabling him to play forward, backward and laterally. He opens up his stride in space, covers ground and has deceptive closing speed.
Further, even with four sacks in three games thus far, he has greater upside as a pass rusher assuming he continues honing his technique. Just a junior and coming off February surgery to repair a torn labrum, Van Noy could stand to get improve his press strength, play with better eye discipline and become a better finisher (leaves some production on the field), but he’s a burgeoning prospect with size, athleticism and versatility with potential to develop into a 4-3 strong-side ’backer, run the deep middle inside a “Tampa 2” scheme or stand up in a 3-4. He’s one to watch as the Cougars take on Boise State Thursday night in prime time (8:00 p.m. ESPN).