Texas FS Kenny Vaccaro looks to make an impact against Oklahoma State this weekend. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Baylor vs. West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV), Saturday 11 a.m. FX
WR Terrance Williams, Baylor — A year ago, rising talent Josh Gordon’s dismissal from Baylor made headlines. Then the Robert Griffin III experience happened, exposing the electricity of Kendall Wright. Even RB
WR-RS Tavon Austin, West Virginia — A diminutive, multipurpose threat with legitimate playmaking ability, Austin (5-9, 171) is one of the nation’s most productive, exciting weapons. He led the NCAA last season by averaging 198 all-purpose yards per game, as he hauled in 101 receptions for 1,186 yards (11.7-yard average), rushed 97 times for 416 yards (4.3) and 12 touchdowns, returned 19 punts for 268 yards (14.1) and returned 36 kickoffs for 938 yards (26.1), including a pair of scores. He also showed well when everyone was watching, as evidenced by his 287 all-purpose yards against LSU and Orange Bowl-record 280 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns against Clemson. With smallish athletes such as Dexter McCluster, Darren Sproles, Jacquizz Rodgers, Andrew Hawkins and Damaris Johnson proving valuable, Austin’s burst, speed, elusiveness and versatility should play at the next level, where he can be used out of the backfield, in the slot and as a return man.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State at Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, MI), Saturday 2:30 p.m. ABC
TE Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State — Stoneburner (6-5, 245) is a detached, finesse, pass-catching tight end in a narrow, athletic frame with room for added bulk. He runs well, moves fluidly and gets in and out of breaks relatively cleanly. A former receiver, he shows body control to adjust to throws and catches naturally away from his body. Stoneburner likely will never be a dependable inline, point-of-attack blocker because he lacks ideal bulk, base strength and an old-school tight end’s mean streak, but his seam stretching ability and reliable hands should enable him to be productive in the right system if he proves physical and durable enough. Stoneburner is looking to rebound from a tumultuous summer when he was arrested for urinating outside a restaurant and running from police, a transgression which cost him his scholarship.
TE Dion Sims*, Michigan State — Sims (6-5, 285) has rare size and surprising athletic ability that enabled him to average 21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a Detroit, Mich. high school senior when he was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Basketball award. He was highly recruited, but only now is beginning to live up to his potential. He missed most of his senior football season in 2008 because of an MCL injury. Expected to redshirt as a true freshman in 2009, an early-season injury to Garrett Celek allowed Sims to record 11 receptions for 133 yards (12.1-yard average) and three touchdowns. The coaching staff even experimented with him at defensive end. He was suspended for the 2010 season for participating in a laptop theft ring which robbed the Detroit Public Schools of more than 100 computers. Back on the field in 2011, he managed 12-99-3 (8.3) while backing up Celek and Brian Linthicum and coping with a broken hand the second half of the season. However, Sims is a new player through four games — he’s pacing tight ends nationally with 22-277-2 (12.6) and 82 percent of those catches have resulted in a first down or touchdown. He is not a finished product, but Sims is a big short-to-intermediate target with reliable hands and has obvious inline blocking potential with improved technique. He’s emerging and his draft stock is rising. Coming off the best game of his career — a 6-112-1 effort against Eastern Michigan that earned him John Mackey Tight End of the Week recognition — Sims will be a target against the Buckeyes, who figure to load the box in order to stop Le’Veon Bell and force young starter Andrew Maxwell to beat them through the air.
Texas vs. Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium (Stillwater, OK), Saturday 6:50 p.m. Fox
FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas — The parade of talented safeties featured here continues with Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro (6-1, 218), who boasts an intriguing skill set which should enable him to withstand the aerial assaults stressing NFL secondaries on a weekly basis. To date, Vaccaro lacks the playmaking résumé to be considered elite at this stage of his career, but his cover skills make him a valuable commodity. He’s big, highly athletic and versatile, as he demonstrates the ability to play deep coverage, roll downhill, blitz effectively and man up slot receivers as a nickel back. Vaccaro, whose range will be tested against OSU on Saturday, has tallied 20 tackles, two pass breakups, an interception and three quarterback hurries through three games.
RB Joseph Randle*, Oklahoma State — Last season, the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon connection dictated seven-man boxes and soft zone coverage, and Randle (6-1, 200) took advantage. He needed just 208 carries to pile up 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns, while catching 43 balls for 266 yards and two more scores. Randle runs bigger than his size, regularly lowering his pads and breaking tackles. In the passing game, he has good hands out of the backfield and shows the ability to handle protection responsibilities. That said, he lacks a “wow” factor, as the solid, if unspectacular, Randle is essentially a 200-pound inside runner. He shows average initial quickness and lateral agility, lacking the elusiveness to consistently shake one-on-one tacklers. He also shows buildup and does not have home-run long speed. Even more worrisome is an alarming, developing ball security issue. Randle, who did not fumble in the first 22 games of his career, has fumbled five times in the last six games. And that does not include a sixth fumble negated by penalty. With Jeremy Smith poised for more carries, Randle cannot afford to put the ball on the turf without endangering the Cowboys’ chances, his draft stock or his spot atop the depth chart.
Sleeper of the Week: OLB-DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU — Born and raised in Ghana, Ansah joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received an academic scholarship to BYU in 2008. Intent on pursing athletics, he had thoughts of playing basketball before joining the Cougars track team. In 2010, he met with head coach Bronco Mendenhall and expressed his desire to join the football team. Despite not knowing how to put pads on. Literally. After overcoming Mendenhall’s skepticism to earn a spot on the team, Ansah barely scratched the stat sheet his first two seasons while familiarizing himself with the game. However, he’s made remarkable developmental strides, impressing coaches and teammates along the way with his aptitude and raw ability.
No longer just a cute story, Ansah — who has learned outside linebacker and defensive end — has shown glimpses of legitimate developmental potential in the Cougars’ first four games. Understandably, he remains a raw work in progress, but he certainly looks the part and flashes moldable upper-body strength, athletic ability and closing speed. Contributing mostly on passing downs, Ansah has tallied 17 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack with two batted passes. He even blew up a Boise State fake punt attempt by railroading an unsuspecting backup linebacker and wrestling down the upback who had taken a direct snap. Ansah will require simple assignments, but he is just scratching the surface and has developmental value and broad appeal given his dimensions, strength and movement skills that could allow him to play with his hand in the dirt or stand up. He won’t be a sleeper for very long and scouts will be watching the rest of the season to better gauge his ceiling.