Commentary

Missouri showcasing playmakers on both sides of the ball

Heisman hopeful Chase Daniel has Mizzou one win from playing for the national title. The Tigers' offense has been impressive, but they also have a player on the defensive side of the ball who has come up big in the secondary this season.

Originally Published: November 26, 2007
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN.com

With his team now ranked No. 1, Missouri QB Chase Daniel is garnering a lot of attention, and rightfully so. But the Tigers also have some impressive performers on the defensive side of the ball, highlighted by junior free safety William Moore (6-1, 215).

With Kansas trailing 7-0 and driving for the tying score in the second quarter, Moore came up with a game-changing play, intercepting a Todd Reesing pass at the 2-yard line. It was Moore's seventh pick of the season, tying him with former Tiger (and 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee) Roger Wehrli for the most interceptions in a single season in school history. Along with being a tremendous ball hawk, he's also proved to be quite a force in the box, having registered eight tackles for loss. A nondescript prospect entering 2007, Moore is now one of the fastest-rising free safeties in the 2009 class.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Moore
Julie Scheidegger/US PresswireOnly a junior, Missouri's William Moore will be one of the top safeties in the 2009 NFL draft.

• Two cornerbacks who deserve mention for their excellent play are Virginia Tech junior Brandon Flowers and Arkansas senior Matterral Richardson. Flowers (5-10, 192) has been a standout for the Hokies the past two seasons and he came into Saturday's game against Virginia known for having excellent instincts in coverage, top ball skills and being a sure tackler. Those attributes were all on display in the Hokies' 33-21 victory over the Cavaliers. Flowers finished tied for second on the team with seven tackles, had a key interception in the second quarter and overall made a number of nice plays on the ball.

While Flowers has become a household name over the past two years, Richardson came into last week's game against LSU with little in the way of notoriety. But time and again against the then No. 1 Tigers, Richardson (6-0, 195) displayed very good technique and made a number of nice pass breakups, including an interception of Matt Flynn's two-point conversion attempt in the third overtime. His performance is sure to have NFL scouts going back to previous games this season to get a second look at him, and right now, Richardson looks like a third- or fourth-round possibility.

Also in Arkansas' upset of LSU, scouts had to be impressed with Razorbacks senior DT Marcus Harrison in the first half. Harrison (6-2½, 310) got off blocks quickly and made his presence felt against the run. He also did a nice job of dropping off into coverage in the short zone, something you don't see players of Harrison's size do and look as smooth in the process. That's why you could see Harrison land in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft.

• In Tennessee's thrilling overtime victory against Kentucky that propelled the Vols into the SEC championship game, one of the standout performers on the defensive side of the ball was, once again, linebacker Jerod Mayo (6-1½, 233). The rugged and instinctive fourth-year junior was all over the field making his presence felt, impressing me with the way he fought through traffic and delivered a number of picture-perfect tackles. Mayo led the Vols' defense with 19 stops, 11 of which were solo, while also recording one sack and a pass breakup. Mayo's speed enables him to do a very good job of chasing down running plays from sideline to sideline. A multidimensional performer, Mayo can bring pass pressure when needed, yet also matches up well in coverage. For the season, he is currently at the top of the Vols tackle chart with 112 stops, 7½ of which occurred behind the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeJerod Mayo
AP Photo/Wade PayneLinebacker Jerod Mayo, left, leads the Volunteers with 112 tackles.

• Another talented junior linebacker who got my attention on Saturday was Virginia's Clint Sintim (6-3, 254). Physically gifted with an aggressive approach, Sintim finished with 10 tackles against Virginia Tech, while also recording three sacks. On the offensive side for Virginia, senior tight end Tom Santi (6-4½, 249) came through with a few outstanding receptions, one of which occurred in the fourth quarter when he went up high to haul in a pass from true freshman QB Peter Lalich. Santi finished with three catches for 41 yards, bringing his season total to 33 receptions for a 12.2-yard average and three touchdowns.

•  For Virginia Tech, WR Eddie Royal was at his best, keying a victory which catapulted the Hokies into the ACC championship game. Athletic and versatile, Royal (5-10, 179) hauled in six receptions for 147 yards and one TD against Virginia. Royal has the look of a solid third option in the passing game. And his punt/kickoff return skills figure to add to Royal's value on draft day. He'll likely be a real good option on the second day of the draft.

• After missing action early in the season with a knee injury, Florida's senior WR Andre Caldwell has been making up for lost time in recent weeks. With sophomore sensation Percy Harvin sidelined for two games earlier this month, Caldwell stepped to the forefront, amassing 24 catches during that stretch. In the process Caldwell quietly became the school's all-time leading pass catcher. Solidly built, Caldwell (6-¼, 200) has impressive straight-line speed to go along with good overall receiving skills. He will be looking to reverse the trend this decade that has seen the likes of Travis Taylor, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Taylor Jacobs and even his older brother Reche Caldwell go in the first two rounds of the draft only to fail to live up to their lofty expectations in the pros. If Caldwell can put the durability concerns behind him (along with the knee injury, he suffered a broken leg in 2005), the talent is certainly in place for him to develop into a solid complementary starter or a very good slot receiver.

• It was nothing short of a disastrous season for Notre Dame, but the Irish did manage to end on a positive note with a 21-14 victory over Stanford. In that game, the Cardinal had all kinds of trouble trying to neutralize the charge of senior DE Trevor Laws (6-½, 298). That was a common theme for opponents throughout the year. An outstanding wrestler in high school, Laws uses that background very well when it comes to gaining a leverage advantage in the trenches. Laws disengages from blocks quickly, has an excellent blend of strength and quickness and he has a motor that never stops. Seldom do you see a defensive lineman leading his team in tackles, but that is exactly what took place with Laws in 2007. He finished with an astonishing 112 stops -- eight of which came behind the line of scrimmage.

• Last week you saw a new name appear on my Top 25 Senior Big Board -- Troy's Leodis McKelvin. He debuted at No. 21 based on a number of strong performances this season that saw the speedster showcase impressive skills as both a cover corner and return man. McKelvin (5-10½, 185) runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.35 range, supports the run well and has been able to rise to the occasion when the Trojans have squared off against quality opponents. He finished with nine tackles and broke up two passes against Arkansas, had seven tackles and forced a fumble against Georgia, led the defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups against Oklahoma State, and against Florida he had six stops and also forced a fumble. McKelvin has also averaged 18.3 yards on 23 punt returns (three of which he returned for touchdowns) and averaged 21.0 yards on 29 kickoff returns. As a rookie in the NFL next season, I would project McKelvin to operate initially as a nickel back in the secondary, while getting the job done at a high level as the primary return man. Even after the top juniors declare for the draft, I would still expect McKelvin to end up as a solid second-round pick.

• I was impressed with how many yards after initial contact East Carolina's talented senior RB Chris Johnson was able to pick up against Tulane. Always a threat to hit the home run, Johnson carried the ball 27 times against the Green Wave, finishing with 155 yards and a pair of scores. He also hauled in four receptions for a whopping 21.3-yard average and one TD. Right now, I'd project Johnson, who also excels in the kick return game (28.5-yard average on 30 kickoff returns), as a third- or fourth-round possibility. In that same contest, Tulane's hardworking senior RB Matt Forte carried the ball 25 times, picking up 120 yards on the ground, while hauling in three passes out of the backfield, although he did have one drop. Forte's productivity and consistent game-to-game performance figure to make him an intriguing mid- to late-day selection on the second day of the draft.

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Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst

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