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By Dane Brugler, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: September 21, 2017 02:24:12 AM

Stock Report: Scouts excited over progress of Mississippi State QB Fitzgerald

  A look at NFL prospects who helped and may have hurt themselves this past weekend:

Who helped themselves?

Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State, rJR. (6-4, 227, 4.68, #7)
Replacing arguably the best player in program history is an unenviable task, but Fitzgerald has embraced that challenge. Last season as a redshirt sophomore, he did an admirable job as a first-year starter in the SEC, posting 37 total touchdowns (21 passing, 16 rushing). Known as a better runner than passer, Fitzgerald's best plays were generated with his legs, which was reflected in the stat sheet with only 54.3-percent completions. However, he showed steady improvement through the air over the second half of last season and that positive progression has carried over to this season. Against LSU on Saturday night, Fitzgerald completed 65.2 percent of his throws and scored four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air as the Bulldogs dominated the Tigers, 37-7. His inconsistent mechanics will alter his accuracy, but he makes whole-field reads and delivers with placement. Although he is still far from a finish product, Fitzgerald's decision-making and awareness have improved by leaps and bounds -- and that development along with his physical traits are why NFL scouts are excited about his trajectory.

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis, rSR. (5-11, 190, 4.53, #3)
Isaac Bruce was the only receiver in Memphis history to post a 1,000-plus receiving yard season -- until Miller set the school single-season records for receptions (95), receiving yards (1,434) and touchdown catches (14) last year. He was at his best on Saturday, helping Memphis upset UCLA with nine catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Lining up in the slot and outside, Miller has galloping play speed and uses his initial quickness and route acceleration to separate from defenders. A former walk-on, he has only average size/strength, but he does a great job leveraging his body at the catch point and the ball sticks his hands at contact. Factor in that his coaches rave about his work ethic and drive, and it's even easier to see why Miller is one of the top senior wide receiver prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Poona Ford, DT, Texas, SR. (5-11, 303, 5.09, #95)
A substantial reason why Texas almost pulled the upset over USC on Saturday night was the play of the defense, specifically Ford up front. The senior captain nose guard consistently created issues at the line of scrimmage due to his initial quickness, motor and finishing skills. Ford might need his tip-toes to reach 6-foot, but he does a great job using his natural leverage to get underneath blocks and attack gaps with balance, burst and unrelenting effort. His instincts also frequently show up, recognizing the play call and putting himself in position to make plays or unselfishly allowing his teammates to get there. There aren't many effective NFL players 300-plus pounds and sub-6-foot, but there is a place at the next level for a player with Ford's skill-set.

Kurt Benkert, QB, Virginia, rSR. (6-3, 225, 4.92, #6)
Although he hasn't been fully tested on the young season, Benkert is a quarterback prospect who has everything clicking right now. Against Connecticut on Saturday, the senior completed 75 percent of his passes (30-for-40) for 455 yards and three touchdowns as he looked in rhythm for all four quarters. He spread the wealth with spot-on placement, velocity and timing, carrying himself with obvious confidence. He can be a stubborn passer at times, staring down his initial read, but his athleticism also allows him to get second chances, avoiding the pressure. Benkert and Virginia travel to Boise this Friday for a battle on the blue turf that will gives scouts a better look at Benkert and his next-level potential.

Who hurt themselves?

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming, rJR. (6-4, 233, 4.76, #17)
Allen entered this season with immense hype as a potential top-10 NFL Draft pick and with Iowa and Oregon on the schedule in the first three weeks, NFL scouts were eager to see his development. After a poor performance in Iowa City in the opener, Allen had a chance at redemption against the Ducks on Saturday, but it was another disappointing outing as he managed only 37.5 percent completions (9-for-24), for 64 yards, one rushing touchdown and one interception. From a physical standpoint, Allen is elite with the size, arm strength and athleticism that belongs in the NFL. However, he has shown little development with several critical factors of the position, including poise, touch and overall mental awareness. Allen did lose several key weapons from last season, including Tanner Gentry, Jake Maulhardt and Jacob Hollister, who accounted for 70 percent of his completions last year. Turnover happens in college football and ideally scouts want to see a quarterback adapt, but for a player like Allen, who is so young in quarterback years, it could also possibly stunt his development. The toughest question for NFL scouts moving forward will be to assess the draft value of a player with Allen's immense potential but also lack of development.

Other notes:

--Aside from the loss, Texas suffered another tough blow with the injury to junior left tackle Connor Williams (6-5, 320, 5.31, #55). He suffered a sprained MCL and PCL in his left knee and also a meniscus tear that requires arthroscopic surgery this week, putting Williams on the shelf for the foreseeable future. An All-American last season, he entered the year as a possible first-round pick, but Williams struggled against Maryland in the opener and now this injury clouds his immediate football future.

--One of the best playmakers in the SEC, South Carolina redshirt junior WR Deebo Samuel (5-11, 208, 4.50, #1) was off to a great start to the season with six total touchdowns -- three receiving, two returns and one rushing. Unfortunately, his 2017 season is apparently over after breaking his left leg in the third quarter Saturday night against Kentucky.

--In Week 2, Washington senior WR Dante Pettis (6-0, 192, 4.49, #8) broke DeSean Jackson's Pac-12 record with his seventh career punt return for a touchdown. This past Saturday against Fresno State, he returned a punt 77 yards for a score -- his eighth career punt return touchdown, which ties the NCAA record. Why do teams continue to punt to him?

--Dane Brugler is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a collaboration between The Sports Xchange and Pro Football Hall of Fame

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