UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin looks to make an impact in this weekend's Pac 12 title game against Stanford. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Only 19 games on the docket this weekend, but five of them are conference championship games. In anticipation of Alabama, Stanford and Florida State surfacing in BCS bowl games which we’ll cover when the time comes, we focus on the following players Friday and Saturday:
Alabama vs. Georgia at the Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA), Saturday 3 p.m. CBS
NT John Jenkins, Georgia — Jenkins’ stats (44 tackles, one for loss, zero sacks with a batted pass and a blocked kick) don’t jump out at you, but his size does. At 6-3, 358 pounds, Jenkins is a widebody thick through his trunk/legs — he has rare size, sheer mass and anchor strength to hold his ground and create pileups inside. That said, Jenkins is surprisingly athletic for a (very) big man. A BMX racer as a child, he has good feet and short-area lateral agility. As a tackler, Jenkins uses his body weight to rip down ballcarriers.
As with most big bodies, Jenkins’ conditioning will have to be monitored in the pros, as he’s more easily neutralized when fatigue causes his pads to rise. Upon arriving from junior-college in 2011, he reportedly wasn’t able to make it through his first practice at UGA. His utility will likely be on first and second down, as he has limited pass-rush value and cannot work the edges (average lower-body power and explosion). He also could stand to improve his hand use and do a better job of pressing blockers, extending and locking out. Jenkins, who will be a 24-year-old rookie, could be a first-round pick for a two-gapping 3-4 team in need of a nose tackle to eat up double-teams.
UCLA vs. Stanford at Stanford Stadium (Stanford, CA), Friday 7 p.m. Fox
RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA — Count Franklin as another Bruin benefitting from the arrival of head coach Jim Mora Jr. The durable senior running back was productive on 166 carries last season, recording 976 yards (5.9-yard average) and five touchdowns, but he’s been a catalyst in UCLA’s improvement this season, piling up 249-1,506-11 (6.0), plus 29 receptions for 297 yards (10.2) and two scores. Compactly built (5-11, 195), Franklin is an instinctive back with quick feet whose success is predicated on keen vision and patience. He reads blocking well and anticipates holes opening before cutting decisively and sharply with his shoulders square and bursting in short area. Franklin runs hard, exhibiting balance, pad level and lean. His long speed isn’t special, but he sees the cutback and is plenty fast to pop 20-plus yard runs. As a receiver, he has good hands, though most of his catches come on swing passes.
Franklin, who will turn 24 during his rookie season, was contained in losses to Oregon State (12-45) and Stanford (21-65) and does not have bellcow size — power and run strength are average and too often he’s slowed or tripped up by ankle tackles. He’s not a short-yardage back to move the pile on his own. While he’s willing to step up in pass protection, he lacks ideal strength to stone NFL rushers. Also worth noting statistically, Franklin will enter the pros with 800-plus touches worth of wear and tear. More concerning is the fact that he’s fumbled 22 times (just once this season). Ultimately, Franklin is a third-round talent, and if he’s able to earn trust, he has tools to be a productive tandem back in the NFL.
Nebraska vs. Wisconsin at Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, IN), Saturday 7:17 p.m., Fox
DE-OLB Eric Martin, Nebraska — A converted linebacker, Martin (6-2, 250) was a reserve and special-teams standout for three-plus seasons, but the senior has come on in a disruptive way since becoming a starter in Week Three. He's posted 51 tackles, 14 1/2 for loss and 8 1/2 sacks with a batted pass, two forced fumbles and 13 hurries, including an impactful day against Iowa last weekend when he harassed QB James Vandenberg. Martin usually lines up as a 4-3 defensive end, but will occasionally stand up and rush inside. Though undersized with tweener traits, he's energetic and has hand and foot quickness — particularly laterally — to develop as a pass rusher. He crashes hard down the line and gives effort in pursuit. He also shows striking ability when he arrives at the ballcarrier. Martin was relatively quiet his first three years in college and certainly has room for improvement. He can be overpowered at the point of attack and does not play long-armed to disengage. He also shows average eyes and instincts and is seldom asked to play in reverse or in space. Martin is a late bloomer whose production is affected by his role in Nebraska's gap-control defense, but his special-teams ability, motor and developmental pass-rush value make for a draftable player. He could find a role as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech at Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.), Saturday 7 p.m. ESPN
OLB Jeremiah Attaochu*, Georgia Tech — Pronounced "a-tau-chew." A Nigerian-born, 19-year-old junior from Washington D.C., Attaochu (6-3, 240) is built and moves athletically. He was recruited to Tech by Al Groh as a 3-4 outside linebacker and has the long arms, flexibility and puss-rush ability to appeal to NFL teams in the same capacity. Agile with loose hips and shoulders, he can bend the edge as an upfield rusher or drop into coverage. He moves very well laterally, closes hard down the line and shows excellent acceleration and closing burst. Not surprisingly, Attaochu is fairly raw and still developing recognition skills and instincts. He needs to get stronger and learn to play with more pop/power in his hands and continue cultivating his pass-rush arsenal to disrupt more consistently. In two seasons as a starter (22 games), Attaochu has amassed 106 tackles, 21 1/2 tackles for loss and 14 sacks with three pass breakups, three forced fumbles and in interception. Despite playing with the flu last week in a loss to Georgia, he performed admirably and notched a sack. He will have to turn up the heat on FSU QB E.J. Manuel for the Jackets (two touchdown underdogs) to have a chance at an upset. Attaochu will seek an evaluation from the NFL advisory committee, but he could use another year of seasoning and his draft value will be higher a year from now. If/when he does enter the pro ranks, he has clear upside.
Note: The ’Noles will be without defensive ends Brandon Jenkins, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week One and has already declared for the draft, and Tank Carradine (11 sacks), who tore his right ACL in last weekend’s loss to Florida.
Northern Illinois vs. Kent State at Ford Field (Detroit, MI), Friday 6 p.m. ESPN2
OT Brian Winters, Kent State — The Flashes didn't get to 11-1 and nationally ranked with an outside chance for a BCS appearance by accident. The roster has NFL talent, including explosive all-purpose weapon Dri Archer, who we profiled earlier in the season, and Winters, an experienced left tackle whose talent might warrant second-round draft consideration. A team captain and four-year starter, Winters (6-4, 300) offers average bulk and doesn't have enough length to man the blind side in the pros, but he's solid in pass protection. He shows good balance and bend, shuffles and slides and uses his hands well (effective short punch). In the run game, he works to gain positioning, walls off defenders and can swing his hips in the hole. He engages and stays after blocks, exhibiting an aggressive temperament and upper-body strength to manhandle defenders. He also shows mobility and coordination to function in space. He could stand to improve his sustain ability and is vulnerable when he lets his shoulders turn perpendicular or doesn't drop his anchor, but Winters did not look out of place against BCS conference opponents Alabama (2011), Kentucky or Rutgers and could develop into a reliable starter at right tackle, left guard or maybe even center.
Sleeper of the Week: ORT Reid Fragel, Ohio State — Despite playing tight end his first three years in Columbus before converting to right tackle in 2012, Fragel (6-8, 310) looks the part with a long torso, long arms and a big frame with room for added bulk (could grow into a 325-pounder). He shows good bend and balance for a taller tackle and can extend and lock out (difficult to run the arc on). As a run blocker, he can wall off defenders or widen the hole. He’s able to step to the second level, but is inconsistent connecting with moving targets.
As a conversion player, Fragel needs to bulk up and get stronger and continue refining his technique. In particular, he could intensify his grip strength and play with more violence in his hands. He could stand to improve his ability to position and sustain and avoid his tendency to get hunchbacked, bend at the waist and slip off blocks. He generally latches on/leans more than he physically dominates defenders and you’d like to see him become a nastier finisher. His lateral agility and quickness to reach block is average and he is not explosive through his hips. Mentally, he can be slow recognizing and reacting to blitzes and stunts and needs more live experience in this area.
Fragel, who did not miss a game in four years, came a long way in a short time spring-to-fall, then made strides September-to-November. He held his own against Michigan State’s William Gholston and capped his Buckeye career with a solid performance in a win over rival Michigan last weekend. He has legitimate potential to develop into a starting right tackle and could warrant consideration as early as the third round.