Offense: UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
The Pac-12 is the heel of a lot of jokes in college football -- and rightfully so. The refs are bad and the games are weird.
But when it comes to draftable RB talent, boy the Pac-12 is bringing the heat this year. Eno Benjamin, Zack Moss, Artavis Pierce, C.J. Verdell, J.J. Taylor, Salvon Ahmed, and -- in case you don't know him yet -- UCLA bellcow Joshua Kelley. And if you don't know him, Arizona State sure does: he toted the rock 34 times for 164 yards and a spry 4 touchdowns as UCLA pounded the Sun Devils 42-34.
Unhealthy to start the year an incapable of carrying a full load, this is by far Kelley's biggest game of the year -- the first time he's carried the ball 30+ times after doing it three times last season. With a bowling ball frame and bad intentions in the hole, Kelley is an ideal player to run at such a high volume, given his bruising style of play. He's the dealer of hits, not the receiver, and secondary defenders don't want to deal with his physicality in the fourth quarter of long and tiring games.
Kelley hasn't been used as much as receiver this season -- 8 catches thus far to his 27 from last year -- but he's proven that he has the hands and routes to contribute on third down. And while he may not be the caliber of athlete that gets drafted in the early rounds, the skillset and mentality are present for the ex-UC Davis, now UCLA walk-on to stick in the NFL for quite some time.
Defense: TCU RB Jeff Gladney
Texas WR Collin Johnson is 6-foot-6. He's 215 pounds and has arms like Slenderman. His body control and concentration on the sideline and in the air are outstanding traits. You don't want to cover him, I don't want to cover him, and most CFB CBs don't want to cover him.
Jeff Gladney wanted to cover him yesterday -- for all four quarters, in the red zone, on key downs. The 3 PBUs with which Gladney is credited don't do justice to the performance he put out against the Longhorns on Saturday afternoon, as two of his PBUs were in the end zone in what ended up a 10 point upset win for the unranked, but forever feisty Horned Frogs.
Johnson got his licks in, as NFL-caliber receivers always will -- but Gladney has measurably excellent athleticism, and as he continues to pair that with top-flight ball skills against supersized receivers like Johnson, he's going to present a profile of disruption and ceiling that NFL teams won't ignore. Gladney made so many strong plays agains Texas from the recovery position as well, which highlights how his exemplary athleticism enables him to win reps other cornerbacks would lose.
Gladney was considered a Tier 2 corner in the preseason, and as TCU has generally struggled across the season, he's fallen a bit into the crowd -- no longer. Don't forget about Jeff Gladney when you consider cover men the NFL will look at long and hard in early rounds come April.