From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!
Today I am previewing Kansas State. I actually like Kansas State as a dark-horse to win the Big-12 this year (my favorite is West Virginia) but I think Kansas State is still flying under the radar. They return a lot of talent on offense, particularly at wide receiver where they are fairly deep. With Collin Klein and John Hubert in the backfield they should continue to run the ball effectively, and if Klein can continue to progress and open up as a passer the Wildcat’s offense should be dangerous. Klein accounted for 40 touchdowns last season (13 passing, 27 rushing) and while it will be difficult to match that lofty total again, I think he is in line for an increase in passing efficiency and production. He isn’t a prototypical quarterback, but he is a fearless leader and he improves the play of those around him much like Tim Tebow did at Florida. That is an incredibly rare and valuable trait for a quarterback to have, and Klein has it in spades. With Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson all returning at receiver Klein will certainly have players to throw to whether he wants to move the chains, threaten defenses horizontally or if he wants to stretch the field vertically. It will be interesting to see if or how he progresses as a passer this year. One important note about Kansas State’s offense is that Manase Foketi **DOUBLE CHECK THIS** was attempting to transfer out of the program after the completion of his junior season but as far as I know Kansas State has continued to block his request to transfer. I don’t have an update at this time, but Foketi is Klein’s blind-side protector and losing him would be a significant blow to their offense.
On defense, Kansas State was surprisingly good last year and they return a number of important starters. They have a couple of intriguing pass rushers at defensive end in Adam Davis and Meshak Williams, a stud middle linebacker in Arthur Brown, and a couple impressive defensive backs in Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman. Those core players should keep Kansas State’s defense competent, and if other guys can step up I think Kansas State’s defense will surprise. They return a number of key starters across their entire team, but having a pair of pass rushers like Davis and Williams will only help the secondary headlined by Malone and Zimmerman who are both instinctual defenders with quality ball skills. Kansas State may not have a player who will end up being drafted in the 1st round come April, but they have a well stocked team full of reliable players who may not be as flashy or freakish as some of the talent stocked by other programs, but they are effective and worthy of serious draft consideration. With that, here are the prospects to look out for on Kansas State:
Collin Klein, QB- Ah, Collin Klein, the Big-12’s Tim Tebow. The comparison isn’t perfect, but they sure do have their similarities. They have NFL size (Klein is listed at 6’5”, 226 pounds), strong arms, a hitch in their throwing motions, the ability to bowl over defenders when gaining yardage with their legs, inconsistent accuracy and fantastic toughness and leadership capability. Klein may not be at the top of many team’s quarterback wish lists, and he likely won’t be drafted in the 1st round like Tim Tebow was, but I think he will get a shot to play QB in the NFL. He needs some mechanical work on his throwing motion, but he actually flashed the ability to go through progressions and scan the field a bit despite being relied upon to run the ball so much. Klein is the type of guy that many will find fault with, and many draftniks will probably grade him pretty low, but he will likely impress teams in interviews due to his reported football IQ and obvious leadership capability as well as his willingness to take a beating and play hurt. I don’t know if he will ever be a starting QB in the NFL, but if Tebow has managed to do it, hell, maybe Klein can do it too. I expect to see Klein at the East-West Shrine Game, or perhaps more likely, the Senior Bowl and I look forward to seeing him up close and speaking with him.
John Hubert, RB*- Hubert’s production suffered more than anyone else’s thanks to Klein’s ability to gain tough yards in short yardage situations which led to his 27 rushing touchdowns last season. Hubert is a quality back though despite his somewhat diminutive listed size of 5’7”, 185 pounds. Packing that much weight onto that small of a frame isn’t as easy as you might think, and I think he is eager to prove he is more than just a scat-back. He produced 970 yards on 200 carries last season (4.8 ypc average) as well as 3 touchdowns. He also demonstrated that he can catch passes out of the backfield by tallying 24 receptions for 188 yards and 1 more touchdown. Hubert is only a junior and I would be surprised if he declared early, so as a senior he should have a chance to show what he can do as the main feature of Kansas State’s running game. As a junior, though, he will likely remain in Klein’s considerable shadow.
Tyler Lockett, WR**- Lockett is a gamebreaker and even though he is only a true sophomore I had to include him in this list. Unfortunately he suffered a lacerated kidney against Oklahoma State and missed the final four games, but he said he is feeling “fantastic” and he was able to participate in spring practices before being held out because of a hamstring injury. Here’s hoping he gets over the injury bug for the rest of his career, but at 5’11”, 170 pounds he will likely continue to get nicked up. However, despite missing the final four games last year Lockett managed to catch 18 passes for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns, carry the ball 10 times for 110 yards (11.0 ypc) and return 16 kickoffs for 563 yards (35.2 average per return) including 2 for touchdowns. And that was all in just nine games! He looks like he has legitimate sub 4.45 speed to me and will likely be Kansas State’s primary deep threat on offense as well as their most dynamic kickoff return man this year. So while he may not be eligible for the draft this year, there is no way I could have left a playmaker as dynamic as Lockett off of this list.
Chris Harper, WR- Harper is widely considered Kansas State’s top wide receiver, and that was reflected in his statistics last season. He had 40 receptions (#2 WR had 21), 547 yards (#2 WR had 338) and 5 touchdowns (Lockett was #2 with 3, 5 were tied for #3 with 1 TD reception each). By catching 40 passes that meant that Harper caught almost 25% of Klein’s completions (40 of 161), accounted for 28.52% of the yards that Klein threw for (547 of 1,918) and accounted for 38.5% of the touchdowns that Klein threw (5 of 13). It may seem like I’m trying to skew the numbers to make Harper’s look more impressive, but the fact of the matter is Klein ran the ball 36 more times than he threw the ball last year and only threw for 470 more yards than he ran, yet had 14 more touchdowns rushing than he did passing. There just weren’t a ton of passes to go around, and it didn’t help that Klein only completed 57.3% of the 281 passes he attempted. Regardless, the 6’1”, 225 pound Harper figures to be the go-to guy for Klein again this season, and I think he has a shot at 50-60 receptions for 800 yards and 8 touchdowns if Klein continues to target him and if his accuracy improves at all. I don’t think Harper is going to be a top WR prospect even in a relatively weak WR class, but he has reliable hands to catch the ball outside his frame and while he isn’t a burner I think as he continues to improve his route running he will project pretty nicely as a possession receiver at the next level. Will he be a star? Probably not, but I think he will be a reliable WR who will be a pleasant surprise for whoever drafts him.
Tramaine Thompson, WR*- Tramaine Thompson is listed as a probable starter, but I think he will likely be Klein’s #3 option this season behind Harper and Lockett. Thompson was the 2nd on the team in receptions (21) and yardage (338) but that is largely due to the fact that Lockett missed the final 4 games and only finished with 3 fewer receptions and 88 fewer yards while scoring two more touchdowns. Thompson led the team in average per reception and certainly has the speed to threaten teams vertically, but at 5’7” 165 he is an even smaller target than Lockett and I’m not sure how reliable his hands are at this point. Kansas State is undeniably a run-first team so even though Kansas State has three legitimate pass catchers at receiver don’t expect Bill Snyder to demand that Kleinn throws for at least 3,000 yards. That means fewer targets for all of the receivers, and that includes Thompson.
Adam Davis, DE- Adam Davis teamed up with Meshak Williams to form a surprisingly formidable pass rushing duo last year, combining for 11 sacks (Davis had 4) and additional tackles for loss (Davis also had 4). There were a lot of questions surrounding Davis’ health at this time last year because of a severe back injury he suffered. Davis had a slipped disk and a pinched nerve in his back and after surgery he said he “couldn’t bend over because if I turned the wrong way it hit my nerve and sent pain down to my legs.” He worked hard and rehabbed from the injury and was still limited on August 18th when that interview was published, but despite all of that the 6’0”, 255 pound defensive end produced 34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 2 pass break-ups while starting all 13 games for the Wildcats. Now a senior and a year removed from the injury everything appears to be fine but that is something that NFL teams will certainly want to check out when they scout him after this upcoming season. Davis has quality burst off of the ball, flashed some impressive hand usage to keep linemen from locking him up and can blow by slow-footed offensive linemen if he can keep their hands off of him. He’s obviously very undersized and may need to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but Davis is one man I would not bet against. He worked very hard to come back from that back injury and he is all effort and hustle. He’s a player and I think he has a shot to double his production from his junior season, his first game action with the Wildcats after transferring from junior college. Don’t sleep on him because of his height!
Meshak Williams, DE- Williams is the defensive end with superior height at 6’3” but actually weighs less than his defensive end counterpart Adam Davis, tipping the scales at only 245 pounds. Williams has burst off the ball as well and he converted that into 28 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and a team-leading 7 sacks last season. He too was a junior college transfer and thanks to his height he will be considered more favorably as a possible 4-3 defensive end. Both Williams and Davis have things to improve as pass rushers, but they have the burst to intrigue evaluators as pass rushers and together the tandem has a legitimate chance to combine for 15-20 sacks next year. They should be fun to watch if they remain healthy.
Arthur Brown, MLB- Brown is arguably the top NFL prospect on Kansas State. He will draw a lot of favorable comparisons to former Nebraska and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Lavonte David thanks to their relative lack of size, impressive instincts, tackling and coverage skills. Because he is listed at 6’1”, 225 many will knock him for lacking size much like they did with David, but if he repeats his junior season (his first game action with Kansas State after transferring from Miami and sitting out in 2010) production with 101 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 pass break-ups and an interception then he could very well go in the 2nd round like Lavonte David did. Brown has the athleticism, instincts and quality fundamentals to be a quality weakside linebacker in the NFL and he is one of the top senior 4-3 linebackers in the nation.
Justin Tuggle, OLB- I saw the name Tuggle and just had to do some research to see if he was related to Jessie Tuggle and, in fact, he is. Justin is Jessie’s son and believe it or not he wasn’t a linebacker from birth. He was a quarterback (and a pretty good one) in high school and set school records in passing yards and passing touchdowns there. He started 3 games for Boston College at quarterback, throwing for 229 yards and 4 touchdowns. He left for Community College in 2010 before transferring to Kansas State for his junior season. He didn’t contribute much, only playing in 4 games on special teams and totaling one tackle against Texas A&M, but if for no other reason than because he is Jessie’s son he is someone to keep an eye on. He is listed at 6’3”, 227 pounds and apparently has transitioned very naturally to the outside linebacker position (should that surprise anyone? It flows in his blood) and is in an intense competition for the only vacant starting linebacker spot. I don’t know if he has won it for sure or not, but it sounded like he pulled ahead after the spring game where he was able to tally 4 tackles including one for loss. Arthur Brown had this to say about Tuggle’s performance: “He’s doing a great job,” Brown said. “When he’s out there running after the ball, you can tell he’s a great athlete. He definitely transferred all his offensive skills to defense. I think he has a lot more potential.” I, for one, am excited to see if Tuggle holds onto the job and if he is able to capitalize on his potential and his quality linebacking pedigree. The NFL could use another Tuggle.
Nigel Malone, CB- Malone really catches your attention when you watch him and when you look at his stat line. He may be listed at only 5’10”, 176 pounds but he isn’t afraid to come up to support the run (as evidenced by his 58 tackles) and he has some of the best ball skills of any defensive back in the conference, tallying 10 pass break-ups as well as 7 interceptions in his first season with the Wildcats. Malone isn’t a technician at cornerback quite yet, but he has pretty impressive instincts and clearly has a nose for the ball. He won’t blow people away with his measurables in my opinion, but once you watch him play you have to be impressed with how well he plays the ball. I’m very interested to see how he does now that he has a year of starting experience under his belt, and I think he is a legitimate top 100 pick coming into the season. If he’s coachable and if he works hard he can improve his technique and maybe add a little weight to his frame, but I don’t think you can teach ball skills, especially not one’s that enable you to tally 17 passes defended (including 7 interceptions) in your first season as a starter in a major football conference. Keep an eye on Malone, he’s a playmaker.
Allen Chapman, CB- Champan is the “other” senior corner returning as a starter for Kansas State. He is listed at 5’11”, 180 pounds and was another junior college transfer who had his first game action as a Wildcat last year as a junior. He started 7 games, played in all 13 and had 50 tackles, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception. He was solid, but was obviously overshadowed by Malone’s dynamic performance opposite him. I don’t know how good Champan’s prospects are, but with Malone opposite him it’s only a matter of time before teams get tired of him deflecting passes and at times intercepting them, so he will get tested this year. It will be interesting to see how he holds up.
Ty Zimmerman, SS*- Zimmerman is one of my favorite prospects on Kansas State and he really impressed me in coverage against a very good passing offense in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. He deflected two passes intended for their big tight end Chris Gragg thanks to his impressive instincts, athleticism and ball skills. A player with his football IQ, awareness, instincts and ability to make plays on the ball will be very popular once he is ready to leave for the NFL. He is entering his junior season this year and while I don’t expect him to leave he certainly will have the option to. He currently has 25 career starts and assuming Kansas State manages to make a bowl game, he could leave after this season with as many as 38 career starts if he stays healthy. That’s pretty amazing, and starting experience and awareness is something that talent evaluators love to see in safeties. They are the quarterbacks of the secondary and football IQ is very important for them, and Zimmerman has that in abundance in my opinion. Keep an eye on him, he may not have gaudy statistics (he only has 5 career interceptions coming into the season) but he is without a doubt a NFL safety.