Tag Archive: Brandon Jenkins


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 Florida State, and my god are they talented. This preview took me hours longer than I expected it to only because of the sheer vastness of talent that Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have assembled. It’s almost unbelievable, and there’s no way to cover it all in one post. I, however, took my best shot at it here. On offense the ‘Noles return 8 starters including quarterback EJ Manuel who was good but not great in his first full season as a starter last year. That obviously had a lot to do with the massive number of injuries that FSU’s offense sustained last year, especially along the offensive line, but Manuel has plenty of room to improve before I will grade him as even a 2nd round pick. Luckily, the FSU running game should be much improved this season thanks in part to true sophomore Devonta Freeman, and Manuel has plenty of receiving threats to throw the ball to. Rashad Greene is my favorite, but Rodney Smith, Christian Green and Nick O’Leary should all be reliable, consistent targets this season. The question for me is the offensive line, where they have some talent and depth but not an abundance of starting experience. They aren’t a reliable unit and they lost their top two tackles from a year ago, Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders. Stepping up to replace them is going to be critical, especially since Manuel has a tendency to hang onto the ball longer than he should.

The defense, however, should carry this team to at least 10 wins this season. With a unit this talented anything else would be a disappointment. It’s not completely inconceivable that Florida State could have 3 top 40 picks just at defensive end, and they also have the top recruit in the country Mario Edwards entering the fold at the defensive end spot. They have everything from a potential 1st round pick in Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle, to a top 100 prospect nose tackle in Anthony “Amp” McCloud, to an underrated 3 tech in Everett Dawkins. They also have a pair of reliable middle linebackers and a stud outside linebacker in Christian Jones. Top that off with a pair of probable 1st round picks in Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary and you have to wonder how anyone plans on getting into field goal range against this defense, much less scoring touchdowns. This defense is going to be incredible, and if the offensive line steps up and EJ Manuel starts to live up to his potential this team could be downright scary. I’m not confident in the offensive line or in EJ, however, and that means I still think Virginia Tech is going to come through as the ACC Champion. With that, here is my prospect preview of Florida State’s insanely talented roster:

P.S. I have to give a huge shout-out to TomahawkNation.com because they were a fantastic resource for this piece and they do an absolutely unbelievable job covering Florida State and football in general over there. Give them a read whether you like Florida State or not.

EJ Manuel, QB- Manuel is returning for his second full season as a starter with 17 career starts over his Seminole career. He’s listed at 6’5”, 238 pounds and definitely passes the eye test, and his strong arm is noticeable right away. Not only that, but he is very athletic for his size which helped him rush for 141 yards and 4 touchdowns last year in addition to passing for 2,666 yards (65.3% completion), 18 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. One would assume he would improve on those numbers this year, particularly with some intriguing talent returning at receiver and running back, but I will be looking to see how his accuracy develops in addition to his pocket poise and ability to read defenses. He’s definitely got potential, but at this point he’s a lot closer to a 3rd round prospect than a 1st rounder in my opinion. I don’t think he processes information quickly enough to be a top college quarterback and eventual quality NFL starter, and unless his head catches up with his arm and his body he’s going to be a physically gifted quarterback who never put it together from the mental aspect of the game. Until he proves that his football IQ has improved and that he can read defenses well I’m not going to grade him in the top 64 picks.

Devonta Freeman, RB**- Freeman is only a true sophomore but he led the Seminoles in rushing last season, overtaking the oft-injured Jermaine Thomas. He rushed just 120 times but gained 579 yards (4.8 ypc) and 8 touchdowns as a freshman. I think he’s poised for a huge break-out season this year, as he is healthy and ready to rumble. He is listed at 5’8”, 200 pounds and honestly his running style and tools reminds me of Trent Richardson. I know that’s extremely high praise, but I can’t help but think of Richardson when I watch him run. He is not afraid to lower his pads and initiate contact with defenders, he churns his legs very well to get tough yards, he falls forward consistently, he has plenty of speed to rip off big chunks of yardage, he is shifty and can make defenders miss, and he has flashed the ability to catch passes well out of the backfield despite only having 15 receptions for 94 yards last season. I’m a big Freeman fan, and I hope he gets way more than 120 carries this season because this kid is special.

Rashad Greene, WR**- I may be a huge fan of Devonta Freeman but I am just as big a fan of Rashad Greene. He was mind-blowingly good as a true freshman last year as he led FSU in receptions (38), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (7) all while having a 15.7 yards per reception average. He has fantastic hands, adjusts so well to the ball and just has a knack for making critical catches when his team needs him to. He can still improve as a route runner, but he is already pretty respectable in that department for such a young player. His body control and concentration is exceptional, and I think the 6’0”, 175 pound receiver is already one of the best in the ACC. He showed that consistently last year, and he has all the speed, burst and ball skills you could ever want in a wide receiver. Much like Freeman, this kid is SPECIAL.

Rodney Smith, WR- Smith is returning for his senior year with 20 career starts, including 12 last year during which he totaled 36 receptions, 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. At 6’6”, 219 pounds Smith is a huge target and has tons of potential as a red-zone threat. He came to FSU as a very raw player that needed to grow into his frame, and now that he is listed at 219 pounds he seems to have done so. He doesn’t have explosive speed but he is a long strider with build-up speed that can sneak behind defenses if they don’t keep an eye on him. Because of his height he has plenty of potential to come down with jump balls, and has good hands so he is able to win some of those match-ups. He’s not a top 100 pick at this point, but he has worked hard to fill out his frame, improve his route running and learn to shield defenders from the ball with his 6’6” frame. 6’6” receivers with good hands are exceedingly rare, and it seems that Smith fits that bill. If he can continue to show improvement, particularly in his route running, he will catch plenty of eyes as a senior. This senior receiver class is significantly worse than the 2012 draft class, so if Smith has a great season he could really vault himself up draft boards.

Christian Green, WR**- Green is another explosive receiver that Manuel will have to find a way to get the ball to on a regular basis. Green is listed at 6’2”, 206 and has fantastic raw athleticism and tons of speed, and as a redshirt freshman last season he had 26 receptions, 450 yards but no touchdowns. His speed presents a lot of potential headaches for defenses, but his route running needs considerable work so he is able to be bottled up by quality cornerbacks. If his route running improves he could be a huge difference maker in 2012 though, particularly if Manuel starts to read defenses better and quicker.

Nick O’Leary, TE**- O’Leary is just a true sophomore but he flashed some serious potential as a freshman last season en route to a 12 catch, 164 yard, 1 touchdown season as a true freshman. He may not have had eye-popping numbers, but the 6’4”, 240 pound tight end is ready to break out this year. He has good hands, runs good routes and is probably the best tight end FSU has had on its roster in years. I’m not sure how good of a blocker he is, but as a receiver he is likely to be targeted much more frequently than he was last season and should start to garner a lot of national attention soon. He’s a very good tight end prospect, so keep an eye on him.

Bjoern Werner, DE*- Werner is one of the top defensive ends in the country and could be a part of one of the best pass rushing draft classes in recent memory. Werner is listed at 6’4”, 272 pounds and in 13 starts last season he had 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 7 sacks, 8 pass break-ups, 1 interception, 1 fumble forced and 1 fumble that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. Werner is the top prospect on FSU’s loaded roster which says a lot about him. He is only a true junior and yet he has played in every game over his first two years with the Seminoles. He has tons of potential thanks to his fantastic strength, work ethic and motor. He made huge strides as a sophomore despite it being his fourth year of football and he may be saving his best for last as a junior. He is still raw and is just scratching the surface of his potential, and I think he has the makings of a top 10 pick come April. Defensive ends with Werner’s skill set are exceedingly rare, and combining that with a fierce work ethic and motor often ends in good or great NFL careers. That is what I anticipate from Werner, and I dare you to ignore him when you watch Florida State’s defense this year. It’s nearly impossible.

Brandon Jenkins, DE- Jenkins is certainly the more well-known pass rusher on Florida State’s defense, but Werner is the superior prospect thanks to his size and strength. Jenkins has worked hard to add muscle to his frame, as he is currently listed at 6’3”, 260 pounds and was only about 240 when he broke out as a true sophomore. His stats may have slipped last season as he “only” had 41 tackles, 4 TFL, 8 sacks and 1 pass break-up, but that was largely due to an increase in attention from opposing offenses in the way of double teams and screens to his side of the field. The attention offenses gave to Jenkins certainly played a role in Werner’s break-out, but both are potential 1st round picks in their own right. Having that much talent at defensive end plus Tank Carradine, who would start on 95% of college football’s defensive lines but comes off the bench at Florida State, makes Florida State’s defensive line incredibly fierce even without considering the talent they have at defensive tackle. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins is actually playing at 260, my guess it he is in the 250-255 range. He might be able to get away with that at right end in the NFL, especially if he holds up against the run better as he showed the ability to do last year, but the best use of all of his athleticism might be at 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he has all the burst, explosion and athletic ability you could ever want in a pass rusher, and with an 8-10 sack season this year he will likely go in the top 32 selections in April.

Tank Carradine, DE- Carradine is the odd man out on Florida State’s depth chart but he undoubtedly has a NFL future. Carradine is listed at 6’5”, 264 pounds and is extremely strong and projects very well to the strong side end in a 4-3 defense in my opinion. Last year was his first with the Seminoles and many didn’t expect him to contribute a lot but he shocked them all. He finished with 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks after committing to FSU out of junior college. Carradine doesn’t have the elite burst off the snap and doesn’t have Jenkins’ edge speed but he closes like a missile and his strength is on the same level as Werner’s. He was extremely impressive for a player new to the program last year and should be even better this year. I don’t think FSU will have 3 first round picks at defensive end, but if Carradine surprises people again and has a great season despite the team trying to divide limited snaps between three stud defensive ends then it wouldn’t be completely outlandish even in a draft class with so much pass rushing talent. I really like what Carradine brings to the table and I can’t wait to see how he does this year even if he isn’t starting for FSU.

Timmy Jernigan, DT**- Jernigan has the most upside of any of the defensive tackles in my opinion, and he showed a lot of it as a true freshman. The 6’3”, 301 pound defensive tackle accounted for 30 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery. That’s an amazing year for a freshman defensive tackle, and it’s really raised expectations for him as a sophomore. This is a talented defensive line though, one of the two best in the country along with LSU in my opinion, and that means there won’t be an abundance of tackles for loss and sacks just floating around. Jernigan will still earn his keep though thanks to his fantastic blend of quickness, athleticism and strength. It was noted that one of his weaknesses is that he can be put on skates by a pair of quality offensive linemen double teaming him, but if that’s one of the only issues you can find with the game of a true freshman defensive tackle then you have stumbled on to a future top 10 pick in the making in my opinion. He’s got incredible upside and as long as he continues to work and progress he should end up as a top 15 pick one day.

Anthony McCloud, DT- McCloud is essentially the antithesis of Jernigan. He’s listed at 6’2”, 312 pounds and while he doesn’t have Jernigan’s freakish athleticism he does a fantastic job plugging up the middle of the field from the nose tackle position. He is squatty, strong and incredibly hard to move off the ball even with a double team. He may not offer the pass rush or backfield disruption of a player like Jernigan, but considering how trendy the 3-4 defense has become in the NFL space-eaters like Jernigan that simply occupy blockers and clog the A gaps in the middle of the defense are still incredibly valuable. He’s assignment reliable, he doesn’t get moved off the ball and he’s a team player. That sounds like he a top 100 lock in the NFL draft to me, especially if he continues to impress versus the run as a senior.

Everett Dawkins, DT- Dawkins flies under the radar on Florida State because he is literally surrounded with NFL talent in every direction. Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Jernigan were all in the limelight last season, and Dawkins just went about his business on his way to a ho-hum 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 sack, 3 pass break-up, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble season. For most starting defensive tackles this would be a “meh” season, and statistically perhaps it is. But when your top three defensive ends combine for 20.5 sacks there just aren’t a ton of sacks to go around for your defensive tackles (FSU had “just” 6.5 between Dawkins, McCloud and Jernigan). Dawkins is listed at 6’2”, 301 pounds and is reliable against the run and the pass. He’s tough to move in the run game, he has great burst and acceleration and I think his statistics mask how much NFL ability he has. He’s playing on an incredibly talented defensive line which will make some teams wonder how good he really is, but he’s a top 100 pick without a doubt in my mind and should prove as much during the season and hopefully at the Senior Bowl.

Vince Williams, MLB- Williams is the starting MLB heading into the season despite some significant opposition from Telvin Smith, a 6’3”, 210 pound junior. Williams had a good season last year as he totaled 54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, and 1 interception. Williams is a good run defender but there are questions about how good he is versus the pass. I don’t know that much about him to be honest, but he played a key role in the FSU run defense being as good as it was (opponents averaged just 2.3 yards per carry against the ‘Noles, and only Wake Forest and Miami averaged over 3 yards per carry against them last season). He’s a reliable tackler and he may not be a freak athlete, but he knows his responsibilities and he sticks to them. He’s probably not going to be a high draft pick, but there are certainly worse middle linebackers starting around the ACC and the country.

Telvin Smith, MLB*- Smith attempted to challenge and overtake Williams, but he wasn’t able to do so from what I understand. He’s listed at 6’3”, 210 pounds and from what I understand he is the better coverage linebacker and makes more flashy plays than Williams does. That was partially evidenced by his stat-line as he totaled 42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore. He probably has more upside than Williams, but for now Williams is the starter even if Smith is still rotated in. He will almost certainly be the starter as a senior in 2013.

Christian Jones, OLB*- Jones is a stud outside linebacker, there’s no other way to say it. He may not be quite where you want to be as far as the mental aspect of the game is concerned, but he has all the size and athletic ability you could ever want in an outside linebacker. He’s listed at 6’4”, 237 pounds and has the speed and change of direction to cover any tight end and even slot receivers at times. He’s a ferocious hitter and while his stats may not jump off the page (56 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 pass break-ups) he absolutely has 1st round upside and the 2012 season may be the year he really starts to reach it. He’s a freak athlete and could even consider bulking up and playing 3-4 outside linebacker if he wanted to. He’s that caliber of athlete.

Xavier Rhodes, CB*- Rhodes really caught my eye as a redshirt freshman and he did it again last year when I was watching FSU against Notre Dame and he was doing a good job 1 on 1 against Michael Floyd who went #13 overall in the NFL Draft this past year to the Arizona Cardinals. Rhodes has fantastic size for a corner and is listed at 6’2”, 209 pounds, has the speed to turn and run with most any receiver, and has very long arms which help him at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage when he tries to make plays on the ball. He’s got a ton of ability, impressive instincts and great ball skills and even though he didn’t have a great season last year (according to Tomahawk Nation there were rumors of attitude and work ethic problems with Rhodes after his terrific freshman year, which is a bit of a red flag) he still had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. That was a bit of a disappointment after he had 4 interceptions as a freshman, but now that he is back for his junior season and his third year as a starter (he returns with 25 career starts) he has a chance to get back to freshman form and show evaluators the potential top 15 pick we all saw two years ago.

Lamarcus Joyner, SS*- I am a BIG Joyner fan. He may be undersized for the safety position at 5’8”, 193 pounds but he is a fantastic player. He has fantastic instincts which is probably my favorite part of his game, but the fact that he has incredible range, legitimate 4.4 speed, long arms, great ball skills and closes like a heat-seeking missile sure doesn’t hurt either. Did I mention he packs a whallop as a hitter, averaged 30.5 yards per kick return and is one of the emotional leaders of the defense? Oh, and had 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions as a sophomore? He is my #1 draft eligible safety and it’s not even close. He is a 1st round lock if he continues to play anything like he did last season even in spite of his height. If he holds up from a durability stand-point the only knock close-minded analysts will be able to find on him is his lack of height. Joyner is the caliber of player that USC fans and the national media tried to hype Taylor Mays up to be except that Joyner is vastly better despite being about 5-6 inches shorter. Give me Joyner in my secondary literally any day of the week, he is the rare safety that makes the entire rest of the defense better because of his range and playmaking ability, and that’s why I would pick him in the top 20 (maybe even higher, though I want to see him as a second year starter before I go that far) without a second thought.

Dustin Hopkins, K- Hopkins rounds out this absolutely insane list of NFL Draft prospects and hopefuls. He is a good kicker who hasn’t been automatic or completely clutch, but he has reliable. He was 1st team all ACC last year as he made all 44 of his extra point attempts and made 22 of his 27 field goals with a long of 53 (though he was 1/3 from 50+). He drives the ball very well on kick-offs and certainly contributes to Florida State having as good of a kick-off coverage team as they do. I’m not sure if he will be drafted, but he could very well end up in the 5th-7th round conversation.

Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

7-      E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

7-      Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M*

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

10-   Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Tight End Rankings:

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

10-   Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska
Offensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

10-   James Hurst, OT, North Carolina*
Offensive Guard Rankings:

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

10-   Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State
Center Rankings:

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

10-   Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Defensive End Rankings:

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

10-   William Gholston, DE, Michigan State*
Defensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

10-   Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Middle Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

10-   Christian Robinson, ILB, Georgia
Outside Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

10-   Tharold Simon, CB, LSU*
Safety Rankings:

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

2-      T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Manuel has a quality combination of size, arm strength and athleticism. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as a senior.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State: Manuel was a junior this year and with plenty of starting experience under his belt I expect him to have a good year for FSU next year. Don’t forget that while this was his first full season as a starter he filled in for Christian Ponder the previous year when he was hurt. Manuel has a strong arm and can make all the throws but struggled with accuracy in this game. I attribute to some of his errant throws to playing behind an offensive line starting an unbelievable four freshman up front due to injuries. Zebrie Sanders, a potential 1st round offensive tackle prospect, was the only usual starter on the offensive line and even he had slide from right tackle over to the left side. However, Manuel made a few poor decisions in this game and could have easily had one or perhaps two interceptions in this game. He displayed some quality accuracy when he wasn’t pressured but the repeated pressure and some hits affected him in my opinion. He’s clearly an athletic specimen due to his size and ability to pick up yardage with his legs and he flashed some ability to stand tall in the pocket to deliver passes downfield. It will be integral for him to consistently do this next year versus making one read and scrambling like many quarterbacks with the ability to scramble tend to do. He is losing a few starters on offense, but I believe they are replaceable. If he can clean up some of his decision making, improve his pocket poise a bit and clean up some of his footwork he could really improve his draft stock. Teams will be immediately intrigued by his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism especially after the season Cam Newton has had this year. Manuel’s challenge will be convincing that while he isn’t the rare player Newton is that he has significant upside. More importantly, he needs to show tendencies and attributes that would indicate that he will achieve it. Newton is one of the rare quarterbacks who didn’t display some of the things he has done this year in college but has managed to do them in the NFL, but he is the exception that proves the rule in this instance. I don’t know much about Manuel’s work ethic or film study habits, but I look forward to evaluating him next year. He has upside, but upside is nothing without the work ethic, desire and intangibles to achieve it.

Bert Reid, WR, Florida State: I am personally not a big fan of Bert Reed. He flashed some potential when I was scouting Christian Ponder last year but he didn’t impress me much this year. He has pretty average size, isn’t a burner downfield and I’m not sold on his hands at this point in the draft process. It will be interesting to see if he gets an invite to an All-Star game because I would love an extra look at him in person. He had a nice touchdown catch in this game but it was made possible by a perfect throw by Manuel. Reid hadn’t created much separation and while I haven’t watched him enough to know if that is a regular occurrence it warrants mentioning. If he does struggle to create separation the ability to make catches in traffic will be important, so showing that he could do that on that touchdown catch is at least a small flash of ability in that respect. As I said earlier I am not high on Reid right now and have a 6th/7th round grade on him right now, but we will see what I think of him once I do more film study.

Rashad Green has great upside and I was really impressed with his performance in the 2nd half. He's only a freshman, so keep an eye on him.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: Let me just say that I love this kid and I’ve only seen him play in two games this year. That isn’t to see that I haven’t seen Florida State at all this year, but it is my understanding that he really came on strong late in the year. He didn’t have a significant impact in the 1st half but he made two huge catches in the 2nd half as well as a touchdown reception to help propel FSU to the comeback win. While I would have liked to see him make more plays in the 1st half and I did see him drop a pass on a 1st down throw from Manuel I really loved the fact that he showed up in the 2nd half when his team needed it the most. If you read my stuff regularly you know that I really place a premium on players that make plays when their team needs them the most and I truly believe that is a quality that is cultivated in some people while others just aren’t born with it. I think Greene has that quality and that will be important when I evaluate his NFL draft prospects in a couple years. I’m very excited about his potential and upside because he is only a freshman and played an integral role in this 2nd half comeback win for the Seminoles. Keep an eye on this kid! He’s got a very bright future.

Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State: Rodney Smith has all the height you could ask for in a receiver at 6’6” but he seems to have a skinny frame and looks EXTREMELY skinny on film. He should be able to add weight pretty easily, but I’m not sure he will ever be a 6’6”, 225 pound receiver because his frame just doesn’t seem conducive to trying to bulk up. Regardless, he flashed impressive hands in this game and caught a pretty tough pass on a throw that was behind him after he made his break and seemed to do it pretty effortlessly. He’s another returning player on FSU’s offense and while he wasn’t a starter this year I do think he’s going to make a significant contribution next year. His size and hands will be valuable all over the field but particularly in the red zone.

Kenny Shaw, WR, Florida State: Shaw had a solid game and I think he is a solid player overall. I don’t think he has the upside of a player like Greene or Smith but he can contribute. He made all of his catches in the 1st half while Greene saved his heroics for the 2nd half. It may seem unfair to claim that Greene’s receptions were worth more than Shaw’s, and perhaps it is especially because he was making a play here and there when Florida State was struggling to move the ball. However, Shaw seemed to be body catching and while he was creating separation against Notre Dame’s secondary I didn’t think he looked like a burner. Of the three returning receivers I have mentioned in this post I think Shaw’s ceiling is the lowest, but I don’t think his floor is more appealing than that of Greene’s. Obviously I haven’t seen them play enough to be absolute in this claim, but that is my perception having seen a couple of their games before I delve into more intense film study after the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.

Zebrie Sanders got his shot at left tackle this year and it has really improved his stock.

Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: I am high on Zebrie Sanders. I’ve had a late 1st round/early 2nd round grade on him for a long while and I truly believe he has a chance to go in the 1st round. I’m really hoping he will be at the Senior Bowl because I would love to see him play against that caliber of competition for a week, but I would also love to interview him. I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but last year I identified him as a player that I thought could slide over from the right tackle spot and stick at left tackle in the NFL even though it seemed unlikely that he would ever get the chance to prove me right as a junior or as a senior with Andrew Datko starting there and doing a pretty good job. However, when Datko got hurt this year Sanders got that chance and I think he played quite well especially considering a mid-season change in assignment. He’s an athletic guy with impressive size, long arms, a good-looking kick slide and seems to be a natural knee bender. He demonstrated the ability to do some hand fighting while continuing to sustain a block in pass protection and once he gets his hands on you he does a good job of taking you out of the play consistently. He also showed pretty consistent hand placement and showed the ability to stay in front of his man on a spin move. He could stand to add weight to his frame particularly in his lower body to help him anchor versus bull rushes, but that is something that can be coached and improved upon with training and weight lifting. You can’t coach his size, arm length and athleticism and that is why I think he will ultimately end up in the 1st round.

Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State: Jenkins is a bit of a frustrating prospect for me because I feel the exact same way about him now as I did last year. His athleticism, burst and edge speed is all extremely intriguing and that makes you drool as a talent evaluator, especially when the premium has never been higher on players that can rush the passer. However, he is just not strong enough to be a true terror as a pass rusher yet. He has flashed some hand usage this year which is good because last year he relied almost exclusively on his athleticism to beat offensive tackles. But because of his lack of size, strength and hand usage he can be engulfed and taken out of plays at times which is a little frustrating to watch when so many people expected him to develop into a sure fire 1st rounder that would leave early. He got a bit of a free sack when he was running a twist with DT #93 in this game and as he beat the guard inside (again, with only his athleticism) Rees lost his balance, fell down and Jenkins was credited with a sack that looks a lot better on the stat sheet than it does on film. The story continues to be the same for Jenkins: He’s got all the athleticism you could want in a pass rushing prospect but he has to get stronger and continue to refine his technique if he is going to become a true force as a pass rusher. The potential is there, it’s just a question of how much of it will be realized at this point.

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Werner is a guy that I had to mention not because I think he is going to be a sure-fire first round pick in 2013 but because I think it’s awesome that he is from Germany. I kind of found myself hoping that he would do something recklessly awesome in this game (though I have no idea what that would have entailed) but all he did was demonstrate that while he doesn’t have a lot of edge speed he does have some burst off the line of scrimmage, a little bit of bend and hip flexibility and a pretty awesome name. I don’t think he is much more than a mid-late round guy at this point, but he was pretty productive this year and should only improve next year so I thought he warranted mentioning.

Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State: Carradine isn’t a guy that I saw a whole lot in this game but he showed up with a sack or two in this game (even if one of them was when he came free off the edge) so I thought he warranted some investigation. I don’t know a whole lot about him and he didn’t stick out to me much when I saw Florida State play earlier this season, but I think he has some upside and obviously still has time left to develop. I haven’t seen him nearly enough to put a possible grade range on him yet, but I wanted to make note of him as a guy that I have on my watch list for the future.

Anthony McCloud, DT, Florida State: McCloud is a guy that I expected a bit more from in this game as he seemed to be getting pushed off the ball more than I expected, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He had a couple nice stops at the line of scrimmage in this game but I was expecting to see him anchor better at the point of attack and occupy blockers better when he wasn’t trying to get into the backfield. I’ll keep an eye on him next year though.

Nigel Bradham isn't a top linebacker prospect but he is fundamentally sound. I think he will be a reliable starter in the NFL.

Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State: I like Bradham. I don’t have him as a 1st or 2nd round pick, but I do like him as a 3rd/4th round guy. He seems to be a good tackler, he’s reliable in coverage, has good range sideline to sideline and I think he could be a reliable starter in the NFL. He seems like a guy that it would be a mistake to bet against because he’s while he doesn’t have elite size or freakish athleticism he is fundamentally sound and seems to have a good work ethic. A couple things stuck out to me beyond him being a good tackler in this game. One of them was the fact that while he was still a reliable tackler he flashed some serious pop as a hitter. One prime example of this was when Michael Floyd was making his circus catch in the end zone Bradham found his way over to him and just after Floyd managed to haul the pass in Bradham LEVELED him and left him grimacing in pain after somehow holding on for the touchdown reception. He had another impressive hit or two in this game, one that warranted me writing in my notes that “Bradham made a fantastic hit. You could just hear it.” The second thing was that while I didn’t notice this often I did notice that late in the game Bradham was on kick-off coverage on FSU’s special teams unit. As a senior starting his final game for the program I loved to see that. Not only that, but he made a special teams tackle inside the 20 yard line! So, needless to say I like Bradham and I think he will be a quality 4-3 WLB starter for somebody looking for a reliable starter.

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: I didn’t watch him much in this game but he was getting some rave reviews from some of the people that I follow on Twitter. From what I can gather he is a pretty impressive athlete (some labeled him a freak athlete) and he seems to have a lot of upside from the little that I did see of him in this game. There was one play I noticed where he looked like he was covering a slot receiver for Notre Dame and doing a shockingly good job of it for a linebacker at his size. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on him next year because he seems like a pretty good candidate for my potential break-out players list assuming he hasn’t already done so and I just wasn’t aware of it.

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Rhodes may have caught more people’s attention in this game than any other player short of perhaps Greene because of the job he did on Michael Floyd. Floyd is a pretty physical receiver but Rhodes matched up with him very well in this game and definitely won the match-up in the eyes of most people including myself. I only saw him catch two passes on Rhodes before he went down with a sprained knee and on both Rhodes wrapped him up cleanly where he caught it to avoid Floyd gaining a lot of YAC. He got beat deep on one play and made a very poor attempt at leaping and deflecting the pass but luckily for him Floyd dropped it. He’s a tall corner but unlike a lot of corners his size he has fluid hips, turns and runs well and showed the ability to get physical with Floyd both by playing press man against him and by tackling him after he caught a couple of passes. I haven’t watched him specifically before but I do worry a little bit about his ability to locate and make a play on the ball in the air based on what I saw in this game because he didn’t locate the ball in the air at all on the play he ultimately was injured on and made a less than impressive attempt to deflect the deep pass that Floyd let bounce off his hands. Overall he definitely displayed quality man coverage but it wasn’t flawless, so

Greg Reid, CB, Florida State: Greg Reid is a very undersized corner but I have been pretty impressed with him ever since I saw him for the first time as a freshman against Miami. He’s only about 5’8” but he is a very impressive athlete. He is very fast, quick and has unbelievable leaping ability. This was evidenced very clearly when Tommy Rees threw a fade to Michael Floyd in the end zone and despite being about seven inches shorter than Floyd Reid was able to elevate and get his hands to a nearly identical height as Floyd’s. Floyd ultimately came down with the touchdown after bobbling it for what felt like an eternity, but Reid had already shown what scouts will love and hate in one play. They will love his athleticism, his ball skills and his instincts to time his leaps appropriately to make a play on the ball. However, his natural lack of height will seriously limit his upside in the NFL as he just won’t be able to match up in man to man coverage with big, physical receivers that are even bigger and more physical than Floyd. I like his potential as a nickel corner and think that if he proves he has enough ability in coverage he could take a Brent Grimes path to a starting job. Grimes is very fundamentally sound and has fantastic athleticism and ball skills which help make up for his lack of size. Reid can take a similar path if he has the dedication and work ethic that Grimes does, but I have not yet evaluated how well he supports the run and how good he is in man coverage. He’s got everything you could want in a zone corner thanks to his athleticism, speed and burst but I haven’t watched him in man coverage in a long time. I like his upside and I think he could be a #2 in the NFL if everything falls right for him, but more than likely he will spend some time as a nickel corner before he gets his shot to start. Luckily for him he has a lot of potential as a returner and should be able to contribute in that phase of the game immediately in the NFL. Special teams is a great way for players to stick on a roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if Reid uses that to boost his stock in the draft and to make sure he sticks on a roster when he ultimately leaves Florida State.

Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State: Joyner is another undersized but very athletically gifted defensive back on Florida State’s roster. Joyner had one of the more electrifying plays of the game breaking off a big return to set up Florida State with great field position for that drive. He’s very fast and while I didn’t get to see him much on defense I did see him deliver a huge hit on Floyd on the sideline on a play that ultimately injured both Floyd and his teammate Xavier Rhodes. Joyner laid a pretty big hit on Floyd’s midsection not long after he had taken a shot in a similar area from Nigel Bradham so it was understandable why he was hurt (though he did get up and walk away while Rhodes was still laying on the ground). Joyner is only a sophomore so he has plenty of time left to develop, but he will need to show me more in coverage beyond just being a very fast safety if I’m going to buy into his upside.

Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State: Yes, every once in a while I have to include a kicker on my prospect lists. This is one of those times because Hopkins is an impressive kicker. He has a very strong leg and made two critical field goals in this game. Evaluating kickers is almost as much of a crapshoot as evaluating quarterbacks as far as I’m concerned and I haven’t quite figured out what kickers can do in college to prepare them for successful NFL careers. I think there may be some correlation between exposure to high pressure situations in college and success in the pros, but even that isn’t a fool-proof quality. Regardless, I like Hopkins’ NFL chances as of now. Not only did he make two critical field goals in this game that could have been the difference in the game he also wears gold shoes that he repaints before every game. If that’s not swagger I don’t know what is, so I say do your thing Dustin Hopkins! Do your thing until the NFL fines you for your fancy gold shoes!

Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame: I know Rees hasn’t had an altogether terrible season this year, but the only note I wrote down for him in this game was one word: “Garbage.” It’s harsh, but I think it’s pretty accurate. He doesn’t have a strong arm, he’s not consistently accurate, he panics under pressure, he makes poor decisions especially when pressured, he’s not overly athletic and he is just very average or below average as a quarterback. Notre Dame really needs to get their quarterback situation straightened out and I don’t think Tommy Rees is the answer. Maybe I’m being way too harsh early on in his career, but I wouldn’t want him starting for me if I was coaching Notre Dame or any other Division 1 program. Obviously, considering all I have just said, I don’t think he has a NFL future.

Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame: I think Wood has some potential as a late round 3rd down back, but his lack of versatility is going to hurt him in my opinion. I think Notre Dame really needed a physical back in this game and it was pretty clear that Wood does not fit that bill. I’m not sure he has great balance but he definitely doesn’t run through many arm tackles or gain a lot of yards after contact. He does have some speed and he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but I don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Floyd has a lot of upside but I have some concerns about his toughness. I don't have a top 10 grade on him.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Michael Floyd is probably going to end up being a 1st round pick but I don’t think I could draft him in the first round if I was running a team. There are just too many things that concern me about him. First, I know it’s beating a dead horse but his off-field issues at Notre Dame have to give you some pause. I know he earned his way back onto Notre Dame’s football team, and I commend him for that, but that DUI is definitely concerning. As far as on-field concerns, I worry a bit about his straight line speed as well as his burst to create separation in the NFL. He struggled to create separation against a pretty talented corner in Xavier Rhodes and I think that will end up hurting his stock. The last thing scouts got to see of his Notre Dame career wasn’t him tearing Miami up like it would have been if he had declared last season, it was him having a solid but not spectacular game largely in part because the corner who seemed to have his number went down with an injury. On top of that, he wasn’t on the field in crunch time when his team still had a shot to win the game late, which brings me to my next concern: I question Floyd’s toughness and resolve. Maybe this is unfair since I don’t know him personally and have never talked to him before, and I certainly wasn’t standing next to the Notre Dame athletic trainer when he was examining Floyd on the sideline, so take this for what it’s worth. I think Floyd should have been in the game, no question, no doubt in my mind. I’m not a fantastic athlete, but the competitor inside of me always wanted to be in the game late when my team needed me and I can’t understand how anyone would feel otherwise ESPECIALLY if you are as good and important to your team as Floyd is. Now, I will retract this statement if it turns out that Floyd cracked a rib or had some serious injury which he certainly could have had considering the big hits he took to the mid-section in this game. However, he was standing on the sideline with his helmet on if I remember correctly. That means the trainer didn’t take his helmet and bar him from going in, and in my opinion that means he made the call to not come back in. Do you think those hits would have kept Tim Tebow out of a game? Do you think they would have kept Brett Favre out of a game? They might have kept Randy Moss out, but plenty of people considered Moss a selfish diva. Why isn’t Floyd viewed the same way? I was told two years ago that he was a diva and I took it under consideration but I hadn’t seen a lot to suggest that it was true or false. Two years later, particularly after this display, I believe that it was the truth. I apologize for this rant, but I value intangible qualities heavily into my assessments when I can judge them to the best of my ability and I don’t like Floyd’s intangibles at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he became a potential 1st round pick by accident. He’s got NFL size, some NFL speed, NFL athleticism and pretty close to NFL hands. I say pretty close because he will make some fantastic catches but he also has a tendency to drop a pass or two every once in a while that he really should catch. He reminds me a little bit of Julio Jones in that aspect, and while you might say that Julio Jones is having a great season all things considered I would say that he has had some drops this year that I don’t think a guy like A.J. Green would have dropped. Floyd has similar issues to Jones in that respect, but he isn’t the freak athlete Jones is. So while some will tout Floyd as a top 10 pick I will personally stay away and depending on my film study I may not even grade him as a first rounder. I’ll be in the minority, and I might get proven wrong, but I really think that Floyd’s intangibles have to play in to anyone’s evaluation of him and I just don’t think he has enough ability to outweigh those concerns and still get a 1st round grade right now.

Theo Riddick, WR, Notre Dame: Riddick is another converted wide receiver for Notre Dame. The last time they did that it worked out really well for them as Golden Tate formed a pretty dynamic duo with Michael Floyd when he was here. Riddick isn’t the same athlete that Tate was, but I like running backs that convert to wide receiver because they tend to be more physical after that catch. I haven’t evaluated Riddick much yet, but he is definitely on my radar which is why I wanted to put him on this list.

Tyler Eifert has amazing upside and I think he reminds me of Rob Gronkowski to be honest.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Eifert is considering coming out this season and with good reason. Is he ready to get drafted by a NFL team and start from day one? Perhaps not. However, I do think he has as much upside as any draft eligible tight end and that includes Dwayne Allen and a player I have been touting for at least a year in Orson Charles. Eifert has a combination of size, athleticism and great hands that led me to compare him to Rob Gronkowski after watching him this year and in the bowl game against FSU. In my opinion he was Notre Dame’s true go-to receiver this year as he made a lot of key catches for them late in games that I saw. He’s not a very effective blocker yet but he has shown a willingness to block and with coaching he could definitely be a quality in-line blocker. Like so many tight ends these days he can split out as a receiver either in the slot or on the outside and attack defenses. He’s got terrific range due to his athleticism, his huge frame, long arms and great hands. I think he is a better prospect than Kyle Rudolph who many people were touting as a possible first rounder despite his injury. He’s got Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski upside and people are starting to see that, so if he does declare and ultimately get selected outside of the 1st round then whoever gets him is going to get a STEAL much like the Patriots did with Gronkowski and like the Saints did with Jimmy Graham. You heard it here first.

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: Martin has LT potential thanks to his combination of size (6’4”, 303 pounds) and athleticism. He did a pretty good job against Brandon Jenkins in this game though he did give up some pressure. He seems to move laterally pretty well and I think he has some potential to stick at LT in the NFL, though I could see him moving inside to guard due to his size and ability to pull in the run game. He doesn’t have elite tackle size and may only be 6’3” when officially measured. He’s got upside though and I will definitely be keeping an eye on him next year.

Aaron Lynch has insane upside. I'm really excited to see him develop at Notre Dame.

Aaron Lynch, DE, Notre Dame: Lynch is only a freshman but he has beast written ALL over him. He’s got a terrific combination of size, athleticism, strength and motor. He is going to be all over NFL draft boards in a year or two and with good reason. He’s an absolute animal at defensive end and has top 10 upside in my opinion. Keep an eye out for this kid, this is only the beginning of a great college career for him.

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: Nix III is another defensive lineman I like on Notre Dame. He’s got terrific size for a defensive tackle and has the athleticism to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. One thing I saw him flash was a quality motor to chase plays down from the backside which was very encouraging. Finding defensive tackles with great motors is pretty rare, so if he truly does have a good motor it will only help his draft prospects. I didn’t get to see how he held up to double teams in this game but there will be plenty of time to look at that in the future because he is so young. With Lynch and Nix on their defensive line Notre Dame has the makings of a pretty dominant defensive line in a year or two.

Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame: Te’o has announced that he will return to school for his senior year which I can respect, but now writing a scouting report on him is a much lower priority as a result. Regardless, I think he has 1st round potential for next season but because he has chosen to come back for a year he is opening himself up to what will inevitably become nit-picking criticism of his game. It happens to most players that come back for their senior seasons after they showed enough potential to consider declaring early after their junior seasons and go in the 1st or 2nd round, so it is fairly likely that it will happen to Te’o. Personally I like Te’o. I think he could play middle linebacker in either a 4-3 or a 3-4, but I particularly like his upside as a 3-4 inside linebacker. I’m not sure dropping into coverage is a strength of his, but he is a very good tackler, he packs a lot of punch as a hitter and he does a great job timing his blitzes and putting pressure on the quarterback. For that reason I think that he could have more upside in a 3-4 defense because, at least on the surface, the scheme seems to play to his strengths a bit more than a base 4-3 defense would. I think Te’o would have had a great shot at the 1st round this year, but as a college student myself I can’t fault him on going back for another year of it. He’ll never get a chance at it again, so I can’t fault him for taking advantage of that while he can.

My First Mock Draft of the Year

1. Indianapolis- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: It’s clear to everyone just how valuable Peyton Manning was to the Colts now. He’s practically an MVP candidate and he hasn’t even played a game. The Colts have since fired their defensive coordinator and while it’s arguable the Colts could use defensive upgrades there is no one in the draft that warrants a selection of Andrew Luck. Some people think that the Colts can’t have Luck and Manning on the same roster, but I disagree. Luck may be NFL ready, but you can’t convince me that he would be better off playing as a rookie instead of sitting for a year and learning from Manning. Learning from a MVP and a Super Bowl champion your first year on the job will only make you better.
2. Minnesota- Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal:
Analysis: The Vikings made a bold and, in my opinion, a great move releasing Bryant McKinnie. Leslie Frazier put his foot down by making it clear that even a quality LT will get cut if he shows up out of shape and isn’t ready to contribute to the team. However, that didn’t work out that well for the Vikings this year as Charlie Johnson has not been a worthwhile replacement in any sense of the word. He’s been consistently beaten as he’s tried to protect McNabb’s and Ponder’s blind side this year. LT is as big a need as any of the Vikings many needs, and it would be very easy to fix should Kalil declare for the draft this year. He’s the best left tackle in the country, and don’t forget that he was talented enough to keep an eventual top 10 pick in Tyron Smith at right tackle as a junior for the Trojans. Kalil has the potential to start at left tackle from day one, and that makes him very appealing to a team like the Vikings.
3. St. Louis- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: The Rams have been assembling some pieces on offense in recent years. I’m not sold on Sam Bradford yet, but he is clearly the quarterback of the future for the Rams. With Steven Jackson continuing to play well, Lance Kendricks coming on board in the 2nd round last year, and by acquiring Brandon Lloyd at the trade deadline the Rams have made surrounding Bradford with some weapons a priority. Lloyd is a quality target, but getting him a true #1 target with plenty of upside is something they still need to do. That is where Blackmon comes in. Blackmon is my #1 WR in this draft class, he has very good hands (though he does have concentration lapses at times resulting in drops), fantastic body control and he is very hard to tackle once he has the ball in his hands. He’s the top receiver in this class, and the Rams must only evaluate his character to determine whether he will continue to improve and if he will stay out of trouble once he gets his first NFL paycheck.
4. Jacksonville- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU:
Analysis: The Jaguars have had a good defense this year and they really need offensive help, but one spot they could use help at is cornerback. Looking at the players available at this point I think Claiborne warrants the pick here more than any of them. Matt Barkley might have a higher grade, but with Blaine Gabbert on the roster I don’t think they will even consider a quarterback this early. Some will disagree with that based on Gabbert’s struggles this year, but he shouldn’t have been playing yet anyways. He needed a year to learn on the bench and he didn’t get it, and as a result the Jaguars have risked stunting his development. Claiborne is ready to come in and play right away and he is easily the most impressive cornerback in the country. He has very fluid hips, he turns and runs well, he has very good speed, he’s very athletic, and he has fantastic ball skills and return ability once he has the ball in his hands. He’s a playmaker at corner with great size, long arms and good instincts. It really speaks to LSU’s talent in the secondary that they may have a first round pick from their defensive backfield three years in a row if Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are drafted in round one in 2012 and 2013.
5. Carolina- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa:
Analysis: The Panthers could use another wide receiver here and they have serious needs on defense, particularly at defensive tackle. However, Jeff Otah has not been particularly impressive when I’ve watched him and he has had serious durability issues since being drafted by the Panthers. Jordan Gross has been a mainstay on the Panthers offensive line for years but he is 31 years old now. He won’t be around forever, and drafting an eventual replacement for him as well as a player who could replace Otah at right tackle should he continue to struggle with injuries. Reiff might not be ready to start at LT right away, but he definitely has NFL LT ability.
6. Miami- Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Miami may end up trading up from this spot to assure themselves a shot at Barkley should he actually declare. I think he will after the fantastic season he’s had, but there is a possibility that he could come back and attempt to lead USC to a BCS bowl game. However, if he does come out he is definitely NFL ready as a result of his three years of experience starting in a pro style offense at USC. He is a NFL ready quarterback that could play day one much like Luck if necessary. Ideally he wouldn’t because I believe that quarterbacks should be developed patiently, but that’s just my opinion. Miami hasn’t had a legitimate quarterback since Marino, so hopefully Barkley can break that trend. Again, don’t rule out Miami moving up on draft day if they are in a similar position as they are in this mock to go up and get the quarterback they want.
7. Washington- Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Washington could go any variety of ways here, but quarterback is one of their most pressing needs. Rex Grossman and John Beck are not long term solutions by any means, and Robert Griffin has been one of the most impressive players, not just quarterbacks, in the entire country this season. He’s very mobile and his passing has developed vastly every year that he has been at Baylor and his athleticism would be utilized brilliantly by Mike Shanahan and his offense. He’s got as much upside as any quarterback in this class thanks to his passing ability and his athleticism, he just has to be developed appropriately. It’s a tricky thing to do, but Shanahan might be the man for the job.
8. Arizona- Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford:
Analysis: The Cardinals have huge needs along the offensive line but particularly at left tackle. They haven’t been able to adequately fill that position for years, and Levi Brown has not been holding up well at all. He has been flat out abused at times this year, and they don’t have an adequate replacement on the roster right now. I personally am not sold on Jonathan Martin being a quality left tackle yet as I think he might be a more ideal fit at right tackle, but I do think he will be drafted quite high because of his potential projection to the blind side.
9. Philadelphia- Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College:
Analysis: Kuechly continues to impress everyone who watches him. It’s hard to find significant flaws in his game and he has been doing amazing things at the linebacker position for Boston College. He’s a fantastic linebacker and is easily the most NFL ready linebacker that is eligible for the draft this year. He is only a junior so while he is absolutely ready for the jump to the next level it’s not a sure thing that he will leave early. However, the Eagles should be praying that he does because he is the perfect solution for their middle linebacker position. He’s a top 10 lock in my opinion because he is going to test off the charts in interviews and while he might not be an elite athlete with freakish ability he is very arguably the best tackler in the entire country and is as fundamentally sound and reliable as any linebacker prospect in the nation. The Eagles need a player like him in the middle of their defense as bad as anyone, and getting the chance to pick him #9 overall would be a godsend for their franchise.
10. Cleveland- Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina:
Analysis: Cleveland seems to have hit home with Jabaal Sheard thus far but they don’t have a lot of pass rush talent opposite him and while they do have talent at defensive tackle I don’t think they have a defensive tackle with legitimate pass rush talent inside. Coples projects best to DE in the NFL, and while I’m not sure if he would be at RE or LE for the Browns since I wouldn’t want to move Sheard from where he has had success, I think he projects well to DE at the next level. Ideally he would be at left end, but on top of the value he presents as a starting left end he would also be able to slide inside to defensive tackle in pass rushing situations. He is a ‘tweener to some extent, but I think that works to his advantage in this situation. He would be able to be an every down defensive end, but he has such impressive size and strength that I think he could shift inside and use his athleticism to his advantage to create pressure from the interior in obvious passing situations. That would give the Browns some scheme flexibility and boost Coples’ value even more.
11. Kansas City- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: There is significant chance that Cassel will still be the Chiefs quarterback of the future, but he will be 30 next May and there is no indication that he is going to be durable for the long haul. Cassel hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback to any extent and the Chiefs front office has been making concerted efforts to surround him with weapons. He has Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin at his disposal now. The effects haven’t been exactly what the Chiefs desired. Landry Jones might not be my favorite quarterback in this class, but he has quality size, arm strength and accuracy. I don’t think he’s a franchise guy and I’m not sure he will win a Super Bowl without a quality supporting cast and a great defense, but that’s just my opinion.
12. Seattle- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Richardson is a top talent, but running backs don’t always go in the top five. I would argue that he’s on a similar level as McFadden and perhaps even Adrian Peterson as a prospect, but running backs have to make a fantastic case to go in the top 5-10 picks. There isn’t an incredible amount of demand for a running back in the top five, and outside of Washington and Cleveland there isn’t a ton of demand for running backs in the top 10. Shanahan doesn’t have a track record of picking running backs early on anyways, so I don’t think he would pick Richardson at 7 in this scenario unless he thought he was a truly elite talent. That, in my opinion, would cause Richardson to slide a bit. Seattle might not need him that much given Marshawn Lynch’s re-emergence to a degree, but with all of the highly touted underclassmen quarterbacks off the board I think that Pete Carroll would go in another direction other than quarterback. Richardson would help take a ton of pressure off of Tarvaris Jackson by combining him with Lynch in the running game. This might not be the most likely pick or the best pick for need for the Seahawks, but I do think Carroll is a man who could appreciate the immense value of this selection.
13. San Diego- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia:
Analysis: San Diego has been searching for an upgrade at outside linebacker since they lost Shawne Merriman to injury years ago. Larry English hasn’t panned out like they thought he would (I personally thought he would be better as a RE in a 4-3, or perhaps only as a situational pass rusher in nickel packages) and they haven’t been able to upgrade him yet. Enter Jarvis Jones, one of the best pass rushers in the entire country. There’s no guarantee that he will declare as he is only a redshirt sophomore, but he has as much upside as a pass rusher as anyone in the nation. He’s been dominant rushing the passer this year and really helped ease the loss of Justin Houston to the NFL and made up for Cornelius Washington’s absence due to suspension at times this season. He’s got tremendous upside and while he needs to get bigger and stronger before he is NFL ready if he did declare I think he would demand immediate top 20 consideration.
14. Tampa Bay- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame:
Analysis: This might not be Tampa Bay’s biggest need, but Josh Freeman has a solid running back in LeGarrette Blount, a talented tight end in Kellen Winslow and a potential #1 WR in Mike Williams, but I think he could use another weapon at wide receiver. Floyd is a good value at #14 overall and has the potential to go higher than this, but his character concerns might drop him a little bit. The Bucs haven’t shied away from character concerns before, especially at wide receiver where they picked the potentially troubled Williams who quit the Syracuse football team and still went in the fourth round. Floyd has had his issues, but he is a talented, big bodied receiver who would really compliment Mike Williams’ explosiveness and burst well.
15. Buffalo- David DeCastro, OG, Stanford:
Analysis: Buffalo needs help along the offensive line and David DeCastro is as good as it gets for an offensive guard prospect. Top 15 picks at OG are extremely rare, but this might be one instance where it could happen. DeCastro is a fantastic guard prospect and while he is only a junior he is ready for the next level. The Bills have a few needs along their roster, but I think that DeCastro would fill a significant need at guard for the Bills.
16. Tennessee- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama:  
Analysis: The Titans have a quality corner in Cortland Finnegan, but they don’t have much talent beyond him. The Titans have other needs they could address here, but picking up a corner like Kirkpatrick who absolutely has top 15 ability makes a lot of sense in my opinion. The Titans have bigger issues than corner thanks to Finnegan’s ability, but getting another quality corner to start opposite him can help the defensive line, and if they are able to boost their pass rush and help out the secondary the Titans defense would really improve considerably. They need upgrades on defense and on offense, but picking up a very good corner like Kirkpatrick can’t hurt here.
17. New York Jets- Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: The Jets are one of the most creative teams as far as blitzing schemes thanks to Rex Ryan and they have enough talent on the back end to get away with some intricate blitz packages. However, their secondary and defense overall would benefit considerably if they could get a better pass rush out of their base packages. Ronnell Lewis has been one of the better pass rushers in the country and while he is still young he has plenty of upside and the Jets have shown that they have at least some ability to get production out of athletically talented players, most notably Aaron Maybin who looked like an absolute bust on the Bills but has tallied 5 sacks since signing on with the Jets. Lewis is an athletic specimen as well, and if he is developed properly I think he can be a quality pass rusher for the Jets.
18. Denver- Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia:
Analysis: The Broncos defense has really stepped up this season and Von Miller in particular has been playing not only like a Pro-Bowler, but like an All-Pro. He has 10.5 sacks in only 11 games which is almost unheard of for a rookie. The Broncos defense is definitely on the right track, but they could probably use an upgrade at corner. Champ Bailey is getting older but still playing well, however they don’t have an abundance of talent opposite him. I have been high on Minnifield since I watched him last season as a junior, and I think he has legitimate 1st round ability. Any corner that gets a chance to learn from Bailey will benefit considerably from it, but I think Minnifield would help improve Denver’s back end considerably once he was deemed ready to start.
19. New York Giants- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina:  
Analysis: The Giants may not have as serious of a need at linebacker as it seemed at the beginning of the year if Mark Herzlich proves to be the man for the job, but they have had serious issues with injuries and inconsistency at linebacker for years, so adding some talent to the fold isn’t a bad idea. Brown is extremely athletic and has significant upside and would fit very well on a Giants defense that likes an athletic front 7 and enjoys applying pressure with their front four and linebackers.
20. Dallas- Mark Barron, S, Alabama:
Analysis: Dallas has had issues at safety since they had Roy Williams starting at safety years and years ago and they’ve never really solved that problem. Mark Barron is one of the only safeties in the class that potentially warrants a 1st round pick. I was not high on him after his junior season, but he has shown much more ability in coverage than I expected to see this year. If he truly projects well to the NFL from a coverage standpoint then he definitely warrants 1st round consideration and the Cowboys would be wise to consider selecting him here.
21. Cleveland (F/ATL)- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State:
Analysis: Cleveland’s offensive line could use an upgrade. Joe Thomas is a stud, but opposite him there isn’t anything special. Mike Adams has some potential as a left tackle, but I think he could be a good or a very good right tackle. He’s a local guy having gone to Ohio State and he would fill a need for them up front.
22. Cincinnati (F/OAK)- Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin:
Analysis: Cincinnati could use significant help along the interior of their offensive line and getting a center like Konz would be ideal. He’s easily the best draft eligible center for the 2012 draft and if he is healthy enough to play in the Big 10 Championship Game or whatever bowl game Wisconsin plays in then I think it is possible that he will declare. Regardless, if he decides to come out he is the rare center that warrants a 1st round selection.
23. Cincinnati- Alfonso Dennard, CB, Nebraska:
Analysis: Cincinnati has some talent at corner, but when they lost Jonathan Joseph to the Houston Texans in free agency it definitely hurt their secondary. Dennard is a physical corner and would help replace Joseph in the secondary. I don’t think he has the ball skills that Joseph has by any means, but he would definitely help shore up the hole he left at corner.
24. Chicago- Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State:
Analysis: Chicago has been searching for a left tackle for years and they haven’t found it yet. They drafted Chris Williams to play there and he has only recently showed enough to start inside at guard. J’Marcus Webb was certainly not drafted to be the future at left tackle but he has spent far too much time starting at that spot. He’s not a left tackle and he has struggled at the spot. Zebrie Sanders may not have been considered by many to be a starting left tackle but he pleasantly surprised a lot of people when he slid over to the left side of the line to replace Andrew Datko for Florida State this season. I think he has NFL potential at left tackle and if Chicago agrees then they have to pick him. Getting bookend tackles for an offensive line that has been one of the league’s worst for years would be a huge step in the right direction for the Bears organization.
25. Detroit- Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia:
Analysis: Detroit seems to be a team that drafts primarily for value and doesn’t reach for needs, preferring to get as much talent as possible. I like that drafting strategy, but unfortunately it led to them ignoring the offensive line and the cornerback position last year. This year I think they need to make sure they address the offensive line, and Cordy Glenn is one of the best remaining offensive linemen on the board at this point in the draft. He is a huge, powerful run blocker but I don’t think he can stick outside at tackle. That makes me think he could be a very good offensive guard, and the Lions could use the push up front.
26. Houston- Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis:
Analysis: Dontari Poe is a raw prospect in my opinion but at a listed height and weight of 6’5”, 350 pounds he definitely has immense upside. Houston likes to penetrate upfield and cause havoc with their defense, and Poe could definitely help them do that. I personally he might eventually be a better fit in a 4-3 defense if he is able to improve his pass rush moves to collapse the pocket more versus the pass. However, a lot of teams will see his size and strength and assume he is ready to be a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. As we saw with Albert Haynesworth size and strength don’t automatically mean he can play nose tackle in that defense, so we need to be careful assuming that he is a great fit in that scheme. However, my opinion has never stopped NFL teams from doing what they want to do, so Poe could very well end up on a 3-4 team after all.
27. New England- Devon Still, DT, Penn State:
Analysis: The Patriots have plenty of talent in their front seven, but they still struggle to rush the passer at times. This might have to do with their transition from a 3-4 defense, but I think that Still projects well to the DT position in a 4-3 defense. He has had a fantastic senior year and could easily go higher than this, but it’s hard to figure out exactly where everyone’s stock is at this point. If he did make it this far I would not put it past the Patriots to take advantage of the value picking Still here would present.
28. New England (F/ NO)- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina:
Analysis: New England has a lot of quick wide receivers but they don’t have a big, physical receiver. Perhaps they don’t want one, but I think it hurts them a bit in the red zone when they have to rely on quick routes from their wide receivers and throwing to tight ends in one on one coverage. At the very least, having a big, powerful wide receiver like Alshon Jeffrey couldn’t really hurt them in the red zone or overall. I worry about his ability to create consistent separation in the NFL, but he has fantastic size, very long arms and great hands. He’s got plenty of upside, but his stock has slipped this year due to inconsistent production partially because of him and partially because of transitions at the quarterback position. Jeffrey could easily go higher than this, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be a top 5-10 pick at this point.
29. Baltimore- Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State:
Analysis: Burfict has top 20 talent thanks to his combination of size, athleticism and his electrifying hitting ability. However, he has some character concerns that will probably scare a few teams away. The elite teams in the NFL often have the locker room presence to take risks on a certain number of these types of players. Burfict is such a player, and with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and other strong locker room leaders the Ravens are one of the teams that could take a risk on Burfict. In fact, I think Ray Lewis would be a very intriguing mentor for Burfict because Lewis is a big hitter with great toughness and leadership capability. Burfict could learn a lot from Lewis and it might also help improve his reputation. Not only that, but Burfict would be the obvious heir apparent to Lewis at middle linebacker.
30. Pittsburgh- Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame:
Analysis: Pittsburgh, much like Baltimore, has an aging leader at middle linebacker in James Farrior and I don’t think the future replacement for him is currently on the roster. Enter Manti Te’o, a 1st round caliber middle linebacker. Te’o projects well to a 3-4 scheme that would require him to play downhill and blitz to help create pressure, two things that Te’o does very well. Pittsburgh would get a player who is a good fit for their scheme and they’d have a great replacement for Farrior in the middle of their defense.
31. San Francisco- Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington:
Analysis: San Francisco lost Aubrayo Franklin in free agency and most people anticipated them struggling to stop the run after losing him. That hasn’t been the case, however, they could still use an upgrade at the nose tackle spot. Ta’amu is one of the best nose tackle prospects in the country and he is very hard to move off of the line of scrimmage. He’d be a perfect nose tackle for the 49ers, and would be a reasonable value at this point in the draft.
32. Green Bay- Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State:
Analysis: I have been saying this since Clay Matthews emerged as a stud linebacker for the Packers: They need someone opposite him to help take pressure off of him. Matthews is a man-child, but he can’t get 10 sacks a year and apply consistent pressure without a talented player opposite him. At first they had Brady Poppinga and he was replaced by Erik Walden, but both players could be easily upgraded. Enter Brandon Jenkins, the nation’s sack leader from a year ago. He has tons of speed off the edge and while he needs to get stronger he has significant upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Thanks for reading! I’d appreciate any feedback so I can improve future mock drafts.

–Tom

E.J. Manuel's performance this year will either be the reason Florida State climbs back to the top of the ACC or the reason they have a mediocre season. If he plays well, the old FSU could be back. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

6. Florida State- Florida State lost quarterback Christian Ponder but outside of that they return a LOT of starters, key starters too. Jermaine Thomas at RB will be huge for them, they have talent at receiver, and they return a quality offensive line (especially their tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders). They also have one of the best pass rushers in the country in Brandon Jenkins, who should draw considerable attention this year as he attempts to mimic his incredible success from last year. Florida State’s saving grace will be E.J. Manuel’s considerable playing experience considering he was the back-up to Ponder all this time, but because of Ponder’s injuries he not only has regular season experience but bowl game experience. While he wasn’t dominant or spectacular in all of his playing time, he definitely showcased ability and should play well enough to give Florida State a good shot at an ACC title. If he plays really well then they may have a shot at a great bowl game or even a chance to win the National Championship.

7. South Carolina- South Carolina is returning a lot of talent and has a great recruiting class coming in. They have a number of players ready to emerge, and if Stephen Garcia can finally get his act together (and keep it together, which is usually the tricky part) South Carolina should have a great season. Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey will make the offense viable provided the offensive line helps them out, and South Carolina should have a fierce pass rush if Devin Taylor emerges like I expect him to. South Carolina definitely has a lot of talent, and this may be the ole ball coach’s best chance to win a SEC title in a long time, with Alabama, Auburn and Florida all in a significant transition stage.

Trent Richardson has incredible upside and should help carry the Crimson Tide offense while A.J. McCarron adjusts to his new role as the starter. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

8. Alabama- It’s tough to ever count Alabama out of the top 5 or 10, but if there was a year to do it this would probably be the year. They lost a quarterback who is apparently allergic to losing in Greg McElroy, a Heisman winner and future NFL stud in Mark Ingram, a dynamic wide receiver in Julio Jones, multiple offensive linemen (most notably James Carpenter, who I might have had an interview with had I not projected him to go in the 3rd round) and Marcell Dareus, just to name a few. Losing four first round draft picks plus a quarterback who lost less times in his college career than I do when I play a full NCAA Football on Xbox is about as bad as it gets for a college program, but Alabama is an elite program now and like USC used to do they aren’t going to rebuild, they are going to reload. The problem with that is, while they can reload at most positions and they return a LOT of talent on defense, QB is going to be a question mark. A.J. McCarron is expected to be the starter, but he has little playing experience and will only be a redshirt sophomore. The QB position is incredibly important, especially for a possible national title run, and while I expect ‘Bama to be formidable because of their defense and a very dynamic running back in Trent Richardson and a receiver I am high on in Marquis Maze, if McCarron doesn’t step up in a big way they will lose at least a couple games even with a favorable schedule for a SEC school.

9. Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State had a fantastic season last year and they return some key starters this year, specifically Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, two of the key cogs in what may have been the most explosive offense in the country last year. They lost Kendall Hunter though, a very effective RB who really was the final piece to their explosive offense puzzle, so replacing him with another effective player will be critical if they want to have similar success on offense again this year. On defense they have some talent, but it will be a question mark until they step up in my opinion. They haven’t had much on that side of the ball in a while but it has been overshadowed by their high octane offenses. If their defense can step up then Oklahoma State has a chance to give Oklahoma a run for their money.

Russell Wilson may not have played for Wisconsin last year, but this year he could be the key to unlocking the potential of multiple players on offense, most notably wide receiver Nick Toon.

10. Wisconsin- Wisconsin is returning a lot of quality players, such as Montee Ball, James White, Nick Toon, Ricky Wagner, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Louis Nzegwu, Chris Borland (coming back from injury), Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith and Aaron Henry, to name a few. They will still have a very good offensive line as they return three good starters and already have a replacement for Carimi in place at LT in Wagner. RT will be an area of concern, as well as the DE spot opposite Nzegwu, previously occupied by the #11 overall draft pick J.J. Watt. They do have a significant upgrade on the way at QB though, and Russell Wilson’s transfer to Wisconsin makes them a favorite to win the Big-10 this year. Their pass defense is concerning to me though, because they lost two established starters in J.J. Watt and Niles Brinkley and while they might have solid replacements for them Wisconsin’s pass defense was an issue before they even lost them (see Rose Bowl game against TCU). If they can generate a quality pass rush and play better pass defense then Wisconsin could go a long way, but that back end is concerning to me.

Thanks for reading my most recent installment of my Preseason Top 25 Rankings! The top five teams will be unveiled tomorrow!

–Tom

1- Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina
Analysis: Coples really emerged last year after the suspensions to North Carolina’s two defensive linemen at the time, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn. He produced 59 total tackles (33 solo), 15.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 2 FF and 2 pass deflections last year, which is a great season. He elected to come back to school and now will be one of the top defensive end prospects in this entire draft. Hopefully he avoids the same fate as Quinn and Austin and actually gets to play the year before he enters the draft, but the NCAA is investigating UNC again and Coples has been photographed multiple times at a party with UNC alums now in the NFL and they are wondering how he paid for airfare, hotel, etc. Hopefully he doesn’t get suspended for the entire season, but I’m not holding my breath that he won’t miss any games after last year.
2- Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Analysis: Jenkins was an absolute beast last year. As a sophomore he produced 63 tackles (42 solo), 21.5 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 2 FF and 2 pass deflections. He is now entering his junior season and is definitely one of the best defensive ends in the entire country. I am excited to see if he can replicate the season he had last year, and if he can he should be a top 10 pick without a doubt. He is incredibly fast off the line and has great edge speed, so if he produces again he will be a very hot commodity come draft time.
3- Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Analysis: A lot of you may not know Devin Taylor but I highlighted him as a player I expect to break out in 2011. So I expect a lot from him, because he really impressed me last year and demonstrated some incredible potential. As a 6’7″, 250 pound sophomore not yet in the starting line-up Taylor managed 46 total tackles (33 solo), 13.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT (returned for TD), 1 fumble recovery and EIGHT pass deflections. He is so tall, so fast and has such long arms that he is an incredible handful for anyone to block, and even when he gets blocked he has demonstrated his ability to get his hands into passing lanes to alter throws or knock them down altogether. I think Taylor has shades of Julius Peppers in him, he has that kind of combination of size, arm length and athletic ability in my opinion. I am really excited to see him play again this year.
4- Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
Analysis: Vinny Curry had a beast of a season last year, and really put himself on the map because of it. He was absolutely everywhere when Marshall jumped out to a big lead against West Virginia but WVU managed to come back and win late. However, Curry still had a great season, especially statistically. He managed 94 total tackles (44 solo), 18.0 TFL, 12.0 sacks, 2 FF and 3 pass deflections. He didn’t play the greatest competition, but in his first two games of the season (against Ohio State and then West Virginia) he had two sacks in each game against significantly better teams, which shows at least to a degree that he can play with anyone. I really look forward to watching him again this year, and I hope he can replicate his disruptiveness from last season.
5- Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
Analysis: Paige-Moss is a guy that I’m not that familiar with despite him being on my team (UNC) but I was surprised at just how productive he was last year. He managed 49 total tackles (28 solo), 13.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 pass deflection and one kick/punt blocked. That’s impressive production for a guy who wasn’t expected to play a lot or start before Quinn’s suspension, so I am excited to see North Carolina’s pass rush this year if Coples and Paige-Moss are both on the field at the same time.
6- Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami
Analysis: I have been a fan of Vernon since I saw him play as a freshman, and I watched him toss Gabe Carimi like a rag doll on a run play in the Champs Bowl two years ago. Since then I have kept an eye on him, and he has been impressive. Last year as a sophomore he managed 39 total tackles (25 solo), 10.5 TFL and 6.0 sacks. He is very fast off the ball, has flashed great hand usage and is very strong. He will be on a very talented Miami defensive line this year, and I can’t wait for him to truly emerge and show people what he can do. He has incredible potential, and while he has flashed it more and more as he gets older he has not dominated yet, but I think that may happen this season.
7- Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Analysis: Okafor didn’t put up insane stats last year as a sophomore either, but he flashed potential and should be in the starting lineup this year. He produced 27 tackles (13 solo), 3.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks and one fumble forced as a part of a rotation. With Okafor and Kheeston Randall rushing the passer Texas has the potential to have a very dangerous defensive front.
8- Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal
Analysis: Perry is a guy that I have been waiting to break out for over a year now, but I think this is the year he will do it. He has crazy potential and a great combination of size and speed, and last year he managed 25 total tackles (15 solo), 7.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 FF’s and 3 pass break-ups. He apparently looked very good in the spring, so I am excited to see how he produces this year for Southern Cal. He has a ton of potential.
9- Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
Analysis: Bequette is a guy that impressed me a lot when I watched Arkansas. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Kerrigan in that he has pretty good size and athleticism with surprising edge speed. Last year he produced 32 total tackles (17 solo), 8.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 FF and 3 pass deflections. He is entering his senior season and much like Kerrigan last year I expect him to step up and threaten the 10 sack mark and solidify himself as a top 60 pick candidate . He’s not very flashy, but he has a great motor and should get serious consideration as a 4-3 LE.
10- Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy
Analysis: Massaquoi really emerged last season as a sophomore and is now entering his junior season after producing 76 total tackles (54 solo), 20.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 1 FF and 1 pass deflection. He doesn’t have great size at 6’2″, 250 pounds and his lack of height will be criticized through the draft process much like Brandon Graham’s was, but if he can prove that he has the edge speed, the get-off and at least some hand usage then he will be able to be drafted in the top 2-3 rounds. It will be interesting to see how he does this year as a junior now that all the focus will be on him, and I look forward to critiquing his game now that he has become a known commodity.

Hopefully you enjoyed my early defensive end rankings for the 2012 Draft. If some of these juniors declare this defensive end class could be incredibly impressive. I won’t say it would be as good or better as this past class, but I was not a huge fan of some of the guys in this class so depending on how the season goes I might actually like this one better.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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