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 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, 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, 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.
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, 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, 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.