Nick Florence, QB- Nick Florence has the unenviable job of attempting to replace a living Baylor legend in Robert Griffin III who won Baylor’s first Heisman trophy in the program’s history during his remarkable junior campaign last year. But because RGIII left for the NFL Draft Florence will have a year to show NFL scouts what he can do at the helm of Baylor’s still potent offensive attack. It will look different with Florence at the helm, the 6’1”, 205 pound quarterback isn’t the athletic marvel that Griffin is, but Florence got some playing time as a freshman when RGIII went down with a knee injury so he isn’t completely new to the starting role. The results weren’t exactly pretty; he threw for 1,841 yards, 6 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 7 starts that year. He was efficient in his mop-up duty last year, but the team will have a LOT of offense to replace now that the lethal combination of RGIII and Kendall Wright has left for the NFL. Luckily for Florence they return some talent along the offensive line, Lache Seastrunk will get a chance to show what he can do after sitting out a year due to transfer rules, and he has four or five wide receivers capable of picking up big chunks of yardage to throw to in addition to a 6’6″, 260 pound tight end. I’m not that familiar with Florence’s game yet, but when I saw him as a freshman I wasn’t particularly impressed with his arm strength. A lot can and does change in a player’s growth from his freshman to senior season though, so I’ll withhold judgment until I see him the whole year this year barring injury. However, as of right now I would say Florence is a fringe draftable prospect.
Jarred Salubi, RB- Salubi is entering the season as the projected starter with the talented Seastrunk as his back-up, though I imagine they will both get quite a few touches. Salubi has been productive when given the opportunity to be, but he was stuck behind Terrance Ganaway last year. That is no longer the case as Ganaway has moved on to the NFL, and Salubi has a chance to show was he can do as the feature back. Salubi is a much different back than Ganaway as he is listed at 5’9”, 210 pounds versus Ganaway’s listed 6’0”, 240 pounds. Salubi doesn’t look like he has elite straight line speed to me, he’s probably a 4.5 guy when it comes to that, but according to my notes from the Alamo bowl (where he had 101 yards, 2 touchdowns and nearly a 3rd on only 5 carries) he has plenty of burst, quickness and shiftiness as a runner. Packing 210 pounds onto a 5’9” frame is impressive, and I am certainly intrigued by his skill set. I expect him to get a lot of touches this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can be productive in an offense in which he is not the least of the defense’s concerns. With RGIII and Kendall Wright gone the headliners of the program will be absent, but the offense should still be productive. Salubi will play a big role in replacing all of Ganaway’s rushing production.
Lache Seastrunk, RB**- Seastrunk is a redshirt sophomore thanks to the season he was forced to sit out due to transfer rules. I wish he hadn’t been required to sit out, because seeing Seastrunk’s speed in the backfield with RGIII while Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese were split out wide would have been a sight to behold. Regardless, it is my understanding that Seastrunk is eligible for the draft after this season and even if he was only a true sophomore I would probably have him on this list anyways. He’s a truly dynamic athlete even if he is only 5’9”, 190 pounds. Obviously we haven’t seen him play an actual game in college yet, but his speed is undeniable even if you watch his highlights from high school. He may have true 4.4 flat speed, has very impressive acceleration, burst and change of direction speed as well as the ability to run through sloppy arm tackles and shows impressive balance to keep himself upright despite being a small, speedy running back. He should be lethal if the Bears continue to run a lot of zone read plays like they did with RGIII and Ganaway because Seastrunk has the speed to get the edge even against defenders taking solid angles. What I will want to see from Seastrunk is vision and patience. He has the gamebreaking speed to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball and to rip off a big run every time he gets a carry, but that won’t happen as often in college as it did in high school and keep in mind, that was the last time he played in a game that counted (aka, Spring Games don’t technically count). He’s going to be so amped up for his first game and probably for his entire first season in college that he will probably try to make plays right off the bat. That’s good, but he can’t try to bounce everything outside and turn everything into a sprint down the sideline. He needs to take what the defense gives him sometimes and let his blocks set up in front of him. I think he can do it, it’s just going to be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to the college game this year. My guess? It won’t take very long.
Terrance Williams, WR- Williams is Baylor’s top NFL prospect and for good reason, he is listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds and has legitimate sub 4.5 speed. Last season he did what many assumed Josh Gordon, now a Cleveland Brown, would do for Baylor’s football program: provide vertical speed on the outside as well as the height and leaping ability to win jump balls, not to mention a lot of production. Williams had a career year last year with 59 receptions, 957 yards and 11 touchdowns. I’m not sure he will be able to best those numbers without Kendall Wright opposite him and without RGIII throwing him the ball deep, but he should still be productive despite increased attention from defenses. My problem with Williams previously was his hands. After watching him as a sophomore I had questions about his hands as I saw him drop catchable balls, but when I recently watched him his hands seemed to have improved a bit. I saw him make catches in traffic, catch the ball with his hands a bit, adjust to the ball well on deep balls, and catch the ball well along the sideline with full awareness of where he was on the field. He still drops some catchable balls and has concentration lapses at times, and I will be watching for that during his senior season. He seems to catch the more difficult passes, but let a few of the easy ones get away from him. He also has shown that he is willing to block and block downfield which is good to see, and his long arms are certainly an asset when doing so.
My biggest concern aside from his hands is his route running, which needs considerable work. Frequently when I’ve watched him I have seen him round off breaks and at times just slow down and turn around when running curl routes instead of sinking his hips, chopping his feet and exploding back out of his cut to create separation. Because Baylor spreads defenses out so much with all of their speed and talent on offense this wasn’t often an issue, particularly with RGIII holding zone coverages thanks to his ability to scramble and pick up big chunks of yardage. He doesn’t run crisp routes, and he doesn’t have a well developed route tree at this point and that will add to his learning curve when he heads to the NFL Draft after this season. He’s definitely got 1st round upside and I will certainly be writing a scouting report on him before the season starts, but his route running has to improve if he wants to contribute to a NFL team. He’s got NFL size, athleticism and he has the tools to be a good route runner thanks to his speed and burst, but he just hasn’t needed to run great routes to get open yet. That will change at the NFL level, but if his hands and route running continue to improve it will be hard not to like Williams as a NFL prospect. It will be very telling how he does when faced against quality cover men in the Big-12 (Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma should provide good tests for that) and it will be interesting to see if anyone ever jams him. They likely won’t thanks to the threat of getting beaten deep, but that’s something that I’ve never really seen anyone try against Williams. He isn’t the most physical guy even though he catches the ball well in traffic, and his long arms and quickness should help him beat the jam, but it’s a part of his game that is certainly unproven at this point.
Lanear Sampson, WR- Sampson isn’t the same dynamic prospect that Williams is, but he has a shot to get drafted in his own right. Sampson is listed at 5’11”, 200 pounds (just a few pounds less than Williams despite being 3 inches shorter) and looks like he has legitimate sub 4.5 speed as well. I haven’t seen as much of Sampson since I was always more focused on Kendall Wright and RGIII when I was watching the Bears, but Sampson has quietly been a 4 year starter in Waco and that won’t slip past the scouts who are evaluating him. He may not be an elite athlete, he may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he is consistent and reliable. Baylor’s wide receiver depth chart will be crowded again this year thanks to Williams, Sampson, Reese, Levi Norwood and the addition of senior Daryl Stonum from Michigan, but Sampson still has the inside track to being the #2 receiver on Baylor’s offense this year.
Tevin Reese, WR*- Reese is a bit of an enigma for me. He’s got all the speed you could ever want despite only being 5’10”, 160 pounds and I think he could be a sub 4.4 guy in the 40 yard dash. He’s got very impressive acceleration, burst and obviously is tough to catch once you let him get going. He’s one of the best vertical threats in the Big-12, yet his hands are SO inconsistent and it’s very frustrating. I’ve seen him drop some potential BIG plays, especially down the field, and it’s infuriating. They run a lot of bubble screens to get him the ball on easy receptions to let him use his speed, and run him on reverses to try to get him in space, but the reason they have to do as much of that as they do is because he just can’t be expected to come down with fairly routine deep passes even when he is open. He certainly does make the play sometimes, you don’t produce 51 catches, 877 yards and 7 touchdowns if you can’t catch at all, but if he wants to be taken seriously as a NFL prospect he is going to need to work his ass off to improve his hands. His speed will get him noticed, but teams will roll their eyes if they see him drop some of the passes I’ve seen him drop during his first two seasons in Waco.
Daryl Stonum, WR- I’ll admit, I’m not overly familiar with Stonum despite him spending his career with Michigan until recently. He was never a huge stat guy at Michigan, but not many of their receivers are due to Denard Robinson’s relatively erratic passing. Stonum is listed at 6’1”, 195 pounds and is also listed as having 4.5 speed. Baylor’s depth at receiver is pretty surprising given that they lost their top target in Kendall Wright, but with the addition of Stonum they have five legitimate targets now, assuming Levi Norwood gets more playing time as a sophomore. Stonum has made some mistakes in his past that led to his dismissal at Michigan. In 2008 he was put in jail for violating probation for charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. In June, 2011 he was sentenced to two years of probation for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired, and violated that probation in January, 2012 when he was found to be driving with a revoked license. That led to 10 days of jail time and his ultimate dismissal from Michigan. It’s tough to argue that his decision making has improved despite this string of incidents, and given the sheer volume of drunk driving incidents the NFL had this summer NFL teams are going to be slow to pull the trigger on a guy like Stonum in the draft, but if he can stay out of trouble for the rest of the year until the draft he will greatly improve his chances of being drafted.
Jordan Najvar, TE*- Najvar is an intriguing prospect that I think could become very popular over the next two years in scouting circles. He’s a huge tight end that is listed at 6’6”, 260 pounds and has a listed sub 4.8 40 yard dash time. He’s an athletic kid and even though he only had 15 receptions, 146 yards and 2 touchdowns last season as a sophomore I think he is ready to break out. To give you some perspective, he is a Stanford transfer, and we all know how unbelievable their tight end depth chart was. He has shown that he is a willing blocker, though I haven’t seen him much as an in-line blocker, but his size and athleticism is going to make him a hot commodity, particularly if Florence figures out that it’s a lot easier to throw to a 6’6”, 260 pound tight end in the middle of the field than it is to try to hit a 5’10” WR. He’s flashed the ability to make nice seal blocks even on defensive ends, and seems to block down effectively. The true test will be seeing how he can do 1 on 1 when he isn’t blocking down. He’s got the size, athleticism, and effort level to be a stud. Keep an eye on him, I LOVE Najvar’s upside.
Cyril Richardson, OG*- Richardson is a large man, listed at 6’5”, 335 pounds. He played 12 games and started 4 of them at left guard as a freshman before moving outside to left tackle as a sophomore to protect RGIII’s blind side. Now he is shifting back inside to guard where he is probably a better fit due to his natural size and power, but lack of ideal lateral agility to stay at tackle. He could be a solid tackle in my opinion, perhaps more if he was played at right tackle, but I think his highest upside is inside at guard due to his size and arm length. He isn’t overly explosive out of his stance, but he has shown the ability to pancake defenders in the run game and generate some push. I’ve seen him make a few mistakes mentally in pass protection, particularly on stunts or strange blitz packages, so that will be something to keep an eye on this season at guard.
Cameron Kaufhold, OG- Kaufhold is Baylor’s “worst” starting interior offensive lineman, but that’s only because Cyril Richardson is a potential 1st or 2nd round pick depending on his development and Ivory Wade was a quality starting right tackle last season and now moves inside to center. The surprising thing is that Kaufhold is the second most experience offensive lineman with 26 career starts, second only to Wade. He is listed at 6’4”, 300 pounds and has shown the ability to generate some push off the ball, to anchor in pass protection and overall appears to be a solid guard. Will he be a top pick? Probably not, but now that he is moving from left guard to right guard his versatility could make him an attractive commodity to talent evaluators. It will be interesting to see how he does at that new spot.
Ivory Wade, C- It will be interesting to see Wade inside at center this season. He was very effective blocking down on defensive tackles last season and showed the ability to consistently shock his defender with his initial punch and drive him off his spot. He’s listed at 6’4”, 310 pounds and he has shown that he can generate push in the run game and also shows the ability to get to the second level and get his hat on a linebacker. He didn’t look that comfortable outside at tackle, but an interior of Wade, Richardson and Kaufhold returns a whopping 73 career starts, and all are listed at 6’4”, 300+ pounds. That interior offensive line should be impressive, and if the two new, young tackles can hold their own this could be an even better offensive line than they had last season. Keep in mind, Baylor has a knack for churning out quality centers. The coaching staff has shown no hesitation to move quality offensive linemen inside to Center and Wade is just the latest to do so. Don’t overlook that.
Terrance Lloyd, DE*- I am not that familiar with Lloyd since I didn’t focus on him much during his sophomore season with Baylor, but at 6’3”, 235 pounds he managed 36 tackles, 4.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks while starting 13 games. He enters the season with 17 career starts, and is a kid I am going to keep an eye on. He needs to add weight and get stronger at the POA, but I’m intrigued to see how he continues to develop from a pass rushing standpoint.
Gary Mason, DE- Mason is a guy I’ve had my eye on for over 2 years now, and it’s a little unbelievable to me that he is now a senior. He’s listed at 6’4”, 275 pounds and has 19 career starts at defensive end. He managed 26 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks and 2 pass break-ups in his 8 starts last season, and while I have had my eye on him for a while he’s never really lived up to the expectations I had for him. He has the size and athleticism, but until he takes that next step and really starts to produce consistently I don’t think he’s much more than a fringe draftable prospect. He has his chance to step up this year though, as his main competition, junior Tevin Elliott, was charged with sexual assault on April 15th and is still suspended indefinitely from what I have been able to find. That means if there was ever a time to step up and make plays, it’s now for Mason.
Tevin Elliott, DE*- Until the charges are cleared up, Elliott likely doesn’t have a football future, but if he ever does play a down of football for Baylor again he certainly has a NFL skill set. He’s listed at 6’3”, 250 pounds and has a lot of speed and burst off the ball to beat offensive tackles off the edge. He’s never really put it all together, much like Mason, and even though he had 27 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass deflection and an interception last year, none of it matters if he is guilty of sexual assault. I can’t speculate at all as to whether he is guilty or innocent obviously, but if he does play for Baylor again he has the potential to be an impact player. Now we have to let the legal system play out.
Ahmad Dixon, LB/S*- Dixon is a difficult player to project because he is safety sized but loves to play in the box like a linebacker. He’s listed at 6’0”, 205 pounds, so he is undersized for the linebacker position, but Baylor likes to keep him on the field as a nickel corner to keep him closer to the action and allow him to make plays near or behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a playmaker and is one of the best players on Baylor’s defense, and managed 89 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 pass break-ups and an interception last year. His 5.5 TFL were tied for the most on the team with Gary Mason, and while I haven’t watched Dixon much I am very interested to see if he is a good tackler. Baylor had a TON of problems tackling against Washington in the bowl game, and their secondary in particular had a lot of issues. I’m interested to see more of Dixon to see if he is part of the tackling problem or not.
Joe Williams, CB*- Williams is an undersized corner, listed at 5’9”, 185 pounds, but he was very productive as a sophomore. Because he was a younger kid I didn’t pay much attention to him last season, but he had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 12 pass deflections and an interception in 9 starts. I haven’t been able to see much of him, but if he continues to demonstrate quality ball skills he will give himself a shot to get drafted in spite of his size. Keep an eye on him this year.
KJ Morton, CB*- Morton is another junior corner opposite Williams, and like Williams he had a productive sophomore year as well. He had 75 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 6 pass deflections and 4 interceptions on the season. It would be HUGE for Baylor if Morton and Williams were able to step their game up to help stop some of the big plays that they gave up last season, because RGIII isn’t on the other side of the ball anymore to mask some of the defense’s issues. Morton and Williams will be under plenty of pressure in the pass-happy Big-12, but it will be interesting to see how they stack up. If Baylor’s defense is going to be any better, the secondary will have to step up, though the safety play was arguably more of a problem than the play of the corners.