Tag Archive: 2014 NFL Draft


Minnesota Golden Gophers Prospect Preview:

Philip Nelson, QB, Sophomore- Nelson returns as the incumbent starter after a solid but unspectacular freshman year. The Gophers struggled to find consistency of any kind at quarterback between MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Nelson. Nelson finished the season with the most yardage but the lowest completion percentage of any of the three quarterbacks who threw a pass for the Gophers in 2013, but according to the guys at thedailygopher.com Nelson has looked accurate and displayed improved decision making this spring. That’s a good sign for the Gophers because they need the 6’2”, 215 pound quarterback to complete passes at a higher clip than his 49.3% rate of 2012. He took his lumps last season, but I expect Nelson to be a solid starter for the Gophers despite his age. If he can stay healthy I think he will prove to be an effective QB, albeit one that needs seasoning and development. Based on what I’ve seen from Nelson he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and as far as the NFL is concerned it is probably no better than average at this point. However, he does have pretty reliable accuracy and touch, he can extend plays with his legs (as well as pick up yardage with them) and make throws on the move outside the pocket. Only time will tell if Nelson has the arm strength to make the jump to the next level, but I think he has enough to be a successful college quarterback.

Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Junior- Last year I was completely on board the James Gillum hype train after I watched what I could of him from junior college and all the reports were that he would likely be “the guy” for the Gophers at running back in 2012. In case you were wondering if you can take everything you see or hear in the spring and summer at face value, you can’t. Gillum had 27 carries for 73 yards and 1 touchdown in 2012 despite the hype train and Donnell Kirkwood emerged as a much more effective back. Kirkwood averaged 4.2 yards per carry behind an offensive line that was constantly changing as a result of injuries. He really came on the scene in my eyes against Northwestern (a game that I attended) where he was consistently running with fantastic pad level. He was regularly gaining tough yardage with his leg drive and making Northwestern’s defense fight to even get him to the ground. Kirkwood is a compact running back listed at 5’10”, 223 pounds and he runs with purpose. His pad level is impressive, he gains good yardage after initial contact thanks to his strong lower body, and he has surprising quickness for his size. The downside is that he was barely utilized at all in the passing game last year, and I haven’t evaluated him as a pass protector yet either. I want to see him utilized more out of the backfield as a receiver and I’m intrigued by his potential as a pass protector thanks to his attitude running the ball as well as his size and strength. I’m definitely a big Kirkwood fan and I’m anticipating a 1,000 yard, 10+ touchdown season from him if he stays healthy.

Mike Henry, FB, Senior- Mike Henry is a little-known player because he rarely touches the ball on the Gophers offense, but he offers value as a blocker which is why I felt he warranted mention here. The NFL seems to be utilizing fullbacks less and less, but versatile players that are willing to block are universally valued in NFL circles and I think Henry has a chance to show he fits that bill. He likely won’t get drafted, but if he can demonstrate his blocking prowess as well as show something as a runner or a receiver he could have a chance to stick somewhere.

Derrick Engel, WR, Senior- Derrick Engel enters 2013 as the leading returning receiver for the Gophers, though that isn’t saying much. He totaled 18 receptions and 375 yards last year, including an impressive 20.8 yards per reception. The 6’2”, 187 pound receiver only produced one touchdown though, but that figures to improve if Phillip Nelson can stabilize the Gophers’ quarterback play. From what I have seen of Engel he doesn’t have elite speed (though he had a listed 40 time of 4.4 at 170 pounds coming out of high school), nor does he have spectacular hands, but he seems to be a reliable receiver that Nelson will be able to count on. Whether that gets him a look as an undrafted free agent or not remains to be seen.

Jamel Harbison, WR, Freshman- Harbison redshirted last year and hasn’t had the healthiest of starts to his career as a Gopher but he was healthy enough to go in the spring game and he impressed me. He seems to run crisp routes, adjusts well to less than perfect throws and showed some wiggle after the catch. He’s listed at 5’11”, 199 and will likely get a lot of time in the slot this year. According to thedailygopher.com coaches have been saying he was the most talented receiver on the roster since he was a true freshman last year, but we will see what he can do if he stays healthy all season. He was quoted as saying that the knee was not a problem at all after the spring game and that he had no problems cutting en route to catching 5 balls for 52 yards and 1 touchdown in the game, so hopefully he continues to be effective for the Gophers all season long.

Devin Crawford-Tufts, WR, Junior- Crawford-Tufts was a guy I previewed last year and he still hasn’t lived up to some of the hype he has gotten during his time with the Gophers. On paper he has the size (6’2”, 193) and the speed to be a legitimate contributor at receiver, but as a sophomore he only managed 16 receptions, 189 yards and 1 touchdown which was against Texas Tech in their bowl game. The potential is all there, it’s just a question of whether the lightbulb comes on for him or not. He’s usually a solid bet for a big play, but he and the Gophers’ quarterbacks just haven’t quite connected on them yet.

Drew Goodger, TE, Junior- Goodger returns for his junior year as the top tight end and the 6’5”, 265 pounder intrigues me as an every down prospect at the next level. I haven’t seen enough of him as a receiver (though I guess no one has, really. He only caught 13 balls for 155 yards and 3 TD’s last year) but he has definite upside as a blocker. There will be more footage to go over now that he’s the starter, but I am looking forward to seeing him as a blocker and as a receiver.

Ed Olson, OT, Senior- Olson is the returning starter with the most experience having started 27 games at left tackle for the Gophers. He is listed at 6’7”, 309 pounds and plays with an aggressive mean streak, but most importantly just needs to stay healthy. He has been a starter since Day 1 of his freshman year, but he missed 4 starts due to injury as a freshman, 2 starts due to injury in 2011, and 4 starts in 2012. He has never played and started an entire full season despite entering his fourth season as a starter, so staying healthy for a full year would benefit his draft stock significantly. I think he has the size and length to remain at tackle, but whether he will play at left or right at the next level remains up in the air. He needs to stay healthy and play more consistent, and if he does those things he could be the first Gopher offensive lineman drafted since Greg Eslinger (round 6) and Mark Setterstrom (round 7) were drafted in 2006.

Josh Campion, OT, Sophomore- Campion is a player I am less familiar with than some of these guys, but the guys at thedailygopher.com thought he might be one of the better prospects on the team, so I did my due diligence on him. He’s listed at 6’5”, 326 pounds and started all 13 games at right tackle last year despite being a redshirt freshman. I haven’t scouted him yet, but he’s definitely a player I’m going to keep my eye on when I watch the Gophers this season.

Zac Epping, OG/C, Junior- Epping is the most talented lineman the Gophers have in my opinion and despite being asked to move between both guard spots as well as center as a sophomore he played at a high level at all three. He should be locked into the left guard spot all year as long as he stays healthy, but showing the flexibility to play center will only make him more appealing to NFL teams. He is listed at 6’2”, 321 pounds and is going to be high on my list of interior linemen to watch this upcoming year.

Brian Bobek, C, Junior- Bobek is a transfer from Ohio State that is projected to start at Center for the Gophers this season. If he can solidify the position it will mean the Gophers will have a strong left side of Olson, Epping and Bobek at the pivot. Bobek is listed at 6’2”, 282 pounds but even though he was highly touted out of high school he missed most of the spring practices “due to illness” according to the Gophers. We’ll see if he wins the job outright in fall camp, but he’s probably got the inside track on Jon Christenson, the 6’4”, 306 pound guard/center who started 6 games last year for the Gophers.

Thieren Cockran, DE, Sophomore- Cockran has the highest upside of any of the Gophers’ defensive ends in my opinion. He is listed at 6’6”, 245, has a basketball background and a 6’9” wingspan to boot. According to his high school head coach he consistently timed in the 4.5-4.6 range in high school and even though he only had 1 sack last year I think he is ready to step up and help take some pressure off of Ra’Shede Hageman now that D.L. Wilhite has graduated. Cockran doesn’t have an abundance of experience, but he’s got the speed and length to be a dangerous pass rusher.

Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Senior- Hageman is without a doubt the Gophers’ top defensive prospect. He is a freak athlete listed at 6’6”, 311 pounds with incredible athleticism for his size. I think he has the potential to be a stud defensive end in a 3-4, but he is a very intriguing 4-3 defensive tackle as well. Either way, NFL teams are taking notice and if he can build on his impressive redshirt junior season from a year ago he could end up in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Last year Hageman totaled 35 tackles, 6 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 pass break-ups despite still learning the position. He still needs to learn how to play with better pad level because at 6’6” he tends to play too tall at times. Not only that, but he stands up too much out of his stance for my liking. He’s still raw, but I’d like to see him fire out of his stance and not stand up quite as much. He also is raw when it comes to shedding blocks and actively using his hands, but I believe that he can learn and improve that with time. What he does have is great size, length, raw power and he really flashes an impressive bull rush despite his issues with pad level. He hasn’t made a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage as a defensive tackle versus the run and I think that’s because he’s not a penetrator type, and that makes me think his ceiling might be highest at the defensive end position in a 3-4. He shows a consistently good motor which I really like, he is a pretty reliable tackler, and if his work ethic is as good as I think it is I think the sky is the limit for him. Don’t be surprised when he ends up in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Derrick Wells, CB, Junior- Wells is a former safety turned corner who has the difficult task of playing the “boundary corner” in the Gophers defense. That means he will likely be left on an island 1 on 1 often over the course of the season, so the 6’0”, 206 pound corner will likely be tested during his junior season. Last year Wells totaled 74 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 10 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He will be playing a new position this year, but I was impressed with his ball skills when I watched him. NFL teams have been targeting bigger, stronger corners recently and I think Wells fits that bill. I’m excited to see what he can do as a full time starter at corner.

Eric Murray, CB, Sophomore- Murray hasn’t locked down the spot opposite Wells yet, but Phil Steele projected him to be the starter and I have read good things about him during spring practice. The 6’0”, 194 pound corner is a smooth athlete with good hips according to thedailygopher.com and while I can’t claim to have seen him play as a freshman he certainly seems to have upside if he got some first team reps during the spring. It remains to be seen if he will lock down a spot, but I’m intrigued.

Brock Vereen, FS, Senior- Vereen is a solid but not spectacular safety who may not be projected to be drafted right now but has a chance to improve his stock with a strong senior season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 202 pounds and had 64 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 9 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior in 2012. He is considered one of the leaders of the defense and has experience playing man to man coverage as well as dropping into zone thanks to his time spent at corner earlier in his career. He’s a likely undrafted free agent, but I think he has a chance to sneak up draft boards and give himself a chance to make a team this year.

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Size: Henderson has fantastic size for an offensive tackle. He’s listed at 6’8”, 345 and he is very strong in the upper and lower body. He could stand to lose a little weight honestly because I think he had some conditioning issues as a junior, but he’s not lacking for raw size and strength.

Athleticism: Henderson is a good athlete for his size but I don’t think he’s a rare athlete as far as movement skills. Occasionally he will look heavy footed when he’s trying to get to a spot or get out in space, but he has good lateral movement and impressive quickness for such a large man. I wouldn’t call him a quick-twitch athlete, but he has enough quickness that he can react quickly and recover in pass protection. There are times where he is overmatched by a defender’s quickness though.

Technique: Henderson’s technique is solid, but it definitely has room to improve. One thing that really bothers me is how often he bends at the waist as a run blocker. He regularly does this and it really inhibits his ability to maintain his balance and therefore struggles to sustain his blocks. He ends up on the ground more than I would like as a result of this, but occasionally it will allow him to generate a pancake block so I think it reinforces that bad habit. He also needs to work on his hand placement both as a run blocker and in pass protection. He lets his hands get outside onto the shoulder pads too much and even on the back of the man he is blocking at times in the run game. That’s going to draw flags in the NFL and while it helps him control the guy he is blocking I don’t think he’s going to be able to get away with that as much at the next level. In general he does a good job of replacing his hands when they are slapped away and recovers well if he gets off balance. He has a good anchor, he just needs to make sure he plays with good leverage and pad level without bending at the waist. Additionally, he doesn’t have much of an initial punch despite his obvious raw power. He’d be more effective if he used a punch to shock defenders upon engaging them. He also needs work on his cut blocking technique, but he has demonstrated that he can do it at times.

Pass Protection: I was pleasantly surprised with Henderson’s ability in pass protection. He has impressive length, good lateral agility and he usually demonstrates quick, choppy steps in pass protection despite his size. He doesn’t always get the depth that I would like to see in his initial drop from his stance, but he has enough quickness to recover even if he doesn’t get ideal depth initially. He consistently showed the ability to recover even if it looked like he was beaten initially and despite having some questions about his hand placement he uses his length effectively and doesn’t often bend at the waist and overextend as a pass protector. I’m not sure how great his football IQ is, but he regularly did a good job handling twists, stunts and blitzes coming off the edge and rarely made mistakes in his assignments from what I could tell. There are times where he is too upright in pass protection and I want to see him bend at the knees, play with better pad level, and “sit down” and use his anchor to his advantage. There are times where he seems to be daring defenders to try to beat him off the edge as he doesn’t get much depth in his drop and then shows a quick burst to recover if they take the bait and try to speed rush him. It was very strange that he performed very well in pass protection against the likes of Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech (all of whom have at least one noteworthy pass rusher) but struggled against Virginia, particularly against Ausar Walcott who I had never heard of before this game (as a senior Walcott had 2.5 TFL and 0.5 sacks all year). Walcott gave him issues by challenging him with a speed rush but then bursting inside after Henderson was over committing to try to take away the speed rush and he struggled to recover in these instances. I imagine that is why may be trying to protect against the inside move initially at times before taking away the speed rush as a secondary option, but it was something that really confused me. He didn’t have issues protecting against inside moves against Prince Shembo, Bjoern Werner, Kareem Martin or James Gayle for the most part, but Walcott was giving him some problems. It may simply be Henderson playing up and down to his competition, but I can’t find an explanation for it.

Run Blocking: This phase of Henderson’s game was a bit of a let-down for me. He’s not a poor run blocker by any means, but having watched him in high school I was expected a mauler that could dominate in this phase of the game. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, as he regularly bent at the waist and involved himself in what I started to refer to as “the matador and the bull” where the defender would back up and let Henderson, or the bull, run forward with his waist bent and at times his head down and just fall to the ground. Thereafter the defender would pursue the ballcarrier. I didn’t notice it as frequently against Notre Dame but it became a consistent pattern in all the other games I watched and it really concerns me. Without bending at the waist he wasn’t able to generate much push off the ball and almost exclusively generates pancake blocks when he bends at the waist. Without doing this he is essentially a wall-off blocker, just a really big one with good length. Like I said, he’s not a bad run blocker and even though he isn’t a dominant drive blocker with good technique he can still wall-off effectively, he’s a good combo blocker and he has the athleticism to get to the second level, he just isn’t the mauler you would expect for a 6’8”, 345 pound offensive tackle. He does need work on his cut-blocking technique, he has issues with his hand placement in the run game as well, and his short-area quickness isn’t great and it shows when he doesn’t quite get to a spot against quicker defenders at times. Overall he’s a pretty good run blocker, he’s just not dominant or elite and unless he cleans up his waist bending (he doesn’t appear to be a natural knee bender to me) I don’t think he will be in the future.

Overall: Henderson is a complicated prospect to evaluate because even though he has all the size, athleticism and ability you could want in a right tackle he hasn’t quite put it all together yet. He’s close to doing so as a pass blocker in my opinion, but he still has room to improve in the run game. Regardless, his conditioning was a problem for him last year and every 3rd series he was substituted out of the game in favor of a talented true freshman named Ereck Flowers. There are also times where he seems to be winded and instead of blocking to the whistle he simply shoves his man and often times his man then involves himself in the play. I stated earlier that I think he could stand to lose a little bit of weight and improve his conditioning and if he was able to do that I think he’d be able to play with better effort snap to snap and not need to get subbed out every 3rd series. One thing that concerns me is that Henderson is a very talented prospect and even if he does put it all together and become a likely 1st round pick I still look at this as essentially a contract year performance. Yes, he finally played up to his potential, but if you draft him will he continue to put in the same effort to stay in shape and continue to improve? Or will he start to rely on his talent again? I would hope that he would continue to improve, but that’s something I’d be concerned about if I was a NFL team. His upside is obvious and I don’t think there is going to be a better pass blocking right tackle prospect in this draft, especially not one with his size and length. I would love to see a dominant run blocking performance from him as a senior, but I mostly expect to see more bending at the waist and balance issues which is unfortunate. Overall I definitely think Henderson will end up in the top 50, perhaps even the 1st round if he continues to improve things like his hand placement and conditioning, and if he continues to give good effort as a NFL player I think he will make a team very happy with his pass blocking, but I don’t think he’s going to be the dominant run blocker some expect him to be as of now.

Projection: Top 50. He could easily go higher than this, and he obviously has 1st round upside, it’s just a question of if or when he lives up to it. I’m excited to see if his conditioning is improved as a senior.

Size: Lewan has great size for a tackle prospect. He is listed at 6’7”, 310 and has the frame to add more weight. For as much of a power player as he is he looks pretty light considering he is so tall. He has plenty of strength already, but I think he can get even stronger and he has the frame to add the weight. He also looks like he has pretty long arms which is important for remaining outside at tackle.

Athleticism: Lewan isn’t a special athlete, but he is a good one considering his size. He has shown that he can get to the 2nd level smoothly, I have seen him pull effectively, and he has enough mobility to make an impact on screens. He doesn’t have that “quick-twitch” ability to mirror that the great left tackles have though, and while he has enough lateral agility to hold up at left tackle in the NFL I think his upside is higher on the right side.

Technique: Overall Lewan’s technique is pretty good, but I definitely have some bones to pick with his game. First, I think his hand placement could be better in pass protection. He has a tendency to get grabby once he locks on and will stop his feet after he locks the defender up at times which leads to some embarrassing block sheds if the defender has enough strength to challenge Lewan. Second, he really seems to struggle when he can’t initiate contact quickly after the snap. Because of this I think he likes to reach and overextend to try to engage the defender and that negatively impacts his balance. That and when a defender gets into his pads and has the leverage edge are really the only times he can ever be bull rushed in pass protection. I think he needs to work on replacing his hands when defenders attempt to slap them away, because if he can recover from that and engage the pass rusher he can engulf them with his long arms and strength. However, his ability to recover and anchor is impressive and is one of his strongest assets. I just think some of the holds he gets away with at Michigan are going to be called more consistently in the NFL (there was one play against South Carolina where he had a handful of Clowney’s jersey in his left hand and a handful of Clowney’s dreads in the other).

Pass Protection: This is where you really have to scrutinize Lewan to see if he will be a left tackle or not. I think he can stick at either position, I just think he will be a superior player on the right side. But finding a stud left tackle is hard to do, and finding an adequate one is usually enough to satisfy a NFL team (see the extension the Falcons just gave Sam Baker this offseason) and I think Lewan has the skillset to be an adequate pass protector on the left side. He doesn’t have ideal short, choppy steps in pass protection and his footwork reminds me some of Jake Long when he came out of Michigan. He doesn’t change directions as well as you would like for a blind side pass blocker and that is why he is going to have so much trouble with smaller, quicker pass rushers in the NFL. He matches up fine with bigger, stronger pass rushers, but the explosive, quick guys have given him problems. Like I mentioned earlier, I think he needs to work on his hand placement and not let his hands get so far outside in pass protection. He definitely has a tendency to hold and that becomes a lot more obvious when he lets his hands get outside on the shoulder pads, but in general he keeps them between the numbers. His struggles really start when a pass rusher slaps his hands away or negates his ability to engage him. This was evident in every game I watched of him, whether it was Michael Buchanan (who weighs about 60 pounds less than Lewan), Prince Shembo or Jadeveon Clowney, if they knocked his hands away and prevented him from engaging he had a lot of issues. He was fine against bigger, stronger pass rushers like William Gholston or Clowney when he tried to bull rush him 1 on 1, but he didn’t fare as well against explosive moves, particularly to the inside. He needed help from his left guard or from a running back against Clowney when he went inside on him and I think that is one weakness that Lewan has. He regularly tries to take away the speed rush but that makes him vulnerable to the inside move because he doesn’t have the quickest feet and doesn’t change directions quick enough to recover sometimes. Overall, I think Lewan can be a reliable pass protector, but he’s going to need chips from TE’s and RB’s and occasionally help from his inside guard against more dynamic, explosive pass rushers.

Run Blocking: This is generally the strongest aspect of Lewan’s game. He generates quality push off the ball when asked to block man to man, he has the athleticism to get out of his stance and wall defenders off, and he can move well enough to pull and get to the second level. Much like in pass protection he struggles against quicker defenders though, particularly when he’s pulling or trying to reach a linebacker. Quicker players that can avoid engaging him can give him trouble, and because he isn’t agile or quick enough to react and still make the block there are times he barely gets his hands on the defender before they have essentially avoided his block completely. He’s at his best when he can lock on, drive his legs and generate push off the ball or when he can block down on defensive tackles. He can generate pancakes either way. I don’t think he’s going to be an ideal fit in a zone blocking scheme, but he can execute zone concepts (though I don’t have notes on him as a cut-blocker). There are times when he leans too much and has issues with balance and he gets tossed aside like a rag doll which really concerned me. It doesn’t happen often, but when Michael Buchanan throws Lewan to the ground despite giving up 60 pounds (at least) it makes you wonder. He’s definitely a good run blocker, but it bothers me to see him shed so easily at times.

Overall: Lewan is a quality offensive tackle prospect and I’ve got a 1st round grade on him, but I don’t think he is a franchise left tackle. Jake Long was a superior prospect in my opinion, and I thought he could be an all-pro at right tackle even though he has had a relatively successful career on the left side. Lewan won’t be quite as good as long on the left side and I don’t think he has the same dominant upside on the right either. Still, I think he could be an adequate left tackle and that warrants top 20 consideration even if he ends up being a superior player on the right. He’s going to need help against stud pass rushers, particularly quicker, more explosive guys that can keep him from locking onto them, but he will be a plus run blocker on the left side and shouldn’t need consistent help unless he’s facing a truly elite talent (such as Jadeveon Clowney). He’s going to have his struggles on the left side, but I love his motor and tenacity and that makes me think that even if he doesn’t have the ideal left tackle skill set he will still have a long, successful career either on the left or the right. Perhaps he will never be dominant on either side, but I think he will be effective.

Projection: Top 20. He’s got left tackle upside (even if I think he has more upside on the right) and that will warrant top 20 consideration.

Size: Matthews has prototypical size and length for the left tackle position. He’s listed at 6’5”, 305 pounds and has shown more strength to generate push off the line of scrimmage than his former teammate Luke Joeckel.

Athleticism: Matthews is an impressive athlete considering his size. He’s not the elite level athlete that Joeckel is, but he has more than enough athleticism to take away speed rushers at left tackle, get to the second level as a run blocker, and make blocks in open space on screens. He doesn’t do this as effortlessly as Joeckel does, but he still does a good job of getting out of his stance and sealing off defenders when asked to wall them off.

Technique: Overall I am impressed with Matthews’ technique. He demonstrates consistently good hand placement and he sustains his blocks well. Once he gets his hands on you in pass protection you are generally taken out of the play, and that has to do with his length, hand placement and ability to anchor. He consistently shows that he can cut block, he gets in position to wall-off block well, and he drives his feet when drive blocking. He does leave something to be desired with his initial punch in pass protection (which is relatively non-existent) and while he shows that he can anchor there are times where he looks like he needs to get stronger in the lower body to deal with bull rushes more effectively. When I watched him against Texas as a sophomore he had a lot of issues blocking Alex Okafor thanks to Okafor’s hand usage. He slapped his hands away consistently and used it to beat him more than five times. Unfortunately I couldn’t contrast that to how he handled Okafor as a junior due to A&M’s conference change, but I didn’t see him struggle with that as a junior. I do want to see him replace his hands better after they are slapped away, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on when I watch him as a senior in 2013.

Pass Protection: I have very few concerns about Matthews playing left tackle, and I don’t think there will be much of a drop-off from Joeckel on the left side. He consistently shows that he can mirror pass rushers off the edge, and has the lateral agility to take away speed rushes. He needs to work on shocking defenders with his initial punch, but once he engages them he does a good job of sustaining the block and not allowing counter moves. He recovers quickly and while he could get stronger in his lower half he does a pretty good job of anchoring against bull rushes. He seems to be pretty intelligent when it comes to blitz pick-up and stunts, but in 2012 defenses spent a lot of time trying to contain Manziel so they weren’t very aggressive up front.

Run Blocking: This is one area where I think Matthews is superior to Joeckel. He generates more push off the ball as a run blocker but still does a good job when asked to beat a defender to a spot and wall them off. He gets to the second level easily, engages linebackers well, and shows that he can generate a lot of push when blocking down on defensive tackles. He may not be quite as agile as Joeckel, but he is stronger and more effective when drive blocking.

Overall: Matthews looks like a top 15 prospect based on 2012 film and I even got to watch a couple of his 2011 games. Obviously I will be keeping an eye on how he transitions to the left side. I have no reason to believe he will struggle there, but stranger things have happened. I don’t anticipate that teams will approach Manziel very differently than they did last year- they will try to keep him in the pocket and avoid letting him use his mobility to hurt them. That should help make life easier for Matthews over the course of the year. Still, he will likely be matching up with the likes of Adrian Hubbard from Alabama, Chris Smith from Arkansas and Dee Ford from Auburn. He should be tested adequately and I expect him to live up to our expectations for him and end up as one of the top left tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Projection: Top 15. Too many things can happen between now and April, 2014 to say that he’s a top 5 lock, and I haven’t even gotten to see him at left tackle instead of on the right side. I fully expect him to do well on the left side, but I want to see it before I say he is definitely going to go top 5-10.

Top Seniors:

1-      Tajh Boyd, Clemson- Boyd really impressed me with his growth as a junior and had one of his best games in the bowl game against LSU. DeAndre Hopkins helped take over that game, but Boyd’s progression makes me think he will continue to improve as a senior. I’ve made this mistake before on Jake Locker, but I have high hopes for Boyd.

2-      David Fales, San Jose State- Thanks to Ben Allbright, Fales became a very popular name amongst NFL Draft analysts, particularly on Twitter. The hashtag #EpicFales may be one of the greatest hashtags of all time. Regardless, Fales has a NFL arm and really impressed me in the limited time I was able to watch him. He is not without flaws, but he’s definitely one of my top 5 QB’s even considering juniors.

3-      Jeff Matthews, Cornell- My good friend Emory Hunt turned me on to Matthews months ago and I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw. He’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and he’s definitely going to become more and more popular as the process goes on. Emory pointed out that he reminds him of Matt Ryan and I definitely see the similarities.

4-      Derek Carr, Fresno State- Carr has a very talented arm, not unlike his older brother David, but he worried me with how he handled pressure and he obviously struggled a lot while Margus Hunt terrorized him in Fresno State’s bowl game. He’s got another full year to show he can improve, and his natural talent means he’s in my top 5 QB’s, but I want to see him handle pressure better.

5-      Bryn Renner, North Carolina- This might be me showing my UNC fandom, but I really think Renner is a quality quarterback prospect. He certainly isn’t perfect, and he had a great season in a wide open offense last year, but he has experience in different styles of offense, a strong arm, and I think he’s an effective leader. I think he will open some eyes as a senior.

6-      Aaron Murray, Georgia- If I expect McCarron to be the most scrutinized quarterback in this class, I think Murray is going to be a close second. He has been deemed as a player who can’t win the big game, and he’s going to have a tough time changing everyone’s minds as a senior. I’m glad he came back because I still think he has room to improve, but there’s a stigma about him that is going to be hard to shake. I do think he is a NFL caliber starter though, but he’s definitely not a franchise caliber guy in my opinion.

7-      A.J. McCarron, Alabama- I can already tell McCarron is going to be a divisive prospect. Some are going to see a “winner” that has been a key cog to Alabama’s title runs and others are going to cite his terrific supporting cast (skill position players, offensive line, and defense) and claim he is not much more than a game manager. I certainly don’t think he’s an elite prospect and his arm strength leaves something to be desired, but I don’t think he’s been coasting on the talent of Alabama’s roster either. I think he has some starter upside, but I am excited to see how his 2013 tape looks. He will certainly be one of the most highly scrutinized quarterbacks in this class.

8-      Tyler Russell, Mississippi State- I thought Russell flashed upside when he was still splitting time as a sophomore and in his last full season as a starter he flashed a lot of upside but showed that he still had a lot of room left to grow. He had a pretty horrendous bowl game and clearly needs to work on some things, but he has all the size and arm strength you could want in a quarterback. He may never live up to the expectations I have for him, but I’m willing to be patient and see if he can progress like I believe he is capable of.

9-      Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech- Thomas is another guy I really thought would progress last year but unfortunately he regressed and was essentially a massive disappointment considering some of the hype he was getting in the pre-season. He has all the size and arm strength you could ever dream of, but he was maddeningly inconsistent with his accuracy and decision making and clearly has a ton of growing left to do. I continue to hear great things about his work ethic so I believe he can still improve, I just don’t know if he will ever put it all together.

10-   Zach Mettenberger, LSU- Mettenberger was getting a lot of hype coming into the season but he was underwhelming during his first season as a starter. He’s got an intriguing combination of size and arm strength but he has to put it all together this year. He has starter upside, but he isn’t there yet.

11-   Drew Allen, Syracuse- I might be one of the few people that prefers Drew Allen to the Belldozer, but I do. I think Allen is going to win the Syracuse starting job and show that he has NFL talent at the quarterback position. This is probably higher than anyone else will have him ranked, but I am convinced Allen has starter upside at the next level.

12-   Stephen Morris, Miami- I was one of the people advocating for Morris to start over Jacory Harris during Harris’ senior year and I still think he’s the better quarterback. He’s a quality athlete with a strong arm, but his accuracy wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to see as a junior. Miami has been through a lot the last couple of years, so I’m excited to see if Morris can end his career on a high note this season.

13-   James Franklin, Missouri- Franklin is an intriguing guy thanks to his size, arm strength and athleticism, but like many of these quarterbacks he has to put it all together and show a mastery of the position as a senior. I personally don’t foresee him being a NFL starter, but he definitely has that upside if he can show more progression as a senior.

14-   Keith Price, Washington- At this time last year Price was coming off of a masterful performance in Washington’s bowl game against Baylor’s hapless defense. This year? He is coming off of a disappointing junior year that left a lot of people underwhelmed. He doesn’t have the arm strength I thought he had, his decision making was inconsistent, and he left a lot to be desired as a junior. I’m hoping he can reverse field as a senior, but I’m not holding my breath.

15-   Corey Robinson, Troy- I don’t think Robinson is going to be in very many top 15 quarterback rankings coming into the season, but I saw a talented quarterback when I watched him as a freshman and I still believe he can play at the next level. He may be undersized, but he has a NFL arm and I am excited to see if he can prove that as a senior.

Top Juniors:

1-      Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville- Bridgewater put on a show as a sophomore last year and made a believer out of me. I think he has all the arm talent, athleticism, toughness and intangibles to be a stud quarterback in the NFL. It remains to be seen how he will do this upcoming season, but I definitely have high expectations for him.

2-      Brett Smith, Wyoming- Smith is another player Allbright pointed out to me last year. I haven’t seen as much of him as I’d like, but what I have seen was very intriguing.

3-      Blake Bortles, Central Florida- I haven’t watched much of Bortles, but what I have seen was intriguing. It was his first full season as a starter so I look forward to reviewing some of those games but also to seeing how he does as a junior and as a starter with more experience.

4-      Braxton Miller, Ohio State- I am not sold on Miller as a NFL QB yet, but he made some strides as a sophomore and he’s too intriguing of a playmaker to leave him off this list entirely. He’s got a lot of upside, it’s just a question of whether he can ever become as good of a pure passer as he is as a runner.

5-      Garrett Grayson, Colorado State- Grayson is a player I think has a lot of upside. He’s definitely flying under the radar, but I expect that he will be the starter for Colorado State and prior to his collarbone injury last year he really showed me something. He looks like he has a NFL arm, it’s just a question of whether he can keep the starting job, stay healthy, and put together some good film.

Top Sophomores:

1-      Kevin Hogan, Stanford- Hogan has future 1st round pick written all over him. He’s got the size, the arm strength (though his deep ball could use some work), athleticism and high football IQ I look for in a QB. He really impressed me when he took over for Josh Nunes, and he is embracing his role as a leader on Stanford and from what I’ve read seems to have a strong hold on Stanford’s complex offense. I think he’s going to be great this year and while he is eligible I expect him to come out after his junior season, not after his redshirt sophomore year.

2-      Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M- I know a lot of people will be surprised that I have anyone ranked over Manziel, but as far as the NFL is concerned I think Hogan is the superior prospect at this point. There’s no denying Manziel’s uncanny feel for the game, shocking athleticism and knack for game-changing plays, but he still has a long way to go before he is a “surgeon” rather than a butcher as a quarterback as Trent Dilfer would say. The upside is there, but he’s still learning.