Tag Archive: Andre Ellington


Size: Ellington is weighed in at 5’9”, 199 pounds at the combine and weighed 194 pounds at his pro day. He lacks the size and bulk to be an every down back at the next level in my opinion as he looks skinny on film. To be drafted on the second day he will have to compensate for his lack of size with speed and quickness.

Speed: I expected this to be elite, but I was actually relatively disappointed. He ran slow at the combine, but he ran a 4.52 despite perhaps not being 100% at his pro day. I think he has sub 4.5 speed, but I don’t think he is a 4.4 flat guy when I watch him. He has good speed, but it is not elite speed and that hurts given that I think he has to compensate for his lack of size with terrific playmaking ability.

Quickness: Ellington has quality quickness and it’s obvious pretty quickly after you start watching him. He can make defenders miss in the open field, he hits the hole quickly once he sees it, and he has impressive change of direction quickness and burst.

Inside Running: I don’t think this is where Ellington is going to make the majority of his money at the next level, but he is a solid between the tackles runner. Because of his lack of lower body strength and overall bulk he doesn’t gain a lot of yardage after contact and doesn’t run through a lot of arm tackles (though he does drive his legs, he just doesn’t have the strength to consistently gain a lot of tough yards). He doesn’t seem to run as patiently between the tackles as he does on outside runs, but he doesn’t try to bounce runs outside when they aren’t there.

Outside Running: This was Ellington’s strength at Clemson in my opinion. He’s a faster back even though I don’t see sub 4.45 speed when I watch him, and his quickness certainly benefits him running outside. He is much more patient on outside runs as he allows his blocks to set up and seems to have good vision on outside runs and utilizes his blockers well in open space. While he may not have great lower body strength he does demonstrate impressive balance.

Receiving: Ellington may not have ever caught more than 22 passes in a year (22 as a junior, 14 as a senior) but I think he will be a quality receiver at the next level. He adjusts to less than accurate passes well, can catch the ball with his hands away from his chest, and his quickness will be beneficial on check-downs and swing passes out of the backfield. He’s not elite in this area, and I haven’t seen him make tough catches in traffic, but I think he’s good enough to contribute early on in this area.

Blocking: Ellington gives solid effort as a blocker but his lack of bulk and overall technique hold him back. I’ve seen him drop his head when he is picking up blitzers or occasionally blocking on a run play and that is a big no-no as a blocker. Additionally, his lack of strength and size make it hard to match up well with bigger, stronger defenders which is why despite stepping up and engaging them he struggles to sustain his blocks. With coaching and strength training he could be average or perhaps even solid in this area, but I don’t think he will ever be a great blocker.

Vision: I think Ellington has good vision when running outside, but I was not as impressed with his inside vision and that coupled with his lack of lower body strength and bulk makes me question how good he will be when given carries between  the tackles. He doesn’t have poor vision inside, but there are times he seems to drop his eyes and he runs into the backs of his lineman sometimes.

Ball Security: I haven’t seen Ellington carry the ball with poor technique when I’ve watched him as he frequently keeps the ball high and tight, not allowing the ball to flail away from his body. However, he did fumble a couple times in the games I watched of him despite seemingly correct technique. They could just be perfect punches from the defender, or perhaps he just needs to get stronger. Either way, I don’t have serious concerns about Ellington’s ball security.

Overall: Ellington isn’t a feature back in my opinion but I think he has the speed and quickness to be an effective change of pace back. I don’t think he’s going to be the electrifying player that CJ Spiller has proven to be when given touches in Buffalo, but I think he can be effective. His timed 40 yard dashes gave me a little pause, but after I revisited his games I realized that while he may not have elite speed like many might have proclaimed prior to the combine or his pro day, I think he has good speed. If he had been 100% healthy at his pro day I think he would have ran a sub 4.5 time, perhaps in the 4.46-4.48 range. Regardless, he looks fast to me when I watch him, just not as fast as many might have claimed earlier this year. His quickness is evident as well, and while he doesn’t have much power to speak of if he can improve his lower body strength he would be able to generate more tough yardage. As it stands he pumps his legs like you would want when he is being tackled, he just doesn’t generate much push. He is a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, and with coaching and strength training he could be a solid pass blocker. He’s not going to be an electric home-run threat in my opinion, but I think he can be a pretty good change of pace back. I have a 3rd round grade on him.

Projection: 3rd round. I think he will likely end up in this range, but I’d be kind of surprised if he made it to the 4th round.

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From now until the season starts (WHICH IS TODAY!) 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 the Clemson Tigers. Clemson shocked everyone last year when they started 8-0, but their late season collapse was not quite as surprising, and it ended with an absolute beat-down against West Virginia. Clemson’s offense is poised for another explosive season even if they will be without star receiver Sammy Watkins for a couple games. Tajh Boyd is returning for his second season as a starter and has plenty of weapons to throw to, but the question is how will his protection be. Brandon Thomas has established himself as the left tackle, and Dalton Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation, but the rest of the offensive line is unproven. If they are going to compete for an ACC title in the same division as the exceedingly talented Florida State Seminoles they are going to need Boyd to be at the top of his game, and for that to happen the offensive line will have to step up. I don’t think Clemson will beat FSU this year, and that’s why I don’t have them repeating as ACC champs.

Defense was the major problem with Clemson last year, and they return without their top pass rusher Andre Branch and their stud defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. They have a very young group of defensive tackles, but defensive end should continue to be a strength. I’m a big fan of Malliciah Goodman, and sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford will be looking to do his best Andre Branch impression this season. They have a star middle linebacker in the making in Stephone Anthony, a stud corner in the making in Baushaud Breeland, and plenty of talent and depth at safety. I know Clemson fans are hoping that the additional experience in the secondary will help eliminate some of the big plays that plagued the team last year. They have to improve at all levels of the defense, and how good they get will determine how competitive they will be with FSU. With that, here are Clemson’s prospects to keep an eye on:

Tajh Boyd, QB*- Boyd is an intriguing quarterback who is still very young and likely will leave Clemson with three full years of starting experience if he stays healthy. He started all 14 games last year and really helped put Clemson on the map by starting his season with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions over the first 8 games en route to Clemson starting 8-0. They faltered down the stretch however, and over that same span Boyd threw just 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He passed 499 times last season and completed 298 of them (59.7%) and threw for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Boyd is listed at just 6’1”, 225 pounds but he does have a strong arm and plenty of athleticism to compensate for his relative lack of size. He’s a late round prospect right now, but if he works hard to improve his ability to read defenses, learns to make better decisions (and throw the ball away, something I haven’t seen him do much) and embraces his role as a leader he could improve that stock. He reportedly weighed around 235 pounds towards the end of last season which he and his offensive coordinator think made him less effective and more prone to mistakes. I think it was a mix of his increased weight and the fact that teams had film on him to figure out what his tendencies were and what he struggled with. That appeared to be zone coverage more than anything else, because I don’t think he had the anticipation to throw his receivers open and was therefore trying to put throws into tight windows when defenses dropped into zone. Hopefully he has been watching film and studying that, because good and great quarterbacks can dissect zone coverage when teams drop into it. Boyd isn’t there yet, but he’s got plenty of ability and if he starts off anything like he did last season he will be firmly in the early season Heisman contention.

Andre Ellington, RB- Ellington is returning for his final season as a Clemson Tiger after his best season statistically last season. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns (5.3 ypc) which matches his rushing total from his first two seasons with the team (1,175 yards as a freshman and sophomore combined) and fell just three touchdowns short of matching his previous career total for touchdowns. Now he is trying to follow it up with an even better season, and thanks to his explosive speed and burst he will have a chance to do so. That hinges on how well the offensive line will be able to block for him though, as they lose three of five starters from 2011 and there will be some growing pains associated with that. Ellington is listed at 5’10”, 190 pounds and has never struck me as a feature back at the next level, but rather as a good or very good 3rd down and complementary back. He doesn’t run through contact well and struggles to gain tough yards after contact is initiated. He’s very explosive though and has 4.4 speed, tons of quickness and is very dangerous in the open field. He catches the ball pretty well out of the backfield too, having caught 45 passes over his career including 22 last year for 109 yards. He’s not going to be a 1st round pick like his teammate CJ Spiller was in my opinion, but he has a great shot to go in the first 3 rounds because of his game-changing speed and athleticism.

Sammy Watkins, WR**- Watkins burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman and proved to be one of the most dynamic players in the country despite his age. He is listed at 6’1”, 200 pounds and has fantastic speed, burst and elusiveness. He caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns last year as well as rushing for 231 yards on just 32 carries. He was also a dynamic kick returner, returning 33 kickoffs for 826 yards (25.0 avg) and 1 touchdown. Even more impressive was that he did this in just 10 games as a result of injury, so his statistics shouldn’t suffer much even in spite of his early season suspension. He probably was ready to go to the NFL as a slot receiver and return man, but for the next two years we will have the privilege of seeing him polish his route running and if he stays healthy he should be a 1st round draft pick when he comes out after his junior season. He’s so pro-ready that I don’t expect him to stay beyond his junior year, but I hope that he doesn’t get in any more off-field trouble. He’s a special talent and if he keeps working and doesn’t get in any more trouble he will likely be a top 20 NFL Draft pick.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR*- Hopkins is often overshadowed by Watkins’ greatness, but he is a very good NFL Draft prospect in his own right. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and while he isn’t quite as explosive as Watkins is he still has plenty of speed and quickness. Like Watkins he needs to improve as a route runner, but he has all the tools necessary to do so, he just has to work at it. Hopkins has pretty long arms, big hands and catches the ball well outside of his frame which makes it easier for Boyd to get him the ball. He knows Hopkins can catch passes that aren’t thrown right on the numbers, and that’s why Hopkins had 52 catches as a true freshman and 72 more as a sophomore. He had 978 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, but look for him to exceed 1,000 yards this year. He and Boyd will likely be in sync during Watkins’ suspension and that should continue the rest of the season.

Martavis Bryant, WR**- Bryant is a freak athlete who is listed at 6’5”, 205 pounds but was the 2nd fastest player on the entire roster in 40 yard dash competitions. The only player faster? Watkins. But at 6’5”, Bryant has immense upside, perhaps even more than Watkins given his height and length. Bryant is very inconsistent at this point, however, showing flashes of brilliance at times but not quite getting it at others. That was reflected by his stat line: he only had 9 receptions, but he averaged 24.6 yards per reception on the way to totaling 221 yards and 2 touchdowns on those 9 catches. He’s an explosive athlete with immense potential, he just has to work to get there. I hope that Hopkins and other receivers help mentor him so that he can start to reach his unbelievable potential this season, because with Bryant and Hopkins on the outside and Watkins on the inside this Clemson offense could be borderline unstoppable as long as the ball comes out on time. The light may not come on for Bryant this year (though I hope it does) but if it comes on in the next two years LOOK! OUT! He’s got the talent to be a top 5-10 pick because of his size and pure speed.

Charone Peake, WR**- Peake is another rising sophomore who got some playing time as a true freshman last season. He’s listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds and only caught 4 passes for 71 yards last year, good for a 17.1 average per reception. It’s unclear exactly how Clemson plans to get the ball to all of these talented receivers, but with Watkins out for the first couple games one of these young guys could emerge opposite Hopkins to help take the pressure off of him. Peake was inconsistent last year, much like Bryant, but also dealt with injuries that helped hold him back. He’s got a ton of potential in his own right, and if the light comes on this year and he stays healthy he could break out as well.

Jaron Brown, WR- Clemson has one of the deepest and most talented groups of receivers in the country, and Jaron Brown is a significant part of that. He’s got good hands and is a reliable target, standing at 6’2”, 200 pounds. He’s certainly not the most explosive receiver on the roster, that distinction belongs to Watkins, but his reliability complements the explosiveness of some of the other Clemson Tiger receivers. Brown has a 40 time in the 4.6 range, and likely won’t be drafted, but if he can show quality route running and reliable hands he could earn a shot at a NFL camp.

Brandon Ford, TE- Ford came to Clemson as a 6’4”, 200 pound wide receiver but in 2010 he moved to tight end and was Dwayne Allen’s primary back-up during his Mackey Award winning (award given to the best tight end in the nation) season for the Tigers last year. It was the best statistical season a Clemson Tiger tight end has ever had, and it will be a hard, but not impossible, act to follow. Ford has plenty of experience, especially since he played in all 14 games last season, but has never been relied upon as the primary security blanket in the offense. He is listed at 6’4”, 235 pounds now but was supposedly a lean 240 pounds in the spring and had hoped to add more good weight before the season started. I don’t know much about him from a blocking standpoint, and that will be interesting to see, but he had 14 receptions, 166 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and with all the talent at receiver Ford will be flying under the radar most of the season. He should be good for 40-50 receptions, 500-600 yards and 5-7 touchdowns, which would be perfect for replacing Allen. Despite his Mackey award, he only had 50 receptions, 598 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Those aren’t unattainable numbers at all, and I think Ford has a great shot at replicating them this year. He probably won’t be a top 64 draft pick, but I think he has the potential to be a top 100 pick especially if he shows some ability as an inline blocker.

Brandon Thomas, OT*- Thomas was the starting left guard for Clemson last season and did a pretty good job, but then the starting left tackle Phillip Price suffered a sprained knee against Wake Forest and wasn’t the same the rest of the season. Thomas was therefore forced out to left tackle for only one start but played there for considerable game time over the final four games. He wasn’t great as it was a complete position change (even though he was recruited to Clemson as an offensive tackle) and the play of the offensive line in addition to an antsy, less mobile Tajh Boyd was not a good combination for the Clemson offense. Thomas enters this season, however, with at least some experience at the position and made progress at the position in the spring. His versatility to play left tackle as well as slide inside to left guard is valuable, but the 6’3”, 300 pound lineman will be asked to protect Boyd’s blind-side first and foremost. Because of his size and length he doesn’t really project to offensive tackle in the NFL, but his time spent at guard will help him when he is asked to slide back inside in the future. Until then, his adequate foot speed and lateral agility will have to be enough for him to keep Boyd upright at left tackle. His match-ups against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, teams with great defensive ends or pass rushers, might not be pretty though. That’s one of the reasons why I think Florida State will win the Atlantic division of the ACC. I should also mention that when Thomas was 19 years old and back home from school he was arrested for disorderly conduct, charged with a misdemeanor and fined $262 as a result. Honestly, it’s barely even worth mentioning because I haven’t been able to find any instances of him getting in trouble off the field in the years since that occurred, but knowledge is power so now you’re all a little more powerful. Also, for what it’s worth, there is a true freshman named Isaiah Battle who is listed at 6’7”, 265 pounds but has apparently held his own in fall camp and “hasn’t been out-athleted by anyone” according to Head Coach Dabo Swinney. He needs to fill out, but if he does and he maintains his impressive athleticism Thomas could be sliding inside to guard as a senior before he even makes it to the NFL Draft.

Dalton Freeman, C- Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation and he enters his senior year with an impressive 36 career starts at the position for the Tigers. Freeman is listed at 6’5”, 285 pounds and is a good athlete, showing that he can get to the second level and move well for his size. His problem is that despite his starting experience he hasn’t filled out his frame yet, and even if he is only truly 6’4” he has the frame to weigh 300-310 pounds quite easily, and will be asked to gain weight once he is auditioning for and gets to the NFL. The additional strength, especially in the lower body, will help him generate more push in the run game and anchor better versus defensive tackles 1 on 1 in pass protection. The reason he is one of the top centers in the country already is his football IQ (his father was a high school football coach) and his leadership capability, and those intangible qualities will be music to the ears of talent evaluators. Add that in to his starting experience, which could be 49-50 career starts depending on if he is healthy all year (he has proven to be quite durable) and if Clemson goes to a bowl game and the ACC title game. Freeman has the potential to be big and strong enough to be a “3rd guard” in the run game, which is part of what makes Wisconsin’s running game so dangerous. Having a center who can block interior defensive linemen one on one in the run and pass game makes the entire offensive line better, and while Freeman isn’t quite there yet he has the frame and pedigree to get there. Add that to his football IQ, leadership and experience and you have one of the top center prospects in the country.

Malliciah Goodman, DE- Goodman was a bit under the radar as a first year starter at defensive end for Clemson and it will likely remain that way until he breaks out. He is listed at 6’4”, 280 pounds and didn’t blow anyone away last year with his statistics (59 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble). He might not have a ton of sacks in his career (5 in his 3 years at Clemson) but Goodman has a penchant for forcing fumbles having forced four over the past two seasons. He played as many snaps last year as he had played the previous 2 seasons combined, and started all 14 games for Clemson. He’s not an overly explosive pass rusher and his numbers evidence that, but he has a great frame, is strong, has long arms and surprisingly good hip flexibility to dip his shoulder and get the edge. He’s not going to break the NFL sack record, but the ability to bull rush, use his long arms effectively to keep blockers off of him and to get them up in passing lanes is really intriguing. He’s quite inconsistent off the ball when it is snapped which is often the only reason he gets pushed off the ball by 1 on 1 blocks, otherwise he is very reliable against the run and seems to see the field well and read run or pass quickly. He’s assignment reliable and has shown that he will keep contain and not get sucked in by play-action and give up an easy boot-leg to his side, and collapses well down the line of scrimmage. He’s flashed violent hands at times, but really needs to improve his hand usage and develop a rip and swim move to improve his pass rush repertoire. Right now it is a speed rush with a dip off the edge, a bull rush (which he doesn’t disengage from that well right now) or he comes free on an inside move or a stunt. That said, he has a lot of upside and projects well to the 4-3 left end position because he has the size and strength to hold up versus the run, particularly as he continues to improve his pad level, his timing off the ball, and as he works on his hand usage and pass rush moves he should provide more of a pass rush than he does now. He seems to read plays well and react to them quickly, which is great to see from a defensive end, particularly versus the run. I still don’t know what I think of his motor, it looks solid to me right now, but I don’t know much beyond that. He’s an intriguing player, and in a draft class with an abundance of pass rush upside Goodman will likely be overlooked thanks to his modest 2011 statistics, but his run defense, awareness and experience will not go unnoticed by NFL teams. I think he has a great shot at the top 75 and could go even higher if he has a better statistical year now that Andre Branch has moved on to the NFL.

Corey Crawford, DE**- Crawford is listed at 6’5”, 280 pounds and at that listing you’d think “he’s got to be another Goodman or Bowers right?” You’d be wrong, at least according to him. Crawford defines himself as a speed rusher, and to get back to that he has reportedly dropped about 15 pounds to get down to 265 pounds. That should help his get-off and his burst to beat tackles off the edge, which is something his predecessor Andre Branch had a penchant for doing. Crawford actually graduated in 2010 but had to enroll in a military school for a year because his grades weren’t in good enough shape to get into Clemson. That’s a bit of a red flag for me, but he came in and produced 29 tackles, 2 TFL and 2 pass deflections as a true freshman last year. He’s projected to be the starter opposite Goodman this year, and if he has more speed and burst then he could be in for a 6-8 sack season. He’s got a lot of upside, but I’m not sure if this will be his year to reach it. Clemson defensive ends usually don’t usually seem to turn it on until their second full season as a starter. Gaines Adams broke out as a junior in what I believe was his second full season as a starter. Bowers didn’t have a break-out season until he was a junior, and Andre Branch broke out in his second full season as a starter as a senior. That means Crawford likely won’t have a true break-out campaign as a sophomore, but he could very well have a good season and blow up as a junior as is the Clemson trend.

Stephone Anthony, MLB**- Anthony may have only started 3 games last year but he played in 13 of Clemson’s 14 games and totaled 32 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks and 1 pass deflection as a true freshman. Now he is the expected starter at middle linebacker despite suffering a torn ligament in his finger that required surgery in the spring. He should be good to go for the opener though, and the 6’3”, 235 pound linebacker should be ready for an impressive statistical season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables named him the starting middle linebacker and is entrusting him with being the “quarterback of the defense” despite only being a true sophomore. It will be interesting to see how he does in his starting role, but he has a lot of potential.

Corico Hawkins, OLB- Hawkins previously started at middle linebacker but has moved outside to the weakside spot in favor of Anthony starting in the middle. Anthony has a superior combination of size and athletic ability to Hawkins who is just 5’11”, 230 pounds. Still, he has been very productive for the Tigers, and he has 25 career starts for Clemson. He’s playing a new position, but his productivity should improve since it is better suited to his skill set. He had 80 tackles, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups last year, but keeping him away from big interior offensive linemen should help, and if he can use his athleticism to avoid blockers it should help him get in on more stops at or near the line of scrimmage. I’m not sure he’s much more than a UDFA at this point thanks to his size and lack of great playmaking ability, but his wealth of experience won’t be ignored.

Bashaud Breeland, CB**- Breeland made a name for himself as a playmaking corner last year despite being a redshirt freshman. He played in all 14 games, started 7, and had 53 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions (including a 1 handed beauty against Maryland) and appears to have fantastic hands and ball skills. Add that to his 6’0”, 185 pound frame and his 4.4 speed and you can’t help but wonder how good this kid is going to get. I can’t wait to see him match up with some of the wide receiver talent in the ACC, particularly against Florida State. He’s got a lot of upside and a bright NFL future if he continues to improve.

Xavier Brewer, FS- Brewer is the most versatile defender in Clemson’s secondary and will be asked to play both corner and safety during the year. He will likely play nickel corner and free safety, and his 23 career starts will prove valuable this season. He’s not a great corner, but the versatility to play there will be valuable for Clemson this year and when he attempts to make it to the next level. He’s got good size for a corner at 5’11”, 190 pounds but isn’t as well built for safety as you might like. However, his listed 4.42 speed will help him cover a lot of ground in the secondary, and that should make him valuable when he is playing deep centerfield for the Tigers.

Jonathan Meeks, SS- Meeks is a player that I actually like, but plenty of people don’t seem to. He’s inconsistent and I wasn’t impressed with his tackling, but he has good ball skills and that’s something I value over almost everything else at defensive back. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and has a listed 40 time of 4.52 but looks a bit faster than that when I watch him. He’s got the ball skills, but I’m not sure how good his instincts and awareness are, and he doesn’t take very good angles and tackle that well. He’s got upside, and I think he has a shot to be a late round draft pick right now, but if he’s ever going to stick in the NFL he’s going to have to improve those aspects of his game. That said, I like him as a bit of an under the radar prospect.

Rashard Hall, SS- Hall is the veteran of the Clemson secondary and is considered the best draft eligible prospect of the group. I wasn’t a big fan of him last year, as I saw him miss some tackles, but he was playing through a knee injury that he had surgery for after the season, and he was still the leading tackler on Clemson’s defense last season. As I often say, it’s not ideal to have one of your safeties leading the team in tackling, and it showed as Clemson’s defense gave up 29.3 points per game (a 10.5 ppg jump from 2010), 394 yards per game including 177 on the ground, which is likely where Hall got a number of his tackles as he filled from the safety position. Opposing defenses averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Tigers, but also completed 58.3% of all attempted passes. That means the front 7 needs to step up, but so does the secondary. Hall will play a big role in that, and if he is healthy, more instinctual and is able to break down better I could warm up to him more as a prospect. At 6’1”, 210 he has solid size for a strong safety and he had 89 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up, 2 interceptions as well as one forced and recovered fumble. He’s got upside, and is one of the better senior safeties in the country, but I want to see some improvement from him before I label him as a potential top 75-100 pick.

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

1- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Analysis: Trent Richardson is a very special talent. He emerged as a freshman even while Mark Ingram was playing well en route to winning the Heisman that year, and had a couple key runs against Texas to help Alabama win the National Championship game. Richardson will be the feature back for Alabama this year and I am very much looking forward to seeing how he does as the main back. Regardless of who starts at QB for ‘Bama it will be someone who has not started on the college level before, so I anticipate that Richardson will get carries early and often every game.
2- Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Analysis: Davis is one of my favorite prospects and last year I wrote a post on him stating that he was the best offensive prospect on Arkansas’ offense, which obviously insinuated that I thought he would get drafted higher than Ryan Mallett (who went in the 3rd round to the Patriots). Davis is incredibly talented and I am very much looking forward to seeing him play as one of the focal points of a potentially explosive offense this next year. He should help keep a lot of pressure off of Tyler WIlson early in the season, but if Wilson can play effectively then Davis should have more holes to run through. Either way, Davis is a great talent and I am a big fan.
3- Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
Analysis: Gray emerged last year as a junior and helped Texas A&M finish their season on a high note en route to a bowl game against LSU. Gray should team up with Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu to form a pretty potent offense. I don’t have a good feel for Gray’s game and tendencies yet but I am really looking forward to watching him this season.
4- Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Analysis: Polk has been underrated since his freshman season, and some might be surprised that LaMichael James is ranked below him, but while Polk may not be the big play threat that James is at Oregon he is a very good runningback who has been productive in each of his three seasons at Washington. The burden of the offense will be on Polk this year now that Locker has graduated, so it will be interesting to see if Polk steps up to the plate and helps take some of the pressure off of the new starting quarterback.
5- LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Analysis: James is a talented back but I don’t think he will be a starter in the NFL because I don’t think he could take the beating he would sustain running between the tackles consistently as a feature back. I think he could be a very good complementary back in the NFL, at least initially, but because I don’t think he is going to be a starter I couldn’t rank him as high as others might.
6- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Analysis: Miller has the potential to explode onto the scene this year and I expect him to be the starting running back for Miami this year. If Miami can find a solid starting QB (not Jacory Harris, hopefully Morris steps up) then their offense could be dynamic with Miller, Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd to spread the ball around to. Miller should be effective running the ball regardless though, and I am very excited to see him get some consistent carries because he took over a game or two when he got all the carries on certain drives as a freshman.
7- Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Analysis: Ellington is another speed back from Clemson and he has gamebreaking speed similar to C.J. Spiller. He will be the main back now that Jamie Harper has left for the NFL, and I think he will experience a great deal of success in that role. I don’t know what his tendencies are and I haven’t scouted him specifically yet because he was not eligible to come out this year (I believe he was a true sophomore) but I look forward to evaluating him because it will be interesting to compare him to C.J. Spiller because they both went to the same school and play the position of running back in similar ways.
8- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Analysis: Ball really emerged as a legitimate rushing threat this season for Wisconsin and I think his emergence, along with that of James White, forced John Clay’s hand and led to him declaring early for the NFL Draft instead of coming back to school where he would have had his touches reduced. Ball is a very powerfully built running back and he fits Wisconsin’s scheme very well and should have a great season especially with James White spelling him as his #2 back. If they can get a quarterback to take some of the pressure off of the running game then Ball could have a huge season as a junior.
9- Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
Analysis: I have not watched Pierce play a lot but I do know he is the cog that makes the Temple offense go and he should again be the focal point of their offense next year. It will be interesting to see him play since I have seen so little tape on him, but I expect to see a quality feature back when I watch him play.
10- Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State
Analysis: Brown is a transfer from Tennessee and is a very talented back and with Daniel Thomas out of the way he could be in line for a huge season this year. Kansas State relied on their running game extensively last season and they will presumably do the same this year, so Brown’s role in the offense should be substantial. I look forward to watching him play this year, his first as a starter for Kansas State.

Hopefully you all enjoyed my preliminary running back rankings for the 2012 season. I can’t wait for college football to get here. As I said earlier I will do my best to keep churning out content but I will be very busy with my internship (which I work at 9-5 every week day) but I should still be able to chip away at these rankings in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for them and thanks for reading!

–Tom

Here are my predictions for the upcoming bowl games. My final installment will have the last handful of games to make sure that this post isn’t unbearably long to read. Enjoy the bowl games! I know I will.

Meineke Car Care Bowl- South Florida (7-5) vs Clemson (6-6)

Predicted Winner: Clemson

Why: Clemson has the better, more efficient quarterback (though not by a huge margin) in Kyle Parker plus they have a very nice tandem of running backs with Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington. Clemson’s offense is better and I don’t trust B.J. Daniels to not turn the ball over like he has been prone to do.

Key to the game: Clemson’s running game. If they can work the clock, have some methodical drives and maybe rip off a couple of big runs they should win the game.

Score: Clemson: 27 – South Florida: 17

Sun Bowl- Notre Dame (7-5) vs Miami (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Miami

Why: Though I often focus on offenses I think the difference in this game will be Miami’s defense. They have a lot of talent on their defensive unit and they have enough talent on their front four to put pressure on freshman QB Tommy Rees of Notre Dame which could force some turnovers.

Key to the game: Miami’s defense. If Miami can fluster Notre Dame’s freshman QB and create turnovers then Miami will have a significant advantage. But if Miami lets him get into a rhythm and gives up big plays then Notre Dame will have a good chance.

Score: Miami: 31 – Notre Dame: 20

Liberty Bowl- Georgia (6-6) vs UCF (10-3)

Predicted Winner: Georgia

Why: I think Georgia is the better overall team despite their record. They started very slow but once they got A.J. Green back they have been much better. They started 1-4 without him and finished the season 5-2 including an overtime loss to Florida and a loss to #1 overall Auburn. They have been tested against quality teams and I think Mark Richt will have them ready to play.

Key to the game: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia. He’s a redshirt freshman but he has played very well this year, especially since he got A.J. Green back in the fold. Green had nine touchdowns in only seven games this year. If he keeps playing well then Georgia has a great chance to win this game.

Score: Georgia: 38 – UCF: 20

Chick-fil-A Bowl- South Carolina (9-4) vs Florida State (9-4)

Predicted Winner: South Carolina

Why: South Carolina has a good passing game led by Stephen Garcia featuring one of the best receivers in the country in Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley. Both of them are big, physical receivers who create mismatches for even the most physical defenses. In addition they have a stud true freshman running back in Marcus Lattimore who is one of the best running backs in the country even though he is only a year removed from high school. Their offense has a lot of talent, and their defense can rush the passer and create turnovers.

Key to the game: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State. If Christian Ponder plays at all he could give the Seminoles a lift, and if he plays and plays well like he has in the past then he could give the Seminoles a chance at victory. He has a lot of talent on his offense, and they have the ability to be very explosive, but his elbow injury has hindered him. It will be interesting to see if he plays and if he plays well.

Score: South Carolina: 41 – Florida State: 24

TicketCity Bowl- Northwestern (7-5) vs Texas Tech (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Texas Tech

Why: Northwestern would have a good chance at winning their first bowl game since 1949 if they had Dan Persa playing at QB, but unfortunately he won’t be available due to his Achilles injury that he suffered during the regular season. That makes me think that Texas Tech should be able to beat them with a very good passing offense and a somewhat underrated rushing attack.

Key to the game: Northwestern’s defense. If Northwestern can slow down Texas Tech’s offense then they stand a chance to win. They will need to create some turnovers and get some short fields for their offense so they can overcome the loss of Persa.

Score: Texas Tech: 45 – Northwestern: 27

Outback Bowl- Florida (7-5) vs Penn State (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Florida

Why: In a game with two decent offenses I think the defense that plays best will lead their team to victory. Whichever unit can force turnovers and slow down the opposing offense will give their offense a huge boost. Florida’s offense isn’t very explosive with John Brantley under center and they don’t have a very consistent running game either. Penn State looked better with Matt McGloin under center, and have a consistent running game led by Evan Royster, but Florida has a good enough defense to stop their offense in my opinion. In a game of defenses I give Florida the edge. Plus I think they have the speed and playmaking ability to change a game on special teams if they get a chance.

Key to the game: Florida’s defensive line. If the Gators can get pressure on McGloin without blitzing and if they can slow down Royster with good gap responsibility then Penn State will be in trouble.

Score: Florida: 27 – Penn State: 17

Capital One Bowl- Alabama (9-3) vs Michigan State (11-1)

Predicted Winner: Alabama

Why: As much as I might like to pick Michigan State I think Alabama is far too talented to not pick here. Michigan State will be without one of their better receivers in B.J. Cunningham and they have a tough enough task trying to beat Alabama without that. Alabama’s offense should be able to move the ball effectively on Michigan State’s defense and Alabama should be able to rattle Kirk Cousins and probably force a couple of turnovers.

Key to the game: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State. If Cousins plays one of the better games of his career Michigan State could win this game. But if Alabama pressures him and he makes mistakes and mental errors then they could be in for a long day. Michigan State has a balanced offense, so it’s not all on Cousins’ shoulders, but if the run game isn’t there then Cousins has to step up big.

Score: Alabama: 31 – Michigan State: 20

Gator Bowl- Mississippi State (8-4) vs Michigan (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Mississippi State

Why: I think Mississippi State has the team speed to slow down Denard Robinson and if they can bottle him up then Michigan’s offense will sputter. Mississippi State has a very good running game as well so being able to control the clock and keep Robinson off the field will be important.

Key to the game: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. He is the best player in this game and if he plays well both as a runner and especially as a passer to keep Mississippi State from stacking the box then Michigan could very well win this game. But if he plays poorly, doesn’t make big plays and turns the ball over then Michigan has very little chance.

Score: Mississippi State: 28 – Michigan: 17

Rose Bowl- Wisconsin (11-1) vs TCU (12-0)

Predicted Winner: Wisconsin

Why: First and foremost I think TCU is overrated. I’ve been pretty outspoken about my opinion of teams like Boise State, Utah and TCU, and the way they have played recently hasn’t changed my mind. I don’t think TCU will be able to stop Wisconsin’s dominant running game. They have three quality running backs in John Clay, Montee Ball and James White, the exciting freshman who actually led their team in rushing yards. Wisconsin has a dominant offensive line, and their quarterback Scott Tolzien rarely makes mental errors that lead to interceptions. Wisconsin has been tested by many good teams this year, but TCU has barely played anybody as usual. Andy Dalton is a good QB, and they have a good offense, but I think that Wisconsin has the potential to get some pressure on him and slow down their run game.

Key to the game: TCU’s run defense. If they step up and slow down Wisconsin’s rushing attack and force them into 3rd and longs then it will test Tolzien’s ability to convert on downfield throws. He has shown that he can do that this year, but if you go into a game against Wisconsin you would rather slow down their running game and make Tolzien beat you than get beat up on the ground.

Score: Wisconsin: 45 – TCU: 34

Fiesta Bowl- Connecticut (8-4) vs Oklahoma (11-2)

Predicted Winner: Oklahoma

Why: This game doesn’t seem like a very even match-up, and that makes me wary of it. Oklahoma is the better team in my opinion, but Oklahoma has struggled mightily in BCS bowls as of late and a hungry team like Connecticut could very well pose them a threat. However, Oklahoma has a very dynamic offense led by Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles plus a very impressive defense that has made a lot of talented offenses look average. So as much as I don’t trust Oklahoma in big games I am trusting that Stoops has finally righted the ship this year. Eventually they will break this streak right?

Key to the game: Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut. If Toddman can get going somehow and break some big runs to take pressure off of UCONN’s passing game then the Huskies will have a chance. But if Oklahoma stacks the box to take Todman away I am afraid UCONN could really struggle.

Score: Oklahoma: 38 – Connecticut: 20

Orange Bowl- Stanford (11-1) vs Virginia Tech (11-2)

Predicted Winner: Virginia Tech

Why: First off I have to say I am very excited to see how this game plays out. I honestly think this could go either way. It’s natural to give the advantage to the better quarterback, which in my opinion would be Andrew Luck, but Tyrod Taylor has been fantastic this year as a passer and as a runner. More than that, he has been extremely efficient. And Taylor is no stranger to late game heroics, watch the Nebraska-Virginia Tech game from last season if you need evidence of that. So it’s hard to say that Luck would have an advantage if it came down to a key fourth quarter drive. Both teams are balanced, they run the ball effectively, they have good defenses… they are just very evenly matched in my opinion. But Virginia Tech has the more athletic defense, the better secondary and I think they will be better on special teams which is why I have to give them the edge.

Key to the game: The quarterback battle. Whoever outplays the other should give their team a significant advantage. If Luck can find a way to carve up Virginia Tech’s defense, which few teams have done this year without turning the ball over, then he could win the game for Stanford. But if Stanford can’t stop Taylor from making big plays outside of the pocket, especially on broken passing plays, then Virginia Tech could easily win. I just have no idea which way it’s going to go.

Score: Virginia Tech: 34 – Stanford: 31
Hopefully that wasn’t too long to read. I can’t wait to watch this next batch of bowl games. What better way to ring in the new year than watching football for the majority of the day? I can’t think of one. Thanks for reading!

–Tom