Tag Archive: Bret Bielema


Brandon Allen, QB, Sophomore- Allen is obviously young and inexperienced, but I think he has a lot of upside. He may not have quite as strong an arm as Brandon Mitchell (the man he beat out for the starting quarterback job) but he definitely has adequate velocity based on what I’ve seen. I think he can add even more velocity if he starts using his lower body better, as he is making a lot of “all arm” throws right now in my opinion. However, he showed pretty good accuracy, he is athletic and can throw on the run, and supposedly has been emerging as a leader since he was named the starter. He’s listed at 6’3”, 214 pounds and only threw 49 passes last year (completing 21) for 186 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Part of that is because he was the next guy in line after Tyler Wilson went down and had to start against Alabama as a freshman. He’s going to take his lumps as a brand new starter in the SEC this year, but I definitely think he has some long term upside.

Jonathan Williams, RB, Sophomore- I like what I saw from Williams in the spring game. He’s got some big shoes to fill since Knile Davis went so high in the draft (higher than I would have drafted him, to be sure) and I was one of the biggest Dennis Johnson fans last year (if not the biggest). However, the 6’0”, 220 pound running back showed impressive burst and athleticism for his size, he ran hard and gained some tough yards after contact. He’s powerfully built but he has enough athleticism to gain chunks of yardage and isn’t purely a power back. Not only that, but he showed some ability to make catches out of the backfield. He’s also surprisingly shifty for such a big running back which I really liked to see. I think he’s going to have a big year if Arkansas can give him the requisite blocking up front.

Nate Holmes, RB, Sophomore- Holmes is a speed demon, simple as that. He’s listed at 6’1”, 176 pounds but he has a lot of speed and is the fastest back that Arkansas has. He doubles as a punt returner and I really think that he has a chance to be a gamebreaker in that phase of the game. He’s not going to get a lot of carries I don’t think, but he could be worked in as a change of pace guy. He was held out of the first half of the spring game because of academic issues, so if he can stay eligible I think he can be a very valuable weapon for Arkansas.

Demetrius Wilson, WR, Senior- Wilson impressed me while I was watching the spring game. I don’t know how many receptions he ended up with, but he showed reliable hands and was able to make a couple of tacklers miss (particularly on curl routes) and gain extra yardage after the catch. He doesn’t look like a dynamic receiver necessarily, but I think he is going to easily surpass his 9 reception, 117 yard, 1 touchdown stat line from a year ago. He’s listed at 6’1”, 202 pounds and likely isn’t even on NFL draft radars as a possible undrafted free agent (he played some special teams for the Razorbacks last year for what it’s worth) so I am hoping he has a good year as a senior.

Javontee Herndon, WR, Senior- Herndon is one of the main guys returning for Arkansas at receiver, though that isn’t saying a whole lot. He is tied with Mekale McKay for the most receptions returning to Arkansas with 21, and is second to McKay in yards with 304 last year. He also added 3 touchdowns, the most of any receiver returning to Arkansas. The offense last year was essentially just throw the ball to Cobi Hamilton, and it showed as he totaled 90 receptions, 1,335 yards and 5 touchdowns, or 69 more receptions, 1,018 more yards and 2 more touchdowns than ANY receiver returning for 2013. That is a staggering differential, and I’m not sure Herndon or anyone on the roster is going to be able to be that “go to” guy that Hamilton was last year. Still, Herndon showed reliable hands, wiggle after the catch and seemed to be a solid route runner. He’s listed at 6’1”, 194 and he doesn’t exactly look like a burner, but he should be a reliable slot receiver for Arkansas as a senior. He’s likely in the undrafted free agent boat as well, but that can all change if he can finish his career on a strong note.

Mekale McKay, WR, Sophomore- McKay is the guy I think might have the chance to replace Hamilton’s vast production at some point. It may not be this year, but I think he’s got the most upside of any of the receivers I’m previewing. He’s listed at 6’6”, 195 pounds and definitely looks skinny when you watch him. He produced 21 receptions, 317 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman and is going to be relied upon as a significant contributor as a sophomore. He and Herndon are the two most productive receivers returning for Arkansas this year, so it will be interesting to see if his route running has improved since the spring game. He showed good hands and obviously has a large target radius, but he really needs to fill out his frame too. He still demonstrated to me that he can make a catch and take a hit, and while he isn’t a burner he has long strides so he can cover more ground than you might think. He’s got upside, so we’ll see what he can do as a sophomore.

Keon Hatcher, WR, Sophomore- Hatcher is a back-up on this team right now but he impressed me in the spring game. He’s likely not going to get much playing time this year, but he’s listed at 6’2”, 208 pounds, looked like a natural hands catcher and showed some wiggle after the catch. I think he’s going to be a significant contributor in the future, but may not be this year.

Travis Swanson, C, Senior- Swanson is the best prospect that the Razorbacks return on their offense, and he is considered by many as the top Center in the 2014 NFL Draft class. Initially when I watched him I was pretty underwhelmed, and he really seemed to struggle against Texas A&M’s Kirby Ennis, a 6’4”, 300 pound nose guard. He struggled to create push in the run game when blocking defensive linemen 1 on 1 in all the games that I watched which is contrary to what you might think given his listed size of 6’5”, 314 pounds. Still, he had a bad game against Texas A&M and that happens to everyone, it’s why you need to watch more than one game whenever possible. Swanson bounced back strong against Auburn and showed more mobility than I saw versus Texas A&M (almost to the point that I wondered if Swanson was playing through an injury that week) and looked more comfortable combo blocking and reaching linebackers at the second level. That was very encouraging to see, and it was also good to see him flash some ability to pull and make cut blocks. I think he needs work in this area, but there’s ability to work with there. He can generate push when double teaming with one of his guards, but he’s at his best when he can combo block, reach the second level, or seal off a defender without trying to push him off the ball. When he tries to generate push he tends to lean too much and it made him easy to shed for guys like Kirby Ennis of A&M and Isaac Gross of Ole Miss. There were times that Swanson really seemed to struggle with speed and quickness in the run game, and that was particularly evident against Ole Miss when Isaac Gross regularly beat him despite being listed as a 6’1”, 255 pound true freshman defensive tackle. He was much quicker than Swanson and that made it tough for him to initiate contact and keep him out of the backfield. However, despite some of his struggles in the run game I was quite impressed with him in the pass game. It’s evident that he is very smart and he makes very few mental mistakes based on what I was able to see. He isn’t easily fooled by twists, stunts, or late blitzes and seems comfortable making line calls and adjusting blocking schemes. That is good news, because he’s going to have to hold Brandon Allen’s hand a little bit in that regard since he has so little experience starting at quarterback in the SEC. He’s also regarded as a very good leader and that is very encouraging. I thought he showed a pretty solid anchor in pass protection, but I still think he can get stronger and improve it at this point in his career. He’s pretty tough to bull rush though, and a number of the issues I saw with him in the run game weren’t present in the pass game. He’s going to be a good pass protector in the NFL and I think he might be able to plug and play at the center position thanks to that skill set. He has experience snapping under center, in shotgun and the pistol thanks to Arkansas’ offense, and as I mentioned previously he has a lot of experience making line calls. I still want to see him continue to work on his hand placement, particularly in the run game, and there are times in pass pro where he tends to shuffle back in a strange way. He almost seems to be on his heels trying to gain depth after the snap, and it looks like if he was engaged he would really struggle to anchor and recover. He’s shown an ability to do that when I’ve watched him, but that shuffle looked strange to me. Regardless, he still needs work in the running game and I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the mauling run blocker you might expect given his size and weight, but he’s a good pass blocker with a high football IQ who I think has a long NFL career in front of him. At this point I have a 3rd round grade on him, so it will be interesting to see if he can boost his stock beyond that point during his senior season.

Chris Smith, DE, Senior- Smith is a defensive end that is listed at 6’3”, 266 pounds but I’d be surprised if he was really that tall and that heavy when officially measured and weighed, but that’s just my opinion of how he looks when I’m re-watching his games. He has a very impressive first step and that helps put offensive tackles on their heels immediately, and he does a good job working back inside if he gets them off balance. He flashes a solid bull rush, but after that his pass rush repertoire is fairly limited. He needs to learn to use his hands better and I worry about how long his arms are. There were a number of times that he was engulfed by larger, long armed offensive tackles. He needs to learn to slap their hands away and avoid getting locked up with them, but he also needs to learn to shed those blocks better with counter moves after he is inevitably engaged on some plays. He got washed out at times versus the run, particularly against those massive offensive tackles, but he’s no slouch in the run game either. He seems to have a good motor as well and that matches up nicely with his 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL and 4 pass break-ups from a year ago. He’s not great at getting his hands into passing lanes, but he at least flashes the ability to do it. I like him as a defensive end prospect and he’s a very solid 3rd rounder in my mind right now. That could obviously change with another strong season this year.

Trey Flowers, DE, Junior- I was relatively familiar with Smith having watched him the past couple seasons, but Flowers was a player I was completely unfamiliar with. I knew he was productive last year, but I hadn’t really watched him play. When I finally did I was blown away. I like Smith, but I love Flowers. He is a former linebacker who is listed at 6’4”, 256 pounds and he honestly reminds me of Barkevious Mingo when I watch him play. I don’t think he is that level of a freakish athlete, but he has a long, lanky frame that he can definitely stand to add weight to, he plays the run much better than you would expect given his frame and athleticism, and he’s a hell of a pass rushing prospect. He’s still learning the position, and he doesn’t have Smith’s elite get-off, but there is 1st round upside here in my opinion. Last year as a sophomore he notched 50 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 TFL, and 3 pass deflections. He packs a punch as a hitter, he’s got an impressive motor and he has been very disruptive and active in all of the games I’ve watched (albeit less disruptive against Texas A&M because he and Smith were playing contain the whole game). He sets the edge well, seems to understand how to control blockers with his long arms and then shed to make the tackle, and I’ve watched him beat an offensive lineman, then a running back, and then end up with a sack despite all of that. He’s a very impressive player and he and Smith are going to be a helluva pass rushing duo for Arkansas this year, and boy will they need it.

Deatrich Wise, DE, Sophomore- Wise is only a sophomore but he impressed me when I was watching Arkansas’ spring game. He is the back-up to Trey Flowers at defensive end but he definitely flashed some impressive athleticism when he got playing time. He is listed at 6’6”, 265 pounds and has very long arms. He just engulfs ball carriers when he wraps them up. Wise also has some burst and he flashed some bend as well. He’s still learning how to use his hands and obviously needs development, but he definitely intrigued me and he could be next in the line of promising pass rushers on Arkansas’ roster. Never thought I’d say those words a couple years ago!

Bryan Jones, DT, Senior- Jones looks like a solid defensive tackle prospect to me. I think he’s probably a day 3 guy right now, but he has more pass rushing upside than I previously believed when I started watching him. Initially I thought he was purely a run defender and wouldn’t add much to the pass rush at all, but over the next two games I saw more burst off the ball and a little more explosion than I anticipated which was encouraging to see. He’s listed at 6’2”, 310 pounds and produced 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL as a junior. He’s not on the same level as a prospect as Chris Smith or Trey Flowers in my opinion, but with a strong season I think he could boost his stock. He isn’t elite at the point of attack, but he is definitely reliable there and doesn’t get pushed around too easily versus the run. He’s not going to be a dynamic pass rusher, but he has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket with a bull rush and has flashed a pretty good swim move to beat a 1 on 1 block or split a double team. I’m looking forward to see if he takes any steps forward as a senior.

Robert Thomas, DT, Senior- Thomas didn’t get a ton of playing time as a junior but I think he’s going to surprise some people as a senior. He is projected to be a starter now and the 6’3”, 318 pound defensive tackle has some promise in my opinion. He only had 18 tackles last season, but he still managed 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL despite starting only 2 games (though he registered one of those sacks against Louisiana Monroe and had his 2.5 TFL versus the run against Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe). Still, he showed me something and he isn’t easy to push off the ball either, though he has struggled at times versus double teams. I think he has more burst and explosion off the ball than Jones does and he seems to be more violent and play with more purpose than Jones does at times. He seems feisty to me and I think he has a good motor, while there are times I think Jones is going through the motions a little bit. We’ll see if he keeps that motor running full time now that he’s a starter, but I think he’s got a chance to boost his stock and get drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.

Tevin Mitchel, CB, Junior- I really wish I had more notes on Mitchel because he’s an intriguing player but unfortunately between the camera angles and the teams Arkansas was playing in the games that I watched he wasn’t tested a whole lot. Mitchel is the boundary corner on Arkansas’ defense (or at least it seemed that way when I was watching them) meaning if the ball is on the left hash he will defend the outside receiver that lines up on the near sideline. The field corner (Will Hines) defends the outside receiver closest to the far sideline. The boundary corner is considered the more difficult position because you have less time to react before the ball gets there, which is why the more experienced Mitchel played there last season. He produced 34 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception on the season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 181 pounds and he definitely has a lot of upside, but I need to see more of him before I will be able to evaluate him fairly. He spends a lot of time dropping into zone coverage, particularly Cover-3 according to my notes, so I’d like to see him a lot more in man coverage.

Will Hines, CB, Sophomore- I didn’t get to see as much of Hines as I would have liked when I watched Arkansas, but he’s got some upside and got playing time as a true freshman last year (including 9 starts). That’s obviously rough in the SEC, but he had 24 tackles, 4 pass break-ups and an interception despite that. Supposedly he had an up and down spring, but he had an interception (albeit on a pretty poor throw) in the spring game and has the size (6’1”, 191 pounds) that some NFL teams are starting to target in corners. I haven’t been able to evaluate him specifically yet, but he didn’t look especially fluid when I did see him. However, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this year and in coming seasons.

Zach Hocker, K, Senior- Hocker caught my eye in the spring game during the bizarre kicking competition they had to try to give the defense some points. Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but Hocker has a legit NFL leg. He was 16/19 with a long of 51 as a freshman, but he hasn’t been quite as consistent since then. He was 21/27 with a long of 50 as a sophomore, and only 11/18 with a long of 46 as a junior. He’s got a strong leg though, he just needs to be more consistent. We’ll see if he can get back to his freshman year success, but he’s definitely got the leg to be a NFL kicker. He was just short of a 60 yard field goal in the spring game.

Johnny Manziel: Enough Is Enough

First of all, I just want to say that I am a little frustrated with myself for even writing this article. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of Johnny Manziel and the outrageous attention he has been receiving this offseason, and as a result I am very passionate on the subject. But as much as I have wanted to write this article for the past few weeks, I also regret doing it because it is just adding to the list of articles and news stories talking about him, and that is not something I am proud of doing. I am proud of what I have written here, but I am not proud of continuing to excessively discuss Manziel and everything that has happened to him. I think we have gone beyond overkill, and I think we all as members of the media and society need to take a step back and think about what we are doing and the impact it could have. However, in order to do that, I must talk about myself a bit to help create some context for why I think the way I do.

It seems pretty clear to me that Manziel is overwhelmed by everything that has happened to him, and I can’t say I blame him one bit. I am a NFL Draft analyst and I pride myself on finding potential stars or breakout players before the season starts, and even a week or two into the season I had never heard of Johnny Manziel. In that sense, watching him play and develop over the course of the season was beautiful to me. I didn’t see it coming at all, and that was refreshing. As I strive longer and harder to turn covering or participating in football into my long term career I am finding that making football my job removes a little bit of the fun from watching it. I can’t help but look up players I have never watched before when they make a play that sticks out to me. I can’t help but analyze the plays as they unfold, and I find it harder and harder to turn off the scout inside me and just watch the game to enjoy it. In a weird way, that is why I think I, in some miniscule way, understand what Manziel is attempting to grapple with.

Let me be very clear: I have never played a down of organized football. I worked for Beloit College’s football team for three years doing film work while I attended the school, but I have never played. I realize that makes what I just asserted seem completely ridiculous, but I have no interest in deceiving people by making them think that I too was a superbly talented quarterback who had to struggle to comprehend and control his own fame. That has never happened to me. However, I did grow up in affluent suburb called Edina in the state of Minnesota and I think I understand, in very small way, how Manziel has grown up. I lived in the same house for my entire life until two years ago when my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I visited during my school’s October break my senior year of college and everything was the same. My parents were clearly unhappy, my basketball hoop was still intact in the backyard, and all of my possessions were in my room or downstairs in front of our big screen TV. I was happy with things remaining the way they were, but I knew they wouldn’t be that way for long. When I came back for Thanksgiving just a month later my mom had moved into a new house 30 minutes away in the country and my dad had moved into an apartment ten minutes away, but still in the city of Edina. My house was empty and on the market, and I felt like I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye to it. It was my own fault for not doing so ahead of time, but I still I felt like I had missed the chance to pack up all of my things one possession at a time, reminisce about all the memories I had made in that house, and then make my peace as I moved on with my life. When I go home I still drive by my old house, thinking about all the memories I made living there for over 21 years of my life, and how lucky I was to have not had to move out of my family home until I had nearly graduated from college. But this clarity and perception of what was happening has only come to me after having been removed from that time period, and I am hopeful that the same will be true for Manziel, though by then I am afraid it might be too late.

Let me pose you all a question. How often after a tragic event happens to a celebrity or someone who is perceived to “have it all” do we all say “it’s always the happy ones” or “no one saw it coming”? I did not anticipate Junior Seau, a Hall of Fame linebacker with thousands of adoring fans, committing suicide as he unsuccessfully grappled with his life post-football. The point is, it’s not “always the happy ones,” it is always the ones that are perceived as happy from the outside, from fans, and from the media. As unfortunate as this is, Wright Thompson’s brilliant article on Manziel and his family have made it obvious: A tragic event may be coming. There are signs, the writing is on the wall, and yet no one is letting up. Everyone who writes about him continues to push him further and further to the brink. Why? Because he won a Heisman trophy? Because he tries to escape his own persona by living a normal college life? Because he makes mistakes??

I realize many people think Manziel is spoiled, and as a result have absolutely no sympathy for him. After all, he and his family are wealthy, if he wants something he can buy it, and even if he doesn’t succeed as a NFL quarterback he likely won’t ever be working two low-paying jobs just to pay the electric bill. But isn’t there an old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness, or did I just make that up? Just because you or I – complete outsiders as it pertains to Johnny Manziel’s life – think to ourselves, “Wow, if I had everything he has then I would be very happy with my life,” doesn’t mean that Manziel is happy. That likely has everything to do with his perspective as well as your own, but I don’t think there is anyone who has read an article about him that would argue that he doesn’t seem like he is troubled, or perhaps even deeply troubled. I have no proof of this, but I believe Manziel is partying and trying to have fun to escape the reality that he has stumbled into. And you know what? I don’t blame him. I’ve never been under nearly the same microscope that Manziel has been under, and yet I have gone out and partied to try to deal with the stresses of my life in a similar, albeit likely less extravagant, fashion. This all dawned on me over this past weekend that I spent in Madison, Wisconsin with my best friend since I was in middle school.

I woke up on Friday, July 26th and as I do most days I got up, grabbed my phone, and checked Twitter. I tend to get on Twitter and read my timeline like a personalized newspaper, catching up on things that may have happened over the hours that I was sleeping. It may seem ridiculous, but there have been many nights I have gone to bed at 2:00 or even 3:00 am and woken up the next morning behind on a story regarding a suspension, an arrest, or even at times, a death. That was the case on the morning of July, 30th when I woke up and saw an ESPN alert that Texas A&M’s Polo Manukainiu, and incoming Utah Ute Gaius Vaenuke had tragically lost their lives in a one vehicle accident.

However, last Friday, something much different happened. I looked at my Twitter notifications and to my shock and awe David Pollack, an ESPN analyst and member of the College Football Gameday crew, had followed me on Twitter. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. I watched Pollack dominate the SEC as a Georgia linebacker as I was growing up, and I watched him blossom into a very good NFL player prior to his career ending neck injury. I was relieved to see him land on his feet with ESPN and continue to be involved with football, something not all football players manage to do after their careers end whether on their own terms or someone else’s. Not only was I honored to have him follow me at all, but he was just shy of 95,000 followers (he has since exceeded that total) and follows under 100 people. It absolutely blew my mind, and I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. I immediately texted my best friend, asked him what he was doing this weekend, and in minutes it was decided that I would be heading up to Madison, Wisconsin – one of the country’s greatest college towns – to hang out with him on his last full weekend before he went back to school. I needed to get away and share the absurdity not only of David Pollack following me on Twitter, but of Bomani Jones, a man I have been reading and watching on ESPN First Take since I was in high school (if not longer) following me on Twitter two weeks beforehand. I may not have been Johnny Manziel but, not to toot my own horn, I felt like I was getting popular on Twitter. I began to think about whether or not I should get a personal account for my high school and college friends to interact with me on, something I never thought I would do, that I honestly thought was a ridiculously egotistical thing for anyone to do when I first created my NFL Draft Blog and Twitter account. “Why would I ever need a personal account and a professional one? Will I ever be that egomaniacal?” It seemed absurd to me, and yet here I was, contemplating the very thing that just a few years ago I practically swore I would never take myself seriously enough to do.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the craziness did not end there. I went out with my best friend and some of his friends from college and had a great night. It really helped me get out of my own head. I woke up at 8:00 am the next morning, and while my friend slept in the other room, I began working on my Arkansas Razorbacks prospect preview by watching their entire Spring Game on YouTube prior to watching the games I have on my external hard drive. I completed my evaluations of about half of the players that I wanted to include in the preview, but decided to delve deeper into my evaluation of Travis Swanson, Arkansas’ highly touted senior center prospect who I have seen regarded as the top center in this class. He has all the size, football IQ and leadership capability you could want in a center, so without having scouted him it made sense that he would be discussed in such a way. However, upon watching him play I was disappointed. I expected a 1st or 2nd round player, but I felt like I was watching a 4th rounder. That shouldn’t sound like an insult (though I realize it likely comes off that way) because being drafted at all is a monumental accomplishment. I elected to tweet my thoughts about Swanson being a “mid-rounder”, not knowing what would ensue that afternoon.

A local TV reporter in Arkansas happened to see my tweet and in his response he casually mentioned that my opinion of Swanson seemed to fly in the face of what the Razorbacks’ new head coach, Bret Bielema, seemed to think of the senior center. We had a brief, civil discussion, and as a result I received tweets from a few Arkansas fans eager for me to further explain my position. Understandably so. I continued to watch Arkansas games to further improve my evaluation of Swanson as well as the rest of his teammates that I was including in the preview, when all of a sudden I saw a new interaction pop up on Twitter. I paused the game, opened the Twitter tab on my laptop, and to my complete surprise, Bret Bielema had seen the tweet, looked at my Twitter page and sent a response. Without quoting it directly, he essentially insinuated that because I was a “former” draft analyst at the web site NFL Draft Monsters (where I cut my teeth in my coverage of the NFL Draft) my opinion should not be trusted, and that his evaluation of his center was correct. I was not offended by this, rather I enjoyed the confrontation and another insinuation that I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. I thrive in those situations as Alex Holmes and his family found out when they attacked my credibility as it pertained to my evaluation of his brother, Khaled Holmes, after I projected him as a 4th round draft pick in June 2012 prior to his being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. I simply couldn’t believe that Bielema, the former head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (whose town I was staying in for the weekend) and the new head man of an SEC football team had taken the time to look at my Twitter profile and respond to my tweet, even if it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in my skills as a draft analyst. I respectfully responded and, as I expected, received no response from him, but that didn’t stop a number of angry Arkansas fans from calling me a hater, looking through my past scouting reports to find guys that I had missed on, or simply telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. My phone went off with new tweets for the rest of the afternoon, as well as text messages from friends who thought it was absolutely hilarious that I had ruffled Bielema’s feathers enough to get a response out of him.

As the night wore on I went out to have some fun and get my mind off of this new Twitter interaction, and after a couple particularly specific shots at my credibility I responded to a couple of angry Arkansas fans in a less than professional manner. I didn’t swear at them, but I did use a heavy dose of sarcasm and I was less than nice to them. I was tired of being attacked, particularly since they hadn’t even gotten to read my analysis of Swanson because I hadn’t even written it yet! The next night I again went out with my friends and had fun, but unfortunately got in an argument with a Vikings fan who disagreed with my selection of David Fales in a Twitter mock draft I had been participating in. He wasn’t being very respectful, and I was pretty short on patience after my bout with the unhappy Arkansas fans the day before, so I wasn’t very respectful back. It was just another ridiculous Twitter interaction, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the whole thing. This was capped off beautifully by gaining a number of influential followers who were beat writers or reporters in Arkansas and Kentucky following discussion of the Razorback prospects and the release of my Kentucky Wildcats prospect preview on Monday, July 29th. That same day, I was followed by Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, two very talented starting defensive ends on the Razorbacks, just days after their coach insinuated I wasn’t exactly credible. The brightest moment of all was, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite players, Alge Crumpler, following me on Twitter. Crumpler was a star tight end on the Falcons back when Mike Vick was on the team, and I have been a huge fan of his for at least the past ten years. Seeing him finally follow me on Twitter was a huge moment for me, and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But later, to top it all off, I got dragged into a pissing match that a New York Post beat writer found himself in after mistakenly tweeting about the read option being a formation, rather than just a play. If you had told me on Thursday night when I went to bed that within the next four days I would be followed by all those people, tweeted at by Bielema and involved in any of those absurd arguments, I would have told you that you were crazy.  And yet…here I was.

I am telling you all of this not to try to put you to sleep, not to try to act like I am a hot shot, but to get all of this off my chest in what I consider to be a safe space on my blog. I may not be proud of this, but all of that overwhelmed me. I began to realize that I couldn’t just tweet whatever I wanted without ever having to face the consequences of the things or people I was tweeting about seeing my thoughts. I finally understood that I had to be more professional on Twitter, and though I had learned those lessons previously, I had never learned them as intensely as I had this particular weekend. And finally, I am telling you this because this is the context that I needed to paint for you so that I could prove to you that in some miniscule, fraction of a way, I think I understand how Johnny Manziel feels.

I have spent thousands of words trying to explain why I think I understand how Manziel feels, and yet even as I type it that sounds ridiculous to me, as I’m sure it sounds just as ridiculous to all of you. Yet I still believe it anyway. I have not felt the pressure he has, nor have I been attacked the way he has been, but on a microscopic level I have experienced a small fraction of what he has. I have let my frustrations get the better of me after reading too many negative tweets, I have lashed out at people who I felt have criticized me unfairly, and I have tried to get away from it all by surrounding myself with trusted friends who, as much as I want them to, didn’t understand what I was going through. Doesn’t that sound, just a little bit, like what Manziel is dealing with?

I have spent a lot of time trying to legitimize my claim that I get where Manziel is coming from, but now it’s time to delve deeper into what he is dealing with. It is clear to me that Manziel has stumbled into this fame without knowing exactly what to do with it, and before he knew it, partially because he was barred from interacting with the media per Kevin Sumlin’s coaching policy, Johnny Football took off and no one got to know the man behind the mask. I see people criticizing his maturity, lambasting him for poor decision making, and shredding him for how he carries himself. I see people call him cocky, arrogant, spoiled, and various other adjectives. But how many of you reading this had your life figured out at 20 years old? How many of you were vastly more mature than Manziel is at the ripe old age of 20? I certainly wasn’t. I might have thought I was at the time, but I like to think I’m smart enough now to realize that I wasn’t. I made mistakes. I screwed up. But most importantly, I learned from it. I can’t speak to whether Manziel is learning from it or not, but for his sake I hope he is. And if he hasn’t yet, I have faith that as he gets older and hopefully wiser that he will.

So is Johnny Manziel just a kid too immature for the fame he has stumbled into? Or is he a metaphor for all of college football and our society in general? We have this very talented 20 year old kid who we should be cherishing for his mesmerizing play on the football field, yet all we ever talk about is him going to courtside basketball games, going to fraternity parties, putting up pictures on instagram or tweeting things he should probably keep to himself. He is making Texas A&M and the NCAA millions of dollars, he helped Kevin Sumlin get a $1 million raise, and Texas A&M is building a new stadium, yet all Manziel has gotten out of the deal is largely unwanted limelight and near constant attacks on the content of his character. Not that he needs the money, but he is clearly a precious product on the field, yet he benefits from his performances much less than those running the show around him. He is such a bright light on the field, yet all the attention he receives off of it threatens to smother that light until it burns out. As a society and as a collective media shouldn’t we at least consider giving him a break?

Maybe it’s not fair to think that someone who has achieved so much at such a young age should even have a chance for, much less deserve, a break like that. But the more I hear about Manziel the more I keep thinking back to Ryan Leaf. Leaf was considered arrogant to a point that people disliked him, he was consistently getting in trouble off the field, and after he retired a complete disappointment he was indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas in May of 2009. In March of 2012 he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. Then, four days later, he was arrested again on burglary, theft and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, but he continued to cause trouble, including threatening a staff member and violating the conditions of his drug treatment placement. He was clearly a very troubled young man, and he never got his life together. As a result, he ended up in jail. Can’t you say similar things about Jamarcus Russell? Or Maurice Clarett?

Yes, they brought this on themselves, and Manziel has brought this on himself as well, but even in spite of all he has accomplished, all the fame he “enjoys” every day, and all the money he could potentially make, I feel bad for him. He clearly doesn’t want all of this attention if you ask me. I think he wants to be a normal college kid, and I think he wants to be able to have fun and play football. But his immense success has taken that away from him, and that’s something that is hard for people to understand. They see him win games and they see him partying and think “wow, that kid has it all” but I think he parties to try to escape his own celebrity, or to at least try to wrangle it.  I think that way because I think that is exactly what I would do if I was in his shoes. The world is obsessed with “Johnny Football” the electrifying athlete who beat Alabama as a freshman, was the 5th player to ever pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in the same season, and the only freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy in the history of the award. But they do not know Johnny Manziel the person, they only know some of the infamous things he has done off the field while he tries to escape or hide from the insatiable demand for updates on his whereabouts or activities from any news outlet you can think of. I would bet you $1,000 that all Manziel wants right now is some time to himself with his friends, with his family, without having to worry about someone taking a picture of him having fun, and without having to worry about being swarmed by strangers trying to catch a glimpse of his greatness. It’s hard to explain, and even harder for a normal person to understand, but I think that sometimes when you want something so bad for so long and you finally stumble into it you realize that it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be and it’s harder to control than you ever could have imagined. I think Manziel is finding that out right now.

It is for that reason that I am hoping and begging all of you to collectively give Manziel a break. Will that actually happen? No, it almost certainly won’t. But amidst all the overzealous analysis of his character without ever having spoken a word to him, amidst all of the criticism of how he carries himself off the field, and amidst all of the constant discussion about him and his future I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least voice my opinion on the matter and say that I am worried about him. I am worried that as the attention he garners from the media continues to intensify it will push him closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, and I don’t know what is waiting for him if he falls off of it. Drugs? Alcoholism? Jail time? Death? I have no idea what it could be, but I know I am not alone in worrying about him now that I have read Thompson’s article, which involves his parents openly agonizing about what will happen to him if he doesn’t mature and if this pressure doesn’t let up. I don’t want to find out what happens to him either, so I am hoping that Manziel finds a way to block out the pressure, live his life, and mature. I’m only 23 years old and I can’t imagine the pressure he is under, and I can see minute similarities between him and myself aside from the major difference in athletic ability and fame. I still have a lot of growing up to do, and so does Manziel, especially because he is three years younger than I am. If I was in his position I would want people to cut me some slack, and even though from a NFL Draft perspective he is raising a lot of red flags, the last thing I am thinking about right now is his NFL Draft stock. I am more worried about him as a person, and if he can’t find a way to cope with all of this pressure I think he is going to crack like Ryan Leaf did, although perhaps not in the same exact manner.

When he officially declares for the NFL Draft we will cross that bridge and discuss his draft stock, but for now I’d rather just appreciate all of the talent he has and marvel at what he can do on the football field. Shouldn’t we enjoy what we have in Manziel before he is gone? And more importantly, shouldn’t we focus on the positives and try to give him the benefit of the doubt for some of his shortcomings? Wouldn’t you want someone, or everyone, to do that for you if you were in his position? Haven’t people given you second chances in life, looked past any of your shortcomings, and given you the benefit of the doubt? I know I have, and I still believe in the golden rule that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. So tell me, are you treating Manziel the way you would want to be treated if you were walking a mile in his shoes? If you aren’t, maybe you should reevaluate how you perceive his situation. Like most things, it’s not as black and white as “he’s a hero” or “he’s a villain.” He is just Johnny Manziel, and he deserves a break.

From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have had a fantastic run since Bret Bielema took over, particularly in the last two years, going to consecutive Rose Bowls. That’s relatively unheard of, and even though they lost both in close games it still means the Badgers are a program on the rise and that they aren’t just a big, slow team that can’t hang with East or West Coast speed. I do want to mention that while Bielema has done a good job leading the Badgers into a new era after legendary Head Coach Barry Alvarez became the athletic director, I am not quite convinced he’s the best in-game coach. Specifically, I’m talking about timeout usage. I could go on a huge rant about this, specifically relating to Bielema, but the man simply doesn’t use his timeouts effectively. Take Wisconsin’s last second loss on a hail-mary to Michigan State last season. The Spartans were content to play for OT and were going to run the clock out but Bielema got cocky and called a timeout. That led the Spartans to get aggressive and roll the dice, and we all know what happened when they did. I was so shocked by the result that I actually wrote this after the game. Fast forward to the Rose Bowl against Oregon, when a wasted timeout early in the 2nd half (this is a vast oversimplification, I just don’t want to write 4,000 words about this) left Russell Wilson without a way to stop the clock other than spiking it with under 10 seconds to go, meaning he and the Badgers didn’t have a chance for one last play to score a touchdown and win the game. I’m sure some don’t think Bielema is a bad clock manager, but those two examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bielema and his timeouts. I’ve actually never seen or heard of a head coach who uses them more poorly and sees his team suffer more for it as a result.

Anyways, Bielema sure has done a good job as a recruiter and that was evidenced by convincing Russell Wilson to transfer to the land of the cheese and he did it again with Danny O’Brien. I’m sure I’ll say this 1,000 times by the end of next season, but Badger fans please listen to me: Danny O’Brien is NOT Russell Wilson. I still believe he is a good quarterback, but like I said before last season Russell Wilson was special, and the Badgers won’t have another quarterback that good for a long time (if ever). O’Brien is officially the starter and has the unenviable job of replacing Wilson, who became a Wisconsin legend about as soon as he stepped on campus. O’Brien has the talent to keep defenses from keeping 8 defenders in the box because he will be able to make them pay thanks to Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen catching balls from him. The offensive line at Wisconsin is always impressive, and despite losing three starters they will be good again this season.

My concern, much like it was last year, is with the defense. The Badgers’ defense last year was very average, if not poor, and was really held together by Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Antonio Fenelus and to some degree Aaron Henry. This year it looks like the Badgers will have some more talent in the front 7, particularly along the defensive line, which would be a HUGE relief for any Badger fan. If the defensive line, particularly the defensive tackles, can occupy blockers better and contribute a bit to the pass rush then Wisconsin’s stellar linebacker tandem will be able to make a lot of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. But beyond that, if the pass rush improves considerably it will make life a lot easier on Wisconsin’s weakest link- The defensive secondary. They are returning only ONE player with an interception from last season, and only two players who are projected to start have an interception in their entire careers. They have some starting experience returning, but it is mostly starting experience spent making mental mistakes, not playing the ball correctly, and generally allowing big plays from opposing offenses. If the secondary can step up, this defense could actually be decent or maybe even pretty good. But if they continue to play like they did last year (or worse, thanks to Fenelus and Henry heading to the NFL) then the Badgers will be in a world of hurt without Russell Wilson and a quick-strike offense to compensate. Thanks to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the conference championship game you’d have to be brain dead not to think Wisconsin is the favorite, but Michigan State is reloading better than I thought they would, and Michigan figures to be jockeying with Nebraska for the top spot in the Legends division (seriously, Leaders and Legends is still the stupidest thing ever) and all three teams will be able to give Wisconsin a run for their money as the Badgers try to get to an unheard of third straight Rose Bowl. And with that, here are  the prospects to keep an eye on for the 2012 season:

O’Brien has a chance to lead Wisconsin to a third consecutive Rose Bowl. He won’t be able to do what Russell Wilson did, but he can still be a quality quarterback thanks to his experience and preference for a pro-style offense.

Danny O’Brien, QB*- I watched O’Brien a fair amount as a freshman and got a chance to see two games of him as a sophomore and I didn’t see the same quarterback. I don’t think it was simply a fluke season as a freshman or a sophomore slump the next year, I think that he is a pro-style quarterback who was miscast in a spread offense as a sophomore. His freshman year he looked more decisive, comfortable and accurate. You could tell he was confident and believed that he was “the guy” when he was playing, and as a result he made plays and won games. Then they fired his HC, brought in a spread offense offensive coordinator, and tried to force a square peg into a round hole. O’Brien never looked comfortable running that offense, particularly the zone read aspect. I never saw him keep it on the zone read once, and that’s because he’s a pass first QB, not a scrambler. Defenses figured that out, and even on plays where the read would dictate pulling it and running with it O’Brien would hand it off for a limited gain. He just wasn’t a good fit for that offense, particularly from that aspect. But luckily for O’Brien, he graduated in just three years and was eligible to transfer out without having to sit for a season before playing again. That led to him being pursued by Wisconsin and Penn State very seriously, and many actually speculated that he would be going to Penn State when he took another late visit to them and was seen wearing Penn State apparel on campus. He chose the Badgers in the end, and it’s hard to say that he made the wrong decision considering all the damage that has been done to Penn State’s program. I think it’s safe to say he is happy that he decided to go to Wisconsin, and now he has a chance to start for two more seasons before heading into the NFL Draft. O’Brien isn’t a giant by any means, being listed at 6’3”, 215, but he sure makes Russell Wilson look short. O’Brien is likely only 6’2”, but that still makes him a legitimate three inches taller than the superstar signal caller that led Wisconsin back to a second consecutive Rose Bowl despite arriving just weeks before the start of the season. O’Brien is a good quarterback, but he is not the next Russell Wilson. Make no mistake about it, O’Brien is still developing as a quarterback. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin as a polished passer who probably could have left for the NFL Draft if he wanted to, and he showed what he could do when supported by a quality offensive line and running game. O’Brien was efficient at Maryland as a freshman, but the new offense and lack of quality weapons (including the loss of his go-to receiver Torrey Smith) outside of Davin Meggett certainly played a role in his down season last year. That and the fact that Maryland flip flopped between O’Brien and CJ Brown, a scrambler/option quarterback, for most of the season.

Now O’Brien has been established as the starting quarterback and he will have plenty of pieces around him to succeed. He has returning Heisman finalist Montee Ball, the speedster James White, future stud RB Melvin Gordon at running back, plus Jared Abbrederis, and Jacob Pedersen for him to throw to. When I watched O’Brien as a freshman I saw an accurate quarterback with pocket poise, the ability to throw accurately on the move (particularly to his right, as he is right-handed) and enough velocity to be a NFL starter. He doesn’t have a cannon, and his deep balls tend to have plenty of air under them, but I’ve watched him make an all-arm throw from the middle of the field to the left sideline with plenty of velocity, and that was during his sophomore season. He doesn’t have Russell Wilson’s arm, but I think it’s good enough to get a shot in the NFL. The most interesting aspect of this transfer, at least in my opinion, will be seeing how much more comfortable O’Brien will be in a pro-style offense than he was in the spread offense he was running last year. The Badgers offense has a lot of similarities schematically to the pro-style offense he was running at Maryland as a freshman, just different terminology I’m sure (as well as a bit more of an emphasis on feeding the quality ball-carriers the Badgers have in their backfield). That should help ease the transition for him, plus they have a cupcake schedule before opening Big-10 conference play with Nebraska in week 5. The first four weeks they will play Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State and UTEP. Not exactly a rough schedule, so the Badgers should be 4-0 heading to Nebraska for a big away game. He will be under a lot of pressure to be the next Russell Wilson, but O’Brien will realize that a lot of the pressure that he felt at Maryland will melt away thanks to the amazing running game the Badgers will have again this season. That offensive line doesn’t rebuild, it only reloads, so despite losing three starters (including two 1st round caliber interior linemen, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) they will continue to pound the rock at an impressive clip, especially since they have a quarterback who can make defenses pay when they load up the box against their stable of running backs. I’m very intrigued by O’Brien, and I am eager to see him return to his freshman form with his second chance at Wisconsin.

Montee Ball, RB- What is there to say about Montee Ball that hasn’t been said. He is one of the most NFL ready backs in college football, and really the only question marks people have about him are whether or not he plays behind “too good” of an offensive line so that he doesn’t really have vision or the more legitimate concern about his substantial workload at Wisconsin. Ball is listed at 5’11”, 212 and likely has 4.5 speed, but since he slimmed down before his junior season he has had substantially more burst. I thought he might have been carrying too much weight, and he always ran at one speed as a sophomore. But he was a different back, and a better one, as a junior, and it showed as he was a Heisman finalist and rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 306 yards and 6 more touchdowns (he also threw 2 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, giving him 40 total touchdowns on the season). He has the size, the athleticism, the burst, enough speed to gain chunks of yardage, the vision, the hands out of the backfield and the ability in pass protection to be a starting NFL running back right now. That’s why I thought he should declare after his Heisman caliber season last year and start getting paid for carrying the ball 300 times a year. Instead, he chose to come back, and he will certainly raise question marks about all the tread on his tires thanks to the way Wisconsin likes to run the ball. That’s really the only question mark about him in my opinion though, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t have 7-8 years of productive NFL running once he leaves Wisconsin after this season. He’s got everything you could want in a running back outside of 4.35 straight line speed.

James White, RB*- James White is a peculiar player. He looked absolutely unreal as a freshman playing behind Montee Ball once John Clay went down with an injury, rushing for 1,052 yards on 156 carries (6.74 ypc) and 14 touchdowns while adding 11 receptions for 88 more yards. I thought the Badgers were going to have the best running back tandem in the country last year, but White encountered a bit of a sophomore slump and rushed for only 713 yards on 141 carries, good for a 5.06 ypc average, and 6 touchdowns while adding 10 receptions and 150 yards out of the backfield. Those are still solid numbers, particularly since he was backing up a Heisman contender, but he didn’t look like the same back at all to me. He didn’t seem as decisive, as explosive and as dynamic as he did as a freshman. I have questions about his vision and while he has plenty of speed, burst and explosiveness, I am waiting to see the freshman version of James White. He and Danny O’Brien are in similar boats, trying to recapture their freshman glory heading into their junior seasons. I don’t know if White will ever recapture that dynamic freshman year version of himself, but I really hope he does. I would draft that kid, but I’m not so sure I would draft the back I saw as a sophomore.

Melvin Gordon is going to be the next feature back at Wisconsin, go ahead and put me on record.

Melvin Gordon, RB**- Gordon is only a redshirt freshman this year, but I think he is going to be the next great Wisconsin running back. He only got 20 carries and rushed for 98 yards and 1 touchdown last season, but was given a redshirt after playing in only three games. Due to injuries more than anything else, he was given a chance to be the feature back in Wisconsin’s spring game and he carried the ball 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, surpassing the statistics he amassed in three games last year. Gordon is buried on the depth chart behind Ball, who will get the lions’ share of the carries, and White, who provides some speed that Ball and Gordon can’t quite provide, but Gordon has feature back written all over him at 6’1, 200 pounds. I can’t wait to see more of him this year, because the little that I have been able to see of him has been awfully impressive. He likely won’t get more than 100 carries this year (even that would be considerable, but it would be nice to see him get touches to help keep Montee fresh) but when he does get touches I expect him to impress.

Jared Abbrederis, WR*- Abbrederis is a kid you just can’t help but root for. He emerged originally as a walk-on freshman, catching 20 passes for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns while also contributing a bit as a kick returner and punt returner. Then his role expanded even more as a sophomore with the arrival of Russell Wilson, and the 6’2”, 180 pound receiver hauled in 55 receptions for 933 yards and 8 touchdowns. He expanded his role as a return man, showcasing his shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss on the way to accumulating 315 yards and a touchdown on only 20 punt returns (15.75 average per return) as well as accounting for 689 kick return yards on 28 kick returns (24.61 average). That led to him signing his scholarship offer last January, which I was very happy to see. You love to see hard-working kids rewarded for their efforts, and not many have worked harder than Abbrederis. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he is a quality football player who has been a reliable target for the Badgers. He had a very unfortunate fumble in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon late in the game, and his mistimed jump on the Michigan State hail mary helped contribute to Wisconsin’s first loss of the season. Despite those two mistakes that were magnified because of the stages on which they occurred, I am a big fan of Abbrederis. He runs solid routes, catches the ball well with his hands and uses his long arms effectively, and makes plenty of defenders miss once he has the ball in his hands. Not only that, but even as a freshman he was subbed into the game instead of Nick Toon, who was a junior at the time, when they needed a receiver to block effectively. That says a lot about his effort level and his commitment to fundamentals, and even though he isn’t a huge receiver he takes his blocking seriously. He’s a pretty complete receiver who should continue to win talent evaluators over for the next two years as a Badger.

Jacob Pedersen, TE/H-Back*- Before Pedersen even became the starter I proclaimed that he would be the “next Lance Kendricks” meaning he would be a good blocker from the H-Back spot and also the primary receiving tight end. Despite only having 8 receptions as a freshman, I saw enough to project him as a quality passing option. He proved me right by catching 30 passes for 356 yards and 8 touchdowns despite only being a sophomore. At 6’4”, 240 pounds he is not big enough to play inline every down in the NFL, or even in the Big-10 really. He’s a good blocker for his size, much like Kendricks was, but he’s more of an H-Back/receiving tight end than an extension of the offensive line like the great blocking tight ends are. I have a feeling Danny O’Brien will be very happy to have Pedersen as a security blanket, I know Russell Wilson was.

Ricky Wagner, OT- Wagner is an offensive tackle I’ve been talking up since Gabe Carimi was still playing on the Badgers a couple years ago. I don’t think he’s going to be a left tackle in the NFL, but I was impressed with him when I watched him a couple years ago and I liked some of what I saw of him on the left side as well. He’s not a great pass blocker, but he’s reliable and good enough to play on the right side at the next level in my opinion. The problem I have with Wagner is that even though he is listed at 6’6”, 322 pounds and he plays offensive tackle for Wisconsin, he’s not a typical road grader that you would like at right tackle. His run blocking is fine for a left tackle, but he’s not a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left side at the next level. He’s kind of a man without a home, not being a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left and not a good enough run blocker to be a great fit on the right. I am interested to see how he looks this year, as I’m hoping he will have improved in one aspect or the other (or if we’re lucky, both!) to provide some clarity about which position he projects best to in the NFL. Otherwise he might be a bit of a swing tackle that is never much more than a solid/reliable starter at either spot. I like him, but he’s not a 1st round pick at this point in my opinion.

Frederick doesn’t have a ton of game experience at center (just four starts) but his combination of size, strength, and football IQ is going to make him a possible 1st round draft pick at the position.

Travis Frederick, C/OG*- Frederick is a mauler in the trenches and will be moving inside to Center full time this season despite having only four career starts at the position in his first two years with the Badgers. At 6’4”, 328 pounds he is an absolute behemoth for a center, and will give the Badgers a huge advantage in the run game despite losing a great center in Peter Konz who I had graded as a first rounder. Frederick has received a lot of praise from coaches and media alike for his football IQ, and that is critical for any offensive lineman moving inside to center. The fact that he happens to have great size for an offensive guard, and the fact that he was a very good left guard last season, only means that by moving inside to center he gives the Badgers another year (or maybe two if they are lucky) of having what I call “three guards” inside. By that I mean, often times centers are very smart players with sound technique, but they are often in the 6’2”-6’3”, 300 pound mold and not particularly physically imposing. But when you have a 6’3”+ center who weighs 310+ and most importantly PLAYS as big as he is you have an advantage. Instead of having two guards and a center who can’t drive block one on one or block a defensive tackle one on one in pass protection, you theoretically have three guards who can drive a man off the ball when matched up in man blocking schemes and that really helps you generate push in the run game and dominate opponents with power man blocking. Frederick gives the Badgers a chance to do this again, and I for one can’t wait to see how he does. Centers with his skill set often go in the first round because it is so rare to find a center who can snap well, make line calls and also be big, strong and physical enough to generate push in the run game 1 on 1. That’s why centers like Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey went in the 1st round and why Peter Konz would have had he not had injury questions surrounding him. Centers that big and talented are rare and are extremely valuable commodities. The fact that Frederick combines his size, strength and technique with a high football IQ means he has the chance to be the next first round center either this year or next.

Ryan Groy, OG*- Groy is the 6’5”, 322 pounder replacing Frederick at left guard and while he only has 6 career starts (including two at FULLBACK) he played in all 14 games last year and if you know anything about the Wisconsin football program you know they churn out road grading offensive lineman like a Hershey’s factory churns out chocolate. I haven’t scouted Groy specifically, but think about the left side of Wisconsin’s offensive line: LT- Wagner, 6’6”, 322 pounds LG- Groy, 6’5”, 322 pounds C- Frederick, 6’4”, 328 pounds. You think Wisconsin is planning on running to the left at all this year?

Brendan Kelly, DE- Kelly is a player that before last year I never thought I might include his name in one of these prospect previews. He is a 6’6”, 250 pound defensive end who played high school football in Eden Prairie (which is about 10 minutes away from where I am currently writing this, and also was a rival team of Edina high school where I happened to go) before choosing to go to Wisconsin to play college football. He has been through a myriad of injuries and has rarely been on the field unfortunately. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin, he has missed time with a hand injury, and missed some time in the spring with a hamstring tweak. None of it fazed him though, as he continued to support his teammates, lift what he could lift, watch film, and continue to demonstrate an intense passion for the game of football. He has fought through a lot of adversity to remain on this team, much less play, and I find myself rooting for him to stay healthy this year and show what he can do. He played in all 14 games last season as a junior, and totaled 35 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 2 forced fumbles. It wasn’t as if he got those sacks against bottom feeders either. His three sacks were in three different games, coming against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. He started the final 8 games, his first coming against the Cornhuskers. The Badgers will use a rotation along the defensive line, but Kelly is expected to get a lot of snaps. He also has the potential to petition for a 6th year of eligibility thanks to losing almost three full years of his career due to hand and groin injuries. We’ll see if he gets that, but I am looking forward to seeing if he can help Gilbert boost the Badgers’ pass rush this season. They could really use it.

David Gilbert, DE*- Gilbert flashed some potential to me as a sophomore because the 6’4”, 250 pound defensive end showed an impressive get-off as well as burst and speed to get the edge. He’s an impressive looking athlete, and he had 3 sacks in Wisconsin’s first four games last year (though they played UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota in the first four weeks, with Gilbert getting a sack in each game except for the NIU game). However, he sustained a serious foot injury and was granted a medical redshirt to preserve his junior year of eligibility. He’s very strong, and he has all the physical tools you could want to be an effective defensive end. I want to see him play smarter, improve his technique and prove that he’s more than just an edge rusher with a bit of a bull rush. If he improves his technique and continues to improve his craft as a defensive end he could get 8-10 sacks this year or the next and boy do the Badgers need a pass rusher. They have really missed the pressure J.J. Watt put on passers.

I honestly believe that Beau Allen could be the best defensive tackle the Badgers have had in years.

Beau Allen, DT*- I haven’t scouted Allen specifically, but the 6’3”, 323 pound defensive tackle gives the Badgers some much needed size in the middle of the defense. As a sophomore he had 22 tackles, 4 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss despite not starting a single game because he was playing behind Patrick Butrym. I was never a Butrym fan, so I am interested to see if Allen can be a superior talent. Wisconsin fields three undersized tackling machines at linebacker, so they need their defensive tackles to occupy blockers and allow them to fly around and make plays without being reached by offensive linemen. If Allen can keep his linebackers clean and also apply pressure on the passer like he did in a rotational role last year he is going to get a lot of attention from scouts. I can’t remember the last time the Badgers had a quality pass rusher at defensive tackle, but I think Allen has a chance to change that. He has already shown signs of being an impact player, such as totaling 3 tackles for loss and a sack in Wisconsin’s 2012 Spring Game.

Ethan Hemer, DT*- Hemer is another big, strong defensive tackle who will be starting at nose tackle I believe. He is listed at 6’6”, 305 pounds and by playing next to Allen I believe he gives the Badgers the biggest defensive tackle starting tandem that they have had in some time. Like I just mentioned, they need big defensive tackles to keep their linebackers clean and I am eager to see if Hemer is up to that challenge. He comes into the season with 20 career starts, including all 14 games last season, and he managed 34 tackles and 1 sack in those 14 starts. I don’t need him to make 100 tackles, 15 sacks and force 5 fumbles (though that would be terrific) but he needs to show that he can hold up against double teams and help clog up running lanes in the middle of the defense. Nose Tackles that can do that are very valuable in the Big-10, and just as valuable in the NFL.

Chris Borland, MLB*- Borland is just a beast, I know that word is overused but it’s true. I remember when I was watching him as a freshman (god that feels like a long time ago) and even though he is probably only 5’10”, 250 pounds (yes, he’s listed at 250 pounds, though he’s also listed at 5’11”) he plays very instinctually, flies to the ball and is a tackling machine. He was second on the team in tackles with 143 tackles, led the team by a wide margin with 16.5 TFL, had 2.5 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and FIVE forced fumbles. Make no mistake about it, Borland is a man who can stuff a stat sheet and he really has a knack for forcing fumbles. His freshman year in 2009 he only had 54 tackles (36 solo), but he had 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 interception, a blocked kick and five more forced fumbles! He got a medical redshirt in 2010 and came back at full force as a redshirt sophomore as you all know. He enters his junior year with 28 career tackles for loss, 7.5 career sacks, 3 interceptions and a staggering 10 forced fumbles. He’s undersized and he won’t be able to play middle linebacker in the NFL, but I think he will get a shot to play outside linebacker in the NFL. Maybe it will have to be in a Tampa-2, but he is too instinctual and too good a tackler to not get a NFL shot.

Mike Taylor, OLB- Taylor is taller than Borland at 6’3” but despite being listed four inches taller he weighs 28 pounds less, listed at only 222 pounds. That’s pretty light even for a weak side linebacker, but he produced anyways as he led the team in tackles (which is no easy task playing next to Borland) with 150 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He’s a senior this season and figures to help Wisconsin have one of the best, if not the best, linebacker tandems in the entire Big-10 conference. If the defensive line can keep him and Borland clean they are going to wreak a lot of havoc on opposing offenses, you can count on it.

Shelton Johnson, SS- There is actually a fair amount of potential in the Badgers’ front 7, more than I expected and more than they have had since they had J.J. Watt leading the charge to the Rose Bowl against the TCU Horned Frogs. The Badgers had a lot of trouble on the back-end last year though, even in spite of having two well established senior starters in Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry. Now they have both moved on to the NFL, and Shelton Johnson is the only, yes ONLY, returning defensive back that had an interception last season. He had four of them along with 54 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups, so I think he has a chance to be a reliable safety in his second season as a starter, but the lack of talent around him is extremely concerning. The only returning defensive back besides Johnson with an interception in his entire career is Devin Smith, who has three, and he sustained a season-ending injury last season that earned him a medical redshirt. Johnson is going to be the best player in this secondary, and if a Smith and Marcus Cromartie don’t step up at corner this pass defense is going to struggle mightily, particularly with big plays. That is, unless the pass rush improves considerably. The defensive secondary will be the kryptonite of this Badger squad, but Johnson has a chance to help stop some of the bleeding.