Tag Archive: Bruce Irvin


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 West Virginia. The Mountaineers had a good season last year finishing 10-3 with a huge exclamation point 70-33 win against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Geno Smith was already a legitimate NFL QB prospect by then, but he returned for his senior season and is one of the top senior quarterback prospects in the country. He returns two of the best receivers in college football in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, as well as sophomore running back Dustin Garrison who ran for 742 yards, 5.5 ypc and 5 touchdowns as a freshman while also catching 24 passes for 201 yards out of the backfield. WVU has plenty of skill position talent, and if their offensive line can give Smith some time he will carve up defenses again this year. The offense returns 8 starters and figures to be the strength of this team, led by their potent passing attack.

West Virginia was never really known for their defense under Rich Rodriguez, but last season they gave up the most points per game of any Mountaineer defense since at least 2005. They allowed 26.8 ppg and almost 350 offensive yards per game, though they only returned 4 starters. This year they return 6, but have lost their best pass rusher Bruce Irvin to the NFL Draft. They have one defensive player returning with more than 2 sacks, and that is linebacker/safety Terence Garvin, who comes into his senior season after 3.5 sacks as a junior. West Virginia ran a 3-3-5 last season, which is not my favorite defense, but they are switching to a 3-4 this season. That will be a transition, and while they have some talent I’m not convinced the players they have are a great scheme fit for this new 3-4 defense. Regardless, I am hoping Terence Garvin will emerge as a quality pass rush option, because without someone to fill the void vacated by Bruce Irvin as well as Julian Miller I think the secondary might have some problems. I like Brodrick Jenkins and Darwin Cook, but I’m not sold on Pat Miller and Travis Bell. The defense is a question mark for me coming into 2012, especially considering all the passing offenses that WVU will face in the Big-12. With Oklahoma and Landry Jones, TCU and Casey Pachall, Texas Tech and Seth Doege, there are some high octane pass offenses in this conference. Luckily they moved in the year after Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden were commanding offenses, and unless Nick Florence (Griffin’s replacement at Baylor) has a lot of tricks up his sleeve Baylor will not be as explosive as they were last year. Texas A&M has moved to the SEC, and Oklahoma State is replacing Weeden with a true freshman quarterback as of now. Still, the Big-12 knows how to move the ball and without a pass rush WVU will struggle in this conference. Luckily, Tavon Austin is one of the top return men in the nation thanks to his 36 returns for 938 yards (26.1 avg) and 2 touchdowns as well as 19 punt returns for 268 yards (14.1 avg). I think West Virginia has a good shot at 8+ wins, but games like an away game at Texas, Kansas State at home, TCU at home and Oklahoma at home figure to be serious tests. With that, here is my prospect preview for West Virginia:

Geno Smith is one of the top senior quarterbacks in the nation and has the potential to be drafted in the top 10 next April.

Geno Smith, QB- Geno Smith is one of the top quarterback prospects eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. I will have a full-length scouting report up on him eventually, but as of right now the 6’3” 214 pound senior looks like a rock solid pick to be a 1st round selection in the 2013 Draft. He has the requisite arm strength, ball velocity, accuracy, poise in the pocket, football IQ and intangibles to be a top 10 selection come April. The only questions that remain about Smith are related to the offense he plays in which features a lot of quick throws such as bubble screens and swing passes and also involves playing from the shotgun on the vast majority of the plays he runs. These are legitimate concerns, but I think Smith has the talent and the work ethic to overcome them unlike other spread offense QB’s in the past. Smith is a legitimate NFL talent and I can’t wait to see what he can do in the Big-12 this season.

Tavon Austin, WR- Austin is widely regarded as one of the top senior WR’s in the 2013 Draft class and it’s not hard to see why. Despite being listed at only 5’9”, 174 pounds Austin caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and 8 touchdowns, ran 16 times for 196 yards and 1 touchdown and also returned 36 kickoffs for 938 yards (26.1 avg) and 2 scores in addition to returning 19 punts for 268 yards and a 14.1 average per return. That’s a lot of versatility, playmaking ability, and remarkable consistency. He’s definitely got NFL speed, burst, acceleration and playmaking ability after the catch, but his lack of size and his inconsistent hands concern me. I’ve watched a number of passes bounce right off his hands, and from what I have gathered they seem to be concentration related rather than issues with his hands. Some WVU faithful (and perhaps even his Head Coach Dana Holgorsen) have questioned his effort level at times when he isn’t the primary target and that concerns me. He didn’t show any of those effort level questions in the bowl game shellacking of Clemson, but they had reportedly returned for West Virginia’s spring game. Austin has game-breaking NFL ability, but questions about his effort level and concentration definitely concern me.

Bailey may not be as widely known as Tavon Austin, but he is just as much of a big play threat and has just as much upside in my opinion.

Stedman Bailey, WR*- Bailey is the “other” explosive receiver on West Virginia. Standing at 5’10”, 194 pounds Bailey is bigger than Tavon Austin but doesn’t lack for explosiveness either. In fact, despite catching 29 fewer passes (72 for Bailey, 101 for Austin) he had more yardage (1,279 to 1,186) and touchdowns (12 to 8) despite being a redshirt sophomore. Entering his junior season he has been left off the Maxwell Award Watch list while Geno Smith and Tavon Austin were both selected, leading him to tweet “I still got a lot to prove I see… #Motivation.” I like to see that from a player, even if it is because of an individual award. Bailey is without a doubt a NFL player, and if you doubt that then go watch him against LSU. He scored a touchdown on Morris Claiborne, the #6 overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys, in that game (pictured to the right). He’s explosive and has a lot of upside, but I hope he stays out of trouble. I found an article talking about Bailey being cited for attempting to steal a bottle of Theraflu for $4.99. He wasn’t arrested, and it’s not a big deal in the whole scheme of things, but I’m sure it raises eyebrows that he didn’t just pay for the cough medicine. Regardless, no judgment here, but when I found it while researching him I thought it warranted a mention. Keep an eye out for Bailey this year, I expect another 70+ catch, 1,000+ yard 10+ TD season from him. If he manages that I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he left early for the NFL Draft since Geno Smith and Tavon Austin will both be graduating.

Joe Madsen, C- Madsen is West Virginia’s longest tenured offensive lineman, starting 38 games (every game he has played in he has started) over the last 3 years all at center. He is listed at 6’4”, 310 pounds and definitely has impressive size for a center. He isn’t a great NFL prospect because he doesn’t seem to anchor that well in 1 on 1 situations, he doesn’t look like he has very long arms and lets defenders get into his pads too much. He is a solid run blocker, but he isn’t a great pass blocker in my opinion. He has the potential to get drafted because of his size, experience and football IQ thanks to his vast playing experience, but he leaves something to be desired with his technique.

Jeff Braun, RG- Braun is West Virginia’s second most experienced offensive lineman but I’m not particularly impressed with him either. He has NFL size at 6’4”, 321 pounds and was playing at left guard when his more “natural” position is right guard, but I wasn’t overly impressed with his technique either and I think he is a late round prospect much like Madsen at this point. He has 38 career starts just like Madsen, and that should help the interior offensive line now that Josh Jenkins is returning from injury (Jenkins has 24 career starts as well) but I don’t think any of them will earn grades higher than late round/UDFA unless their play improves significantly as seniors.

Will Clarke, DE*- Clarke was playing a little out of position in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 as a defensive end and now that West Virginia is going to be running a 3-4 defense he is going to be playing out of position again as a down lineman in that scheme. That isn’t to say he can’t do it, but I don’t think it plays to his strengths. He doesn’t anchor that well since he is 6’6”, 269 pounds and would likely be a better fit as a DE in a 4-3 or perhaps even as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. He has some get-off and despite being outweighed by 40-60 pounds by most guards and tackles he goes up against he can drive them back with a bull-rush initially, and flashes some hand usage and the awareness to stay at home on bootlegs, etc. He doesn’t seem like an ideal fit in a 3-4 though because he drops his head and doesn’t locate the ball very well when being blocked despite his height. And while he flashes some hand usage he can be controlled by bigger, stronger tackles at times. He’s athletic and has some quickness to him, but he will likely be playing very much out of position again for West Virginia this year. If he still makes plays despite it while also maintaining gap integrity then he is going to be on a lot of NFL radars.

Garvin was a safety/linebacker hybrid in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 defense last year, but will be moving to the outside linebacker spot in their 3-4 this year. He is the returning sack leader on the Mountaineer defense, so he may be their best bet to replace some of the pass rush they lost when Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller graduated.

Terence Garvin, OLB- Garvin is a 6’3”, 223 pound senior linebacker/safety who is going to be lining up as an outside linebacker in West Virginia’s new 3-4 defense. He was playing a hybrid position last season, and now they have chosen to let him continue to play off the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s not big enough to play that in the NFL (yet) but he certainly has plenty of speed, burst and closing speed to be an impressive NFL linebacker. He seems to have pretty good instincts and is a good tackler as well, breaking down well in the open field when I have seen him and tackling effectively while also showing the potential to be a big hitter. He has the frame to add weight and I haven’t seen him engage and shed blocks much due to his size, but he definitely has upside as a linebacker.

Brodrick Jenkins, CB*- Jenkins is West Virginia’s top returning corner as he started opposite Keith Tandy towards the end of his sophomore year last season (4 games started but he played in all 13). He was second in pass break-ups with 8 (Tandy had 9) and also had 2 interceptions in his first season with any starting experience. He has NFL speed, has showed the ability to jam, turn and run, and also closes quickly on plays he reads in front of him. He has some instincts and ball skills, and I think he warrants some attention in what figures to be his first full season as a starter.

Darwin Cook, SS*- Cook is returning for his second season as a starter and the 5’11”, 204 pound strong safety finished with 85 tackles, 4 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions in 13 starts. It’s tough to get a great feel for his game because of poor camera angles for DB’s, but he was productive as a sophomore and figures to be just as productive as a junior.

Advertisements

Early Game Notes:

Here are some thoughts as I’m watching the early games. If you want to see some of these real time you can follow me on Twitter @TMeltonScouting

Michigan State-Iowa:

-Marvin McNutt has had a solid game today. He accounted for half of Vandenberg’s passing yards in the first half. I graded him as a 3rd rounder before the season, I don’t think he’s done much to change my mind in that regard. I’d still grade him in that range. He’s got pretty reliable hands, and is easily Iowa’s most reliable passing target. I just don’t buy him as much more than a solid #2 in the NFL right now.
-McNutt keeps making plays. Just set Iowa’s career receiving yardage record on a 48 yard bomb to set up Iowa with a great shot at scoring, still down 20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd. Fundamentally sound, just not sure he has tons of upside. Love seeing him come up with big plays when his team needs them though.
-Jerrel Worthy is quick off the ball, athletic and strong, but he’s not much of a pass rush threat in my opinion. I want to see him dominate 1 on 1 blocks more, and though I have been switching between different games I haven’t seen him draw double teams as a pass rusher. When you are extremely disruptive as a pass rusher you get double teamed, and it is a solid indicator that Worthy hasn’t been (at least from what I’ve seen). He’s disruptive against the run without a doubt, but has growing to do from a pass rushing perspective.
-Kirk Cousins is a solid QB, but I don’t think he’s a NFL starter. He’s smart, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, has lots of starting experience, but I don’t think he has much upside as a starter. You know what you’re getting with him: solid arm strength, accuracy, touch  and plenty of starting experience for a legitimate Big-10 contender.
-I think Riley Reiff can stick at LT in the NFL, but I need to see more of him before I grade him as a top 20 pick. He seems to be flying under the radar for the most part right now even though he’s a legitimate left tackle prospect. We’ll see if he heats up as the season concludes and the draft process kicks off. He does need to get stronger though. He needs more lower body strength which would help him stand up to bull rushes better, not get pushed around as easily by stronger, squatty players.
-Gholston has so much potential at 6’7″ 280 pounds but he hasn’t been very good today. Might have to credit Reiff with his lack of impact, but he has also been nicked up.
-Mike Daniels, an undersized senior defensive tackle on Iowa, has had a good game today. He’s been disruptive, has good quickness and has been involved in a number of stops at the line of scrimmage or behind it. He seems to be a high effort player with active hands. I would love to see him at the East-West Shrine Game, I think he is definitely a draftable prospect.

West Virginia-Cincinnati:

-I’m a Geno Smith fan though he has growing to do. I like his pocket poise, he has pretty good arm strength/zip (though definitely doesn’t have a cannon), he has quality accuracy to all levels except for long deep balls, he just doesn’t have the arm strength for it. He has had a couple nice bucket throws in this game, one for a very nice touchdown to Stedman Bailey in the first half. West Virginia hasn’t given him any help on the ground as they have 14 attempts for 24 yards (excluding Smith’s listed 6 attempts for negative 15 yards from sacks). He is quite literally carrying the offense and has still played well despite not having a running game. He’s been efficient, made good decisions and hasn’t made many bad throws. It’s a close game, so it will be very interesting to see how he finishes the game. He hasn’t been great late in games this year, so I’m hoping today will be different.
-Bruce Irvin has showed that he can speed rush, but I want to see more from him in other forms. He has flashed a bull rush, but I’m not sold on his hand usage. He doesn’t thrive when he is engaged in my opinion, and his effectiveness is highest when he can avoid contact. I’ll need to see more from him to change my mind on that. He has plenty of upside due to his athleticism, but I want to see better hand usage/block shedding from him.

Oklahoma State-Texas Tech:

-Brandon Weeden has absolutely shredded Texas Tech today. They are currently up 66-6 in the 4th quarter, and Weeden has been great. 31/37 currently, 423 yards and 5 TD’s with no interceptions. He proved that he has a NFl arm today in a very windy stadium by slinging the ball around like he was in a dome. His passes were cutting through the wind and it didn’t seem to effect him at all when I was watching him. He’s a legitimate NFL prospect, his age is just going to hinder how far up his stock can move. It limits his upside, especially since he may not be given an opportunity to step into the NFL and be a starter.
-I am very high on Joseph Randle. Would like to see him gain some weight to hold up to the pounding feature backs take, but he is very athletic, runs hard, bounces off tackles, has speed to break off long runs, and has soft hands out of the backfield. He’s got the whole package as far as an offensive weapon, and he really stepped up this year to replace Kendall Hunter. That offense is as dominant as it is because of the running aspect that they continue to bring to the table.
-I am really high on Justin Blackmon and he continues to play well. He has had some issues with drops, but I’m not convinced they are issues with his hands. I think it might be an issue with concentration. Still a concern, but he continues to dominate as Oklahoma State’s main target on offense.

Nebraska-Penn State:

-Devon Still is one of my favorite defensive line prospects in the country. He played a great game today against Nebraska (as he does most every week). Coming INTO the game he had 47 total tackles (24 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He added to these totals today against Nebraska and continues to impress. He’s listed at 6’5″, 310 pounds and has the versatility to play 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT in the NFL in my opinion. His stock continues to rise, and if you haven’t had a chance to watch him play you should make an effort to do so. If you can’t stomach the Penn State situation, mute the game and just enjoy watching Still play. He’s a great player.

Those are some of my notes on the early games. I’ll try to keep up with the afternoon and evening games as best I can!

–Tom

Saturday Games to Watch:

Saturday:
-West Virginia-Maryland:
I am excited to watch this game because there are a couple intriguing prospects (notably Bruce Irvin for West Virginia) that I’d like to get a look at, plus I think Danny O’Brien has it in him to potentially pull an upset. I haven’t watched West Virginia at all to get a sense for how they are doing this year, but I was incredibly impressed with O’Brien against Miami. He’s got a lot of upside and I expect him to play well today if his OL can keep him upright. Geno Smith is a quality QB too though, he just doesn’t project to the NFL as well as I think O’Brien does. I’m excited to see how this game plays out, and if my hunch is correct it could go down to the wire.

-Tennessee-Florida:
I am very excited to see this game because I think Tennessee can pull off the upset. It’s easy to look at this game and say “Oh, the 16th best team in the country against an unranked team? I’ll take Florida” but Tennessee is no slouch and if they can protect Tyler Bray he can carve up very talented defenses (see the Tennessee-UNC bowl game from last year. Might not be an “SEC” caliber defense, but still very talent laden). I want to see how John Brantley does as well, plus Florida always has talented players on defense that I’d like to see. Malik Jackson, a DE on Tennessee, was a player on my list of potential break-out players so I would like to see how he plays.

-Michigan State-Notre Dame:
I still can’t stop laughing at people who keeps saying “Notre Dame is a good team and I really like their squad” when they have started 0-2 and proved that their preseason top 25 ranking was completely unjustified, at least in my opinion. While they played a good game against Michigan, the Wolverines are not on the same level as the Spartans are. I have a hard time believing Notre Dame will be able to slow down their running game and Kirk Cousins is one of the best senior quarterbacks in the country. I think Notre Dame has a chance to give them a run for their money, but I don’t think they have it in them to pull off the upset.

-Virginia-North Carolina
Both are 2-0 this season and North Carolina passed their first test beating Rutgers in a close game last weekend. I don’t have very high hopes for them with the loss of Butch Davis and a new, young QB in Bryn Rynner (though I do like him). This is a big game for them though and if they can pull it off it would be huge for them to start out 3-0 in spite of all the turmoil the program has been through the last two years.

-Arizona State-Illinois
Arizona State dazzled everyone who watched the Thursday Night game about a week or so ago when they upset Missouri on national television in an overtime game. Brock Osweiler stole the show as far as I’m concerned as he was incredibly impressive and played an extremely efficient and effective game for ASU. He demonstrated a very strong arm, was placing the ball very well, and made only two throws that I identified as poor decisions or bad throws. Illinois is on the upswing in my opinion with Nathan Scheelhaase returning for his second season as a starter. I think Arizona State has the upper hand in this one, but it should be a pretty good game since Illinois is at home.

-Ohio State-Miami
This is a tough game for me to call. I actually trust Jacory Harris more than I trust any of Ohio State’s QB’s, but that isn’t saying much considering the fact that I think Stephen Morris should start for the ‘Canes. Regardless, Miami has an insane level of talent (especially on defense) even with some of their suspensions that have rocked the program. Ohio State is very talented as well, but I think they have demonstrated that they are not an elite or even a very good team by any means in their first two games. Miami can win this game, it’s just a question of who wins the turnover battle in my opinion. If Harris avoids interceptions and moves Miami down the field methodically with a few big plays, Miami has a great shot at winning. If Ohio State can get a few downfield plays and avoid turnovers, plus create them on the defensive side of the ball, they could win this game. It will be interesting to see which way it goes, but there’s a part of me that wants to pick Miami…

-Oklahoma-Florida State
This game is an extremely tough one for me to call. It’s almost impossible to bet against Oklahoma but Florida State is a very talented team. I like what E.J. Manuel brings to the table a lot, and while I like Landry Jones I don’t think he is a 1st round QB because of his issues dealing with interior pressure and because of his propensity for interceptions last season. This is going to be a critical litmus test for both programs as Oklahoma has been taking flak lately for not being able to win big games and Florida State is trying to prove that the “old” Florida State that used to battle for conference supremacy with Miami is back. It’s hard to bet against Oklahoma, but I am hoping for a great game unlike the match up last year in Norman where Oklahoma blew the doors off FSU.

-Stanford-Arizona
This might not seem like that big of a game, but Arizona has a tendency to pull off upsets and while I don’t think Nick Foles is anything more than a mid-round NFL QB prospect he can definitely sling it, especially in Arizona’s offense. He has been very efficient to start the season and while Stanford is clearly the better team they should try to avoid getting into a shootout with Arizona, because that’s the kind of game they want to play. I expect Stanford to win, but I also expect Arizona to give them a bit of a scare during the course of this game.

Thanks for reading and enjoy all the games today! There should be some exciting ones as usual.

–Tom

Will West Virginia's coaching drama distract the team? Or will it provide motivation to keep everyone together?

16. West Virginia- I have West Virginia pretty high even in spite of all the problems they have been having. Sometimes those can be distractions, but other times they can provide you with a chance to escape from the off field circus and focus on football. I think it is easier to do this when you have an established coach who has weathered the storm before instead of a new guy (whose hiring started the whole fiasco in the first place), but I won’t write them off yet. They have a lot of talent, headlined by Geno Smith at quarterback (who some have mentioned as a Heisman candidate) and they have a lot of pass rushing potential on their defensive line, which makes every defense better. They might not win the Big East, but you have to remember… it’s the Big East. Anyone can win the Big East.

17. USC- Southern Cal is loaded with talent as usual, and even if they can’t go to a bowl game this year (which I think is stupid, for the record. Punishing kids who didn’t do anything wrong, at least for what they are being punished for, is wrong. And upholding it for two years instead of letting these guys play in a bowl game if they earn it… I can’t get behind that) they should be dangerous. I don’t think they have it in them to win the Pac-12 because Oregon and Stanford are both great teams, but they will definitely make it interesting. Matt Barkley is ready for a break-out season I believe and he has so much talent around him. I am one of the biggest Robert Woods fans in the world I think, because it just baffles me how he can be so good at running routes, have such great hands and just overall be so polished and impressive at receiver as a freshman. It blows my mind. Their defense was a problem for them last year, so it will be interesting to see if their pass rush gets ramped up (it should, Nick Perry has been ready to blow up for two years now) because without a pass rush their defense just doesn’t function correctly. I like USC’s chances this year, and that just makes it all the more unfortunate that they can’t play in a bowl game.

Bryn Renner is in charge of running the Tar Heels offense now, but he shouldn't have a ton of pressure on him thanks to the Tar Heels' talented defense.

18. North Carolina- North Carolina is one of the most talented teams in the country, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but between suspensions and poor coaching (at times in my opinion) they don’t seem to live up to their potential. Now they have a new QB in Bryn Rynner, a guy who almost took the starting job from T.J. Yates last spring as a freshman, but he should have some talent to work with. Not a lot of dynamic talent at RB, but he has quality receivers to throw to plus an extremely talented defense that should help keep points off the board. Quentin Coples, Donte Paige-Moss and Zach Brown are all very good players with lots of upside, and I’m sure more will emerge over the course of the year.

19. Texas A&M- With Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller on offense the Aggies are going to be potent on that side of the ball, especially if Tannehill can continue to progress at the same rate he did when he took over for Jerrod Johnson last year when he led the Aggies on a late season tear culminating in a bowl game loss to LSU. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, steps up to try to replace Von Miller’s substantial impact as a pass rusher for the Aggies.

Aaron Murray (left) and Orson Charles (right) were lethal last year, and with one more year of experience together they should be even more lethal this year.

20. Georgia- Georgia is a bit of a sleeper this year, though they were a bit more formidable before they lost both Washaun Ealey AND Caleb King (Ealey transferred to Jacksonville State and Caleb King declared for the NFL Supplemental Draft after being declared academically ineligible for the 2011 season). Now their rushing attack relies on a freshman. He might be an incredibly talented freshman, but he is a freshman none-the-less so you never know exactly how he will transition, plus that is a lot of pressure to put on an 18 or 19 year old kid. However, Aaron Murray, Orson Charles and Tavarres King should help take some of the pressure off of him, and if he can give the running game a boost Georgia’s offense could be relatively formidable. Their defense is a question mark after losing sack artist Justin Houston and middle linebacker Akeem Dent but I am very high on Christian Robinson (his replacement at MLB), I like Brandon Boykin and they have a fierce SS in Bacarri Rambo. Cornelius Washington will probably be the one expected to step up and replace Justin Houston at 3-4 OLB and nickel defensive end, and while he had limited production last year he is only a junior this year and he has some edge speed, so I am looking forward to seeing how he develops.

Hopefully you are enjoying my rankings so far! I’ll have the top 15 teams coming right up in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

1- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Analysis: Brown has an impressive combination of size and speed. He has a listed sub 4.55 40 yard dash time and while he is only 6’2″, 225 pounds he can really fly around the field. He has a lot of potential and should help replace Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant at linebacker. As a junior Brown produced 72 total tackles (47 solo), 1.5 TFL and had 3 INT’s with an impressive 113 return yards after those interceptions. I expect Brown to step up and continue the strong defensive tradition that has developed recently at UNC.
2- Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
Analysis: David plays MLB for Nebraska from what I remember but at his size he will probably have to move to WLB in the NFL, though if he packed on some weight to get to 230+ he might have a shot at playing the Mike. Regardless, he might not have great size at 6’1″, 220 pounds but he is an absolute tackling machine. He ended last season with a remarkable 152 tackles (85 solo), 12.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks and 8 pass deflections. He is going to get knocked for his size but he can flat out play, and that’s why I have him ranked higher than a lot of other people.
3- Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Analysis: Upshaw has a lot of potential and he is returning for his senior year which will be a huge lift for Alabama. He was productive last year as a junior and was arguably Alabama’s top pass rusher. At 6’2″, 265 pounds he is very well built and was able to amass 52 total tackles (32 solo), 14.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 4 FF’s and 2 pass deflections. He has a lot of potential and flashed some impressive hand usage last year if I recall correctly. I am anxious to evaluate him further, but I was always impressed with him when I saw him last season.
4- Travis Lews, OLB, Oklahoma

Analysis: Lewis has been a potential NFL draft pick since he was a redshirt sophomore so now that he is a senior he will finally be in the draft. He has impressive athleticism and has a good reputation in coverage, but I have never been that impressed with him when I have watched him periodically. I am withholding judgement until I see more of him however. Last year he produced 109 total tackles (64 solo), 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 INT’s and 5 pass deflections. I think if he replicates his junior season and demonstrates his ability in coverage to me and other talent evaluators he could be a top 50 pick in the draft.
5- Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pittsburgh
Analysis: Lindsey plays DE for Pittsburgh but I am not sure whether he will be a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB at this point or not. At 6’2″, 250 he might be forced to transition to OLB, but if he gained weight he might be able to stick as a 4-3 DE. We will have to wait and see on that front, a lot of that will have to do with how he plays and develops this year. As a junior who stepped up to replace Romeus in the lineup opposite Jabaal Sheard Lindsey produced 51 total tackles (32 solo), 18.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 3 FF’s and one pass deflection. He has a lot of pass rushing upside and was quite disruptive opposite Sheard last year, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his effectiveness now that Sheard has moved on to the NFL.
6- Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
Analysis: Irvin had a very big year as a pass rusher last year but was fairly one dimensional as he did not have a single tackle for loss that was not a sack, meaning he was not much of a factor playing the run. That’s not entirely surprising considering he was playing at a listed height and weight of 6’3″, 235 pounds. However, he was dynamic when rushing the passer as he amassed 21 total tackles (18 solo), 14.0 TFL, 14.0 sacks, 2 FF’s and 1 pass deflection. It will be interesting to see if he can reproduce that effectiveness as a pass rusher but even more interesting to see if he can be more effective versus the run.
7- Sean Spence, OLB, Miami
Analysis: Spence might be undersized for the position (about 6’0″, 220 pounds) but he is an impressive athlete and he is a tackling machine much like Lavonte David for Nebraska. Spence produced 111 total tackles (59 solo), a whopping 17.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF’s and 6 pass deflections. I don’t think he will be able to stick at MLB in the NFL necessarily, but he could play WLB effectively based off of what I have seen from him last year. He plays the run very well despite his size as evidenced by over 14 tackles in the backfield versus the run. He avoids blocks well but the true test of his potential will be how well he sheds blocks despite his relatively small stature.
8- Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State
Analysis: Bradham is on my list of potential break-out players in a previous post, and I think he has a good chance to do it. He stands at 6’2″, 241 pounds and produced 97 total tackles (53 solo), 5.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 5 pass break-ups and 1 kick/punt blocked as a junior last season. It will be interesting to see how well he plays the run and drops into pass defense, as I have not seen him play very much yet.
9- Nico Johnson, OLB, Alabama
Analysis: Nico Johnson is a junior who may emerge as the starter opposite Upshaw at OLB. He has a lot of potential at 6’3″, 238 pounds and in a rotation last season he managed 33 total tackles (22 solo), 3.5 TFL, 1 INT and 1 pass deflection. With Upshaw as a mentor he could very well develop into a dynamic pass rusher, though I have not seen him play much so I can’t elaborate on his edge speed or get-off from the stand-up linebacker position. It will be interesting to see what his role is this year, and if he forms a formidable duo with Upshaw for Alabama.
10- Emmanuel Acho, OLB, Texas
Analysis: Acho returns to a Texas unit with some emerging talent up front and that should give him the opportunity to make plays at linebacker. Last year as a junior he was productive and displayed a lot of talent when he finished with 81 total tackles (47 solo), 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT (returned for TD), 1 FF, 2 pass deflections. I am excited to see how he develops and progresses as a senior, but I have high hopes for him.

Thanks for reading my pre-season outside linebacker rankings! Hopefully you enjoyed them. Feel free to comment on them as you see fit. I will have my inside linebacker, cornerback and safety rankings up soon.

–Tom

Here are some of my notes on the earlier games. I will have more notes on the Nevada-Boise State game later since it ended so late. I’ll probably have those up sometime on Saturday afternoon.

Pitt-WVU Notes:

Lindsey, the DE on PITT, looks really good to me. Pretty good speed off the ball, impressive motor so far and he knows how to stay disciplined. Only a junior, but he has replaced Romeus very nicely and has 15 TFL this year. He has also showed some nice hand usage with a couple of nice swim moves to beat either shoulder of the LT he is going up against. He has 10 sacks this year, and has a sack in all but three of his games… he might fly up boards. I need to see more of him.

He looked less impressive on this past series, he wasn’t coming off the edge as quickly… but that might have something to do with their defensive scheme to contain Geno Smith. I will definitely be watching more of him though.

J.T. Thomas of WVU has made a couple of nice plays. He comes off the edge nicely. He had a great speed rush to get a sack and force a fumble and on the very next play he did a good job to get a TFL versus the run. He looks like he has a pretty good motor, some speed off the edge and he knew just what to do to strip the ball out. He’s a senior and he isn’t the biggest guy at about 6’1 or 6’2”, 225 pounds but he’s got special teams potential and if he can add some weight (his frame doesn’t look like he can have much more than 230-240 on it though…) he could be a solid OLB in a 3-4 in my opinion.

I was wondering when Noel Devine was going to show up and make a play and he took a pass out in the flat and he nearly broke it. He turned a dump off pass into a 48 yard reception and got tackled on the three yard line. That is dynamic playmaking at its finest. Before this play WVU had 25 yards of total offense. Devine was not in a lot in this game and he seemed to be cramping up on the sideline, but when he came in he did not do a lot of running up the middle and was used more to get outside to use his speed. He is a quality change of pace prospect, but I worry about him getting nicked up frequently and not being very effective running the ball between the tackles in the NFL.

Geno Smith has looked solid today. He hasn’t made a lot of NFL throws, but he has been incredibly efficient.

Brandon Hogan has had an up and down game. He had an interception early but he got called for a PI later on in the game. He hasn’t been thrown at a lot, #8 has been targeted more, so I haven’t seen much of him. I still need to evaluate how he is in his back-pedal, how well he can turn and run and how much burst he has to break on the ball. It’s just hard to watch DB’s with TV camera angles.

I didn’t pay particular attention to Bruce Irvin in the game today. I’ll look for him when I re-watch the game, but live I didn’t notice much except that I don’t think he will stick at DE in the NFL. He’s a little light for that, but he has some potential as a 3-4 OLB because he has some edge speed.

Auburn-Alabama Notes:

Nick Fairley has looked good and bad thus far. He got downblocked very effectively by the RT of Alabama on their first series but he has also gotten nice penetration. He had a great move to get a sack but then got a celebration penalty (which I thought was questionable at best) which helped extend Alabama’s drive as they converted a 4th and short after the penalty made it more manageable. He has made some plays versus the run though, but I wonder how well he will stand up against double teams a bit. He definitely has the size, but I just haven’t seen him versus doubles enough yet to know. He reminds me a bit of Kevin Williams as far as his size and playing style. If he can anchor versus the run like Kevin Williams as well as dominate blockers and blow up plays in the backfield he is going to be a hot commodity come draft time. Fairley just made another huge play. He beat the RG very badly off the snap to the inside, Ingram tried to step up and block him and Fairley just powered through him and hit McElroy for the sack, forced the fumble and then scrambled back to the ball to recover it. This was on 2nd and goal with Auburn still down 17, so what a huge play it was for Auburn to stay in the game. Fairley has been extremely disruptive all game, he regularly beat his man off the line when he got a one on one match-up and almost demands to be double teamed. I would definitely grade him as a top 15 pick at this point.

Greg McElroy has looked fantastic thus far. That has something to do with Auburn’s secondary, but he has been delivering accurate throws and showing his whole repertoire thus far with nice zip on his short/intermediate throws as well as great touch on some of his other passes including a nice touchdown to Hanks. The most impressive play may have been when Auburn came after him on a blitz on what I believe was a 3rd down, #45 on Auburn, Carter, came completely unblocked and McElroy did a fantastic job of side stepping the rush in the pocket, setting his feet, continuing to look downfield all the while and he delivered a very nice ball to Julio Jones for a big first down. He is really smart, he has shown very nice pocket poise, good accuracy, above-average arm strength and good decision making… Auburn isn’t a very good defense as far as the pass is concerned, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the progression McElroy has made in his second season as a starter.

It’s too bad that McElroy ended up being knocked out of the game from a concussion, but you could definitely tell that he was out of it when he was trying to walk to the sideline. I would have loved to see if he could muster anything on that last drive, because I think he may have been able to make it interesting. Despite the great comeback by Auburn I was still impressed by McElroy in this game. Obviously the game didn’t go Alabama’s way, but McElroy was accurate and showed a lot of pocket poise in this game. I would definitely grade him as a 3rd or 4th round pick right now. I think he has the potential to be a starter in the NFL after some time on the bench.

On the other hand, Cam Newton has looked very bad so far today. He is being bottled up from a rushing standpoint and that is really hindering his overall effectiveness. I thought that this might happen against Alabama because their defense is so well coached that they won’t often allow him to break contain and make big plays as a result of missed tackles. They are too fast and too fundamentally sound as a defense to let him get free and make some of the ridiculous plays he has made thus far this season. He finally put together a scoring drive and capped it off with a very nice throw over the top of the defense that allowed #80 to run under it for a touchdown, but his other completions have been high throws that his receivers have made nice catches on, including two very critical completions to Kodi Burns for first downs. Now Newton has the ball with less than a minute left and he made his second good throw of the game for a nice chunk of yardage. It will be interesting to see if he plays any better in the second half, but it is absolutely laughable that people are talking about him as a 1st round pick at this point. He is nowhere near developed enough to be selected that high. He holds onto the ball far too long when he is contained in the pocket, he doesn’t have much pocket poise at all and he likes to throw off balance and without consistent mechanics. Watching him play compared to McElroy, a very fundamentally sound, poised QB, is like a night and day comparison… I hope he plays better in the second half, but he has so much work to do before he can be a quality NFL QB that if he leaves this year he will need to be on the bench for two, maybe three years and he still may not pan out considering some of the issues he is having with pocket poise, decision making and overall mechanics. He has a tough test ahead of him in the second half because Alabama has been rolling on offense and he needs to throw them back into this game.

Newton’s first pass of the second half was a touchdown, but it was not a particularly good throw. Yes, it was pretty accurate, but it was in the air a while and Mark Barron could have easily made a play on the ball but he played the ball poorly in the air and misjudged it and #81 caught the ball, stayed on his feet and got the rest of the yardage needed for the touchdown. If this safety played this better then it could have been an easy interception.

Newton has led a furious comeback. He has made probably three NFL throws the entire game, so he hasn’t been an impressive passer, but it’s hard to make an argument that anyone in the country is more valuable to his team than Newton is to Auburn. I’m impressed with his resiliency as well because he could have easily packed it in after they started so slow with two or three straight three and outs while Alabama was rolling on offense. The most impressive throw Newton has made in this game came on 4th down and 3 and he threw a very nice pass into a tight window on the sideline to #89 for a key first down to extend the drive. That was a clutch play to be sure. It’ll be interesting to see if he has another big drive left in him, because even though he might not project to the NFL yet he definitely strikes me as a winner. They’ve been in too many close games and won this year that if he wasn’t a winner and wasn’t clutch that I don’t think they would be undefeated.

Julio Jones has been an absolute beast in this game so far. He has close to 200 yards in the first half and he has been making nice catches with his hands and even though he has been targeted repeatedly he has not had a lapse in concentration that could lead to a drop. He has such great size and he uses it so well to shield smaller players from the ball on slants and curls. He also has deep speed and he is tough to bring down after he makes the catch because he runs tough. He has serious NFL potential, and he could be one of those WR’s who starts slow in his career but explodes onto the scene as a 3rd year WR. He has the highest ceiling of any of the WR’s in this draft. Unfortunately in the second half Julio had a couple lapses in concentration that led to drops that he typically has once or twice a game. That is where the risk comes into play, because his ceiling is so high but if he isn’t catching the ball in key situations his value is negated to a degree.

D’onta Hightower was regularly around the ball, and it’s interesting that he is used both at linebacker and also at defensive end in pass rush situations. That speaks to his ability to get after the passer I suppose. But he made some plays versus the run for the majority of the game. I didn’t see how well he did in coverage, but the impression I have is that he isn’t great in pass defense but that he is better versus the run and at rushing the passer. He has great size and he’s a powerful guy, but I just haven’t seen much of him in coverage specifically.

Mark Barron was pretty disappointing in this game. He was talked up as an All-American by the announcers but he didn’t look like one to me. He’s definitely a good hitter and he plays the run pretty well, though I didn’t pay particular attention to how well he tackles. I will need to see him more to evaluate that. However, I was definitely not impressed with him in coverage. He has pretty good range and enough athletic ability to close on passes, but he just doesn’t seem to play the ball well in the air. On one particular play he played the receiver’s body and the receiver managed to go up and catch the ball (which should have been intercepted in my opinion) and he stayed on his feet despite his contact with Barron and ended up scoring. So while he is a good hitter and he’s an athletic safety, I am not impressed with him as a NFL prospect, especially when it comes to coverage.

Mark Ingram was not very impressive to me yesterday either. He’s probably still the top RB in the country in my opinion, but he did not wow me yesterday to be honest. I don’t think he is going to be a terrific NFL RB, but I definitely see him being a productive workhorse back. Will he be a 1,500 yard rusher like some of the recent great backs like AP or Chris Johnson? I personally don’t think so. But 1,000+ yards and 8-10 TD’s is definitely worth a 1st-2nd round selection and that is where I would pick Ingram right now. I don’t think his stock is going to be a top-15 pick after the slow start to the year so as a later 1st rounder or maybe even an early 2nd rounder he would definitely be worth the pick. His advantage over some of the other RB’s in this class is that he is a running back who can carry the load versus other guys like Noel Devine, Demarco Murray, etc. who are more likely to be complementary backs on the next level.

I will have other notes on Oregon-Arizona (some notes, I only saw about half of the game) and more notes on Boise State and Nevada’s epic game from last night. Hopefully you enjoy these!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom