Tag Archive: Butch Davis


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 North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels program has been under fire for what feels like an eternity to me (but I am a Tar Heels fan) and rumors continue to swirl around the program. Hopefully there aren’t extremely severe sanctions levied against the program, but that is all up in the air. All we can do is focus on football, and that’s what Larry Fedora and his team plan to do. I’ve been impressed with how Fedora has been handling this team, because Butch Davis was labeled a “player’s coach” but really was letting the inmates run the asylum, and while there were plenty of talented inmates he never coached them up or got the most out of them. He simply got what they were willing to give at any given time, but that was usually enough to win 8 games and be competitive. Fedora doesn’t share that same view, and in his first meetings even with returning starters and seniors he told them he expects them to drop weight, come back in better shape and improve before the season starts. Fedora seems to command respect, and Sylvester Williams noted that even though his Southern Miss team knew he was leaving after the bowl game they still played hard for him and won that game. Williams even said that played a role in him coming back for his second season with the team after transferring in from junior college. Fedora’s attitude appears to be contagious, as multiple players, most notably Williams and offensive guard Travis Bond, are supposedly in much better shape this summer and I am excited to see how that manifests itself on the field. The offense should be good even if it takes a bit to adjust to the new scheme, but Bryn Renner, Giovani Bernard, Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd and Eric Ebron are ready to make plays and the offensive line returns three seniors and a junior, and is one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference if not the entire country. And with Fedora pushing them to get in better shape and work hard to improve, I have no doubt the offense is going to be good for some big plays.

The defense has always been filled to the brim with talent, but for reasons I mentioned previously this unit never seemed to live up to it’s billing on paper. The Tar Heels defense has been churning out defensive prospects since Davis stepped on campus, and this year will be no different even with a new coaching staff in place. Kareem Martin, Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick continue the time-honored UNC tradition of generating quality defensive prospects, but there is more young talent there obviously. They are running a 4-2-5 this season, and while I prefer a 4-3 or a 3-4 I am willing to wait and see how this defense works. The Tar Heels have the talent to run it, so I’ll trust the coaching staff for now until I have reason to do otherwise. This team isn’t eligible to win the conference or play in the postseason this year, but that shouldn’t stop them from getting 8-10 wins this season. They have a very favorable schedule, with Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami, NC State and Georgia Tech as their toughest tests in my opinion. With that, we move on to the prospects to keep an eye on:

Renner has enough tools to be considered a NFL prospect, but I want to see improved decision making and efficiency from him in his second season as a starter. With the great OL and bountiful weapons around him, he’s in line for a big season.

Bryn Renner, QB*- Renner has been competing for the starting job since he was a freshman when he was TJ Yates’ primary back-up, and I was actually hoping he would start that season because I was not a big Yates fan. Regardless, he got his shot last season as a sophomore and had a very good first season. He passed for 3,086 yards, completed 68.3% of his passes and passed for 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s got solid size for a quarterback at 6’3”, 215 pounds and has some athleticism to extend the play, but he is a pocket passer first and foremost. He has some arm strength, and he flashes accuracy, but I was a little concerned with some of his decision making last season. I am hoping to see him improve in that department as well as the rest of his game, but he could cut down on his interception total pretty easily by throwing the ball away and not forcing passes into coverage. I think that’s a step he’s capable of taking this year, and with plenty of weapons at disposal and an offensive line that returns three seniors and a junior left tackle in James Hurst I think he has a chance at 3,500+ yards and 30+ touchdowns this season. I’m still not sure he’s more than a mid-round guy as a NFL prospect at this point, but I look forward to seeing him grow over the next two seasons because he definitely has a lot of potential. He’s still pretty new to the position having only played two years of quarterback in high school, so he should improve considerably over the next two seasons at UNC.

Giovani Bernard, RB**- Bernard emerged as the top back the Tar Heels had last season, playing in 13 games and starting 11 of them and earning the ACC Rookie Player of the Year award as he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns (5.2 ypc) as well as catching 45 passes for 362 more yards and a touchdown. He has been through a lot in his life whether it was losing his mother at 10 years old, having to watch much of his family attempt to survive the disaster in Haiti, or sustaining season ending injuries as a senior in high school and as a true freshman at North Carolina, Bernard has been through plenty. He finally got on the field last season as a redshirt freshman and he obviously didn’t disappoint, becoming just the 14th UNC running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in the program’s history and the first since 1997. He provided a running game that the Tar Heels haven’t had since I started watching football attentively, and my god was that fun to see. He dealt with a hip injury in the middle of the season, but still managed to be productive and help carry the offense. Bernard is coming off of his worst performance of the season against Missouri in UNC’s bowl game, rushing 13 times for 31 yards and no touchdowns against the Tigers. I’m sure he will be focusing on never letting that happen again, and I feel bad for Elon’s team because he is going to take that pent up frustration out on them in week 1. Bernard has NFL back written all over him thanks to his compact frame (5’10”, 210 pounds), impressive speed, burst, vision and hands out of the backfield. He’s very close to becoming a complete back despite only being a sophomore, and that should really excite Tar Heels fans. Hopefully Rynner and Bernard will both be back for 2013, because they could be an even more special combo than they will be this season. Rumor has it Bernard will even be the team’s punt returner this year thanks to injuries at that spot, so keep an eye on him on offense and special teams.

I’ve had my eye on Highsmith for a long time, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him as a Tar Heel over the last four years. Hopefully his senior season is the best of them all.

Erik Highsmith, WR- Highsmith is a kid I have been keeping an eye on since he was a freshman, because it was then that he first flashed upside, catching 37 passes for 425 yards and 2 touchdowns that year despite being rated as a three star wide receiver prospect if I remember correctly. The 6’3”, 190 pound receiver has never slowed down, catching 25 balls for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns as a sophomore and grabbing 51 receptions for 726 yards and 5 touchdowns as a junior. Dwight Jones has moved on (though to what, we’re not really sure) and Highsmith should be a breath of fresh air for NFL talent evaluators who saw Jones’ skill set but clearly questioned his dedication and determination which led to him being undrafted. It seems they were right to doubt him, as he quit shortly after signing with the Texans. Still, Highsmith has always been the overachieving type of player and truthfully I never expected to be writing about him as a legitimate NFL prospect when I watched him as a freshman. He’s got the size, long arms and soft hands that NFL teams will love in a receiver, and his work ethic and determination to improve is obvious because of his vast starting experience dating back to his freshman year, as he returns for his senior season with 30 career starts. He projects as more of a possession receiver at the next level, and I’d like to see him continue to improve his route running, but he’s better after the catch than you might expect and should prove to be the superior prospect to his teammate Jones who always got all the attention while at Chapel Hill. Highsmith is an easy kid to root for and I’m excited to see him this season.

Jheranie Boyd, WR- Boyd is another senior receiver but he is not nearly as polished or consistent as Highsmith. Boyd is a 6’2”, 190 pound speedster with an estimated 40 time in the 4.4’s who has been primarily a vertical threat for UNC for the past couple of years. Last season he led the team with a 20.9 average yards per catch despite only catching 14 balls for 292 yards and 5 touchdowns. He gives the Tar Heels a quick strike element to the team, slightly reminiscent of what Brandon Tate did for them a few years ago before his devastating injury. Boyd doesn’t have great hands at this point, and he could be a lot better than he currently is, but I’m hoping he can put it all together as a senior and really show what he can do. Teams will love his combination of size, speed and potential, but his inconsistency and lack of production will keep him as a mid-late round prospect until he really steps up his game. Hopefully that happens as a senior, because he has a lot of untapped upside.

TJ Thorpe, WR**- TJ Thorpe is another speedster that should provide the Tar Heels with a vertical threat, and despite only being a true sophomore with 2 receptions and 70 yards to his name I had to mention him because of his upside as a receiver as well as his already impressive production as a kick returner. As a true freshman Thorpe returned 36 kick-offs for 960 yards (26.7 avg) and 1 touchdown, and figures to continue to return kicks and hopefully punts as a true sophomore. He’s listed at 6’0”, 190 pounds but also has 4.4 speed and if his 35 yard average per reception last season is any indication he is going to threaten defenses vertically for the Tar Heels if he can stay healthy. Right now, unfortunately, that health is in question as he suffered a “serious” foot injury in early August and it is not known how much time he will miss. Hopefully it’s not much, because he has a lot of upside as a playmaker for the Tar Heels on offense and on special teams.

Eric Ebron, TE**- Ebron is another true sophomore that I had to include because he is penciled in as the starting tight end and he could be in for a big season. Ebron is listed at 6’4”, 230 pounds and while he only had 10 receptions last year he made the most of them, totaling 207 yards (20.7 ypc average, 2nd on the team only to Boyd) and 1 touchdown. A reliable tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, and if Ebron is ready to step up (which I really think he is) then he could have a huge season this year. He is said to have 4.5 speed, plenty of strength and that makes me think he’s ready to surpass his freshman totals easily. He should be played in-line and also split out in the slot which will cause a lot of match-up problems for opposing defenses. He’s got all the ability, but as long as he keeps himself on the right path off the field (he missed the Missouri bowl game because his grades weren’t up to par) he should catch a lot of eyes this season for the Tar Heels. Fedora’s offense and staff has a history of sending quality tight end prospects to the NFL, and Ebron is going to be the next in line in my opinion.

James Hurst, OT*- Hurst was a top recruit out of high school and chose to come to North Carolina where he made an immediate impact. He started 12 games at left tackle as a true freshman and started 13 more at left tackle as a sophomore. He should have 12 more starts at left tackle by the end of his junior year, and he will have a tough decision about whether or not he should come back for his senior season or enter the draft. At 6’7”, 310 pounds he has ideal left tackle size, arm length and still has the frame to add strength. He’s athletic for his size and while he isn’t a top 5 pick right now, he has that kind of upside. It will be interesting to see how much he has progressed over the summer, because if he starts matching up with some of the pass rush talent in the ACC (most notably that of Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech) he could vault himself into 1st round consideration easily. His match-up on October 6th against James Gayle and J.R. Collins of Virginia Tech is one everyone needs to watch.

Brennan Williams, OT- Williams plays on the right side and is obviously not the same prospect that Hurst is. He has similar size, being listed at 6’7”, 315 pounds, but isn’t the same athlete. He returns for his senior season with 14 career starts, and figures to continue to make his mark in the run game, as he totaled 30 knock downs last season. The true test for Williams will be how well he can show up in pass protection. Last year was his first full season as a starter, so it’s tough to project him right now. He’s probably in the mid-late round range right now, but could improve that easily with a good season.

Jonathan Cooper, OG- Right now Cooper is the best NFL Draft prospect on the team, though Hurst could pass him with a good or great season this year. Cooper has a whopping 35 career starts entering his senior season and all but one of them has been at left guard (one was at Center as a sophomore). The 6’3”, 305 pound guard isn’t the definition of a road grader, but he moves extremely well for an offensive lineman and should be an ideal pulling guard at the next level. I think he might be a great fit for a zone blocking scheme because of his quickness, change of direction speed and ability to get to the second level pretty much effortlessly. I’m not sure what I think of him in a power scheme, and he could stand to get stronger, but he still has a great shot at being a top 40 pick without much improvement as a senior.

Travis Bond, OG- Bond is the “other” guard on the Tar Heels who is very much overshadowed by Cooper. Bond is a massive player as he is listed at 6’7”, 345 pounds and was always the antithesis of Cooper and not moving very well. He supposedly ballooned up to 372 pounds after the bowl game against Missouri and Larry Fedora and his new coaching staff simply told him he couldn’t play in this offense at that weight. Bond heard the message loud and clear and through a lot of careful eating, cardio and even some sand pit work with defensive backs Bond dropped about 45 pounds and now weighs under 330, the lowest I’ve seen him listed at since he has been a Tar Heel. He claims he is moving much better and feels lighter on his feet, and has even been running with the second team at right tackle in practice. Bond may be completely under the radar right now, but look out for him at right guard this year now that he is in much better shape and if Williams goes down at right tackle it sounds like Bond would be the player the coaching staff would slide outside.

Kareem Martin, DE*- Martin has NFL size at 6’6”, 260 pounds and despite entering his sophomore season with only 3 career starts he outworked Donte Paige-Moss and took his starting job at defensive end, leading to an incredibly disappointing season for Paige-Moss that ended with a poorly thought out criticism of his coaches via Twitter as well as a serious knee injury. Martin enters his junior season with 16 career starts and had 40 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 sacks and 6 pass deflections last season. He has a large frame, long arms and plenty of athleticism. He is still developing as a prospect, but as he improves his technique and hand usage Martin will be getting a LOT of attention from NFL scouts. 6’6”, 260 pound defensive ends don’t grow on trees, and Martin has top 50 pick upside.

Williams had an instant impact after transferring from JUCO last year despite his lack of football experience, but now that he has slimmed down and improved his conditioning he’s ready to live up to his 1st round upside.

Sylvester Williams, DT- I’m a big fan of Williams and while he will be playing the 3 technique tackle position again in UNC’s new 4-2-5 defense. That is going to put new pressure on the front four to stop the run, because the 5th defensive back is likely going to be Gene Robinson, a 5’11”, 190 pound in the box type safety. That means Williams is going to have to step up and defend the run better, as he had a problem with this at times last season, particularly against Missouri. He was driven off the ball by double teams in that game and thanks to Tydreke Powell’s problems in that game as well it led to huge running lanes for the Tigers. Williams has all the size, athleticism and potential you could want at 6’3”, 315 pounds and he has the burst and speed to penetrate and make plays in the backfield as evidenced by his 54 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He is still learning the position and barely played football in high school and transferred from Junior College to the Tar Heels last year and made an immediate impact. He may not be polished and refined even after this season, but his upside is undeniable. He is supposedly down to about 300 pounds this season after Larry Fedora motivated him to lose weight and come into camp in better shape, much like he did with Travis Bond and other Tar Heels. He has said that he feels much lighter, quicker but just as strong. Hopefully that helps him defend the run better, and I think it will help him boost the Tar Heels’ pass rush. He has plenty of strength, has flashed violent hands and with this added burst he could shock people with his season this year. I’m excited to see Williams as a senior because I think he has 1st round upside, and with Fedora and his quality coaching staff pushing him I think he can reach it.

Kevin Reddick, MLB- Reddick feels like he has been on the Tar Heels for an eternity to me, and he has 31 career starts entering his senior season with the team. Reddick is going to be one of the key cogs in the new 4-2-5 defense and I am hoping that the 6’3”, 240 pound linebacker won’t play as soft as past senior defensive prospects have on the Tar Heels, most notably Zach Brown who many nicknamed “Pillow Hands” because of how much he seemed to despise contact. Reddick is the leading returning tackler for the Tar Heels, and he had 71 last year as well as 5 TFL, 1 sack and 4 pass break-ups as a junior. He is a good tackler though he attempts more arm tackles and tackles high more than I would like, but hopefully he can improve his tackling technique a bit as a senior. He is expected to be one of the leaders of the defense and I can’t wait to see how he does in this new scheme.

Tim Scott, CB**- Scott started 8 games last season as a true freshman corner and certainly did not disappoint. The 5’11”, 180 pound corner with plenty of speed had 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 pass break-ups and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He may only be a true sophomore, but he has a lot of potential and if the Tar Heels defensive line can apply consistent pressure I think you will see Scott break out this season. Keep an eye on him.

Tre Boston, S*- Boston returns for his junior season with 14 career starts and is coming off of a season where he totaled 70 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. He’s listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds and while I’m not that familiar with his game I am excited to see how he plays this year. He’s the most experienced starter in the Tar Heel secondary and will be relied upon while the rest of the defense adjusts to the new defense.

Casey Barth, K- Barth is a very experienced kicker and is the next in line of talented Barth kickers who have played at North Carolina. His older brother, Connor, is a talented kicker who went undrafted but is now a very reliable kicker on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey is just as talented in my opinion, and has 63 career field goal attempts. He was 10/15 with a long of 42 as a true freshman, 21/25 with a long of 42 as a sophomore, 19/22 with a long of 49 as a junior, and then missed last season after making 11 extra points and 1 46 yard field goal last season before a groin injury sidelined him for all but 3 games. He’s back for his 5th year with the Tar Heels now, and should provide a very reliable kicking leg for the new coaching staff if he can stay healthy. I’m not sure he will be drafted, but I think he will be one of the better kickers in the conference.

Get ready guys, this is a long post. It’s over 4,000 words long. You might have to break this one up since it will take a while to read. Enjoy the info!

Logan Thomas: Thomas started a bit slow, but overall I was very impressed. He made some legitimate NFL throws last night and continued to flash his great arm strength that made Virginia Tech want to groom him as Tyrod Taylor’s replacement instead of playing him at tight end like he wanted to. He believed that was his best shot at the NFL, but clearly Virginia Tech was right to play him and develop him as a quarterback. He has size and athleticism that is reminiscent of Cam Newton and is equally difficult to tackle in the backfield and when he scrambles for yardage with his legs. His accuracy is the thing he needs to improve on the most, but it looks much better and more consistent than it did when I saw him earlier in the year. He’s still raw and developing but he’s got tons of upside. As he continues to work on his mechanics and develop pocket poise he could develop into a potential first round quarterback prospect. He’s definitely intriguing, but while he has plenty of upside due to his great combination of size, arm strength and athleticism he still has to continue to work on his fundamentals. As he continues to do that he will become more consistent and really start to legitimize himself as a NFL prospect. It will be fun to potentially watch him in the ACC Championship game as well as a potential BCS Bowl Game. I have been waiting for this Logan Thomas to show up all year as I listed him as a potential break-out player for this season in his first year as a starter, so it is encouraging to see him continually developing week to week.

Bryn Rynner: I was very impressed with Rynner in this game. He didn’t have an elite stat line as he was only 14/26 for 224 yards (8.6 yards per attempt) and 1 touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception against a pretty talented Virginia Tech defense even if they were missing a few players because of injury. He made some impressive throws, displayed a live arm, and extended plays effectively thanks to his athleticism. He’s not a very big quarterback, but I was impressed by his quality arm strength and accuracy. I think he and North Carolina have a bright future as he continues to develop.

David Wilson: Wilson has world class speed first of all. That is obvious the second he touches the ball. He can run between the tackles, he has surprisingly good leg drive given his size, he has reliable hands out of the backfield and he seems to have pretty good vision to find cutback lanes and other seams to run through. The problem with him is that because of his speed he will try to make big plays happen a bit too often when he needs to just gain yardage. This usually happens when he tries to bounce plays outside when he can’t find room to run inside. That doesn’t work against faster defenses though, which resulted in a TFL or two against North Carolina. Wilson is a very versatile weapon though, and given the shelf life of running backs I think he should declare after this year. I think that given the correct situation he could have a Demarco Murray type impact on a roster. He’s a dynamic player who has proven he can be the feature back in college. I’m not positive he can do this at the next level, but he has the potential to be a game changer.

Giovanni Bernard: Bernard scared me when he left the game with an injury but it was reported as only a mild concussion which is great news. Hopefully he will be back for the game against Duke, but as long as he is healthy long term I’d be just fine with him missing it. He is UNC’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997 which is almost unbelievable to me, but he has “star” written all over him in my opinion. He has very impressive burst, he runs hard and with good pad level, he has the speed to break off long chunks of yardage, he has good hands out of the backfield (35 receptions in his first year) and has helped legitimize UNC’s offense by establishing a running game that has been borderline non-existent for years. He and Rynner are going to be very fun to watch for the next two or three years assuming Rynner comes back for his senior year and Bernard stays through his junior year since he will be draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore after next season.

Ryan Houston: Houston is a huge power back for North Carolina, however this year he has slimmed down a bit. He is still listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds but he has definitely shaved off extra weight and you can see it. He’s in much better shape. I think he has draftable ability as a late round pick but is more likely to be a UDFA. He runs so hard and has such fantastic leg drive thanks to his great size and strength, but he’s not going to run a good 40 yard dash time in my opinion but he has ability. He’s great in short yardage and on the goal line, and because those are the only carries he ever seems to get that explains his less than impressive ypc average. I’m rooting for him, but we’ll see what happens after the season.

Josh Oglesby: I think Oglesby has ability. It would be in the 7th round or as an undrafted free agent but I think he has some talent. He’s not going to be a feature back in the NFL, but I think he can make a team as UDFA and stick as a special teamer. He is a physical back that could be used in short yardage situations and could help soften up defenses with a few touches, plus I don’t think he has bad hands out of the backfield. He has been productive when he gets touches and provides a more powerful back as a complement to Wilson’s game-breaking speed. He’s not likely to get drafted at all, much less high, but he’s worth at least paying attention to in my opinion.

Jarrett Boykin: Boykin is a guy I have been high on for a long time and he was actually involved in my first set of posts when I started my blog over a year ago in June of 2010. Boykin is a senior wide receiver for Virginia Tech that has potential as a solid #2 in the NFL thanks to his combination of size, quality athletic ability and very big and reliable hands. He’s not a burner and he’s not an athletic freak, but he’s been the cream of the Virginia Tech wide receiver crop for years and is the top receiver in VT history both in receptions and yards (though Danny Coale is a close second in both categories). He’s got NFL potential but is probably a fourth round pick at this point. He had a big day against North Carolina with 10 catches for 106 yards. He seems to have one or two drops on catchable passes a game despite his very reliable hands, so it makes me wonder if his hands aren’t quite great or if he just lacks concentration on a few plays per game. Either way he is more than draftable and I think he has a great shot at a long NFL career because of his team-first attitude, quality work ethic and reliable hands.

Danny Coale: Danny Coale is an undersized Virginia Tech receiver who, despite less than ideal speed, always manages to catch deep passes to the surprise of opposing defenses. He’s got great hands, he’s very tough, he makes catches in traffic, and he has great quickness. He’s more quick than fast which helps him create separation, but he’s smart, will go over the middle and make catches when you need them just like Boykin will. He won’t go as high as Boykin because of his lack of size, but he has made some fantastic catches at Virginia Tech and much like Dane Sanzenbacher of Ohio State (now with the Chicago Bears and getting some playing time…) he might get drafted late or not at all, but he will stick on a NFL roster. I guarantee it.

Dwight Jones: Dwight Jones has NFL size and pretty good speed but he leaves something to be desired as a receiver. He has pretty good hands but he body catches more than I would like to see and he doesn’t run very good routes consistently. He has NFL ability, but I have a 3rd round grade on him right now. He definitely has upside and he has been very productive for North Carolina especially this season with 68 receptions, 1,018 yards and 8 touchdowns. He will definitely get drafted, but I don’t think he is anything beyond a solid/quality #2 in the NFL. He’s definitely not a #1, and I don’t think he will be the gamebreaker he is at times for UNC even with a #1 caliber receiver opposite him.

Erik Highsmith: Highsmith is a 6’3”, 190 pound junior wide receiver on North Carolina. He has some upside due to his size and reliable hands, but he is more of a possession type of receiver. He doesn’t threaten much vertically but he’s reliable when he can create separation and get the ball thrown his way. He has had a career high 41 receptions, 608 yards and 4 touchdowns so far this year. He will likely be the #1 or #2 receiver next year with Jones graduating and while I don’t have anything beyond a 5th round grade on him at this point I do think he has draftable talent. I could see him being a nice #4 receiver in the NFL, one of those guys you can bring out on the field on 3rd down or in the red zone that you know will catch it if you throw it his way and that can find a hole in a zone for a first down conversion. He won’t make the streaking touchdown necessarily (though he did have a huge gain to set up a late UNC touchdown as they attempted a late comeback) but he will be in the NFL.

Marcus Davis: Davis is a developing receiver on Virginia Tech. Not a lot of people realize this but Logan Thomas is losing two senior wide receivers to graduation after this season.  Davis has emerged as a legitimate #3 target at wide receiver for Virginia Tech (though he has almost identical numbers to D.J. Coles, another quality junior receiver) and has almost matched his career totals from his previous two seasons in just this one year as a junior. This year he has 20 receptions (had 24 in first two years), 330 receiving yards (had 364 yards in first two years) and four touchdowns (had three in first two years). He’s 6’4”, 228 pounds and the first time I saw him play I thought he was a tight end because while he was very big he was also moving incredibly fast. If he is a legitimate 6’3”, 225+ pounds then I think he could have a future at that position, but he probably wants to stick at receiver. While he has played a key role for Virginia Tech this year and I like his hands and his size I think he is going to match his career production again in one season as a senior next year. Logan Thomas will be in his second full season as a starter as a junior and if he continues to develop he could be a Heisman candidate next season much like Cam Newton was as a junior at Auburn last year. Davis will be one of his top two receivers along with D.J. Coles and they should help keep the passing game from dropping off. If VT can replace David Wilson at RB, should he actually declare, then their offense could be very dangerous next year. Davis has a lot to do with that, so look out for him.

Dyrell Roberts, WR, Virginia Tech: Dyrell Roberts only caught three passes on the season but it was brought to my attention by a reader’s comment that Roberts broke his arm early in the season and has the option of choosing a redshirt (since he never redshirted) or a medical redshirt. It’s unfortunate for him because it was the second season in a row he sustained a season ending injury, but it sounds like he will be back next season. He was widely considered VT’s best and most explosive receiver until last season, though I always maintained that Boykin was the best. He is listed at 6’1″, 196 pounds and a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.53. I’d be surprised if he didn’t test faster than that as I believe he has the speed to test defenses vertically, but his hands have always been a huge question mark for him. It will be interesting to see what he does next year, and I for one am hoping he can stay healthy. Thanks to Jim for bringing this to my attention!

D.J. Coles: Coles is another big, athletic receiver for VT. He’s a junior this year and at 6’3”, 224 pounds he has totaled 26 receptions, 331 yards and two touchdowns. That accounts for almost all of his career statistics, but that doesn’t mean he lacks ability. In fact, I think Coles is ready for a break-out receiver next year. I can’t decide whether he or Davis will emerge as Thomas’ #1 target next year, but I think they are both going to have break-out years. Coles’ will be more noticeable because he had such a miniscule impact last year with only three receptions. But he is ready for big things and I think he will be targeted early and often by Thomas next year because of his quality size, very reliable hands and his knack for making the great catch. He adjusts very well to the ball in the air as well and tracks it well off of the quarterback’s hand. He’s going to blow up next year, so watch out for him.

Travis Bond: Bond is the junior right guard on North Carolina and he impressed me a lot in this game. He’s 6’7”, 340 pounds so he absolutely has NFL size and he helped get a consistent push against VT’s interior defensive line. He’s much bigger than all of their defensive linemen and he helped generate a consistent push in the running game, especially when Bernard was still in the game. Even after that they generated enough push to get Blue some yardage even though he’s the #3 back. I didn’t get to evaluate him much in pass protection, but I believe Bond has a NFL future. Just have to figure out what kind of one it is.

Jonathan Cooper: Cooper is another NFL offensive guard prospect on North Carolina. He plays left guard at 6’3”, 305 pounds and he also had an impressive push against VT’s defensive line. I didn’t see him in pass protection either, but he’s a quality junior draft prospect as well and warrants some attention. One noteworthy thing about UNC’s offensive line is that they will return every starter but their center next year and they will be a very experienced group with three seniors (LG, RG and RT) and a junior at LT. A sophomore will likely step in at center, but that’s an experienced group up front that should help clear a lot of running lanes for Bernard next year. I can’t wait to see that.

Quentin Coples: Coples is a very impressive prospect. I think he has a lot of versatility to play inside or outside at the next level, but I’m not sure which scheme he would fit best in yet. I think he would be effective as a 4-3 LE, but I don’t think he would generate a ton of sacks. Regardless, I think he has good edge speed considering his 6’6”, 290 pound frame, very strong and powerful hands, he displays consistently good hand usage to disengage from blocks, and overall has plenty of upside. I’m not sure he will be a top 5 pick like some are suggesting, but he definitely has top 15 pick written all over him at this point. Just haven’t quite seen the dominance that many were expecting.

Donte Paige-Moss: Paige-Moss has been tabbed by many as an overrated prospect on the Tar Heels and I tend to agree. He has fantastic athleticism and was considered a potential break-out player by some, but has not been starting for the Heels and has had a limited impact this year with only 21 tackles (11 solo), 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two pass deflections. He has a great frame for a pass rusher at 6’4”, 260 and has ideal athleticism for the RE position but he just hasn’t developed at all. He still has plenty of upside if the light comes on for him, but I’m not sure exactly what that requires. I think if he worked harder to get stronger and improve his hand usage he might progress next year as a senior, but he will have to earn his starting spot back or make a serious impact as a rotational guy as a senior. His stock is a mid-round guy that is a high risk/high reward player because he has a lot of upside but there’s very little from his junior year that suggests he will live up to his potential.

Kareem Martin: Martin is the guy who has replaced Paige-Moss at DE for the Tar Heels. He’s got plenty of upside due to his athletic ability as well as his impressive 6’6”, 260 pound size. He is only a sophomore but he has been very impressive with 34 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 4 sacks and 5 pass deflections. UNC does a pretty good job of getting their hands up into passing lanes and Martin is not an exception to that rule. I like Martin and think he has plenty of upside at DE for the Heels and should help replace Coples next year as I expect him to fill out that 6’6” frame and show up at 270+ pounds next season. Martin screams LE due to his size, and if Paige-Moss can get his act together UNC could have the feared pass rush from their DE’s that everyone expected them to have this season. Keep an eye on Martin, he has a lot of potential.

Sylvester Williams: Williams is a guy that stuck out to me from the second VT snapped the ball on their first drive. Williams has great size at 6’3”, 320 pounds and definitely has a lot of ability for such a large man. He’s only a junior but he has 47 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF and two pass deflections. I think he is going to be a legitimate 2nd or 3rd round prospect next year, and I am excited to watch him as a senior on a defensive line that has plenty of talent.

Tydreke Powell: Powell is a 6’3”, 310 pound senior defensive tackle. He’s a very strong, powerful defensive tackle that is hard to move in the trenches. He’s got 43 total tackles (18 solo), 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups. He’s not a dynamic pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, but I think he has a legit NFL future as a 3rd or 4th round pick because he won’t threaten much in the pass game but he is an effective run defender. He can help his stock in a post-season game and I look forward to potentially interviewing him at the East-West Shrine Game or perhaps more likely in the Senior Bowl.

Zach Brown: Brown is a freak athlete that is extremely fast. He is a senior that has decent size for a linebacker at 6’2”, 230 pounds but he definitely needs to get bigger and stronger to hold up in the NFL in my opinion. He looks skinny at times but he has plenty of athletic ability and raw speed. He’s extremely fast and that has helped him accumulate 81 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT’s, 3 FF’s and four pass deflections. He is a very effective blitzer because of his speed, but without more strength and better hand usage to shed he won’t be as effective once he is engaged as a pass rusher or as a run defender. He has ideal athleticism for pass coverage though, and could make himself a lot of money with a great post-season game performance in a bowl game and in the Senior Bowl. One problem I have with Brown is his problems wrapping up. He has missed a number of tackles simply because he didn’t wrap up the ball carrier and he likes to go for the big hit, but he isn’t a fundamentally sound tackler. That will hurt him in the evaluation process, but he’s so athletic that a lot of teams will probably overlook it.

Kevin Reddick: Reddick is another one of North Carolina’s talented linebackers. He is only a junior but he is 6’3”, 240 pounds and has had a productive season at middle linebacker. He has 62 total tackles (35 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks and 3 pass break-ups. He isn’t the freak athlete that Brown is, but he has legitimate NFL ability and is probably the best tackler on the team. He is a very reliable tackler and that is one of my favorite things about him. The dichotomy between Reddick and Brown in that aspect is very noticeable. I look forward to watching Reddick next year as a senior.

Charles Brown: Brown is an undersized corner at only 5’10”, 205 pounds but I would be surprised if he didn’t officially measure in at 5’9”. He’s solid in zone coverage, but he gets burned deep and struggles to locate the ball on deep throws while it is in the air. He can be handsy in coverage, and while he is a solid tackler I’m just not sold on him being a legitimate NFL corner. He’s a 5th round pick right now in my mind, and I just don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Jayron Hosley: Hosley has a lot of upside but like a number of corners to come out of VT he has tons of ability but isn’t always consistent. He can make some amazing plays, but can also give up big ones at times. He’s got great athleticism and breaks on passes very well, recovers well due to his great speed when beat and has fantastic ball skills, but he doesn’t tackle very well. He has 8 pass deflections and three interceptions this year as well as one forced fumble despite only being 5’10”, 171 pounds (though I would be surprised if he was not also 5’9”). He doesn’t have NFL size necessarily, but he definitely makes up for it with his athletic ability and ball skills.

J.R. Collins: Collins is only a sophomore but he has tons of upside. He is 6’2”, 240 pounds and like a lot of VT defensive ends he is undersized but very, very athletic. Hopefully he will show up at 250+ pounds for his junior season next year which would help him a lot versus the run (though he was getting snaps inside at defensive tackle this year due to injuries which was baffling considering his size) but it would also make it easier for him to shed blocks and rush the passer. Right now he relies on his athleticism, but as he develops he should be able to use his strength to get to the passer more often. He has 8.0 TFL’s and 6 sacks this year, so expect an even better year next season from Collins. He is definitely one to watch.

Derrick Hopkins: Hopkins is a guy that I really like. Like Collins he is also a sophomore, but he has legitimate NFL size at 6’0”, 301 pounds and surprising athleticism. He impressed me in this game and has had a pretty good year with 43 total tackles (19 solo), 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble. I think he has legitimate NFL upside and I’m excited to watch him develop year to year along with Collins.

Antone Exum: Exum is yet another talented sophomore on Virginia Tech. He has TONS of upside at safety in my opinion at 6’0”, 220 pounds but he has great athletic ability and he has been the definition of a playmaker so far this season. He has 65 tackles (30 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 interception, two forced fumbles and a staggering 10 pass break-ups. He played very well against North Carolina and I think he has tons of upside. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops, but I am very high on him right now.

As you can see both of these teams have a lot of young, developing talent on their rosters. I think both teams will be good next year, though it will be interesting to see how good. Virginia Tech will be losing a lot of talent at wide receiver but they are returning two more seniors at the position. They may very well lose David Wilson to the NFL which would mean a new running back and two new starters at receiver for Logan Thomas to work with. It’s certainly possible that after his junior year Thomas will declare, but it will be particularly interesting to see he adjusts to a significant personnel change in his supporting cast. On defense VT will be very talented as they aren’t losing much talent at all unless Jayron Hosley leaves. They have a ton of young talent on the roster so next year their defense should be very scary, especially in the front seven and along the defensive line.

For UNC they have a very nice core of young talent on offense. They will be returning 8 or 9 starters on offense including potential studs at QB and RB in Bryn Rynner and Giovani Bernard. Watching those two for the next two years will be very special, so I am excited to see that. As has become customary UNC’s defense is extremely fast and athletic, and they will return 7 starters I believe. They have a lot of young talent in the front 7 and some up and coming talent in the secondary. Their strength is usually in the front 7 though, so it should be a strength again next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play next year, but I think that with the right coaching hire UNC could take a big step in the right direction next year.

Thanks for reading, I know it was a very long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

–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