Tag Archive: Chris Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkansas-Mississippi State:

Jonathan Banks had a solid game with a sack, forced fumble and solid coverage. He’s a bigger corner and I thought he struggled with faster/quicker receivers and that was evidenced today by Jarius Wright creating consistent separation against him. He didn’t seem to close well when Wright made his breaks on underneath routes, and that allowed him to generate separation and make receptions against Banks. I am a Banks fan, but I think he matches up better with bigger, more physical receivers.

Tyler Wilson was very good today against Mississippi State. He’s putting himself squarely in the 1st round conversation for the 2013 draft. Is he a perfect prospect? No, but he has a live arm, he’s flashed some very impressive ball placement into tight windows, and he has shown me that he’s a bit of a gunslinger. He needs some mechanical work especially when he is outside of the pocket because his mechanics break down and he throws with uncharacteristic throwing motions with varying release points which makes it hard for him to be consistently accurate. Inside the pocket he dips the ball a bit during his motion so I think it could be tweaked to speed up his release. However I was very impressed with the zip he had on his throws today and he made some very impressive stick throws into tight windows. Like I mentioned before, he has a gunslinger mentality to him as a passer and it makes him fun to watch because he makes some incredible throws but with that come some mistakes that aren’t characteristic of more consistent passers. He’s got plenty of upside, but has some flaws as well. He has a HUGE test coming up against LSU’s fantastic secondary next week, and it will be very interesting to see how he does. My personal guess is that he has a productive day but two interceptions. LSU forces a ton of turnovers, and Wilson makes some throws that better defenses could have a shot at. You heard it here first!

Dennis Johnson was incredibly impressive today. He reminded me of Michael Turner “The Burner” back when he was on San Diego and in his first season as the feature back in Atlanta. He’s a smaller back at only 5’9″ but he is very well built at 213 pounds. He only has 91 attempts on the season, but he has produced 606 yards (6.65 ypc) and 3 touchdowns as well as 20 receptions for 258 yards and 2 more touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough for only 9 games of production without being the established feature back in each game, he also has returned 18 kickoffs for 461 yards (25.61 avg) and 1 touchdown this season. He’s a very talented back, and he displayed great burst, footwork and acceleration into the hole against Mississippi State. He seems to have impressive vision, runs fairly patiently, and does a good job of consistently making one cut and getting North/South instead of wasting steps in the backfield and going East/West trying to generate a big play. He runs with good natural pad level because of his height, runs through arm tackles easily because of his compact body type, lower body strength, impressive leg drive and does a great job of pushing piles and getting yards after contact because of his natural leverage and leg drive. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield and has soft hands and is dangerous after the catch for the same reasons he is dangerous when running the ball out of the backfield. On top of that, he has demonstrated some serious potential as a pass protector. Specifically in this game he was lined up next to Wilson in a shotgun formation, the ball was snapped and as per his assignment he moved to the right of Wilson to see if he needed to pick up a blitzer, there was no one, but he quickly recognized that there was a blitzing defender coming off of the left edge that was not going to be picked up. He then alertly flew towards him and took him out just in time for Wilson to deliver a nice throw to Cobi Hamilton for an Arkansas touchdown. Had Johnson not made that terrific play it would have changed the game entirely. Johnson is one of the most underrated running backs in the country if not the most underrated as Ben Allbright of NFL Draft Monsters has been saying for weeks now. He’s a very talented running back that has an injury history, but now that he is healthy he is demonstrating exactly why he was the starter ahead of Knile Davis on the depth chart. He is a different back from Knile Davis but he is very talented in his own right.

-It was great to see Greg Childs get in on the action in this game. He didn’t have a huge role, but he definitely looked the best that I have seen him since he injured his patella tendon last year. I don’t think there is any doubt that he isn’t 100% yet, but he is definitely vastly closer to 100% than he was earlier in the season. He has very reliable hands, quality size at 6’3″, 217 pounds and while he doesn’t have elite speed he has the ability to make plays on 50/50 balls that gives him value when healthy. His hands are very dependable and he displayed that on each of his three catches for 32 yards in this game, and even displayed some of his patented shiftiness on one play when he made a great snag, made a guy miss with a move to the inside and gained first down yardage. Childs isn’t healthy and hasn’t been healthy yet this year which is why he only has 13 catches for 152 yards and no touchdowns so far, but he is getting healthier each week and that is encouraging. Hopefully, should Arkansas end up in a BCS game, Childs will be healthy enough to make a comparable impact to what he was able to do before getting injured last season.

Jarius Wright was relatively quiet in this game. He had 8 catches for 96 yards but didn’t score a touchdown and his long on the day was 26, which isn’t really anything special for Wright considering his explosiveness. Jonathan Banks was able to take away some of the deep stuff, but gave up underneath passes to Wright and Wilson was wise to exploit that for significant chunks of yardage the way he did. Wright has definitely had better games, but the fact still remains that he is as explosive as any receiver in the country right now and is forcing teams to consider putting an early 2nd round or potentially even late 1st round grade on him the way he has been playing all year.

Joe Adams is an interesting prospect. I say interesting because he’s not necessarily intriguing. You know what you’re getting with Joe Adams. He’s listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds (though I would not be surprised if he was 5’10”) and has produced 46 receptions, 595 yards and 3 TD’s, 9 carries for a mind-boggling 138 yards and 1 TD, plus a phenomenal 16 punt returns for 259 yards (16.19 avg) and THREE touchdowns on the season. To put it simply: Joe Adams is explosive. When he has the ball in his hands he is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country, potentially as dangerous as Jarius Wright who is making a solid case for himself to be drafted in the top 40 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. So why doesn’t he grade out as high? He has inconsistent hands because he body catches too much and has had issues with drops, he makes mental mistakes on the field and he is a hot head. By that I mean he lets his emotions get away from him at times which lead to dumb personal foul penalties. Last year as a junior he had an avoidable personal foul penalty in what may have been every single game I watched of Ryan Mallett after the season was over which was very telling. He’s got a ton of athletic ability and potential, I just don’t know how much of that he will reach because of some of his less stellar attributes as a prospect. He could be a huge steal in the 4th round range, or he could be limited to a gimmick fourth wide receiver and a good/very good punt returner.

Cobi Hamilton is a receiver that I have gone on record as saying has the most potential of any of Arkansas’ talented receivers. I still believe this even though he has not been featured in their offense if only because they have so many other viable weapons to utilize. Hamilton is 6’3″, 209 pounds and has produced 29 receptions, 441 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers don’t properly reflect how much ability he has because he is sharing the spotlight with Wright, Adams, Johnson and occasionally Childs and Chris Gragg. While Hamilton hasn’t displayed his full potential yet this season if he does come back next year he will be Wilson’s go-to guy and should make it very clear to the rest of the country just how talented he is. Hopefully he comes back because it would be extremely fun to watch Wilson and Hamilton play pitch and catch as seniors with significant playing experience under both of their belts.

Chris Gragg is a player that I was not even aware of for Arkansas because they just have so many other weapons. He is a 6’3″, 239 pound tight end who has replaced D.J. Williams in the starting lineup for Arkansas this season. He is a junior, but this is his first significant playing time and he has had a quality season as a result. He has produced 38 receptions, 457 yards and 2 TD’s this year, and he had his best game against Mississippi State totaling 8 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. He has reportedly improved significantly as a blocker over the course of the year which has led to Arkansas trusting him more and allowing him to evolve further as a receiver, and that seems to be the trend considering his break-out game so late in the season. He’s a talented tight end with very reliable hands and pretty legitimate NFL size, so definitely watch out for him the rest of the season and next year as a senior. He’s going to make teams pay if they forget about him in favor of slowing down Cobi Hamilton.

Chris Smith is an underrated junior receiver on Mississippi State. He has quality hands (even though he had a bad drop on an easy curl route today) but he just doesn’t get to display his ability because of Mississippi State’s terrible passing offense. He only has 30 receptions, 283 yards and 2 TD’s on the season. If you looked at those numbers objectively along with his solid but not spectacular listed size of 6’2″, 205 pounds you wouldn’t think he is anything special. I still believe that he is though. I saw flashes of impressive ability last year and I have seen it at times this year, he just needs a legitimate quarterback who can get him the ball so he can demonstrate it. So keep an eye out for Chris Smith because even if his statistics aren’t impressive there is talent there, he just hasn’t had a chance to show it.

Jake Bequette is a very impressive athlete. He reportedly ran a 4.59 40 yard dash at 270 pounds before the season which is incredibly impressive even though he might be a bit of a workout warrior. Regardless, he has legitimate edge speed and has been very productive for Arkansas in his career. This year the senior 6’4″, 270 pound defensive end missed a couple games due to injury, but has had a solid year with 21 total tackles (8 solo), 6.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one pass deflection. I have a round three or four grade on him right now because while I love his athleticism and his fantastic motor I’m not sure he has enough upside as a starting 4-3 defensive end to warrant top 50-60 consideration in the upcoming draft.

Jerry Franklin always stuck out to me when I watched Arkansas since the beginning of last season when I was scouting them to watch Ryan Mallett initially. He’s a converted safety if I remember correctly and is currently listed at 6’1″, 245 pounds and is one of the leaders of Arkansas’ defense. Coming into the game against Mississippi State he had produced 82 total tackles (38 solo), 10.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, three pass break ups and one fumble recovery that he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. He is a reliable linebacker and always struck me as a quality coverage linebacker, perhaps because of his experience at safety. I like his potential upside and while he isn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick I think he has a legitimate NFL future.

-There might not have been a more impressive player on Mississippi State than Fletcher Cox in this game. The junior defensive tackle was everywhere, especially in the first half. He recovered a fumble and rumbled deep into Arkansas territory, he made stops at the line of scrimmage after fighting off blocks and he blocked an Arkansas field goal attempt with a vicious move to penetrate into the backfield and get his hands on the kick. Coming into the game the 6’4, 295 pound defensive tackle had produced 40 total tackles (20 solo), 9.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks. He padded those numbers against Arkansas today and really impressed me as this was the first time I had ever paid close attention to him. He’s got very legitimate NFL talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare early even though there is some defensive tackle talent in this draft if additional juniors declare.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed my notes on this game. There are definitely more to come.

–Tom

– LSU-Mississippi State:

Breakdown:

This game will be a game pitting strength versus strength, as Mississippi State’s run game will be facing a very tough LSU run defense. They are fast enough to take away a speed rushing attack like Oregon, but they are big enough and strong enough to match-up relatively effectively with a more powerful attack like Mississippi State’s. This match-up will be important, but because LSU will be so worried about stopping the run it may be just as critical for Chris Relf to demonstrate the ability to threaten the defense with the pass, especially downfield in the 10-15+ yard range. If they can’t do that, I think that Mississippi State will struggle to run the ball consistently throughout the game.

On the offensive side of the ball for LSU, running the ball will be key as well, but the deciding factor of the game may reside on Jarrett Lee’s ability to stretch the field, move the ball through the air, and keep running lanes open for Spencer Ware and the rest of LSU’s rushing attack. If they can run the ball effectively play action will be a key weapon for Lee and the rest of the offense, but if the burden falls on Lee to loosen up running lanes with downfield passing then LSU could struggle. Lee is an accurate passer but doesn’t have a rocket arm and I would compare him to Matt Flynn, a very successful former LSU Tiger quarterback. If Lee steps up and can carry the offense (this would be significantly easier if his receivers caught passes once they hit them in the hands) then LSU should be fine either way, but if Lee isn’t up to the challenge then LSU could be in trouble in their conference opener.

Key Players- LSU:

Jarrett Lee will be making his third start of the season and he has looked solid thus far, though his statistics have been hurt by some dropped passes in their opening games. This will be my second opportunity to watch him, the first being in the opening week against Oregon. I will be interested to see how he plays and how he has progressed since the opening weekend of the season. I think he has potential, and while he won’t be a first round pick by any means, I do think he warrants mid-late round consideration. He would fit into a West Coast offense very nicely, perhaps similar to Colt McCoy in Cleveland.

I’m a big fan of Tyrann Mathieu, and watching him play is always a treat. I think he has first round potential and I’ve thought that since he was playing at an All-American level early on in his freshman year last year. He is very good in coverage, he blitzes extremely well, he’s a great tackler, and he has a great knack for forcing fumbles and just being around the ball. He is the definition of a ball-hawk. I would be surprised if he didn’t force a turnover in this game.

Spencer Ware will be an important component of this game. He has had a relatively slow start to the season relative to his great cap to his freshman year with a 10 carry, 102 yard performance against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, but I think he will get stronger as the season goes on. He’s definitely a power back as he is relatively compact at 5’11”, 225 pounds and he shows it. I like his running style and I think he will be a key cog in LSU’s offense because if the run game is slowed or ineffective Jarrett Lee won’t be able to utilize play action effectively and the offense may become one dimensional. Considering Lee’s relatively limited amount of starting experience I don’t think that is a path LSU should go down in their conference opener, especially on a national stage. But I think a lot of people underestimate what Lee brings to the table, and I think he is ready to step up should the running game not pace the offense in this game.

Deangelo Peterson, the tight end on LSU, is another key guy to watch. His stat line may not blow you away (5 receptions, 71 yards and 1 TD in 2 games so far) but he has great size at 6’4″, 235 pounds and he is very athletic. I imagine as Lee becomes more comfortable in the starting role that Peterson will become one of his frequent targets, and I don’t think it is out of the ordinary for them to split him out in the slot. He is a very dangerous red zone threat, and because of his size he is an easy target for Lee to throw to. I predict that he will have a touchdown in this game, and I hope that his skills will be on full display tonight.

Morris Claiborne is going to be an interesting guy to watch in this game because if Mississippi State has any success throwing the ball it will probably be going after someone other than him. He is replacing Patrick Peterson as “the” corner on LSU’s defense, and he’s got the size and athletic ability to do it. He had 6 pass break-ups and 5 INT’s last year when defenses targeted him instead of throwing at Peterson consistently, but now this year teams will certainly be avoiding him if they can help it. I don’t know if they will match him up against Mississippi State’s perceived best receiver (I’m a fan of Chris Smith), or if they will just let him attempt to shut down one side of the field, but if Relf decides to test him he had better make sure it’s a good ball because if he makes a mistake Claiborne knows how to make him pay.

Sleeper: Barkevious Mingo, on top of having an absolutely fantastic name, has a boatload of potential as a defensive end. He’s only a sophomore and he is about 6’5”, 240 pounds, but as a freshman last year he had 35 total tackles (18 solo), 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 6 pass break-ups, which is pretty great for a freshman at a position that generally has a long development period. He is very athletic and has chased down some pretty athletic running backs in his day, and seems to have a very good motor as evidenced by his backside pursuit. I’m excited to see how he will do against a Mississippi State offensive line that likes to run the ball, but is missing their best pass protector from a year ago in Derek Sherrod. Mingo could have a big game, though he is pretty raw, but I am excited about his potential so I want to see how he does.

Key Players- Mississippi State:

Chris Relf is a guy who is better known for his running than his passing, but his size definitely helps him in both aspects. He stands at 6’4”, 245 pounds and could probably convert to RB or FB at the next level, but I haven’t watched him enough to specifically project him to any one position yet. I don’t think he will be a QB at the next level, but he has shown some signs of improvement since last season. He threw for 1,776 yards in 13 games (an average of only 136.6 yards per game), completing 59% of his passes (128/217, a low number of passes attempted) for 12 TD’s and 6 INT’s. He was an efficient QB, but he wasn’t throwing the ball very much. This year it seems to be a bit different having already attempted 54 passes in just two games (33/55 for a 61.1% completion) for 397 yards, 3 touchdowns and only one interception. LSU will be a big test for him one week after he had a solid but relatively unspectacular game with 195 yards (60.6% completion with a 5.9 YPA, well below his average from last season) and 1 touchdown and interception against Auburn. LSU has a very tough defense that frequently creates turnovers, so ball security and making smart decisions will be critical for him in this game. I have to say that if Relf ends up throwing 25+ or even 30+ times in this game I think Mississippi State will lose. That will mean their running game is being slowed by LSU’s tough front seven, and the onus will be placed on Relf to move the ball through the air to open up running lanes. Against Memphis (obviously a totally different class of opponent) he threw 21 times, was very efficient and they won easily. Against Auburn in a close game (final score of 41-34) he threw 33 times, was less efficient with one interception and only a 5.9 YPA (which is in stark contrast to his 2010 season average of 8.2 and his 9.6 YPA against Memphis). To drill this point home a bit, when Relf threw 25 times or more last year Mississippi lost both games which accounted for two of their four losses on the season. The other losses were against LSU when he threw the ball only 8 times for 35 yards and 2 interceptions and against Alabama when he threw the ball 16 times for 70 yards and an interception. In the two other losses he threw the ball 25 times or more and lost in a close game (17-14 to Auburn and 38-31 to Arkansas, though he had a good game against them). So that is a trend of three losses in a row when Relf throws the ball 25 times or more, and it will be interesting to see if he is forced to surpass that number of attempts against LSU’s defense.

Vick Ballard is the other key cog to Mississippi State’s offense that focuses intently on the running game. Ballard had a fantastic season last year rushing 187 times for 981 yards (a 5.25 ypc average) and 20 touchdowns. This year, as a senior, he already has 301 yards rushing on just 31 attempts (an astounding 9.71 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. His success tonight against LSU’s tough run defense will set the tone for the game, and if he can find running room and grind out tough yards and first downs then it will make life significantly easier for Relf and the rest of Mississippi State’s passing attack. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with a game with about 20 attempts, 75-80 yards and maybe a score though, because yards are hard to come by against LSU’s defense.

Chris Smith is a receiver on Mississippi State that I came away impressed with after watching him against Michigan last year. He had a relatively mediocre statistical year last year with only 24 receptions, 264 yards and 1 touchdown as a sophomore, but I like his size and his hands impressed me last year as well as his route running. Keep in mind, his 24 receptions were about 11.1% of Relf’s total completions last year, so even though it is a low total and not overly impressive, he still accounted for 11% of Relf’s total completions and almost 15% (14.86%) of Relf’s total passing yards. So while it might not be obvious, he was a target for Mississippi State last year in the passing game. He only has two catches for 11 yards so far this year, so I am really hoping he finds a way to step up and make some plays in this game. I love players that find a way to make plays in critical games like this, especially on big stages, and I am hoping that Smith will find a way to do that tonight even against a talented LSU secondary.

Jonathan Banks is a cornerback that I came away very impressed with last year when I was actually watching the Bulldogs to get a look at Derek Sherrod. He has been very reliable and consistent for the Bulldogs ever since his freshman year. Now a junior, Banks already has an interception and two pass break-ups this year, bringing his career total to 8 interceptions (7 in his previous two seasons) and 12 pass break-ups. He is a very tall, skinny corner as he stands at a listed height and weight of 6’2”, 185 pounds. I mentioned him in a previous post listing potential break-out players for this 2011 season, and mentioned that I am going to be watching him to evaluate his hips, namely his ability to flip his hips in coverage, his ability to click and close on passes in front of him, and his ability to recover if and when he makes a mistake. He has already demonstrated his ability to use his size to his advantage, and he has shown the ability to turn and run with receivers downfield. I just want to see how well he transitions, because it’s pretty obvious when you watch him play that he can locate the ball in the air and make a play on it. He has impressive ball skills, and his size really helps him defend 50/50 balls even against very tall wide receivers. LSU has some big guys like they always do, so look for Banks to mirror them and take away some of Lee’s bigger, more physical targets.

Nickoe Whitley is a safety that I noticed around the same time I noticed Banks last year. He demonstrated impressive ball skills when I watched him last year and seemed to be a pretty good tackler which is evidenced by his 34 solo tackles (52 total). He also had 1.5 sacks, 3 pass break ups, 3 INT’s and 1 forced fumble last year. He already has an INT this year as well as one pass break up (plus a pretty impressive 6 solo tackles out of 7 total). It will be interesting to see if he is tested deep much as Jarrett Lee doesn’t have a very strong arm. I could see him playing up in the box more, so it will be interesting to see if he lets anyone get behind him in this game.

Sleeper: My sleeper for the Bulldogs is Jameon Lewis, a freshman receiver. He already has 5 receptions, 116 yards and 1 TD as well as 2 rushes for 29 yards and 1 TD. In addition, he returns kicks and punts as well though his success has been limited in that aspect so far. He is a smaller guy listed at 5’9”, 185 pounds, though packing 185 pounds onto that small of a frame is actually pretty impressive (has a similar build to Jerrel Jernigan, the WR from Troy who actually was very well built for a small receiver). The Bulldogs have shown that they like to get the ball in his hands any way they can, whether it is throwing it to him, handing it off or letting him return kicks and punts, so look for at least one big play from him in this game.

I apologize for the length of this post. It started out shorter but I got really in depth. Hopefully you enjoyed the read and it got you excited for this SEC matchup tonight. Enjoy!

–Tom

I have put together a top 25 list that I will post over the next few days in incriments of five teams. Tomorrow will be #16-20 and so on. Enjoy!

Bray is one of the best young NFL quarterbacks in the country and should help keep Tennessee relevant this year.

21. Tennessee- I am a huge Tyler Bray fan and that alone makes me think that Tennessee is ready to surprise some people. They may not be returning an abundance of elite SEC talent but I think they have enough talent on offense and on defense to compete in the SEC. They might not end up in the top 25 by the end of the season, but no one thought they would end up in a bowl game after their awful start last year either, and Bray was having none of that. A good or great QB can reverse the fortunes of even the worst teams, and Bray is living proof of that for Tennessee. This is his first full season as a starter, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the success he had late in the year last year, but if I had to pick I would anticipate him to continue to play well, even if he has a bit of a sophomore slump.

22. Baylor- I may not be a fan of Robert Griffin’s NFL prospects, but he has the upside to be a very good college quarterback and he has a chance to lead a Baylor team that is returning most of their talent (if not almost all of it). They have a lot of quality players on offense, led by Josh Gordon, a big, physical receiver with a listed 40 time of 4.42 (who I am very high on). They should have a very productive offense if Griffin can pass more accurately than he did at times last year, but he should be 100% healthy by now and won’t be as rusty as he was at the beginning of last season which should help the Baylor Bears prospects. Additionally, Baylor has some talent on defense worth noting and could have a pretty nice pass rush this season.

23. Mississippi State- The Bulldogs took the SEC by surprise last year and walloped Michigan in their bowl game last year thanks to a brutally effective rushing attack predicated on power. They lose some talent to the draft but they return talent on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting to see if they can string two good seasons together in a row, or whether they won’t live up to expectations now that they have been raised. If they can get the ball out to Chris Smith (who I think is poised for a break-out season) they could have a more significant passing attack than they did at times last year.

Gilbert had his struggles last year, but we all saw flashes of potential in him against Alabama two years ago. If he can recapture that then Texas could be a dark-horse in the Big-12.

24. Texas- Texas is always good with recruiting and they have a lot of returning talent, but like so many teams their quarterback will make or break their season. Garrett Gilbert didn’t have a very good season last year (260/441, 59% completion, 2744 yards and 10 TD’s with an out of control 17 interceptions, plus 380 yards and 5 rushing TD’s) and if Texas is going to legitimize themselves as a contender they are going to need him to step it up. The flashes of greatness he showed against Alabama were nowhere to be found last year, and if he doesn’t recapture the poise and accuracy he flashed in that game two years ago then Texas is going to be in trouble, regardless of how much talent they are bringing in.

25. BYU- BYU has definite upside because even though they may not be a powerhouse they have a quality quarterback in Jake Heaps, who as a true freshman managed to complete 219 of 384 passes (57% completion) for 2,316 yards, and 15 TD’s with only 9 interceptions. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman, and he really stepped up against UTEP in their bowl game when he had his best game of the season with his 2nd highest career total in completions and he tied his career high for touchdowns with four. Heaps may not be a big guy, but even though he’s about 6’0” 195 he can sling the pigskin and he will give BYU a chance to remain competitive for the next three years if he stays healthy.

Look out for more rankings in the coming days! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

BYU-UTEP Notes:

Trevor Vittatoe, QB, UTEP (Senior)- Vittatoe started really slow, but he showed some flashes in the second half. He definitely is not NFL material, but he is tough as nails for playing through multiple torn ligaments in his right ankle throughout this game which scouts at any level will like. He has pretty good arm strength and when healthy he has some mobility, but his accuracy and ball placement is inconsistent and his decision making is questionable at best. His success in this game really came when he just threw up deep balls to Kris Adams who got open and brought in three touchdowns for him. He won’t be drafted but with his arm he could get a shot in the CFL.

Kris Adams, WR, UTEP (Senior)- Adams had a pretty impressive statistical game but BYU’s corners are really nothing to write home about. He could have had a fourth touchdown but the pass bounced right off of his hands with just 20 seconds left in the half. That could have brought UTEP within two scores before the half and could have changed the game. He looks like he has solid hands, he has pretty good size at 6’3”, 195 pounds and looks like he has 4.48 speed. He has the frame to add some size though and if he can work on his fundamentals and perhaps his concentration he could stick on a roster. He might not get drafted but I would be surprised if he didn’t get a free agent deal because of his ability to stretch the field.

Marlon McClure, WR, UTEP (Sophomore)- McClure has very impressive speed and quickness. He was one missed tackle away from breaking not one but two KR’s for touchdowns. He brought one to the 20 yard line anyways. He showed potentially solid hands as a receiver but I believe he had one drop and let another one get into his pads when it was a low throw. He has a ton of speed though and he should be a quality KR/PR option when he leaves after his senior year in a couple seasons. He is undersized at a listed 5’9”, 155 pounds but despite his small stature if you can run like he does you can find a spot as a return man and maybe as a slot receiver if he can continue to improve his hands.

Jake Heaps, QB, BYU (True Freshman)- Heaps was far and away the better QB in this game and was arguably the best player on the field for either team. He was efficient all game and showed good arm strength, good accuracy and some pretty impressive ball placement on eight yard out routes and also on deep balls over the top of coverage. He threw four touchdowns in this game, three of them to Cody Hoffman (his redshirt freshman WR). He threw out of shotgun for the most part and didn’t make a boatload of NFL throws, but he showed pretty good decision making outside of his interception and a couple other throws which was impressive for a true freshman. I look forward to seeing him play next year. He has a good arm, enough mobility to extend plays and he already seems to be the leader of that team. I like his upside.

Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU (Redshirt Freshman)- Hoffman had a huge game with 8 catches, 137 yards and three touchdowns. One of those touchdown catches was a questionable catch but he showed pretty reliable hands in this game catching the ball away from his body a couple times. He has impressive size at 6’4”, 205 pounds and he looked like he had 4.5 speed, maybe a little faster. He looks to be Heaps’ favorite target in the future and I understand why.

Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU (Redshirt Junior)- Reynolds had some hype at the beginning of the season and was mentioned as a potential day one pick, but I just don’t see that kind of ability from him at all. He has good size at 6’6”, 320 pounds (listed) but I didn’t see much to like out of him beyond that. His athleticism is lacking, he doesn’t have good lateral agility to take away the edge from speed rushers, he struggles to get to the second level and lumbers in space, he does not have a very impressive initial punch to shock defenders, and he doesn’t maul defenders in the run game like you might expect considering his size and his probable switch either inside to guard or to right tackle in the NFL. He bends his waist at times and struggles to sustain one on one blocks, and often struggles to find a blocker to block when in space. His first step is not very good and that hurts him when he is asked to down block on a defensive tackle or when he has to take away an edge rush, and because he leans and bends at the waist he will end up on the ground more than you would like to see. He walled off defenders a few times, particularly when he doubled defenders with another player like a tight end, but he was unimpressive in one on one situations throughout the whole game. I haven’t scouted him specifically before this game, but based off of this game tape I wonder if he is even worth a selection at all, much less a 2nd or 3rd round pick. I have a couple more games to watch of him, but I didn’t like what I saw today. He was pretty unimpressive.

NIU-Fresno State Notes:

Chandler Harnish, QB, NIU (Junior)- Harnish has decent size, pretty good arm strength and he is a true dual threat and ran for a couple of touchdowns in this game. I look forward to the progression he makes going into his senior season, but as for right now I was a little underwhelmed with him as a passer. His accuracy is inconsistent and he missed high at least four times that I can remember, and I wasn’t overly impressed with his ball placement or his decision making. He forced a couple of throws even though he didn’t throw interceptions on them. Overall he played well in this game, but he has a ways to go before I would say I am sold on him as a NFL prospect.

Chad Spann, RB, NIU (Senior)- Spann is first and foremost a tough runner and he runs with good pad level, keeps his legs churning and is willing to grind for tough yards. He has also been impressive in pass protection picking up blitzes and giving Harnish time to throw. I’m not sure how good of a receiver he is out of the backfield, and he looks like he has about 4.55 speed on the field. He’s not slow though and I think that if he got into camp he could stick as a NFL RB, perhaps on a practice squad as a rookie. But he is fundamentally sound, he’s an extremely hard worker and he is a smart guy. He probably won’t get drafted unless he plays well in a post-season game (perhaps Texas versus the Nation?) but even if he doesn’t get an invite to one of those I think he will get signed as a free agent. He is worth a look.

Martell Moore, WR, NIU (Sophomore)- Moore was arguably the most impressive player in the entire game as far as actual production and how it would translate to the NFL. He only had 4 catches for 88 yards, but he caught each ball with his hands away from his body, not to mention on two or three of those passes he had to go up and high point the ball. He doesn’t have great size but he is very athletic, looks like he has 4.45 speed and has good hands. I really like his potential as a NFL receiver and I look forward to watching him more next year.

Chris Smith, CB, NIU (Senior)- Smith had an ok game. He looked good in run support and did well form tackling offensive players when they came to his side of the field occasionally. He made a couple nice pass deflections in coverage, but he also gave up a couple catches in coverage. He has ok size at 5’10”, 185 pounds but he probably doesn’t have much better than 4.55 speed. I didn’t see him get challenged much, but if he has good closing speed he could be an effective zone corner despite his less than ideal 40 yard dash time. However, I don’t think he will get drafted right now, but could or should generate interest as an undrafted free agent.

Ryan Colburn, QB, Fresno State (Senior)- Colburn had good looking stats in this game but he was not impressive to me at all. He has solid size as he is listed at 6’3”, 220 pounds but his arm strength is average, his accuracy is solid but so much of Fresno State is simple screens and dump off throws that his accuracy and ball placement is not tested as much as you might expect from his stat sheet. In my opinion he has average arm strength, average accuracy, solid size, poor footwork, average intangibles (if that) and limited pocket poise. Obviously this isn’t a glowing recommendation of him, but despite his stats I was not impressed with him at all. For those of you who didn’t see the game you might think his first touchdown was a nice throw, but in reality it was a horrible off balance throw that floated in the air for what felt like forever before his receiver managed to pull it in in the end zone and somehow get his foot down for a score. It was a truly horrendous throw mechanically and as far as zip and ball placement were concerned, but he got lucky and his receiver made a nice play getting under it. To me, Colburn is like a sausage link: His stat sheet, like a sausage link, looks good before you eat it. But when you find out how it’s made you wonder if you should eat it or not.

Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State (Sophomore)- The first thing you notice about Rouse is his toughness. He played through a rib injury in the game today and somehow managed to play running back despite having a huge club on his injured left arm. I don’t know how he did it, but he even managed to catch a pass with it. He was bottled up for most of the game, but the few times he did manage to get some daylight he showed good vision, burst and quickness. He is a small back at 5’7”, 185 pounds but he runs hard and like I said, he looks like he has good burst. It will be interesting to see how he does next year.

Jamel Hamler, WR, Fresno State (Junior)- Hamler has solid size at 6’2”, 195 pounds but he doesn’t have great timed speed. I looked it up and it has him listed as a 4.60 in the 40, which isn’t good for his NFL prospects. However, Hamler was Colburn’s go-to guy in this game as he had 7 catches, 87 yards and he was the one who managed to turn Colburn’s horrible miracle pass into a touchdown on the sideline in the end zone with some impressive footwork. He looked like he had reliable hands and made three catches in a row for first down conversions on third downs on one drive, including that touchdown grab which was also on 3rd down. He doesn’t seem like a very draft-able prospect as far as his athleticism goes right now, but depending on how he improves next year he may get interest late in the draft or as a free agent. I have to say, showing up on 3rd downs is a very good way to get yourself into the NFL and I really like seeing that in prospects.

Troy-Ohio is still going on, it is nearly halftime right now, so I will probably post those notes tomorrow. Hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts on the prospects that showed their stuff earlier today!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom