Tag Archive: Conner Vernon


These prospects aren’t necessarily my top ranked guys or players that are going to go in the first round, but they are guys that I am 100% sold on and would fight for if I was in a NFL Draft War Room. Enjoy.

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Honorable mentions: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse, Ryan Griffin, Tulane

Analysis: I have been fairly outspoken about not being a fan of this quarterback class. That’s not to say there won’t be solid starters that come out of this class, there will, but I’m not comfortable tying my reputation to many of these quarterbacks and even the guys that I like have flaws. Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson have been my top 2 guys for months and that’s not going to change. I think Wilson is going to be a very good value if he’s there on day 2 and whoever gets him is going to get a very good, tough leader who may not be a pro bowler but is a guy you can win with. Geno Smith has been completely overanalyzed by this point, but I don’t think he’s a “franchise” guy, but definitely has pro bowl upside. That’s worth a 1st round pick to me. He’s the #14 player on my overall big board. As for Nassib, he’s been my #3 QB for a long time as well and while his NFL success will be tied more to a good scheme fit than I think Smith and Wilson will I think that he’s going to be a quality starter as well. This is particularly true if he goes to a team with an entrenched veteran QB who can show him the ropes and give him time to develop. Like most of the QB’s in this class I don’t think he is ready to jump in and run the show from the start. And finally there is Ryan Griffin from Tulane who I wish I could have seen more of, but everything I saw of him was very intriguing. He’s going to be an early day 3 pick in my opinion and I really like his developmental upside. Should be a good #2 at least, potentially a solid starter. I’d roll the dice on him in round 4 or 5.

RBs:

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
Benny Cunningham, Middle Tennessee State

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Analysis: Franklin is my #2 running back in this class, Bernard is my #3, and Johnson is my #5. Franklin and Bernard have both been discussed an awful lot, I think they are both quality backs and will be effective NFL starters. Dennis Johnson is one player that I am far higher on than most, and I think he is going to shock a lot of people at the next level. When I watch him I see a young Michael Turner who can contribute on special teams as an effective kick returner. He’s a complete back and he is my early pick for the steal of the draft. Benny Cunningham is a late addition to this post, but I am extremely intrigued by him. He just ran a 4.51 at his pro day months after a season ending knee injury and if he comes back 100% I think he is going to be a steal on day 3. He absolutely has starter running back upside and if he gets his chance I think he will surprise people. Last but not least I couldn’t leave Montee Ball off this list. I’ve watched him live too many times at Camp Randall Stadium and despite his heavy college workload I think he is being underrated. He’s a quality back and he can likely be had in the 3rd or 4th round.

WRs

Keenan Allen, California
Robert Woods, USC
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Conner Vernon, Duke

Analysis: Allen has been my #1 WR since October and I haven’t wavered on that despite his knee injury, testing positive for marijuana at the combine or not being able to perform fully at Cal’s pro day. Maybe that makes me stubborn, but I’ve been watching him since he was a freshman and I’ve been convinced for three years that he has #1 WR upside at the next level, so why should I change my mind now? The tape screams NFL #1 to me, so that’s what I’m trusting. Robert Woods was initially my 1a to Keenan Allen but his injuries concerned me a bit and he dropped down on my rankings, but he is at worst a terrific #2 in the NFL and is back at #2 in my rankings. I wish I could hear more about his ankle to see if he was going to be 100% at the next level, but he’s a 1st round pick in my opinion and will be a very effective NFL receiver. Hopkins has been my #2 for a while but thanks to some possible character concerns I’ve dropped him down to #4, but I am still a big fan on tape. He should be a 1st round pick in my opinion, but if he drops to the 2nd round some team could get a nice value with him. And finally Conner Vernon is the last player I’ll “bang the table” for at the wide receiver position. In a class absolutely stacked with talent I wanted to add a late round guy who I think is worth fighting for. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but Vernon just always seems to be open and he has very good hands. He’s not going to be a pro bowler, but he’s going to have a 10+ year NFL career in my opinion. Look for him on Day 3.

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

Analysis: Eifert may feel like a cop out, but he’s been my #1 TE for months now and he’s in my top 10 on my big board (#9) so I’m very confident he is going to be an impact tight end at the next level. Cunningham may seem a bit out of left field, but from the first time I noticed him I just had a gut feeling that he was being completely slept on and I still feel that way. He may not be a stud at the next level, but I’m not sure I’ve even seen anyone project him to get drafted. In a deep, talented tight end class I really think he could surprise and make a roster.

OTs

Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
DJ Fluker (RT/OG), Alabama
Reid Fragel, Ohio State

Analysis: I’ve been a big fan of Fisher since before the Senior Bowl and he was awfully impressive there and I feel confident saying I was one of the first people to say he was on Joeckel’s level (if not better) back in January. Others have since come to a similar conclusion, and while I have Joeckel rated above Fisher on my big board (#2 and #3 respectively) I am convinced Fisher has pro bowl potential at tackle and is worth a high draft pick. Fluker is an interesting prospect and while I think he would underwhelm in pass protection at right tackle I think he is so effective in the run game that he is worth banging the table for if you are a power running team. Not only that, but if he doesn’t pan out at right tackle you can just slide him inside to guard and enjoy pro bowl caliber play for the next 10 years. Reid Fragel is the last tackle I am a really big fan of. He is a developmental guy who needs some technique work and could stand to get stronger, but I think he has the upside to play left tackle and getting a guy like that in rounds 3-5 is something I and many NFL teams will always be interested in. I think he’s going to have a better NFL career than many expect.

OGs

Chance Warmack, Alabama
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Larry Warford, Kentucky
Hugh Thornton, Illinois

Analysis: Warmack and Cooper go without saying, they are studs and should be quality starters as rookies. Warford is a player some have cooled on, but I really like him as a quality starter at guard and I think he could start as a rookie. He’s short, squatty and not particularly mobile but he’s going to have a long, effective NFL career if you ask me. And finally there is Hugh Thornton, he’s had to overcome a lot of adversity in his life and some teams are reportedly concerned about the anger he has inside of him, but he screams effective NFL starter at guard and call me crazy, but I love the nastiness he plays with. There are some great stories in this NFL Draft, but it’s tough to think of a guy who’s had tougher luck than Thornton. I’m a fan of him on the field, but I’m honestly rooting for him more as a person than I am as a football player.

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

Analysis: This is not my favorite crop of centers, and I’ve been pretty outspoken about Khaled Holmes being a mid-round pick (I gave him a 4th round grade in June) and while Barrett Jones may not be an elite center prospect I think he is too smart and too sound from a technique standpoint to not have a long NFL career as a starting center. He’s not going to dominate at the point of attack, but he’s as tough as they come and he’s going to be the leader of whatever offensive line he gets drafted to.

DEs

Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Tank Carradine, Florida State
Datone Jones, UCLA
Corey Lemonier, Auburn
William Gholston, Michigan State
David Bass, Missouri Western State
Stansly Maponga, TCU

Analysis: Werner, Carradine and Jones are pretty self explanatory. I think Werner has 10+ sack upside and he’s a top 10 player to me, as is Carradine. Jones may not have that same pass rush upside but I think he can be a very versatile player in the NFL, not to mention he is virtually unblockable 1 on 1 when he slides into DT in pass rush situations. Lemonier is a player some don’t like, but I think he has a ton of upside as a pass rusher. He needs some technique work but he’s a guy I think you roll the dice on, coach up and the dividend could be a stud right end if he commits and works hard. Gholston is a player that some don’t like, but I have a feeling that he could surprise some people. Part of that bad rep comes from simply having the same last name as Vernon Gholston, but he has all the size and athleticism you could want and I don’t think he was coached particularly hard at Michigan State because he was such a big time recruit for them. With some NFL coaching and guidance I think he could surprise a lot of people, so I’m definitely willing to bang the table for him. David Bass impressed me a lot at the East-West Shrine Game and I think he has starter upside at defensive end, so on Day 3 he is definitely worth a draft pick to me. And finally Stansly Maponga presents some upside on Day 3 as well. He doesn’t have the height you want, but I think he definitely presents value as a rotational pass rusher and could go earlier than some have him projected.

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

Analysis: This is a deep crop of defensive tackles, but I am very high on both of these guys. Richardson has been my #1 DT for a long time and I think he’s going to be an absolute impact player whether he’s in a 4-3 or a 3-4 as a DE. As for Williams I think he is the rarely seen 3 down nose tackle that can be effective versus the run and the pass in a 4-3 scheme. He’s worth a 1st round pick and I think he’s going to have a long, effective NFL career.

OLBs

Sean Porter, Texas A&M
Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Brandon Magee, Arizona State

Analysis: This may seem like a random group of outside linebackers, but I have been a fan of Porter for two years now and he is a poor-man’s Von Miller to me. He won’t be the dominant player Von is, but I think he can be effective if allowed to rush the passer in a similar capacity. I may be alone in that thinking though. Khaseem Greene is a guy that I think is going to be a good leader and an effective OLB in a 4-3, likely on the weak side. And Magee is a late round sleeper that I think is going to outperform everyone’s expectations for him.

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

Analysis: Arthur Brown is my favorite 4-3 linebacker in this class and I personally think he is a definite first round draft pick and can play inside or outside in that scheme. Alonso may not be for everyone, but I love the way he plays and I think he is going to be good whether he’s inside in a 3-4 or outside in a 4-3.

CBs

Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Nickell Robey, USC
Nigel Malone, Kansas State

Analysis: Jamar Taylor and Johnthan Banks are traditionally ranked pretty high by most analysts, at least those that I interact with, and I really think Taylor is worth a 1st round pick. Banks may not have had the workouts that he needed to go in round 1, but he has good ball skills as well as the size and length that is becoming more and more popular to match up with bigger wide receivers. Poyer has been a favorite of mine for years, really since he housed an interception on Matt Barkley when Barkley was a sophomore. He’s a top 40 player on my board and I think he’s going to be a good corner in the NFL. Robey and Malone are two other players I think I am a lot higher on than most. Robey is a top 100 player in my book despite his obvious lack of size. He’s an absolute playmaker and I think you can never have too many of those at corner. Malone is undersized and doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he’s going to stick on a NFL roster, likely as a nickel or dime guy, and make plays on the ball when he’s on the field. I’ll take guys who can play the ball like Malone on my roster any day, especially late in the draft.

Safeties

Kenny Vacarro, Texas
Jonathan Cyprien, FIU
DJ Swearinger, South Carolina
Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Duke Williams, Nevada

Analysis: Vacarro is at the top of plenty of safety rankings and I think he’s going to be a very good safety at the next level, and I feel the same about Cyprien. I was really impressed with what I saw from him when I watched him on tape and live. Swearinger was a popular name for a while but has cooled lately, but I’m still a big fan of his. If he’s there in the 3rd round I’d jump all over him. Rambo has some questions surrounding him but he strikes me as an absolute ballhawk and those aren’t as easy to find at the safety position as it may seem. I’d also jump all over him in round 3. And finally Duke Williams, a guy I’ve been rooting for since I saw him LAY someone out in a bowl game a couple years ago, should go sometime on Day 3 and I think he has legitimate starter upside.

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 Duke Blue Devils. We all know the Duke Football program has had it’s struggles, and David Cutcliffe and his staff are still searching for a bowl appearance. They’re hoping that 2012 is the year, but I’m not sure it will be right now. They return a 3rd year starter in Sean Renfree at QB which is certainly encouraging, but he hasn’t ever had a very reliable run game to support him and that led to him throwing 434 passes for only 2,891 yards last season. The offensive line should be a solid but unspectacular group, and if they can help Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson run the ball more effectively it should pay dividends for Renfree and the passing game. That would certainly please Conner Vernon as he attempts to chase ACC records as a wide receiver. The offense should be solid but not spectacular, but the real question mark is the defense.

The Duke defense actually has a few pretty talented players, but they have struggled to stay healthy and there isn’t a lot of quality depth to speak of. Two of the defense’s best players, defensive end Kenny Anunike and outside linebacker Kelby Brown, both suffered knee injuries last season and Duke just didn’t have the talent to replace them. I’m not convinced this is going to be the year that Duke gets to a bowl game, but I’ve been wrong before and I hate to doubt a team that’s been an underdog for so long like Duke has. Regardless, here are the prospects to keep an eye on for the Blue Devils:

Sean Renfree, QB- Renfree is a 6’5”, 230 pound quarterback who returns for his 3rd season as the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback with 23 career starts. Last season he didn’t exactly blow the doors off the ACC as he passed for 2,891 yards, completed 65% of his 434 attempts and threw 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It’s a positive trend from his first season as a starter as far as efficiency (18 TD’s, 19 INTs and 62% completion) but he threw for 570 less yards as a junior. He’s not a top prospect, but his combination of size, arm strength and football IQ will make him an attractive developmental prospect. I think Renfree is a near guarantee to get an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, and if that happens I will very much be looking forward to seeing him in person. If I’m lucky I’ll be at the Duke-UNC game this year to see him play well before that. Renfree is a draftable player, so it will be interesting to see how much he can boost his stock as a senior.

Desmond Scott, RB- Scott is a smaller, speedier back who is listed at 5’9”, 190 pounds. I wouldn’t normally have a problem with that frame since he has a respectable amount of weight packed onto it, but Scott has had a lot of issues staying healthy and durable throughout his career at Duke. He’s a talented back with plenty of speed and burst, and he catches the ball well out of the backfield, but unless he can stay healthy this year he won’t get drafted.

Juwan Thompson, RB*- Thompson filled in quite well for Scott while he was injured last season, rushing 110 times for 457 yards and 7 touchdowns as a sophomore. Thompson is a very different back than Scott, as he is listed at 5’11” and tips the scales at 230 pounds. He’s the thunder to Scott’s lightning, and I’m interested to see him play more this season. He really stepped up for them as a sophomore, so hopefully he can build on that as a junior.

Conner Vernon, WR- Vernon has been Duke’s most reliable pass catcher for what feels like forever, and now he enters his senior season with 32 career starts and is coming off a 70 catch, 956 yard, 6 touchdown season as a junior. He’s Renfree’s top target without a doubt, and runs good routes despite his lack of elite burst or acceleration. He has very reliable hands and catches the ball well outside of his frame which is critical for any receiver in my opinion. He’s a very fundamentally sound player, and while he won’t blow you away with his 40 yard dash time or any of his measurables he will come to play and offer a reliable pair of hands for anyone who throws a ball his way. That might not get him drafted very early, or perhaps even at all, but I think he will make a NFL roster.

Laken Tomlininson, OG**- Tomlinson is one of Duke’s best offensive linemen if he isn’t already the best. He’s young, and is entering his redshirt sophomore season this year, but the 6’3”, 315 pound right guard has plenty of upside. He’s nasty and aggressive which I love, but he is still raw and needs to improve his hand placement and his overall technique at this point. He’s got the upside though, so it will be interesting to see how well he takes coaching because if he works hard he could improve a lot and be one of the highest draft picks Duke has had in two decades.

Takoby Cofield, OT**- I know nothing about Cofield other than the fact that he is listed at 6’4”, 310 pounds, he started 2 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and his name is actually Takoby.

Kenny Anunike, DE- Anunike is a converted tight end and despite getting a medical redshirt after starting only 3 games last season he still led the team in sacks with 4. That should paint the picture of how desperate Duke is for a pass rush, and that’s why Anunike coming back healthy is so critical for them. If he can stay healthy for the entire year he could turn his raw athleticism into 6-8 sacks or maybe even more if he’s worked on his technique. He’s listed at 6’5”, 255 pounds and if he stays healthy this year he has a chance to get drafted. Whether he does or not depends on how well his knee injury has healed and whether he is still just an athlete playing defensive end or a defensive end with a lot of athletic ability.

Kelby Brown, OLB*- Brown is one of Duke’s best defenders and it showed as he had 65 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and 3 pass break-ups as a sophomore. He injured the ACL in his right knee on November 20th against Georgia Tech but reinjured the knee again in Februrary. I’m not sure what his status is for this upcoming season, but I think the best choice would be to sit out the year or to take a medical redshirt. He is just now 6 months removed from the injury and that’s definitely not enough time to recover from an injury that severe, especially since he reinjured it just a couple months after the original surgery. We’ll see if he plays this year, but if he does he absolutely won’t be at 100%.

Ross Cockrell, CB*- Cockrell is Duke’s best cover corner and is likely their top returning defensive back overall. Cockrell is listed at 6’0”, 180 pounds and has 4.5-4.55 speed according to the listing I found, but he has quality ball skills. As a redshirt freshman he totaled 7 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions and followed that up with 56 tackles, 1 TFL, 9 pass break-ups and 1 more interception as a sophomore. Now he is entering his junior season and while he may not be an athletic freak I think he has some potential as a NFL corner. He has to add weight in my opinion and work on his technique, but he has some fairly intriguing tools.