Tag Archive: Danny Coale


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 Virginia Tech Hokies. I’m not going to lie, I expect the Hokies to win the ACC and finish in the top 5 this season, they are loaded with talent even if some of it (particularly at running back, along the offensive line and safety) is relatively unproven. Logan Thomas is poised for a huge second season as a starter and he is on my Heisman short list right now, partially thanks to the fact that, while unproven, I trust the group he has blocking for him and he has three senior receivers with significant playing experience returning this year. He will have weapons to throw to, and if Michael Holmes or J.C. Coleman step up at running back it will be business as usual for the Hokie offense. The offense might not be elite, but I think it will be good and potentially even explosive.

The real strength of the Hokies is their defense, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Their defensive line is one of the best in the country, and is headlined by James Gayle and J.R. Collins, two dynamic and explosive pass rushers. Bruce Taylor anchors the defense at middle linebacker, and as usual the Hokies have plenty of playmakers in the secondary. They are a little short on experience at safety, but cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum should be very good. The defensive line and the intense pressure they will apply on quarterbacks with just a four man rush will make for plenty of potential turnovers, and Bud Foster’s brilliant, aggressive scheme calls for lots of pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs which will only turn up the heat even more. This is going to be one of the best defenses in the country, and it all starts up front. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Logan Thomas is on my short list for the Heisman this year, and I think he is ready to take a huge step forward as a quarterback. Photo Credit: MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times

Logan Thomas, QB*- Thomas enters his junior season and his second season as a starter with very high expectations. He had a great first season as a starter passing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 59.8% of his 391 attempts. Despite his 6’6”, 262 pound frame Thomas is very athletic and was actually recruited as a tight end out of high school due to his size, bulk and athletic ability. That means he’s a threat to run, particularly on the zone read, and while he regularly handed off to David Wilson on those plays he kept it for a few timely and memorable touchdown runs right up the middle of the defense, particularly against Miami. On the season he ran for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he will be depended on for even more production in 2012. The offense lost David Wilson, the reigning ACC player of the year, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to the NFL but luckily for Thomas they have three senior receivers ready to fill the void and they all have significant playing experience. Thomas was brought along fairly slowly last year, but his growth was noticeable week to week and with all that experience as well as a full offseason on top of it I expect a special season out of him this year. I will have a full scouting report up on Thomas before the season starts, but his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism is rare enough to make him a potential top 5 pick if he progressed as I expect him to this year and decided to leave a year early. Many will make comparisons to Cam Newton, but as of right now the more accurate comparison is Josh Freeman in my opinion. But if he shows the uncanny ability to will his team to not only a high caliber bowl game but a national championship he will naturally draw even more comparisons to Newton than he does already.

Marcus Davis, WR- Davis is a WR I like quite a bit, he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the country, and I think he’s going to be the top target for Thomas this season. When I first saw Davis in the slot two years ago I thought he was a tight end he is so big, but he is a WR and a big one at that; he’s listed at 6’4”, 228 pounds and he looks like a guy who could run a 4.5 40 yard dash or faster. Last year he had 30 receptions, 510 yards and 5 touchdowns but I expect him to exceed that easily in 2012. He has speed, but at his height he is lethal on 50/50 balls and shows a lot of ability to adjust to the ball in the air, high point it and come down with it even in traffic. He adjusts to the ball well and seems to have pretty good body control, not to mention long arms and reliable hands. He catches the ball well outside of his frame and even if he isn’t asked to threaten defenses vertically at the next level his combination of size, athleticism and hands will make him a reliable contributor, not to mention the fact that he gives good effort as a blocker and due to his size and strength is quite effective at it. I’m not sure what his upside is just yet, but I am a big fan of Davis without a doubt. Keep an eye on him.

DJ Coles, WR- Coles is another wide receiver I like, and he’s another big receiver for Thomas to throw to. He’s listed at 6’3”, 216 pounds and much like Davis he has impressed me with his hands, his ability to track the ball in the air and make tough catches look easy. He has reliable hands as well, and actually returns with the most receptions of any Hokie receiver with 36. He had 480 yards and 3 touchdowns on those receptions, and I think he is poised to surpass those numbers easily this year assuming he stays healthy. He had surgery to repair his PCL in January and is still recovering, but he claims he will be ready for week one. I hope he is, because he should be a key cog in Virginia Tech’s passing offense this year.

Dyrell Roberts, WR- A couple years ago Roberts was considered the most dynamic receiver the Hokies had to offer. I preferred Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, and eventually they became the top two receivers as Roberts’ bouts with concentration lapses moved him down the depth chart. Last season he only had three receptions for 45 yards before suffering a season ending injury. He’s back for another shot at it again this year, and the 6’2” 188 pounder may actually play a lot in the slot thanks to the two large receivers above him on the depth chart. Roberts has plenty of speed, I think he’s a sub-4.5 guy, but his hands are inconsistent and that always bothered me. If he has improved his concentration and his hands then he could be in for a big year, but I don’t think he will outproduce Davis or Coles.

Nick Becton, OT- Becton is a senior who played over 450 snaps last season and played in all 14 games, but he wasn’t an every down starter and will likely be starting his first full season this year. He is charged with protecting Logan Thomas’ blind side and if the 6’6”, 326 pound left tackle can keep Thomas upright he is going to garner plenty of attention from scouts. He’s a relative unknown right now, and I’m not that familiar with his game outside of the fact that he is very strong, has long arms and plenty of potential. He almost became a starter in 2010 but because his turf toe injury took longer to heal than expected Andrew Lanier took hold of the starting role and left Becton in a reserve role. But Becton reportedly outplayed Lanier down the stretch last season and while he doesn’t return with 14 games as a starter he played in all 14 and played a considerable amount. Early in his career he was apparently considered to be playing “too nice” without enough aggressiveness, but the other book-end tackle for the Hokies, Vince Painter, said that last year Becton “started playing like somebody was stealing his car.” I love aggressiveness and nastiness in offensive linemen, and if Becton has discovered that in himself he could be quite the sleeper at the left tackle position. I am very intrigued by his upside, and I am looking forward to seeing his lateral agility and kick slide, because right now he sounds like he could be a top 100 pick at left tackle if he has a consistent season this year.

Vince Painter, OT- Painter, much like Becton, has been waiting for his shot to start for a long time and now the fifth year senior is finally getting his shot. The 6’5”, 304 pound tackle is considered a physical freak, having been timed at 4.74 in the 40 yard dash earlier in his career. However, he never earned much playing time and his flashy tools were never utilized. Now he has his chance to show what he can do this year, and while I’m not as excited about his potential as Becton he could surprise people with his play this season. I know I’m rooting for him, he’s waited a long time for his shot at the starting lineup.

Brent Benedict, OG**- Benedict is a redshirt sophomore I believe, but he’s got a lot of potential. He originally went to Georgia out of high school but according to this article a knee injury he sustained during his senior year of high school carried into his freshman season at Georgia, and apparently he wasn’t happy with how the training staff helped him rehab his injury. He sat out last year, and is now poised to start at right guard this season. Benedict has impressive size at 6’5”, 311 pounds and I think he has plenty of potential as a drive blocker, but I don’t know much about him in pass protection. He’s a relative unknown to everyone outside of the Hokie program, so I am very interested to see how he looks in his first season as a starter. I think he has a lot of potential if he can stay healthy.

Andrew Miller, C*- Miller is a 6’4, 300 pound center and he will anchor the offensive line as the only returning starter with any, technically, starting experience. Miller has been named to the Rimington Watch List and I am excited to see him play more this season. He’s a tough player, he’s poised to become the leader of the offensive line, and he plays with nastiness which as I have mentioned a million times I really like in offensive linemen. I am very anxious to see how he develops in his second season as a starter because I think he has plenty of draftable upside as a center.

James Gayle has 1st round pick written all over him and he is just scratching the surface of his potential. He spent the offseason working to improve his hand usage and master the little things you need to learn to be a complete defensive end, and it should result in a 10+ sack season for him in 2012.

James Gayle, DE*- James Gayle is probably my favorite player on the Hokies’ roster, but that might have something to do with him growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and agreeing to do this interview with me earlier this summer. He’s a great kid, and if you haven’t read that interview you should. Gayle is a physical freak that has been hand timed in the 4.4’s despite weighing about 258 pounds at the time according to James. He claims he got his speed from his All-Big Ten running back father, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that. James is an explosive athlete that is still learning how to play the position despite leading the team in sacks with 7 last season (and he missed 3 games last year!). Gayle is just scratching the surface of his massive potential, and I think he is ready for a 10+ sack season this year for the Hokies. He is going to have such a strong start to the season in my opinion that I think he’s going to start demanding double teams or at least extra help, which is going to make the rest of his defensive line and defense that much more dangerous.

J.R. Collins, DE*- Collins is another one of my favorite Hokies and I think he and Gayle are one of the best, if not the best, defensive end tandems in the entire country. Gayle spoke very highly of Collins when I spoke with him and Collins is a kid who might be a little undersized at 6’2”, 252 pounds but he is lightning quick, fast and has a relentless motor as James will attest to. Collins had 6 sacks last season, and I think he and Gayle may combine for over 20 this year, I’m dead serious. Collins doesn’t have the height and frame that James does, but I still love his upside as a pass rusher.

Antoine Hopkins, DT- Antoine and his brother are flying WAY under the radar thanks to Gayle, Collins, Bruce Taylor, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum but the Hopkins brothers are not going to be overlooked much longer. Antoine is listed at 6’1”, 318, but he is squatty, powerful and pretty quick for his size. He had 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks as a sophomore but missed over half of the season last year because of injury. Hopefully he is back to 100% by now. If he is, Virginia Tech could have a defensive line on par with the best in the country, even LSU.

Derrick Hopkins, DT*- Derrick is Antoine’s little brother but he is pretty big in his own right. Like his brother he doesn’t have ideal height, being listed at 6’0” even, but weighs 305 pounds and is a squatty defensive tackle. He wins leverage battles naturally because of his height and when he gets into your pads he can use his strength to walk you into the backfield, which helped him produce 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks and a pass break-up as a sophomore. Now a junior with an entire 14 games of starting experience under his belt he is the fourth cog on a defensive line that should be able to generate pressure even without any of Bud Foster’s brilliant scheming.

Bruce Taylor, MLB- Taylor is one of the elder statesmen of the defense, returning for his senior season with 23 career starts. He would have more had he not missed time last season with a foot injury, but regardless he is still a quality middle linebacker prospect thanks to his size and productivity. He is listed at 6’2”, 253 pounds and despite missing 6 games last season he had 53 tackles, 2 TFL and 5 sacks. The year before as a sophomore he was even more productive, totaling 91 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 6 sacks as well as four pass break-ups. I’ve never been blown away by him in pass coverage, but I need to see more of him before I come to any conclusions. Right now I have a 3rd or 4th round grade on him, and I’m excited to see what he can do with a full season of healthy football.

Tariq Edwards, OLB*- I honestly haven’t seen much of Edwards but I want to see more of him. He’s only a junior this season, but last year as a sophomore he had a great season totaling 71 tackles, 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks as well as 2 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. The 6’2”, 232 pound linebacker is an impressive player, but he is coming off a surgery to remove a screw from the rod that he had surgically implanted in his leg. The hope is that it will alleviate some pain he has been having, but obviously that is a situation to keep an eye on. Hopefully he comes back healthy and has another big season.

Antone Exum, CB*- Exum is a player that James specifically told me to look out for, but he’s hard to ignore thanks to his 6’0”, 219 pound listed size especially now that he is at corner. James told me he runs about a 4.35 despite being 220 pounds which is extremely impressive even if it is hand-timed, and he is obviously quite the athlete. He played free safety last year and led the team in tackles with 89, had 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 10 pass break-ups and an interception. He’s a playmaker and I can’t wait to see how he does as a corner, but even if he isn’t a great fit there I think he projects very well to the safety position at the next level.

Kyle Fuller, CB*- Fuller is yet another playmaker on this defense and while he isn’t quite as filled out as Exum he’s still pretty big for a corner. He’s listed at 6’0”, 188 pounds and I believe he has legit sub 4.5 speed. Plus, like James said, he plays even bigger than he is and loves to hit. That helped him gather 65 tackles, 10 TFL (10 tackles for loss for a corner is out of this world), 4.5 sacks, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a sophomore. I’m expecting him to take an even bigger step forward as a junior, and with all the talent VT has in the front 7 there are going to be plenty of poor throws, decisions and opportunities for turnovers for this secondary and I expect Fuller to take advantage of them.

Quarterbacks:

-BJ Coleman, QB, Tennessee – Chattanooga. 6’3”, 220 pounds, 4.93 40 yard dash
-I really like B.J. Coleman. He missed some time due to injury this year which I thought might hurt him, but I was very happy to see him get an invite to the East-West Shrine Game. His game reminds me a bit of Nathan Enderle from last year, and there are some parallels between them that are pretty interesting (both started Senior season vs Nebraska, strong armed QB’s without much talent around them, both invited to East-West Shrine Game. I could go on, but I won’t.) Regardless, Coleman is a quality prospect in his own right and I think he has a chance to go in the first four rounds. This week will be big for him but if he is healthy he should have impressive ball velocity, good accuracy and pretty good pocket presence. I look forward to taking notes on him all week.

-Johnny Brantley, QB, Florida: 6’3”, 220 pounds, 4.89 40 yard dash
-I left his name as “Johnny” since that was how it was listed on the official roster and it cracked me up. Brantley is a guy that is starting to get some buzz as a sleeper and I understand why. He’s got experience playing in the SEC and he’s got a very strong arm. He did not have much success in his last two seasons as a starter in Florida but playing for two entirely different coaching staffs with very different offensive philosophies certainly didn’t help. I’m sure he appreciated not being taken out on 1st and 2nd down and thrust into a 3rd and long this year like he was in Urban Meyer’s last season at Florida (his first as a starter). He still didn’t do much passing this year in his first and only year under Charlie Weiss (who is now the head man at Kansas) but he did throw for 2,044 yards while completing 60% of his passes for an 8.5 yard average per attempt. He only threw 11 touchdowns as compared to 7 interceptions, but that was an improvement over his very unimpressive 9 touchdown, 10 interception stat line as a junior. Plenty of people have soured on him and don’t give him much of a chance at the NFL, but guys with his size and arm strength are always in demand. He’s been through a lot at Florida, but if he can have a solid week at the Shrine Game it could ensure him a chance as a late round draft pick or as an undrafted free agent come April.

-Austin Davis, QB, Southern Mississippi: 6’1”, 221 pounds, 4.78 40 yard dash
-Davis is the quarterback with the least upside of the quarterbacks on the East Roster. His size and arm strength are both average for the NFL and if there are any windy days down in St. Petersburg I think that will become very apparent. He’s the most athletic of the three quarterbacks and he does have an abundance of starting experience but I don’t think he has enough upside to warrant much consideration before the 7th round or as a priority free agent in April. He’s solid in a number of areas but spectacular in none, though he is supposed to have pretty good intangibles and football IQ. I don’t expect to see anything different than what I did at Southern Mississippi, but he might have the biggest adjustment to taking snaps from under center since Brantley had a chance to do that a bit with Weiss at Florida this year and Coleman ran an offense with pro-style looks in it. He’s definitely #3 on the depth chart for me, but it will be interesting to see him up close.

Running Backs:

– Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee: 5’10”, 215 pounds, 4.56 40 yard dash
-Poole isn’t a freak athlete and he isn’t a burner, but he is a compact, well built running back. I like running backs that have compact, well filled out frames and Poole fits that bill. He runs hard, he’s strong, he has a good natural pad level because of his size, and he has shown the ability to run through arm tackles and gain yardage after contact. He’s my #1 RB at the East-West Shrine Game and I’m excited to see him in person. He’s an underrated guy that may not go very high on draft day but will be ready to contribute immediately and surprise people in training camp.

-Davin Meggett, RB, Maryland: 5’8”, 215 pounds, 4.56 40 yard dash
-I’m not a big fan of Meggett. He’s never really been the feature back until this season and his lack of production gives me pause when trying to evaluate him. He’s got the compact frame that I like in a running back, but he doesn’t break as many tackles and gain as many yards after contact as you would think given his size and strength. He’s supposed to be a big weight room guy who works very hard and was a team captain, but weight room strength doesn’t always translate to the football field and I’m worried that it doesn’t in his case. I question his balance a bit and that concerns me since I’m not sold on his vision and he doesn’t have the burst and speed to rip off big chunks of yardage. He’s a complete back though because he can run the ball, catch it out of the backfield and offer effort as a pass blocker. He needs work in all areas in my opinion, but there is ability to mold in all facets. He’s got some upside because he’s never really gotten a chance to be a feature back, but I wonder if he will ever reach it.

Wide Receivers:

-T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State: 5’11”, 180 pounds, 4.36 40 yard dash
-Graham definitely doesn’t look like he weighs 180 pounds to me so I will be very interested to see what he weighs in at. My estimation would be he’s actually about 5’10”, 170 pounds but that is just my opinion. Regardless of his official measurements there is no denying his speed and explosiveness. He put all of his ability on display in NC State’s bowl game against Louisville as he put on a show with 7 receptions for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game. He finished the season with 46 receptions, 757 yards and 7 TD’s receiving this year which nearly exceeded all of his production as a receiver from his previous three seasons on the Wolfpack. In his first three years he totaled 52 career receptions, 673 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He was only 6 receptions short of doubling his career receptions, yards and touchdowns total as a receiver as a senior. On top of that, Graham also has 630 career punt return yards with one touchdown and 3,157 career kick return yards and two more touchdowns. He had well over 5,000 total yards as a member of the Wolfpack and I think that his value as a receiver and a kick returner will be on full display during the East-West Shrine Game. I definitely think Graham will be a riser during the week and I really like his NFL upside. He’s my #1 WR on the East going into the week, so it will be very fun to see him play in person.

-B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State: 6’2”, 216 pounds, 4.59 40 yard dash
-I’m not a big Cunningham fan personally but there’s no denying the production he has amassed while at Michigan State. He has never had a season with under 500 receiving yards in his four years as a Spartan and in the past two years he has totaled 129 receptions, 1,917 yards and 21 touchdowns receiving. The list of more impressive stat lines over the last two seasons is pretty short and it’s headlined by a potential top five pick in Justin Blackmon. As a senior Cunningham had by far his best season with 79 receptions, 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a junior he was pretty inconsistent and dropped too many passes for my liking, but he seemed to improve that a bit as a senior. His hands are still a concern for me and I will be paying close attention to both how well he catches the ball this week and HOW he catches the ball. Namely, is he snagging passes outside of his frame, therefore displaying quality range, or is he body catching and letting passes outside of his frame bounce off his hands.

-Danny Coale, WR, Virginia Tech: 6’0”, 200 pounds, 4.43 40 yard dash
-Coale is a guy I have been paying attention to for the last two years because I’ve watched a significant amount of Virginia Tech over that time and while he may not be the #1 receiver on their depth chart there isn’t a lot of doubt in my mind that he had the best hands on the team. I was and still am high on Jarrett Boykin, a fellow senior who will be vying to be drafted, but Coale is a quality player in his own right. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him drop a routine pass and he adjusts very well to the ball when it’s in the air and has much better timed speed than I expected him to have. He’s got serious sleeper potential and I think he could be a guy that catches a lot of people’s eyes during the week of practices at the Shrine Game because he will almost certainly make a great catch that sticks in people’s minds. He is all effort all the time and while he probably won’t go very high in the draft I would be shocked if he didn’t end up making a NFL roster and working his way into a contributing role.

-Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina: 6’1”, 209 pounds, 4.50 40 yard dash
-Lewis is a solidly built WR that has more speed than I expected him to have. I haven’t seen him enough to quantify exactly how good his hands are, but he strikes me as a mid-late round prospect that should be able to stick on a NFL roster. He missed three or four games this season which hurt his statistics as he totaled 60 receptions, 600 yards and 8 touchdowns on the year. That’s a solid total, but it pales in comparison to his junior season (his first with East Carolina) when he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, 1,116 yards and 14 touchdowns. I haven’t done enough tape study to figure out if the drop-off is due only to his missed playing time or if he was not the same player he was last year when he had Dwayne Harris playing with him. Hopefully he is 100% ready to go and he can impress in this game because I think he has enough value to get drafted in the 5th or 6th round range.

-Thomas Mayo, WR, California-Pennsylvania: 6’2”, 200 pounds, 4.59 40 yard dash
-Pennsylvania: Mayo is a guy who is getting some love as a small-school sleeper. I haven’t seen any game tape of him yet, but I have heard good things. I’m very excited to see him in person and I think he has a chance to make himself some money if he plays well. I have a feeling a lot of people know of him, but don’t have a great feel for his game yet.

-LaRon Byrd, WR, Miami: 6’4”, 220 pounds, 4.53 40 yard dash
-I’m not sure why Byrd is on this roster to be honest. I thought he had some upside a couple of years ago, but he has continually disappointed me and anyone else who expected him to be productive. He was effectively buried on Miami’s depth chart and Jacory Harris’ ineptitude at quarterback didn’t help things, but I am pretty skeptical of Byrd’s talents at this point. He had more touchdowns as a freshman (4) than he had the next three years of his career (3, one each season). On top of that, he capped off his career as a Hurricane with a monster season totaling 11 receptions, 125 yards and 1 touchdown. Obviously I was being sarcastic saying he had a monster season since there are players playing in this game that have almost as many touchdown receptions this year as he had overall receptions. Byrd has the size and athleticism combination you would like to have in a receiver, but I’m not sold on his hands and his lack of almost any progression over his entire career at Miami makes me question whether he will ever reach the potential he seemed to flash as a freshman three years ago.

Tight Ends:

-Chase Ford, TE, Miami: 6’5”, 245 pounds, 4.84 40 yard dash
-Ford’s 9 receptions, 88 yards and 1 touchdown may not seem that impressive, but he nearly matched LaRon Byrd’s production, so he must be good! I personally don’t think Ford was the best tight end on Miami’s roster, I think Blake Ayles (a USC transfer) was. Unfortunately, Ayles went down with an injury at the beginning of the season and didn’t accrue any stats this year. Hopefully he will be healthy soon, but in the mean-time I can’t say I think Ford has much of a chance of being drafted. Ayles would have been the starter had it not been for his injury, so I don’t have very high expectations for Ford this week. Frankly, I think there are other more deserving tight ends that could have been in this game. Ladarius Green, Nick Provo, Aron White and James Hanna are all guys I like at this position that won’t be at this game.

Offensive Guards:

-Derek Dennis, OG, Temple: 6’3”, 328 pounds, 5.45 40 yard dash
-I wanted to give you guys a synopsis of what I expect from the offensive tackles for this roster but I haven’t seen any of them enough to give you what I consider a quality breakdown of their abilities. I’ve always enjoyed watching offensive line play though, so rest assured I will keep a close eye on them throughout the week. Dennis, however, I have seen. I’ll admit before the first time I saw him I glanced at his 40 yard dash time and wondered how athletic he could be, but that’s just another reason not to put stock in the 40 yard dash times of offensive linemen. Dennis moves much better than his 40 yard dash time would seem to indicate, especially for such a large man. I think Dennis could be a real riser this week, especially if his line coach can coach him up a bit and help him with his technique. Dennis has some tools you look for in an offensive lineman and while I don’t think he will go before round 4 or 5 I do think he has starter potential in the future. He’s going to take a year or two of coaching up and developing, but if he takes coaching well and has a good work ethic I think you could see him starting in a few years.

Centers:

-Quentin Saulsberry, OC, Mississippi State: 6’2”, 300 pounds, 5.16 40 yard dash
-Saulsberry is kind of under the radar right now since there are some talented interior offensive linemen in this class. The center class is headlined by a first round center in Peter Konz, but it has some draftable talent and Saulsberry is in that group. I don’t have a great feel for his game yet, but he is being mentioned as a sleeper and I am excited to see how he looks this next week. He’s an under the radar guy, but he might be a riser this week.

Defensive Ends:

-Matt Conrath, DE, Virginia: 6’7”, 280 pounds, 4.84 40 yard dash
-Conrath has played DE at Virginia for a long time but a few people have started to project him inside. I disagree with that because I think he has a pretty ideal frame to bulk up and play defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He might not be big enough yet, but at 6’7” he has the frame you love to see in 3-4 defensive ends. It will be interesting to see where he plays this week since I don’t think he is a great fit as a left end in a 4-3 defensive scheme but I don’t think he fits well as a defensive tackle in that scheme either. As a result he might be a little out of position this week depending on where he lines up, but as a mid-late round guy I like him.

-Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia: 6’3”, 268 pounds, 4.76 40 yard dash
-Miller is a solid but not spectacular defensive end for West Virginia. Playing opposite Bruce Irvin meant he didn’t attract a lot of attention and that helped him rack up 57 total tackles (31 solo), 11.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass break-ups this season. I don’t think he has a lot of edge speed and I don’t think he’s fantastic against the run either, so I question how much upside he has at defensive end. I think his best case scenario is being a rotational defensive end in the NFL, but I am looking forward to seeing how he looks in person getting off the ball, how much bend he has and how well he uses his hands among other things.

-Kyle Wilber, DE, Wake Forest: 6’4”, 240 pounds, 4.70 40 yard dash
-Wilber is a guy that I was high on coming into the season but he didn’t have the break-out season that I expected him to have. Many people think he will have to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the NFL and I tend to agree. He has a pretty skinny frame despite his 6’4” height so I don’t know how much weight he will be able to pack on. He’s listed at 240 pounds and I think he could get up to 250 or 255 pounds on a quality weight training program but even at that weight he is likely too light to be able to play at right end in the NFL. This week will be important for him because he may get a chance to drop into coverage at some point. I haven’t seen him do that much at Wake Forest but I haven’t completed my film study on him yet. Regardless, he’s an athletic guy with upside in my opinion. This year he had 69 total tackles (47 solo), 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass deflection and he also blocked a kick. In the past two years he has 25 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 6 pass break-ups and 2 blocked kicks. The production and athletic ability is there, so I’m hoping he can have a big week and help demonstrate the ability that led me to put him on my list of potential break-out players at the beginning of the season.

Defensive Tackles:

-Nick Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor: 6’2”, 335 pounds, 5.06 40 yard dash
-Jean-Baptiste definitely catches your eye when he’s on the field because of his sheer size. The weigh-in will be important for him because if he comes in looking flabby and out of shape it will raise some concern from talent evaluators. However, his combination of size and athleticism is pretty impressive. I just don’t think he is as good as he could be yet given his natural size and athleticism. He was a complete non-factor in the Anti-Defense Bowl between Baylor and Washington a couple weeks ago and that’s concerning to me. I am interested to see how he plays this week but it seems that defensive tackles, perhaps more than any other position (at least, off the top of my head) really know how to turn it on when they are playing for a pay-check. Albert Haynesworth is the best example I can think of to support this claim, and if Jean-Baptiste plays great this week in stark contrast to his performance against Washington it will help his stock but make teams wonder where this effort level and ability was when everyone watching that game was begging for a quality defensive performance.

-Micanor Regis, DT, Miami: 6’2”, 305 pounds, 5.20 40 yard dash
-Regis was definitely overshadowed at Miami because that defensive line was bursting with talent. They didn’t live up to it this year unfortunately, but a defensive line with Olivier Vernon, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo had a lot of potential. That left Regis in a reserve role before Forston’s injury, and even though he has had playing time throughout his career at Miami he has never had more than 8.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks, which he posted as a junior last year. I’m not sure he has much upside beyond a defensive tackle that can contribute to a 4-3 rotation, but it will be interesting to see how he looks this week.

Linebackers:

-Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pittsburgh: 6’2”, 250 pounds, 4.68 40 yard dash
-Lindsey flashed onto the scene as a junior when he posted an impressive 18.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks and 3 fumbles forced after Greg Romeus went down with another injury. This year he was without Romeus and Jabaal Sheard but he still posted 55 total tackles (31 solo), 11.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 pass deflection. Lindsey doesn’t project to a defensive end position very well but I think he will be able to transition effectively to the outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense. He’s an athletic guy and has shown that he’s capable of producing at Pittsburgh even though he may not have been used properly.

-Max Gruder, MLB, Pittsburgh: 6’1”, 230 pounds, 4.71 40 yard dash
-Gruder isn’t a freak athlete by any means and he probably doesn’t project to be a NFL starter now or in the future, but I think he’s going to be a great special teams player and a quality reserve in the NFL. He’s a reliable tackler and the Pittsburgh coaching staff admitted that they continued to try to take him out of the lineup but he was so fundamentally sound that he always found his way back onto the field. It will be interesting to see how he looks this week, but I wouldn’t expect him to be dominant in any one phase of the game. He seems like a guy who is solid in all facets but spectacular in none, and while that may help get him drafted I don’t think it gives him a great shot to start in the NFL.

Cornerbacks:

-Charles Brown, CB, North Carolina: 5’9”, 204 pounds, 4.49 40 yard dash
-Brown is another undersized cornerback from North Carolina that I think is primarily a zone corner personally. I always thought that his former teammate Kendric Burney was the better player and Burney went undrafted. That’s not to say that Brown will also go undrafted, but it speaks to where his draft stock is likely to end up barring a spectacular performance this week. I don’t think Brown has the size and speed to stick with receivers in man coverage very effectively, but North Carolina likes to run zone coverage and Brown should offer value in that phase of the game. I am interested to see him try to press corners during the week and I want to see how he does in man to man, though I anticipate him having some issues especially against taller, more physical receivers.

Safeties:

-Matt Daniels, S, Duke: 6’0”, 210 pounds, 4.53 40 yard dash
-Daniels is a quality sleeper prospect at the safety position. He isn’t a freak athlete but based on what I have read he has great intangibles, a high football IQ and an impressive work ethic. Those kinds of players are the ones you like to bet on when it comes to the NFL because they’ll get the most out of their ability even if they don’t project to be perennial pro-bowl players. Daniels has always impressed me as a tackler when I’ve watched him play over the last two years but I have never seen him much in coverage. This year he produced 126 tackles (65 solo), 4.0 TFL, 14 pass deflections, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. I am interested to see how he looks in coverage this week but I expect him to be one of the more reliable tacklers at the East practices all week.

Kickers:

-Blair Walsh, K, Georgia:
-Walsh is a confusing player to me, but then again kickers in general are pretty confusing to me. During his sophomore and junior seasons he missed a combined five field goals, a terrific stat line for any kicker. In his first three years he missed 13 field goals, eight of which occurred when he was kicking as a freshman. Then this season he inexplicably missed 14 field goals, more than he had missed his entire career up until this point! I haven’t done my film study of Georgia yet but I definitely will and I am very interested to see what situations he missed kicks in. I’m not sure what to expect from him this week, but hopefully he gets his mojo back and starts making kicks more consistently because he’s got a helluva leg. He had 19 touchbacks this year and that was kicking from the 30. In the NFL he will be able to kick the ball into the end zone very consistently and provide a lot of touchbacks for his special teams unit. That gives him value, but it won’t mean much if he can’t make field goals when asked to.

This is obviously just a fraction of the talent at the East-West Shrine Game, but these are the players I am more familiar with. I’ll have notes on most every player by the end of the week and they will be posted here every day after practice, so check in every day for your East-West Shrine Game fix!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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

Upon request I watched this game again, but I am glad I watched it because I got to see Tyrod Taylor play in his final game of his junior year, plus I wanted to have some notes on the various Virginia Tech players who are young and up and coming. There were also a few of these guys on Tennessee. There aren’t a lot of guys who are going to graduate and enter the draft next year on either team (aside from Tyrod Taylor on the Hokies and Luke Stocker, Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore on the Volunteers), but it was still interesting to see a lot of the young players on either side. Here is my write-up on Virginia Tech and Tennessee:

I liked a lot of what I saw in this game and I was glad I rewatched it and didn’t just pay attention to one player like I had in previous viewings. First and foremost I was concerned with watching Tyrod Taylor to get a feel for how far he had come as a QB since he got the redshirt taken off of him a couple years ago. Overall I was impressed, because he has really come a long way as a passer in his time at Virginia Tech. The comparisons to Mike Vick are inevitable because they are both scramblers, they both play at Virginia Tech, and both are arguably as good at running as they are at passing (if not better at times in their careers).

Tyrod Taylor showed better accuracy, timing and patience from the pocket in this game.

However, I think Tyrod is much more advanced from a passing standpoint than Mike Vick was during his time at Virginia Tech. I took particular note of every throw he made in this game, and he flashed the ability to use his eyes to keep safeties and DB’s honest before delivering the throw to an open target two or maybe three times out of his 18 pass attempts. That might not seem like an impressive number, but I know for a fact that there are QB’s who get hyped up as 1st round picks who can’t and haven’t ever done that. Especially those that operate out of a spread offense. But this was exciting to see because I had never really noticed Tyrod doing this before. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention to it or if he wasn’t doing it, but regardless I was excited to see him doing this. That is a NFL skill.

I also looked over my notes (I took eight pages of them in a word document while I watched this game) and counted up his good, great and bad throws. He totaled seven good throws, one great throw and three bad throws. There were a few passes that were neither here nor there, so I didn’t include them in this evaluation. He threw one interception in this game and it was a bad decision, but I was impressed with his ability to move past it and come out in the 2nd half and play well. All three of his bad throws came in the first half, and he looked very good in the 2nd half. He threw some absolute frozen ropes down the seam in this game, and showed the ability to go through more than just one or two progressions a time or two. He will still stare down his primary receiver or one side of the field but he does a better job of using his eyes to his advantage than he used to. He showed great zip and arm strength which we all knew he had, but he also showed improved accuracy in this game. He missed high with a throw or two during the course of the game, plus he threw the interception which was just a bad throw into coverage, but other than that he was accurate with the majority of his passes. That was good to see. But perhaps just as importantly as his passes being delivered accurately the vast majority of his throws were delivered in rhythm and on time as his receivers were coming out of their breaks. That impressed me as much as anything else. Seeing him make good reads, delivering accurate throws on time (and from the pocket no less) shows that he is really growing as a passer.

However he had a few bad throws and he still doesn’t do a great job of going through his progressions. I counted twice he dropped back and scrambled unnecessarily before he went through all of his progressions. He has great mobility and does a great job of picking up yardage with his legs to extend drives, but he still gets himself in trouble every once in a while when he doesn’t buy time in the pocket and stay patient to go through his progressions. He has come a very long way in this department from what I can tell however, so I am excited to see how he does in this regard as a Senior.

Overall I was quite impressed with Tyrod. The majority of his throws were good, accurate passes and he looked much better throwing from the pocket than I gave him credit for. His release looks clean and just like Vick he can flick his wrist and the ball will go 60 yards. But his accuracy has improved a lot and his passes are being delivered with much better timing and rhythm than I had ever seen from him before. If he keeps progressing like this I think he will be drafted as a QB and will make a roster as a developmental #3 without a doubt.

Williams got stronger as the game went on before leaving with an ankle injury with the game well in hand.

Naturally I was very impressed with Ryan Williams in this game. He started slow in the second half, but for all the ridicule Bryan Stinespring gets for his predictable and sometimes pitiful playcalling from Virginia Tech fans he did a good job of mixing up the way he was getting Ryan Williams the ball in the 2nd half and it got him more running room and he made the most of it. Williams has good vision, great patience for such a young running back, good quickness and burst to hit the hole, he runs hard and runs through arm tackles easily and has the strength to push the pile and get consistent yards after contact. But he can also make guys miss, turn on the jets and outrun a lot of defenders. He’s a very, very good running back. He seems to have ok hands out of the backfield, but that is something he will need to work on as far as I can tell. And like all young RB’s he needs to continue to work at his pass protection. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Williams had another great year and declared for the draft as he is a redshirt sophomore. If he did I would expect that he would be a 1st round pick without a doubt. He is as good as advertised, that’s for sure.

I took notes on all three of Tyrod’s primary targets in the passing game: Dyrell Roberts, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. I liked what I saw from all three of them to be perfectly honest. Roberts has the most potential of the trio because he has good size at 6’1”, 196 pounds but he has speed to burn with 4.42 timed speed. He can really get deep, and VT does what they can to get the ball in his hands. He didn’t have what I would call a “good catch” in this game, meaning he didn’t make a nice catch away from his body with his hands. He had two catches in this game and he let both of them get into his pads, which is not something I like to see from WR’s. This is a very bad habit and it can lead to a lot of drops, especially in the NFL. Hopefully he will work on catching the ball with his hands this summer, because if he can shake that bad habit I think he could be a much more consistent threat. With his size, speed and playmaking ability he just needs to work on his hands and his route running ability before he can take off. He has a lot of potential, but he still needs some work in my opinion.

Roberts has a lot of potential, but needs to catch the ball with his hands more consistently and refine his route running.

I really liked what I saw from Jarrett Boykin though. He was a consistent threat for VT this year and he showed the ability to catch the ball away from his body a couple times in this game, which was nice to see. He can also get deep even if he only has deceptive speed (he was timed at 4.54). He showed this speed when he got behind Tennessee’s secondary right before the half and pulled in a 63 yard pass from Tyrod Taylor that set up a field goal as the first half came to a close. He had four catches in this game, and at least two of them where fundamentally sound catches with his hands. The deep ball at the end of the half looked like it got into his pads a bit, but there was one other play that he let the ball get into his pads too. But what is important is that he has shown he can catch well with his hands, he just needs to work to shake the bad habit of letting the ball get into his body. This is absolutely do-able, even if you have to work on it once you get to the NFL. Personally of the three receivers on VT and the two receivers I liked on Tennessee I was most impressed with Boykin, so I am really excited to see how he plays as a Junior.

I also took notes on Danny Coale when I could, but he only had one catch in this game (though it was a big one for 42 yards) so he didn’t get targeted often. Tyrod was throwing the ball to him when he threw his interception, and Coale had run an effective crossing route. If Tyrod had put more air under the ball and led Coale downfield behind the safety (who made the interception when he broke on the bullet he threw) Coale may have made another big catch. I have been told many times that Coale has great hands, and even though he only had one play to make in this game he made a terrific over the shoulder grab to haul this in and set up a 1st and goal. It was a great throw from Taylor but it was an even better catch by Coale. Hopefully he gets some more passes thrown his way as a junior, but between their fantastic running game and Roberts and Boykin competing for passes, I understand why Coale is flying under the radar. I think he has what it takes to make a NFL roster though. But I need to see him more obviously.

Boykin is the best of the trio of Virginia Tech receivers in my estimation.

I made an effort to watch Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech’s RT, but he was fairly unimpressive to me. Whenever I would watch him he would look decent, but nothing special. He would get bull rushed but reset himself and stop the DE’s progress, he would do an ok job of making a cut block, he would do an alright job of walling off a defender in the run game, but it was never anything that really impressed me. I’ll be interested to see if he plays any better as a junior, but I am not sold on him at all right now.

There were a few players I paid attention to on VT’s defense. I liked what I saw from Jayron Hosley (who is a redshirt sophomore cornerback this year), Lyndell Gibson (who is a sophomore middle linebacker this year), Barquell Rivers (who is a junior who plays weakside linebacker), John Graves (who is a junior DT) and Rashad Carmichael (a redshirt senior CB this year). I also looked at Chris Drager when he was in. He is a redshirt Junior DE this season.

Hosley impressed me though he wasn’t in a whole lot. That isn’t extremely surprising considering he was only a redshirt freshman this past season, but when he was on the field he was active. He showed good burst, he looked good in zone coverage (I didn’t see him in man much if at all), and showed impressive ability to read the QB’s eyes and make a break on the ball. He was half a step away from coming away with two great interceptions in this game, and I think one or maybe even both of them could have gone back for a touchdown. As he gets more comfortable and gains more experience I really think Hosley is going to be a playmaker. He also returns punts for them, and he fielded one near the 5 yard line and I thought “Oh no, here’s a mistake by a young guy” and he made one guy miss and all of a sudden he was at the 25 yard line. He tried to make a really sharp cut and lost his footing after a 22 yard return, but if he had made that cut he probably would have been gone for a 95 yard touchdown on that punt return. He has a lot of speed, quickness and burst, plus he looks good in coverage. He also did a good job disguising a blitz off of the edge and leveled Crompton for a sack. Overall I really liked what I saw from Hosley and can’t wait to see him in the starting lineup as a sophomore.

Hosley has a ton of potential, and nearly came away with 2 INT's in this game. In addition he was one cut away from a 95 yard punt return TD.

Lyndell Gibson also looked good to me. He is the starting MLB for Virginia Tech, but it wasn’t that way for the entire season. He got the starting nod pretty late in the season, but he started the last five games (including the bowl game) and the Hokies won every game. He really seemed to stabilize the defense according to what Bud Foster had to say about it. Gibson showed pretty good instincts and even though he is a little undersized (5’10”, 230 pounds I believe) he played well in this game. He seems to read plays well and did a good job of fighting off blocks from an experienced Tennessee offensive line all game. I liked that he shed blocks pretty well but also had the fluidity to avoid them and make plays at the line of scrimmage. I am also not sure I saw him miss a tackle in this game. He also looked solid in coverage, though he tried to jump an underneath route to Luke Stocker (Tennessee’s TE) but Crompton held onto the ball and got it to Stocker after he came open again. Overall I liked what I saw, and it will be interesting to see if he keeps the starting job as a sophomore. Hopefully he does and he continues to progress.

Barquell Rivers had a decent game, but he had some ups and downs. He missed a couple of tackles, but he also made some nice stops up at the line of scrimmage, and had one or two tackles for loss. I didn’t see him in coverage often, but I never saw him get beat. Overall I didn’t have my eye on him that much, but every once in a while he would show up for better or for worse. It will be interesting to see how he does next year, but I can’t say I am sold on him at this point.

Gibson helped solidify the defense once he was inserted into the starting lineup for the last 5 games of the season.

I learned earlier today that the VT-Tennessee Bowl Game was John Graves’ first significant playing time of the season (Shout out to Andrew Thompson for that) so that might explain why I was relatively unimpressed with him. For one you can tell that VT experimented with him at DE because he only weighs about 270-275 pounds, but he just did not have a great game. He definitely had some highlights as he did a great job of splitting a double team, swatting away Hardesty as he tried to block him and sacking Crompton while forcing a fumble. He later recovered a fumble after Worilds sacked Crompton late in the 4th quarter. But for the majority of this game he was getting double-teamed and washed out in the run game or stonewalled in the passing game. He didn’t seem to quit despite all of this, which is a good sign for his motor. However, the fact still remains that he needs to get up to 285 at least before he is going to hold up well against the run at all. He was simply overpowered in the run game by Tennessee’s veteran offensive line, so he needs to put on some weight before next year to help him get stronger at the point of attack. He could also stand to improve his hand usage and his moves to get off of blocks (such as the rip, swim and spin moves most players work on). He has some potential because he gets off the line pretty quickly, seems to have a solid motor and definitely has some athletic ability. But to make the jump from a DT/DE ‘Tweener to a quality starting DT he is going to need to get stronger (especially in the lower body) and improve his hand usage. I will be looking forward to seeing how he does with that in this coming season.

Carmichael has a lot of potential and seems to have a great work ethic, which could mean a great senior season for him.

Rashad Carmichael had an alright game against Tennessee. He had an interception that ended Tennessee’s first drive of the game when he was in zone coverage (it looked like VT was running a Cover-3, so Carmichael had a deep 1/3). He was just reading Crompton’s eyes and when he threw it he broke on the ball over the top, but it was overthrown so it went right to him for an easy interception. He didn’t look especially good supporting the run, but he seemed to play well in coverage. I never saw him get beat deep, but VT seemed to be running a lot of zone in this game. He is considered a very good corner by most, as he is coming into his Redshirt-Senior season, but he didn’t look like a great corner in this game. Obviously next year will be critical for him, but I am not sold on him yet. I did read a great article (which can be seen here: http://ncaafootball.fanhouse.com/2010/04/20/virginia-techs-rashad-carmichael-is-hooked-on-video/) about his dedication and film study which really made me like him. He seems to be a great kid, a good mentor (judging by his volunteer and internship work) and you always love to hear about a college player being so dedicated to film study. If his film study is any indication, he should have a great season next year.

I also took brief notes on Chris Drager when he got in the game. He usually only got in on passing downs, but he showed what he could do when he got playing time. He made a nice play on a run on 3rd and long when he beat a TE’s block (after getting combo-blocked initially by Chris Scott, Tennessee’s mammoth LT) and stopped Hardesty for no gain on the play. He showed some burst off the line of scrimmage, and if VT is going to have a good defense this year they are going to need Drager to step up to help replace some of the great pass rush that they lost when Worilds left for the draft.

Hopefully you enjoyed that. I apologize for the ridiculous length. As I said I took eight pages of notes on this, so there was a lot to cover. Part 2 will focus on the Tennessee players that I took notes on.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully it wasn’t too much to read.

–Tom Melton