Tag Archive: David DeCastro


My First Mock Draft of the Year

1. Indianapolis- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: It’s clear to everyone just how valuable Peyton Manning was to the Colts now. He’s practically an MVP candidate and he hasn’t even played a game. The Colts have since fired their defensive coordinator and while it’s arguable the Colts could use defensive upgrades there is no one in the draft that warrants a selection of Andrew Luck. Some people think that the Colts can’t have Luck and Manning on the same roster, but I disagree. Luck may be NFL ready, but you can’t convince me that he would be better off playing as a rookie instead of sitting for a year and learning from Manning. Learning from a MVP and a Super Bowl champion your first year on the job will only make you better.
2. Minnesota- Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal:
Analysis: The Vikings made a bold and, in my opinion, a great move releasing Bryant McKinnie. Leslie Frazier put his foot down by making it clear that even a quality LT will get cut if he shows up out of shape and isn’t ready to contribute to the team. However, that didn’t work out that well for the Vikings this year as Charlie Johnson has not been a worthwhile replacement in any sense of the word. He’s been consistently beaten as he’s tried to protect McNabb’s and Ponder’s blind side this year. LT is as big a need as any of the Vikings many needs, and it would be very easy to fix should Kalil declare for the draft this year. He’s the best left tackle in the country, and don’t forget that he was talented enough to keep an eventual top 10 pick in Tyron Smith at right tackle as a junior for the Trojans. Kalil has the potential to start at left tackle from day one, and that makes him very appealing to a team like the Vikings.
3. St. Louis- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: The Rams have been assembling some pieces on offense in recent years. I’m not sold on Sam Bradford yet, but he is clearly the quarterback of the future for the Rams. With Steven Jackson continuing to play well, Lance Kendricks coming on board in the 2nd round last year, and by acquiring Brandon Lloyd at the trade deadline the Rams have made surrounding Bradford with some weapons a priority. Lloyd is a quality target, but getting him a true #1 target with plenty of upside is something they still need to do. That is where Blackmon comes in. Blackmon is my #1 WR in this draft class, he has very good hands (though he does have concentration lapses at times resulting in drops), fantastic body control and he is very hard to tackle once he has the ball in his hands. He’s the top receiver in this class, and the Rams must only evaluate his character to determine whether he will continue to improve and if he will stay out of trouble once he gets his first NFL paycheck.
4. Jacksonville- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU:
Analysis: The Jaguars have had a good defense this year and they really need offensive help, but one spot they could use help at is cornerback. Looking at the players available at this point I think Claiborne warrants the pick here more than any of them. Matt Barkley might have a higher grade, but with Blaine Gabbert on the roster I don’t think they will even consider a quarterback this early. Some will disagree with that based on Gabbert’s struggles this year, but he shouldn’t have been playing yet anyways. He needed a year to learn on the bench and he didn’t get it, and as a result the Jaguars have risked stunting his development. Claiborne is ready to come in and play right away and he is easily the most impressive cornerback in the country. He has very fluid hips, he turns and runs well, he has very good speed, he’s very athletic, and he has fantastic ball skills and return ability once he has the ball in his hands. He’s a playmaker at corner with great size, long arms and good instincts. It really speaks to LSU’s talent in the secondary that they may have a first round pick from their defensive backfield three years in a row if Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are drafted in round one in 2012 and 2013.
5. Carolina- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa:
Analysis: The Panthers could use another wide receiver here and they have serious needs on defense, particularly at defensive tackle. However, Jeff Otah has not been particularly impressive when I’ve watched him and he has had serious durability issues since being drafted by the Panthers. Jordan Gross has been a mainstay on the Panthers offensive line for years but he is 31 years old now. He won’t be around forever, and drafting an eventual replacement for him as well as a player who could replace Otah at right tackle should he continue to struggle with injuries. Reiff might not be ready to start at LT right away, but he definitely has NFL LT ability.
6. Miami- Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Miami may end up trading up from this spot to assure themselves a shot at Barkley should he actually declare. I think he will after the fantastic season he’s had, but there is a possibility that he could come back and attempt to lead USC to a BCS bowl game. However, if he does come out he is definitely NFL ready as a result of his three years of experience starting in a pro style offense at USC. He is a NFL ready quarterback that could play day one much like Luck if necessary. Ideally he wouldn’t because I believe that quarterbacks should be developed patiently, but that’s just my opinion. Miami hasn’t had a legitimate quarterback since Marino, so hopefully Barkley can break that trend. Again, don’t rule out Miami moving up on draft day if they are in a similar position as they are in this mock to go up and get the quarterback they want.
7. Washington- Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Washington could go any variety of ways here, but quarterback is one of their most pressing needs. Rex Grossman and John Beck are not long term solutions by any means, and Robert Griffin has been one of the most impressive players, not just quarterbacks, in the entire country this season. He’s very mobile and his passing has developed vastly every year that he has been at Baylor and his athleticism would be utilized brilliantly by Mike Shanahan and his offense. He’s got as much upside as any quarterback in this class thanks to his passing ability and his athleticism, he just has to be developed appropriately. It’s a tricky thing to do, but Shanahan might be the man for the job.
8. Arizona- Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford:
Analysis: The Cardinals have huge needs along the offensive line but particularly at left tackle. They haven’t been able to adequately fill that position for years, and Levi Brown has not been holding up well at all. He has been flat out abused at times this year, and they don’t have an adequate replacement on the roster right now. I personally am not sold on Jonathan Martin being a quality left tackle yet as I think he might be a more ideal fit at right tackle, but I do think he will be drafted quite high because of his potential projection to the blind side.
9. Philadelphia- Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College:
Analysis: Kuechly continues to impress everyone who watches him. It’s hard to find significant flaws in his game and he has been doing amazing things at the linebacker position for Boston College. He’s a fantastic linebacker and is easily the most NFL ready linebacker that is eligible for the draft this year. He is only a junior so while he is absolutely ready for the jump to the next level it’s not a sure thing that he will leave early. However, the Eagles should be praying that he does because he is the perfect solution for their middle linebacker position. He’s a top 10 lock in my opinion because he is going to test off the charts in interviews and while he might not be an elite athlete with freakish ability he is very arguably the best tackler in the entire country and is as fundamentally sound and reliable as any linebacker prospect in the nation. The Eagles need a player like him in the middle of their defense as bad as anyone, and getting the chance to pick him #9 overall would be a godsend for their franchise.
10. Cleveland- Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina:
Analysis: Cleveland seems to have hit home with Jabaal Sheard thus far but they don’t have a lot of pass rush talent opposite him and while they do have talent at defensive tackle I don’t think they have a defensive tackle with legitimate pass rush talent inside. Coples projects best to DE in the NFL, and while I’m not sure if he would be at RE or LE for the Browns since I wouldn’t want to move Sheard from where he has had success, I think he projects well to DE at the next level. Ideally he would be at left end, but on top of the value he presents as a starting left end he would also be able to slide inside to defensive tackle in pass rushing situations. He is a ‘tweener to some extent, but I think that works to his advantage in this situation. He would be able to be an every down defensive end, but he has such impressive size and strength that I think he could shift inside and use his athleticism to his advantage to create pressure from the interior in obvious passing situations. That would give the Browns some scheme flexibility and boost Coples’ value even more.
11. Kansas City- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: There is significant chance that Cassel will still be the Chiefs quarterback of the future, but he will be 30 next May and there is no indication that he is going to be durable for the long haul. Cassel hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback to any extent and the Chiefs front office has been making concerted efforts to surround him with weapons. He has Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin at his disposal now. The effects haven’t been exactly what the Chiefs desired. Landry Jones might not be my favorite quarterback in this class, but he has quality size, arm strength and accuracy. I don’t think he’s a franchise guy and I’m not sure he will win a Super Bowl without a quality supporting cast and a great defense, but that’s just my opinion.
12. Seattle- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Richardson is a top talent, but running backs don’t always go in the top five. I would argue that he’s on a similar level as McFadden and perhaps even Adrian Peterson as a prospect, but running backs have to make a fantastic case to go in the top 5-10 picks. There isn’t an incredible amount of demand for a running back in the top five, and outside of Washington and Cleveland there isn’t a ton of demand for running backs in the top 10. Shanahan doesn’t have a track record of picking running backs early on anyways, so I don’t think he would pick Richardson at 7 in this scenario unless he thought he was a truly elite talent. That, in my opinion, would cause Richardson to slide a bit. Seattle might not need him that much given Marshawn Lynch’s re-emergence to a degree, but with all of the highly touted underclassmen quarterbacks off the board I think that Pete Carroll would go in another direction other than quarterback. Richardson would help take a ton of pressure off of Tarvaris Jackson by combining him with Lynch in the running game. This might not be the most likely pick or the best pick for need for the Seahawks, but I do think Carroll is a man who could appreciate the immense value of this selection.
13. San Diego- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia:
Analysis: San Diego has been searching for an upgrade at outside linebacker since they lost Shawne Merriman to injury years ago. Larry English hasn’t panned out like they thought he would (I personally thought he would be better as a RE in a 4-3, or perhaps only as a situational pass rusher in nickel packages) and they haven’t been able to upgrade him yet. Enter Jarvis Jones, one of the best pass rushers in the entire country. There’s no guarantee that he will declare as he is only a redshirt sophomore, but he has as much upside as a pass rusher as anyone in the nation. He’s been dominant rushing the passer this year and really helped ease the loss of Justin Houston to the NFL and made up for Cornelius Washington’s absence due to suspension at times this season. He’s got tremendous upside and while he needs to get bigger and stronger before he is NFL ready if he did declare I think he would demand immediate top 20 consideration.
14. Tampa Bay- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame:
Analysis: This might not be Tampa Bay’s biggest need, but Josh Freeman has a solid running back in LeGarrette Blount, a talented tight end in Kellen Winslow and a potential #1 WR in Mike Williams, but I think he could use another weapon at wide receiver. Floyd is a good value at #14 overall and has the potential to go higher than this, but his character concerns might drop him a little bit. The Bucs haven’t shied away from character concerns before, especially at wide receiver where they picked the potentially troubled Williams who quit the Syracuse football team and still went in the fourth round. Floyd has had his issues, but he is a talented, big bodied receiver who would really compliment Mike Williams’ explosiveness and burst well.
15. Buffalo- David DeCastro, OG, Stanford:
Analysis: Buffalo needs help along the offensive line and David DeCastro is as good as it gets for an offensive guard prospect. Top 15 picks at OG are extremely rare, but this might be one instance where it could happen. DeCastro is a fantastic guard prospect and while he is only a junior he is ready for the next level. The Bills have a few needs along their roster, but I think that DeCastro would fill a significant need at guard for the Bills.
16. Tennessee- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama:  
Analysis: The Titans have a quality corner in Cortland Finnegan, but they don’t have much talent beyond him. The Titans have other needs they could address here, but picking up a corner like Kirkpatrick who absolutely has top 15 ability makes a lot of sense in my opinion. The Titans have bigger issues than corner thanks to Finnegan’s ability, but getting another quality corner to start opposite him can help the defensive line, and if they are able to boost their pass rush and help out the secondary the Titans defense would really improve considerably. They need upgrades on defense and on offense, but picking up a very good corner like Kirkpatrick can’t hurt here.
17. New York Jets- Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: The Jets are one of the most creative teams as far as blitzing schemes thanks to Rex Ryan and they have enough talent on the back end to get away with some intricate blitz packages. However, their secondary and defense overall would benefit considerably if they could get a better pass rush out of their base packages. Ronnell Lewis has been one of the better pass rushers in the country and while he is still young he has plenty of upside and the Jets have shown that they have at least some ability to get production out of athletically talented players, most notably Aaron Maybin who looked like an absolute bust on the Bills but has tallied 5 sacks since signing on with the Jets. Lewis is an athletic specimen as well, and if he is developed properly I think he can be a quality pass rusher for the Jets.
18. Denver- Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia:
Analysis: The Broncos defense has really stepped up this season and Von Miller in particular has been playing not only like a Pro-Bowler, but like an All-Pro. He has 10.5 sacks in only 11 games which is almost unheard of for a rookie. The Broncos defense is definitely on the right track, but they could probably use an upgrade at corner. Champ Bailey is getting older but still playing well, however they don’t have an abundance of talent opposite him. I have been high on Minnifield since I watched him last season as a junior, and I think he has legitimate 1st round ability. Any corner that gets a chance to learn from Bailey will benefit considerably from it, but I think Minnifield would help improve Denver’s back end considerably once he was deemed ready to start.
19. New York Giants- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina:  
Analysis: The Giants may not have as serious of a need at linebacker as it seemed at the beginning of the year if Mark Herzlich proves to be the man for the job, but they have had serious issues with injuries and inconsistency at linebacker for years, so adding some talent to the fold isn’t a bad idea. Brown is extremely athletic and has significant upside and would fit very well on a Giants defense that likes an athletic front 7 and enjoys applying pressure with their front four and linebackers.
20. Dallas- Mark Barron, S, Alabama:
Analysis: Dallas has had issues at safety since they had Roy Williams starting at safety years and years ago and they’ve never really solved that problem. Mark Barron is one of the only safeties in the class that potentially warrants a 1st round pick. I was not high on him after his junior season, but he has shown much more ability in coverage than I expected to see this year. If he truly projects well to the NFL from a coverage standpoint then he definitely warrants 1st round consideration and the Cowboys would be wise to consider selecting him here.
21. Cleveland (F/ATL)- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State:
Analysis: Cleveland’s offensive line could use an upgrade. Joe Thomas is a stud, but opposite him there isn’t anything special. Mike Adams has some potential as a left tackle, but I think he could be a good or a very good right tackle. He’s a local guy having gone to Ohio State and he would fill a need for them up front.
22. Cincinnati (F/OAK)- Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin:
Analysis: Cincinnati could use significant help along the interior of their offensive line and getting a center like Konz would be ideal. He’s easily the best draft eligible center for the 2012 draft and if he is healthy enough to play in the Big 10 Championship Game or whatever bowl game Wisconsin plays in then I think it is possible that he will declare. Regardless, if he decides to come out he is the rare center that warrants a 1st round selection.
23. Cincinnati- Alfonso Dennard, CB, Nebraska:
Analysis: Cincinnati has some talent at corner, but when they lost Jonathan Joseph to the Houston Texans in free agency it definitely hurt their secondary. Dennard is a physical corner and would help replace Joseph in the secondary. I don’t think he has the ball skills that Joseph has by any means, but he would definitely help shore up the hole he left at corner.
24. Chicago- Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State:
Analysis: Chicago has been searching for a left tackle for years and they haven’t found it yet. They drafted Chris Williams to play there and he has only recently showed enough to start inside at guard. J’Marcus Webb was certainly not drafted to be the future at left tackle but he has spent far too much time starting at that spot. He’s not a left tackle and he has struggled at the spot. Zebrie Sanders may not have been considered by many to be a starting left tackle but he pleasantly surprised a lot of people when he slid over to the left side of the line to replace Andrew Datko for Florida State this season. I think he has NFL potential at left tackle and if Chicago agrees then they have to pick him. Getting bookend tackles for an offensive line that has been one of the league’s worst for years would be a huge step in the right direction for the Bears organization.
25. Detroit- Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia:
Analysis: Detroit seems to be a team that drafts primarily for value and doesn’t reach for needs, preferring to get as much talent as possible. I like that drafting strategy, but unfortunately it led to them ignoring the offensive line and the cornerback position last year. This year I think they need to make sure they address the offensive line, and Cordy Glenn is one of the best remaining offensive linemen on the board at this point in the draft. He is a huge, powerful run blocker but I don’t think he can stick outside at tackle. That makes me think he could be a very good offensive guard, and the Lions could use the push up front.
26. Houston- Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis:
Analysis: Dontari Poe is a raw prospect in my opinion but at a listed height and weight of 6’5”, 350 pounds he definitely has immense upside. Houston likes to penetrate upfield and cause havoc with their defense, and Poe could definitely help them do that. I personally he might eventually be a better fit in a 4-3 defense if he is able to improve his pass rush moves to collapse the pocket more versus the pass. However, a lot of teams will see his size and strength and assume he is ready to be a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. As we saw with Albert Haynesworth size and strength don’t automatically mean he can play nose tackle in that defense, so we need to be careful assuming that he is a great fit in that scheme. However, my opinion has never stopped NFL teams from doing what they want to do, so Poe could very well end up on a 3-4 team after all.
27. New England- Devon Still, DT, Penn State:
Analysis: The Patriots have plenty of talent in their front seven, but they still struggle to rush the passer at times. This might have to do with their transition from a 3-4 defense, but I think that Still projects well to the DT position in a 4-3 defense. He has had a fantastic senior year and could easily go higher than this, but it’s hard to figure out exactly where everyone’s stock is at this point. If he did make it this far I would not put it past the Patriots to take advantage of the value picking Still here would present.
28. New England (F/ NO)- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina:
Analysis: New England has a lot of quick wide receivers but they don’t have a big, physical receiver. Perhaps they don’t want one, but I think it hurts them a bit in the red zone when they have to rely on quick routes from their wide receivers and throwing to tight ends in one on one coverage. At the very least, having a big, powerful wide receiver like Alshon Jeffrey couldn’t really hurt them in the red zone or overall. I worry about his ability to create consistent separation in the NFL, but he has fantastic size, very long arms and great hands. He’s got plenty of upside, but his stock has slipped this year due to inconsistent production partially because of him and partially because of transitions at the quarterback position. Jeffrey could easily go higher than this, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be a top 5-10 pick at this point.
29. Baltimore- Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State:
Analysis: Burfict has top 20 talent thanks to his combination of size, athleticism and his electrifying hitting ability. However, he has some character concerns that will probably scare a few teams away. The elite teams in the NFL often have the locker room presence to take risks on a certain number of these types of players. Burfict is such a player, and with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and other strong locker room leaders the Ravens are one of the teams that could take a risk on Burfict. In fact, I think Ray Lewis would be a very intriguing mentor for Burfict because Lewis is a big hitter with great toughness and leadership capability. Burfict could learn a lot from Lewis and it might also help improve his reputation. Not only that, but Burfict would be the obvious heir apparent to Lewis at middle linebacker.
30. Pittsburgh- Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame:
Analysis: Pittsburgh, much like Baltimore, has an aging leader at middle linebacker in James Farrior and I don’t think the future replacement for him is currently on the roster. Enter Manti Te’o, a 1st round caliber middle linebacker. Te’o projects well to a 3-4 scheme that would require him to play downhill and blitz to help create pressure, two things that Te’o does very well. Pittsburgh would get a player who is a good fit for their scheme and they’d have a great replacement for Farrior in the middle of their defense.
31. San Francisco- Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington:
Analysis: San Francisco lost Aubrayo Franklin in free agency and most people anticipated them struggling to stop the run after losing him. That hasn’t been the case, however, they could still use an upgrade at the nose tackle spot. Ta’amu is one of the best nose tackle prospects in the country and he is very hard to move off of the line of scrimmage. He’d be a perfect nose tackle for the 49ers, and would be a reasonable value at this point in the draft.
32. Green Bay- Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State:
Analysis: I have been saying this since Clay Matthews emerged as a stud linebacker for the Packers: They need someone opposite him to help take pressure off of him. Matthews is a man-child, but he can’t get 10 sacks a year and apply consistent pressure without a talented player opposite him. At first they had Brady Poppinga and he was replaced by Erik Walden, but both players could be easily upgraded. Enter Brandon Jenkins, the nation’s sack leader from a year ago. He has tons of speed off the edge and while he needs to get stronger he has significant upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Thanks for reading! I’d appreciate any feedback so I can improve future mock drafts.

–Tom

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Oh how the tables have turned. Just a few short years ago Stanford was the underdog and USC was the powerful program. Now? Stanford is the undefeated team with the inside track to the Rose Bowl.

This was the crown jewel of all the games on the day in my opinion as Stanford won 58-48 in triple overtime to stay undefeated on a day when two top ten teams lost (#5 ranked Clemson and #8 ranked Kansas State), four teams in the top 15 lost (#11 Michigan State and #15 Wisconsin), and six teams in the top 25 overall lost (#16 Texas A&M and #20 Texas Tech). And while that might not seem that significant, consider that seven of the games involving top 25 teams were decided by one score or less. There were a lot of close games, but Stanford managed to hang on for the win. This game was chalk full of NFL Draft prospects and talent, so let’s get to it!

This was a special game because it was a rare opportunity to watch a 7-0 team play a 6-1 squad, but also because of the two quarterbacks that were starting in this game. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are my top two QB’s in my current quarterback rankings and I haven’t seen nearly enough from the other quarterbacks to make me consider changing the order at the top. Luck was fantastic in this game and even though he made a poor throw that resulted in a pick six (and seemingly gave USC all of the momentum) it is extremely important to note how he responded to that. He completed four of his six passes on the drive for 32 yards and scrambled for an additional 16 on one run. Then Stepfan Taylor punched it in to even the score with 38 seconds left. A lot of quarterbacks would have fallen apart in that situation, but Luck put the interception out of his mind and led Stanford right down the field for the game-tying score.

Fair or not, Matt Barkley will forever be compared with Andrew Luck if he comes out this year as the consensus #2 draft eligible quarterback.

It is also worthwhile to point out how well Barkley played. His numbers were impressive and I thought overall he placed the ball well in this game, but if Robert Woods had helped him out even a little bit this would have been an entirely different game. Now, I’m very high on Woods and a lot of people will read this and be very surprised since I’ve been talking about how good he is since early in his freshman season. However, he dropped a sure completion that would have had the Trojans inside the ten yard line if he didn’t make it into the end zone in the 1st quarter, and he arguably dropped another touchdown on a 50/50 ball on a fade that he couldn’t come down with (to be fair, he was clearly interfered with and it wasn’t called, but if he wants to be the best then he has to make that catch). Those are two game-changing plays, and I believe he had at least one or two other drops besides those. But that first potential touchdown drop eventually led that drive to stall when it could have tied the game early at 7 all. And before that Barkley was throwing strikes, but after it he seemed to have a little less confidence in his receivers and wasn’t as accurate the rest of the drive. He rebounded, but it’s clear that Woods’ is his favorite target and it definitely threw Barkley off a bit not being able to rely on him like usual. I was personally shocked to see Woods drop multiple passes like that because his hands are usually as reliable as they come. But as the game progressed he was body catching and didn’t seem to have the confidence in his hands that he usually does. It was one of the more surprising things about this game in my opinion.

Barkley was still effective even despite that completing 28 of his 45 passes for 284 yards, a completion percentage of 62.2 and three touchdowns with only one interception. Had Woods not dropped a couple of those passes it is fair to assume he would have had a completion percentage of 66, 300+ yards and at least four touchdowns. That’s a pretty significant impact.

Curtis McNeal has all of Trojan Nation jumping for joy now that he has helped establish a consistent running game for USC's offense.

And even though I have spoken highly of him before on my Twitter I don’t think I have ever formally thrown my support behind USC running back Curtis McNeal on this blog. I have been very impressed with him every time USC gives him carries, and he seems to have some potential as a receiver out of the backfield. In the first four games of the season he had a combined 17 carries for 129 yards (good for a 7.59 ypc average) and no TD’s. 79 of those yards came against Syracuse, but still he didn’t get consistent touches the next week. However, in the last four games when he has been getting some consistent touches he has 68 carries, 424 yards (6.24 ypc average), and 4 touchdowns. That’s quite the bump in production isn’t it? He had the best game of his entire career against Stanford, but unfortunately it will likely be overshadowed by his fumble in the third overtime that Stanford recovered to seal the victory. He had 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries in this game, a great game for any running back, and yet one unfortunate play will likely define it for him.

Regardless of how that game ended for McNeal, it’s clear he is very talented. If I’m not mistaken he was a five star recruit coming out of high school and due to USC’s insanely talented backfield this is the first time he’s gotten significant playing time. He isn’t a very big guy at only 5’7″, 180 pounds but he is fast, has great burst and has made the most of the opportunities he has been given so far this season as he has amassed 552 rushing yards and 4 TD’s so far despite only carrying the ball 17 times in the first four games. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on, and if I was USC I would start him the rest of the season and move on from Marc Tyler. McNeal clearly has much more upside.

Marqise Lee may not be quite as good as Robert Woods, but he is a very impressive freshman receiver in his own right. It's no coincidence that the Trojan offense has started to take off as he has emerged as a legitimate threat opposite Woods.

Another player on USC’s offense that I have become quite taken with is Marqise Lee. He’s only a freshman but he has really stepped up opposite Robert Woods and has made opposing defenses pay for leaving him one on one with a corner while doubling Robert Woods. Lee has had a very impressive start to his USC career with 34 catches, 534 yards and 5 TD’s so far this season. He isn’t as tall as he looks on TV as he stands at 6’0″ and only weighs 190 pounds, but he has the frame to get over 200 pounds easily once he becomes acclimated to USC’s vaunted workout program. But what Lee does have is vertical speed, impressive burst, very reliable hands and plenty of upside. Woods is one of the best receivers in the country right now, but Lee is quietly having a very impressive freshman season of his own.

An underrated performer who I think has a lot of potential for USC is their freshman TE Randall Telfer. He had five catches last night (the most of his career thus far) and on the season has 15 receptions, 172 yards and 3 TD’s. He has great size for such a young TE at 6’4″, 230 pounds and has plenty of room on his frame to add additional weight over the rest of his career as a Trojan. Additionally, he has already become something of a red-zone target due to his size, and he showed reliable hands last night in a huge game against Stanford. He may not be the starter and his stat sheet isn’t glowing, but Telfer has plenty of upside and I’m excited to watch him develop.

Matt Kalil is arguably the best draft eligible tackle prospect in the country, and figures to be a top five selection in the NFL Draft should he declare after his junior season.

As is to be expected, USC has plenty of talent along their offensive and defensive lines too. The two players that everyone was watching yesterday were Matt Kalil and Nick Perry. Kalil is the consensus #1 draft-eligible offensive tackle in the country right now, and while plenty of fans want their bottom dwelling team to “Suck for Luck” I think there are a number of teams that could really stand to “Kneel for Kalil.” The Vikings definitely come to mind when thinking about teams that have awful records but won’t necessarily be looking for a quarterback early in the draft. I don’t think the Vikings will end up with the #1 overall pick, so Luck is likely out of the question (especially if Ponder finds a way to win a couple of games as a starter). I don’t see Barkley as a huge upgrade over Ponder, so while he might make sense I think the Vikings would be wise to surround Ponder with some talent. Left tackle is a serious issue for them, and Kalil is the best one available. Seems like a match made in heaven to me. Kalil isn’t a perfect tackle, but he is about as polished as any offensive tackle prospect I have seen in recent years and has tons of starting experience. Keep in mind it was Kalil’s ability as a left tackle that kept Tyron Smith, an absolute freakish athlete for an offensive lineman, at right tackle while he was at USC. He later went #9 overall to the Dallas Cowboys and seems to be their future at left tackle.

Nick Perry has an intriguing combination of size and athletic ability, but he doesn't strike me as a quick-twitch athlete and I think he needs to significantly improve his hand usage before he will be effective in the NFL.

Nick Perry, on the other hand, isn’t impressing me nearly as much as Kalil. Perry is very athletic and has plenty of upside due to his size (6’3″, 250 pounds) but he just hasn’t put it all together yet. He can speed rush and bull rush, but he has struggled to disengage once he is blocked as a pass rusher and doesn’t seem to have very good hand usage or pass rush moves. This limits him significantly as a pass rusher as he either has to beat his man around the edge or he likely isn’t getting to the QB unless he is left unblocked. He can get off blocks, but usually it is more because of effort than actual technique. This means he is getting to the quarterback later than he could be, and means he is applying less pressure than he is potentially capable of. I think he has upside if he is drafted to a team that has a quality defensive line coach, but USC produces plenty of talented defensive linemen than use their hands better than Perry does, so it makes me wonder exactly why he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet. I thought he was ready to break out this year, and to a certain extent he has. He has 39 total tackles (21 solo), 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass deflections. However, he hasn’t been anything close to dominant and if he came out this season I would project him in the 3rd round as a player with plenty of upside but limited production. He’s worth the risk in that area of the draft, but he just hasn’t shown me enough to consider him as early as the 2nd round, much less the 1st round.

DaJohn Harris' statline may not wow potential talent evaluators, but he has been consistently disruptive at defensive tackle for USC this season.

I know it may seem like I am obsessed with USC, but everyone knows they are always loaded with talent so it takes a while to get through their roster when I break their games down in this format. Three players that I really like on USC’s defense are DaJohn Harris, Dion Bailey and Nickell Robey. Harris is a 6’4″, 310 pound senior defensive tackle who has consistently impressed me when I have watched him. As will often happen with interior defensive linemen, their true impact can’t be gleaned from a stat sheet. Harris only has 17 total tackles (9 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and an impressive 5 pass break-ups on the season, but he has consistently penetrated into the backfield (as evidenced by his 6 tackles for loss) and helped free up his linebackers to make plays. He absolutely has NFL size and ability, and he has definitely been helping his stock this season. I am very much looking forward to seeing him at a post-season all-star game this year, my guess would be the Senior Bowl.

Now, Dion Bailey may only be a freshman but he is a very impressive player. He was initially a safety, but USC moved him into the box as a linebacker and he has taken off ever since. He has been incredibly productive for a freshman still adjusting to a new position as he has 67 total tackles (39 solo), 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble. That would be a fantastic stat line for any freshman linebacker after an entire season, but that is what Bailey has managed in only 8 games! He may not be a huge player at only 6’0″, 200 pounds, but he has room to add weight to his frame and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him playing at around 220 pounds at the start of his sophomore season next year. Bailey has incredible potential because of his combination of reliable tackling, his pop as a hitter, his instincts and ability in coverage as well as his ball skills because of his experience as a safety. He’s an exciting player, and I can’t wait to see him develop into the top talent I expect him to be.

Nickell Robey has been displaying his impressive ball skills since he got to USC last year, and in this game he not only forced a rare Andrew Luck interception, but he returned it for a USC touchdown.

And finally, we have Nickell Robey. Most of you will recognize him as the corner who drove on the throw by Andrew Luck, picked it off and returned it for a touchdown last night. And even though I have never talked about him on my blog, he has been making plays all season long. Robey is only a 5’8, 165 pound sophomore but he has plenty of ability as evidenced not only by his pick-six on Andrew Luck, but by his stat line. He has produced 41 total tackles (23 solo), 0.5 TFL, 2 INT’s (including 1 TD) as well as a very impressive 6 pass break-ups. He may only be a sophomore and he doesn’t have impressive size by any means, but he has plenty of speed, burst and ball skills to be an impact corner for USC. Their defense is slowly becoming more and more talented, and Robey may be one of their key players next year as they look to take the next step as a defense.

Now, while I have talked about plenty of USC players already I feel it is necessary to discuss T.J. McDonald briefly. McDonald has tons of upside due to his fantastic combination of size and athletic ability and he has been productive this season. At 6’3″, 205 pounds  he has produced 41 total tackles (24 solo), 1.5 TFL, 2 INT’s and one pass break-up. McDonald is solid in coverage, but he also loves to deliver the big hit. Unfortunately, even though he is a good tackler and has plenty of pop as a hitter, he has a tendency to draw personal foul penalties for his bone-crushing hits. They aren’t always good calls (such as the terrible personal foul call he drew for lighting up Chris Owusu of Stanford last night) but referees are looking for hits anywhere near the head and they are practically willing to call a wideout with the ball in his hands a defenseless receiver these days. He has to know that and make sure he doesn’t give the refs any reason to call a penalty on him, but game after game he draws these flags. He has plenty of upside, but his inconsistency is an issue for me. I’m not sold on his instincts and his ability in coverage either. So while he might look like a first round pick lining up for USC, I am not so sure.

Coby Fleener is a very well rounded tight end and he figures to be a first or second day draft pick after he graduates at the end of this season.

Finally, I’m done with USC! Now on to Stanford, a very talented team in their own right. I think the most notable part of Stanford outside of their fantastic quarterback is their absurd amount of talent at tight end. I believe they have at least three NFL caliber tight ends on their rosters (all draft eligible actually, though I wouldn’t expect all three to leave) and I think they are hiding one or two more listing them as fullbacks! The best of the bunch is arguably Coby Fleener, a 6’6″, 244 pound TE who has great hands and is a very willing blocker. You practically have to be to get playing time in Stanford’s physical pro-style offense, and while I haven’t scouted Fleener specifically I have been impressed with him when I have seen him play. Their second TE is Zach Ertz, who actually has five more receptions than Fleener does on the season (though Fleener has 7 TD’s to Ertz’s 3). Ertz, a junior, stands at 6’6″, 249 pounds and gives Stanford almost an additional two offensive linemen when he and Fleener line up on the field at the same time. Their third TE is Levine Toilolo who is an absolutely massive 6’8″, 263 pound junior. Even as the #3 TE option he has 12 receptions, 210 yards and 4 TD’s on the year. When he was split out against a defensive back I just knew Andrew Luck was going to throw a fade to him and lo-and-behold that was the play-call, and Toilolo didn’t disappoint even though the ball was thrown slightly behind him and didn’t allow him to go up and high point it in the air. One of the guys Stanford is hiding as a fullback is a guy I think will stick at TE in the NFL. Ryan Hewitt, a 6’4″, 238 pound “fullback” is a quality pass catcher who has 19 receptions, 171 yards and 4 TD’s on the season. I see him as more of an H-Back in the NFL, though he does have 7 carries for 21 yards on the year. He would be awfully tall for a fullback, but I definitely think he has a future in the NFl as well.

Needless to say, Stanford is absolutely stacked at the TE position and I can’t wait to scout all of them in the future. They all have bright futures in the NFL in my opinion.

Jonathan Martin has helped make life easy for Andrew Luck by protecting his blind side in college, but I am not 100% sold on him being a quality blind side protector at the next level.

Before continuing on to other Stanford prospects, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro need to be discussed. Martin is one of the top OT’s available in the 2012 NFL Draft and DeCastro may be the top offensive guard in the country right now. I am not 100% sold on Martin being a NFL left tackle, but he has the potential to stick at that position and if he doesn’t I would be surprised if he didn’t end up being a starter at right tackle in the NFL. He struggled at times with Nick Perry’s athleticism and speed rush, but overall I thought he had a good game before his injury. I haven’t scouted Martin or DeCastro specifically, but they are without a doubt the anchors of that offensive line and the big guys up front set the tone for this entire Stanford team with their physicality and their willingness to do the dirty work so Luck and the other position players get all the glory. Keep an eye on these two offensive linemen, they are both very good.

It’s hard to argue that anyone has benefited more from Andrew Luck’s presence than Stepfan Taylor, Stanford’s starting running back. Playing in such a physical offense, it’s only natural that you would want to stack the box against Stanford’s rushing attack. However, with Luck at QB it is nearly impossible to take away their running game because if you don’t respect Luck as a passer he will absolutely shred you (and sometimes he does this even when you are trying to take him away as a passer). This has helped the 5’11”, 208 pound junior tailback produce 796 yards on only 134 carries (a 5.94 ypc average) as well as 8 touchdowns. He has also shown soft hands out of the backfield, catching 16 passes for 106 yards and another score. It is unclear whether or not Taylor plans to come back for his senior season or not, but after Luck leaves he won’t have much to prove after potentially having consecutive 1,000+ yard rushing seasons as well as 10+ touchdowns (he had 1,137 yards and 15 TD’s as a sophomore). Plus, teams will be much more willing to stack the box, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Taylor left. I haven’t scouted him as much as I might like, but while he doesn’t have burning speed he does have the potential to be a feature back. I was always impressed with him when he relieved Gerhart as a freshman, and that hasn’t changed.

If Taylor does leave, that would likely leave the workload to current junior running back Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney has impressed me when giving Taylor a breather, but that’s not hard to do with such a great offensive line as well as so many tight ends that block effectively. Gaffney will be a senior next year and I’m sure he is hoping Taylor leaves so that he can get a shot at being the workhorse. Gaffney is bigger than Taylor is, standing at 6’1″, 216 pounds. This year he has 41 carries for 288 yards (a 6.86 ypc average) as well as 5 TD’s. His yardage and touchdown totals have already exceeded his numbers from his sophomore year (255 yards and 4 TD’s in 10 games) and he has done it in only 8 games with 19 fewer carries! Gaffney may not be the workhorse yet, but I hope he gets his chance to be as a senior next year.

Chase Thomas has had an extremely productive career at linebacker for Stanford, and as a result he is starting to get serious NFL looks.

And before I wrap this post up, it would be impossible not to talk about Stanford without talking about Chase Thomas, their all-everything outside linebacker. Thomas has quality linebacker size at 6’4″, 239 pounds and has had a fantastic career at Stanford. Since he got significant playing time as a sophomore he has been terrific. His sophomore year he had 36 total tackles (20 solo), 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one blocked kick. Then as a junior he produced 69 total tackles (49 solo), 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble and three pass break-ups. He has been even more spectacular this year, notching 34 total tackles (22 solo), 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in Stanford’s first 8 games. He has a great chance at notching 60 total tackles (with 40 solos), 15+ TFL, 7.5+ sacks and four or more forced fumbles on the season. That would be an incredible stat line. He didn’t have a sack against Matt Kalil, but he did manage 1.5 TFL’s on the day against USC. I haven’t scouted him specifically yet, so I don’t know exactly what he is capable of, but having seen him play multiple times I do know that he is a very talented player with a great history of production.

So, at long last, I have completed my thoughts on the Stanford-USC game. It was more of a prospect round-up than actual thoughts on the game, but it was such a good game with so much talent that I just had to break down some of the prospects that you all need to keep an eye on. Hopefully you enjoyed it, and I apologize for the length of the post. It took about three hours of constant writing and research to look up stats for this article to complete it, so thanks for reading!

–Tom

1- Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
Analysis: Osemele is an offensive tackle at Iowa State I believe but I don’t think he will stick at LT in the NFL so I think he will be a RT or an OG based off of what little I have seen of him. I am interested to watch him more to see if I think he for sure has to be a guard or if I think he can stick at one of the tackle positions.
2- Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
Analysis: Zeitler was part of a very talented offensive line at Wisconsin and it’s hard not to like Wisconsin offensive linemen because they churn out some good ones. I am excited to see him play because I obviously paid more attention to Carimi and Moffitt when I was scouting last year.
3- David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Analysis: Stanford is another team that has a good offensive line and they are powerful, so I am interested to see what DeCastro has as a blocker in the run game and as a pass blocker.
4- Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Analysis: Glenn is a very big offensive lineman that might play offensive tackle for the Bulldogs but I am not sure. I haven’t paid specific attention to him when I watched Georgia but at his size he would be a very imposing offensive guard. I just question how much lateral agility he could have to stick at tackle if that is his position. I am looking forward to getting a chance to evaluate him further this year.
5- Stephen Good, OG, Oklahoma
Analysis: Good is a quality guard prospect and while I haven’t scouted him specifically I think he warrants this top five ranking. He might end up being ranked higher than this as the year progresses. Good will definitely get a chance to demonstrate his pass blocking ability as Oklahoma figures to be passing the ball a lot, but I am interested to evaluate him as a run and pass blocker this season.
6- Kevious Watkins, OG, South Carolina
Analysis: Watkins is going to be paving the way for one of the best running backs in the nation in Marcus Lattimore so I would not be surprised if we got to see him run blocking very frequently, especially with relative uncertainty at the QB position even if Stephen Garcia ends up being the starter. I haven’t paid attention to him before when watching South Carolina though, so I will have to do that this year.
7- Brandon Washington, OG, Miami
Analysis: Washington may only be a junior but he is going to be on a very talented Miami team this season, and while I haven’t scouted him specifically I have pretty high expectations for him given what I have read about him and what little I have seen of him.
8- Chris Jacobson, OG, Pittsburgh
Analysis: Jacobson helped pave the way for a very successful rushing attack the past couple of years, but the passing attack has been lackluster. I don’t know much about his ability as a run or pass blocker, but I will find out as soon as I get to watch him more this season.
9- Jaymes Brooks, OG, Kentucky
Analysis: Brooks is left on a Kentucky team that lost a boatload of talent to the draft, most notably Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Mike Hartline and Chris Matthews. However, they have some returning talent, especially at running back, and it will be up to Brooks to help give them some running room this season.
10- Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama
Analysis: Jones will be playing on a team that lost a lot of talent to the NFL as well, but Alabama has become one of the powers that doesn’t rebuild, it just reloads. It will be interesting to see how much of a passing attack they can generate without McElroy and Julio Jones, but Jones will be busy run blocking for Trent Richardson this season to be sure.

Hopefully you enjoyed my preliminary break-down on the top offensive guards in this 2012 Draft Class. Thanks for reading!

–Tom