Tag Archive: DeAndre Hopkins


NFL Weekly Picks: Week 3

Hey guys, sorry I didn’t have time to get my weekly picks post up last week. I just moved back to Minnesota so now that I am settling in hopefully I will be able to get into a groove with all of these weekly posts that I want to do. So, without further ado, here are my NFL Weekly Picks!

Eagles over Chiefs- I think the Eagles’ offense will be too much for the Chiefs to slow down, but it may come down to whether or not the Eagles defense can stop anyone. Thus far the answer to that question is no. Still, I’m going with Chip Kelly and the home team Eagles in this match-up, especially since the Chiefs have Dunta Robinson on their roster.

Packers over Bengals- The Bengals got a solid win against the Steelers last week but the Packers offense looked borderline unstoppable last week against the Redskins. The Bengals defense is a significantly better unit, but I think the Packers will be able to put up enough points to win this one. If Andy Dalton plays well he could make things interesting though, and I’m not sold on the Packers defense yet. Still, it’s tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers in this match-up even on the road.

Rams over Cowboys- This might surprise some people, but the Rams are a good football team and they gave my Falcons a run for their money last week. The Cowboys couldn’t quite figure out the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the ‘Boys have a lot of talent on offense the Rams are a talented defensive football team that I think has a chance to match-up with the Cowboys on offense. Of course, if Dez Bryant goes off for 180 yards and a touchdown like Julio Jones did last week then I would be completely wrong on that. Still, I have a feeling the Rams will play well in this game and I think they can beat Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road.

Chargers over Titans- I’m realizing I’m picking a lot of road teams here so far, but I think the Chargers are the better football team in this match-up and it’s tough not to go with Philip Rivers over Jake Locker here. If Locker can pass accurately and use his legs effectively they could give the Chargers defense some problems, but most of us know the likelihood of both of those things happening consistently for four quarters is not likely.

Vikings over Browns- This would have been a more interesting game prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and there is something funny about the Browns making this trade with the Colts just days before they travel up to Minnesota to play the Vikings given that the Vikings are the team that traded down with Cleveland to allow them to move up to number three overall and select Richardson in the first place. The Browns offense has been struggling even with Richardson in the lineup, and it’s hard to imagine them being better without him even with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. The Browns do have a good defense though, so I expect both teams to score less than 20 points. The Vikings have the offensive advantage in this match-up though thanks to Adrian Peterson and a solid game from Christian Ponder, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson should be enough to win this one for the purple. However, it is worth mentioning that this is the kind of game the Vikings traditionally find a way to inexplicably lose.

Patriots over Buccaneers- The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape right now and while the Patriots have barely managed to defeat two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks I don’t think Tom Brady and that offense are going to stay out of synch for more than a couple weeks. That should play to the Bucs advantage this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them a victory.

Saints over Cardinals- Originally I had the Cardinals winning this game, but it’s tough to travel into the Superdome and get a victory, particularly since the Saints defense looks significantly better through two weeks than it ever did last season. Carson Palmer has reinvigorated the Cardinals offense, and their defense is still respectable despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but I don’t think it will be enough to go into the Saints’ house and beat Drew Brees on his home turf.

Redskins over Lions- The Lions have shown plenty of flashes through the first two weeks, but I think they are going to come up short against a Redskins team that will likely be very motivated and focused after starting 0-2. It remains to be seen if the ‘Skins defense can get on track, but going up against the Eagles and the Packers in the first two weeks isn’t exactly a fair barometer for a defense, especially since they were essentially the NFL’s guinea pigs against Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offensive scheme. I think the Redskins will be motivated and hungry this week, so I’m giving them the edge over the Lions.

Giants over Panthers- I definitely didn’t expect the Giants to start the season out 0-2, but if Eli Manning can’t stop throwing interceptions they may be in for a long year. However, I am well aware that not all of those turnovers are his fault and I expect he and the Giants to get back on track against the Panthers. It would be really nice if David Wilson would get his act together and stop fumbling the ball, but the addition of Brandon Jacobs back into the fold should help provide at least a little stability in the running game. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers will surprise me, but I think the Giants are going to be motivated after starting 0-2 just like the Redskins are. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about the Panthers yet or not.

Texans over Ravens- The Ravens offense has been ineffective thus far this season and I don’t anticipate them getting back on track against the talented Texans defense. If Andre Johnson can play the Ravens will get to see the Texans explosive combination of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson AND DeAndre Hopkins who was one of my favorite wide receivers in last year’s loaded draft class. He caught the game-winning touchdown last week against the Titans, so I think the Texans are ready to beat the Ravens on the road this week.

Dolphins over Falcons- It pains me to do this, but the Falcons got way too banged up last week to go on the road and beat the Dolphins in my opinion. I think Ryan Tannehill is about to go off, and Lamar Miller may have a big day as well. Not only that, but Brent Grimes is a sure bet to pick off Matt Ryan in this game and I just don’t think the Falcons will be able to overcome Roddy White not being at 100%, Steven Jackson being out (though Jason Snelling will hopefully get a lot of touches), Kroy Biermann being out for the year, Bradie Ewing being out for the year, AND Sean Weatherspoon being out until Week 11. That’s a lot to replace and account for in one week, and while I think they will be able to survive those set-backs long term I’m not sure they can get away with it this week, so I give the advantage to the Dolphins at home.

Bills over Jets- In the battle of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Geno Smith I’ve got to give Manuel and the Bills the edge in this one. The Jets defense is still a quality unit despite the departure of Darrelle Revis, but Geno Smith made some questionable decisions and poorly executed throws in the elements against New England last week, and I have been shocked by how well EJ Manuel has been playing thus far. The Bills coaching staff has done a great job managing him thus far, and I trust Nathaniel Hackett to gameplan well more than I trust Marty Mornhinweg to do the same, so I am going with the Bills in this one. May the best rookie QB win. I must say, I was shocked and critical of the Manuel pick at 16 overall, but defeating Geno Smith (who I expected to come off the board first of all the quarterbacks) would be a pretty big vindication for EJ Manuel and the entire Bills organization. It would also make me look stupid, so that’s probably why it will happen.

49ers over Colts- This is an interesting one and it will be worth monitoring just how involved Trent Richardson will be in this game given that he is unfamiliar with the system and has no chemistry with the team at all, but the 49ers are the better squad and are likely very pissed off after the way they lost that game to division rival and offseason Cold War opponent Seattle on Sunday Night. The 49ers should come out firing and it will take a terrific performance from Andrew Luck to leave Candlestick with a victory.

Seahawks over Jaguars- #BecauseJaguars and #AllRussellWilsonEverything

Bears over Steelers- I thought Marc Trestman might give the Bears offense a tune-up and he appears to have done just that, and it makes me happy to see Jay Cutler playing well. The Steelers offense is completely devoid of playmaking at this point and I don’t anticipate they will be able to take advantage of the Bears defense enough to come away with a victory even at home.

Broncos over Raiders- The Broncos are playing some terrific football right now and they are looking especially sharp on the offensive side of the ball so far. They simply have more talent than the Raiders do at this point, though I think Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden may give the Broncos defense a few headaches. It would be a truly fantastic upset if the Raiders were able to come away with a victory against the Broncos on the road, I just don’t see it happening.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I do better this week than I did during the openers. Enjoy the games this weekend!

–Tom

Current 2013 Pick Record: 9-6

NFL Quick Hits: Week 2

This post will have to be more brief than my original one, partially because I missed the majority of the late afternoon games as well as the 49ers-Seahawks game (despite the delay) because of my move. Still, I want to write up my thoughts on the games I was able to see this week, so here there are.

New Message: Missing You. Sender: Tom Brady. Recipients: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez: The Patriots are 2-0, but barely. They eeked out a win week one against a rookie quarterback and the Buffalo Bills and needed three interceptions from their defense to hang on for a 13-10 win against Geno Smith and the New York Jets this past Thursday. Shane Vereen got hurt after a very productive opening week and Stevan Ridley has started slowly in the first two weeks. On top of that, Danny Amendola was hurt against the Jets, Gronkowski is still out, Hernandez is long gone and so is Wes Welker. Julian Edelman was the only receiver Brady could trust to catch the ball and he targeted him very frequently as a result, though Aaron Dobson had three solid catches for 56 yards and the Patriots’ only touchdown. However, he caught those three passes on a whopping 10 targets from Brady and had at least a couple drops from what I saw watching the game live. Brady let his frustration show throughout the game and it’s easy to understand why. He’s used to sure-handed receivers that are on the same page as him, but it was clear that everyone on the unit outside of Edelman was still working out the kinks with Brady. This was perfectly shown on one 3rd down play in the red zone where Dobson was running a corner route and as he got to the goal line Brady fired a pass expecting him to have read the coverage, recognize the hole in the zone and sit down for an easy touchdown. Instead, Dobson continued running his route and the pass fell incomplete and led to a field goal attempt which left Brady incensed as he came off the field and on the sideline. Hopefully Amendola won’t be out for longer than a couple weeks and Gronkowski should be back either this week or next, so Brady won’t have to put up with this indefinitely. As frustrating as this is for him right now it might pay some dividends later in the season if he gets on the same page with Dobson and rookie undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early on. Once Amendola and Gronkowski are back (and if they stay healthy) having Dobson, Thompkins and Edelman as reliable complementary options could provide this offense with a significant spark, not to mention if the running game gets going and Vereen returns healthy after he is activated from the injured reserve. The silver lining for the Jets is that Geno Smith flashed some upside in this game despite his three interceptions (though some of the throws he made late in the game were awful and complete head scratchers) and Chris Ivory seems poised to take over as a potential bell cow as he comes back from injury. That would be great for the Jets because they need a running game to help take some of the pressure off of Smith’s shoulders, there’s no way he should be throwing the ball 35 times in poor conditions against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his second career start. As out of synch as the Patriots offense was at times, the Jets defense has been better than a lot of people assumed it would be after losing it’s best player in Darrelle Revis, further proving that Rex Ryan may not be a media darling but he is a very good defensive football coach. We’ll see if that continues, but I don’t expect the Patriots to continue to struggle on offense like this for more than two or three weeks, and hopefully Chris Ivory will stay healthy and help keep Smith from needing to attempt 30+ passes in a game for a while.

It’s A Good Thing the Falcons Played at Home Because They Know Where All the Hospitals Are: Steven Jackson is already hurt and may be out another two to four weeks with a thigh injury. Bradie Ewing is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Kroy Biermann is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Sean Weatherspoon is on IR and is eligible to return week 11 because of a Lisfranc injury. Roddy White is playing through his injury but was clearly limited in week two as he was targeted just three times for three receptions and 21 yards. Julio Jones was on the injury report but thankfully went off for 181 yards and one touchdown against the Rams. The Falcons can survive without Steven Jackson thanks to Jason Snelling (if they ever give him the ball) and Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace back, they can survive while Roddy White is largely a decoy if Harry Douglas keeps catching 80% of his targets like he did against the Rams (4/5), they can survive without Ewing at fullback like they did all last season, and they can find a way to replace Biermann’s production as a pass rusher and hopefully his versatility to drop into coverage as well as his terrific motor. However, it’s going to be hard to replace ‘Spoon’s value to the linebacking corp because the Falcons were already thin there and relied on rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu from Texas State to help solidify that unit already. Now they will be scrambling to either add a veteran or will be forced to call up one of the young linebackers who didn’t make the team such as Pat Schiller. The Falcons have been hit hard by injuries already this year, but it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. However, they really need to work on establishing the run game against the Dolphins this upcoming week because running the ball 16 times for 36 yards (2.3 ypc) is embarrassing, particularly when your most effective runner (Jason Snelling) only got 2 carries and managed 19 yards and a touchdown despite the coaching staff almost deliberately trying not to give him the ball. Ryan was brilliant despite the lack of even a semblance of a running game, but expecting him to be that brilliant without a running game consistently is asking for a let down. Feed Snelling and let him take some of the heat off Ryan by getting him in more favorable 2nd and 3rd down situations. I haven’t been able to go back and rewatch the game yet, but Sam Bradford finally seems to have some weapons around him to do some damage with. Chris Givens gives him a deep threat that the Rams have been missing for years, and despite not liking him out of Boise State Austin Pettis has stuck around and remained productive despite lacking any explosiveness what so ever. The Rams, too, need to establish a running game and Daryl Richardson is the man they expect to do it. Still, he only got 10 carries and mustered 35 yards, but I still hope the Rams will give Benny Cunningham a chance to show what he can do. He is my favorite running back on the Rams roster and I really think he and Isiah Pead could do some damage splitting carries. The Rams defense is definitely talented enough to contend, it all comes down to whether Sam Bradford and the offense can take that next step this year now that he has some weapons to throw to.

Aaron Rodgers Is Still A Robot: I watched almost the entirety of the Packers-Redskins game and it honestly scared me watching Rodgers play quarterback. He had 335 yards passing at HALFTIME and finished with 480 yards, tying the passing record set by Packers legend Matt Flynn. He also threw four touchdowns while completing an insane 34 of his 42 passing attempts. His “QBR” of 80.9 is proof that ESPN’s rating system for quarterbacks is a complete joke because Rodgers was nothing short of masterful against the Redskins. On top of that the Packers also got 132 yards and a touchdown out of James Starks who was forced into action after Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. RGIII on the other hand had a tougher day and started much slower than Rodgers did (though Rodgers was under pressure frequently during the first couple series). He still managed to finish the game with 320 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 26/40 passing, but only ran the ball four times for a total of one yard. The Redskins are clearly trying to limit the contact that RGIII is taking, but it’s hurting the offense’s effectiveness early on in games if you ask me. The ‘Skins are 0-2 now and RGIII and that offense will have to get things going earlier if they are going to turn things around. We’ll see when the Shanahans are comfortable turning him loose on his surgically repaired knee.

Rivers Gets Redemption, Steals Victory From Vick, Eagles: Philip Rivers bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Texans the week before by winning on a last second field goal against the Eagles this past week. Rivers completed 36/47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to his new favorite target Eddie Royal who now has five touchdowns in just two games. Who saw that coming? Not me. I wasn’t happy to see Malcolm Floyd sustain a neck injury when he got sandwiched by two Eagles defenders over the middle, but his injury gave Keenan Allen a chance to get on the field and he caught two of his three targets for 34 yards including a BEAUTIFUL route on a deep in for his first NFL reception. Allen was my #1 ranked wide receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft class so I am excited that he might be getting more playing time even if it is because Floyd went down with an unfortunate injury. Rivers’ performance also overshadowed a terrific game from Mike Vick who threw for a career best 428 yards on 23 of 36 passing and two touchdowns. He also added six rushes for 23 yards and another score on the ground. LeSean McCoy only got 11 carries for 53 yards but he and DeSean Jackson were lethal in the passing game as McCoy totaled 114 yards on just five receptions and Jackson reeled in nine passes good for 193 yards and a touchdown. Chip Kelly’s offense is certainly fun to watch, but I am not surprised that the Eagles’ defense is struggling to stop opposing offenses from gaining a lot of yards and putting up a lot of points. They’re giving up 30 points per game through the first two weeks and that isn’t going to cut it in a division with the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys all capable of putting up a lot of points on any given Sunday.

Texans “Nuke” Titans: For years Texans fans and NFL Draft analysts alike have been waiting and wondering when the Texans would get a legitimate wide receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and 2013 was finally the year as the Texans added DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was my #4 ranked wide receiver in an absolutely loaded class but I am a huge fan of his and was not surprised to see him help the Texans rally despite losing Andre Johnson to a possible concussion in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with seven receptions for for 117 yards and the game winning touchdown in overtime in just his second game during his rookie season. It’s clear “Nuk” Hopkins is living up to the hype so far, and it’s great to see such a talented player blossom under the tutelage of a longtime NFL star in Andre Johnson.

Bengals, Bernard Burst Past Steelers: This wasn’t as fun of a game as I was hoping it would be largely in part because the Steelers offense is in a very bad way right now. Outside of Antonio Brown and occasionally Emmanuel Sanders there are no playmakers (Markus Wheaton has barely gotten any snaps the first two weeks) and Heath Miller was out for this game as well. Big Ben will be happy once Le’Veon Bell and Miller return because Bell should help perk up the running game even though Maurkice Pouncey will be out the entire season. Ray Lewis seemed to think that this was a devastating blow to the Steelers, and contrary to what I have read from some media members I tend to side with Ray. It’s easy to overlook how critical a center is to the offensive line sometimes, but players like Pouncey (even if he hasn’t been at his best for the last year or so) don’t come around too often. Add to that the departure of Mike Wallace and Miller’s injury and it’s not hard to see why the Steelers are struggling out of the gate this year. The defense is still strong, but they struggled to match up with the quickness of Giovani Bernard out of the backfield as well as the athleticism of Jermaine Greshman and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals continue to look like a very good team at pretty much every position except quarterback where I still have my reservations about Andy Dalton despite the fact that he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals have done well to surround him with weapons to get the most out of him that they can, but I think he plateaued after his rookie season and I don’t think he will ever take the next step from being a solid quarterback to being a good or great one. He settled down in this game and helped steer the Bengals to victory, but he was missing some throws he has to make to Eifert and AJ Green, two players with massive catch radii, that he has to make if he wants to lead the Bengals to the playoffs consistently, much less on a deep playoff run. The Bengals don’t seem to be totally convinced that Dalton is “the guy” yet either or they probably would have signed him to a contract extension, so it will be interesting to see how the season plays out, if Dalton takes the next step, and what the Bengals elect to do with him prior to him becoming a free agent.

Well, it was slightly more brief than last week. Hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts, let me know what you think and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written here.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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

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

RBs:

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

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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

WRs

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

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

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

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

OTs

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

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

OGs

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

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

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

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

DEs

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

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

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

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

OLBs

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

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

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

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

CBs

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

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

Safeties

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

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

From now until the season starts (WHICH IS TODAY!) 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 Clemson Tigers. Clemson shocked everyone last year when they started 8-0, but their late season collapse was not quite as surprising, and it ended with an absolute beat-down against West Virginia. Clemson’s offense is poised for another explosive season even if they will be without star receiver Sammy Watkins for a couple games. Tajh Boyd is returning for his second season as a starter and has plenty of weapons to throw to, but the question is how will his protection be. Brandon Thomas has established himself as the left tackle, and Dalton Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation, but the rest of the offensive line is unproven. If they are going to compete for an ACC title in the same division as the exceedingly talented Florida State Seminoles they are going to need Boyd to be at the top of his game, and for that to happen the offensive line will have to step up. I don’t think Clemson will beat FSU this year, and that’s why I don’t have them repeating as ACC champs.

Defense was the major problem with Clemson last year, and they return without their top pass rusher Andre Branch and their stud defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. They have a very young group of defensive tackles, but defensive end should continue to be a strength. I’m a big fan of Malliciah Goodman, and sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford will be looking to do his best Andre Branch impression this season. They have a star middle linebacker in the making in Stephone Anthony, a stud corner in the making in Baushaud Breeland, and plenty of talent and depth at safety. I know Clemson fans are hoping that the additional experience in the secondary will help eliminate some of the big plays that plagued the team last year. They have to improve at all levels of the defense, and how good they get will determine how competitive they will be with FSU. With that, here are Clemson’s prospects to keep an eye on:

Tajh Boyd, QB*- Boyd is an intriguing quarterback who is still very young and likely will leave Clemson with three full years of starting experience if he stays healthy. He started all 14 games last year and really helped put Clemson on the map by starting his season with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions over the first 8 games en route to Clemson starting 8-0. They faltered down the stretch however, and over that same span Boyd threw just 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He passed 499 times last season and completed 298 of them (59.7%) and threw for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Boyd is listed at just 6’1”, 225 pounds but he does have a strong arm and plenty of athleticism to compensate for his relative lack of size. He’s a late round prospect right now, but if he works hard to improve his ability to read defenses, learns to make better decisions (and throw the ball away, something I haven’t seen him do much) and embraces his role as a leader he could improve that stock. He reportedly weighed around 235 pounds towards the end of last season which he and his offensive coordinator think made him less effective and more prone to mistakes. I think it was a mix of his increased weight and the fact that teams had film on him to figure out what his tendencies were and what he struggled with. That appeared to be zone coverage more than anything else, because I don’t think he had the anticipation to throw his receivers open and was therefore trying to put throws into tight windows when defenses dropped into zone. Hopefully he has been watching film and studying that, because good and great quarterbacks can dissect zone coverage when teams drop into it. Boyd isn’t there yet, but he’s got plenty of ability and if he starts off anything like he did last season he will be firmly in the early season Heisman contention.

Andre Ellington, RB- Ellington is returning for his final season as a Clemson Tiger after his best season statistically last season. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns (5.3 ypc) which matches his rushing total from his first two seasons with the team (1,175 yards as a freshman and sophomore combined) and fell just three touchdowns short of matching his previous career total for touchdowns. Now he is trying to follow it up with an even better season, and thanks to his explosive speed and burst he will have a chance to do so. That hinges on how well the offensive line will be able to block for him though, as they lose three of five starters from 2011 and there will be some growing pains associated with that. Ellington is listed at 5’10”, 190 pounds and has never struck me as a feature back at the next level, but rather as a good or very good 3rd down and complementary back. He doesn’t run through contact well and struggles to gain tough yards after contact is initiated. He’s very explosive though and has 4.4 speed, tons of quickness and is very dangerous in the open field. He catches the ball pretty well out of the backfield too, having caught 45 passes over his career including 22 last year for 109 yards. He’s not going to be a 1st round pick like his teammate CJ Spiller was in my opinion, but he has a great shot to go in the first 3 rounds because of his game-changing speed and athleticism.

Sammy Watkins, WR**- Watkins burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman and proved to be one of the most dynamic players in the country despite his age. He is listed at 6’1”, 200 pounds and has fantastic speed, burst and elusiveness. He caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns last year as well as rushing for 231 yards on just 32 carries. He was also a dynamic kick returner, returning 33 kickoffs for 826 yards (25.0 avg) and 1 touchdown. Even more impressive was that he did this in just 10 games as a result of injury, so his statistics shouldn’t suffer much even in spite of his early season suspension. He probably was ready to go to the NFL as a slot receiver and return man, but for the next two years we will have the privilege of seeing him polish his route running and if he stays healthy he should be a 1st round draft pick when he comes out after his junior season. He’s so pro-ready that I don’t expect him to stay beyond his junior year, but I hope that he doesn’t get in any more off-field trouble. He’s a special talent and if he keeps working and doesn’t get in any more trouble he will likely be a top 20 NFL Draft pick.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR*- Hopkins is often overshadowed by Watkins’ greatness, but he is a very good NFL Draft prospect in his own right. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and while he isn’t quite as explosive as Watkins is he still has plenty of speed and quickness. Like Watkins he needs to improve as a route runner, but he has all the tools necessary to do so, he just has to work at it. Hopkins has pretty long arms, big hands and catches the ball well outside of his frame which makes it easier for Boyd to get him the ball. He knows Hopkins can catch passes that aren’t thrown right on the numbers, and that’s why Hopkins had 52 catches as a true freshman and 72 more as a sophomore. He had 978 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, but look for him to exceed 1,000 yards this year. He and Boyd will likely be in sync during Watkins’ suspension and that should continue the rest of the season.

Martavis Bryant, WR**- Bryant is a freak athlete who is listed at 6’5”, 205 pounds but was the 2nd fastest player on the entire roster in 40 yard dash competitions. The only player faster? Watkins. But at 6’5”, Bryant has immense upside, perhaps even more than Watkins given his height and length. Bryant is very inconsistent at this point, however, showing flashes of brilliance at times but not quite getting it at others. That was reflected by his stat line: he only had 9 receptions, but he averaged 24.6 yards per reception on the way to totaling 221 yards and 2 touchdowns on those 9 catches. He’s an explosive athlete with immense potential, he just has to work to get there. I hope that Hopkins and other receivers help mentor him so that he can start to reach his unbelievable potential this season, because with Bryant and Hopkins on the outside and Watkins on the inside this Clemson offense could be borderline unstoppable as long as the ball comes out on time. The light may not come on for Bryant this year (though I hope it does) but if it comes on in the next two years LOOK! OUT! He’s got the talent to be a top 5-10 pick because of his size and pure speed.

Charone Peake, WR**- Peake is another rising sophomore who got some playing time as a true freshman last season. He’s listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds and only caught 4 passes for 71 yards last year, good for a 17.1 average per reception. It’s unclear exactly how Clemson plans to get the ball to all of these talented receivers, but with Watkins out for the first couple games one of these young guys could emerge opposite Hopkins to help take the pressure off of him. Peake was inconsistent last year, much like Bryant, but also dealt with injuries that helped hold him back. He’s got a ton of potential in his own right, and if the light comes on this year and he stays healthy he could break out as well.

Jaron Brown, WR- Clemson has one of the deepest and most talented groups of receivers in the country, and Jaron Brown is a significant part of that. He’s got good hands and is a reliable target, standing at 6’2”, 200 pounds. He’s certainly not the most explosive receiver on the roster, that distinction belongs to Watkins, but his reliability complements the explosiveness of some of the other Clemson Tiger receivers. Brown has a 40 time in the 4.6 range, and likely won’t be drafted, but if he can show quality route running and reliable hands he could earn a shot at a NFL camp.

Brandon Ford, TE- Ford came to Clemson as a 6’4”, 200 pound wide receiver but in 2010 he moved to tight end and was Dwayne Allen’s primary back-up during his Mackey Award winning (award given to the best tight end in the nation) season for the Tigers last year. It was the best statistical season a Clemson Tiger tight end has ever had, and it will be a hard, but not impossible, act to follow. Ford has plenty of experience, especially since he played in all 14 games last season, but has never been relied upon as the primary security blanket in the offense. He is listed at 6’4”, 235 pounds now but was supposedly a lean 240 pounds in the spring and had hoped to add more good weight before the season started. I don’t know much about him from a blocking standpoint, and that will be interesting to see, but he had 14 receptions, 166 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and with all the talent at receiver Ford will be flying under the radar most of the season. He should be good for 40-50 receptions, 500-600 yards and 5-7 touchdowns, which would be perfect for replacing Allen. Despite his Mackey award, he only had 50 receptions, 598 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Those aren’t unattainable numbers at all, and I think Ford has a great shot at replicating them this year. He probably won’t be a top 64 draft pick, but I think he has the potential to be a top 100 pick especially if he shows some ability as an inline blocker.

Brandon Thomas, OT*- Thomas was the starting left guard for Clemson last season and did a pretty good job, but then the starting left tackle Phillip Price suffered a sprained knee against Wake Forest and wasn’t the same the rest of the season. Thomas was therefore forced out to left tackle for only one start but played there for considerable game time over the final four games. He wasn’t great as it was a complete position change (even though he was recruited to Clemson as an offensive tackle) and the play of the offensive line in addition to an antsy, less mobile Tajh Boyd was not a good combination for the Clemson offense. Thomas enters this season, however, with at least some experience at the position and made progress at the position in the spring. His versatility to play left tackle as well as slide inside to left guard is valuable, but the 6’3”, 300 pound lineman will be asked to protect Boyd’s blind-side first and foremost. Because of his size and length he doesn’t really project to offensive tackle in the NFL, but his time spent at guard will help him when he is asked to slide back inside in the future. Until then, his adequate foot speed and lateral agility will have to be enough for him to keep Boyd upright at left tackle. His match-ups against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, teams with great defensive ends or pass rushers, might not be pretty though. That’s one of the reasons why I think Florida State will win the Atlantic division of the ACC. I should also mention that when Thomas was 19 years old and back home from school he was arrested for disorderly conduct, charged with a misdemeanor and fined $262 as a result. Honestly, it’s barely even worth mentioning because I haven’t been able to find any instances of him getting in trouble off the field in the years since that occurred, but knowledge is power so now you’re all a little more powerful. Also, for what it’s worth, there is a true freshman named Isaiah Battle who is listed at 6’7”, 265 pounds but has apparently held his own in fall camp and “hasn’t been out-athleted by anyone” according to Head Coach Dabo Swinney. He needs to fill out, but if he does and he maintains his impressive athleticism Thomas could be sliding inside to guard as a senior before he even makes it to the NFL Draft.

Dalton Freeman, C- Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation and he enters his senior year with an impressive 36 career starts at the position for the Tigers. Freeman is listed at 6’5”, 285 pounds and is a good athlete, showing that he can get to the second level and move well for his size. His problem is that despite his starting experience he hasn’t filled out his frame yet, and even if he is only truly 6’4” he has the frame to weigh 300-310 pounds quite easily, and will be asked to gain weight once he is auditioning for and gets to the NFL. The additional strength, especially in the lower body, will help him generate more push in the run game and anchor better versus defensive tackles 1 on 1 in pass protection. The reason he is one of the top centers in the country already is his football IQ (his father was a high school football coach) and his leadership capability, and those intangible qualities will be music to the ears of talent evaluators. Add that in to his starting experience, which could be 49-50 career starts depending on if he is healthy all year (he has proven to be quite durable) and if Clemson goes to a bowl game and the ACC title game. Freeman has the potential to be big and strong enough to be a “3rd guard” in the run game, which is part of what makes Wisconsin’s running game so dangerous. Having a center who can block interior defensive linemen one on one in the run and pass game makes the entire offensive line better, and while Freeman isn’t quite there yet he has the frame and pedigree to get there. Add that to his football IQ, leadership and experience and you have one of the top center prospects in the country.

Malliciah Goodman, DE- Goodman was a bit under the radar as a first year starter at defensive end for Clemson and it will likely remain that way until he breaks out. He is listed at 6’4”, 280 pounds and didn’t blow anyone away last year with his statistics (59 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble). He might not have a ton of sacks in his career (5 in his 3 years at Clemson) but Goodman has a penchant for forcing fumbles having forced four over the past two seasons. He played as many snaps last year as he had played the previous 2 seasons combined, and started all 14 games for Clemson. He’s not an overly explosive pass rusher and his numbers evidence that, but he has a great frame, is strong, has long arms and surprisingly good hip flexibility to dip his shoulder and get the edge. He’s not going to break the NFL sack record, but the ability to bull rush, use his long arms effectively to keep blockers off of him and to get them up in passing lanes is really intriguing. He’s quite inconsistent off the ball when it is snapped which is often the only reason he gets pushed off the ball by 1 on 1 blocks, otherwise he is very reliable against the run and seems to see the field well and read run or pass quickly. He’s assignment reliable and has shown that he will keep contain and not get sucked in by play-action and give up an easy boot-leg to his side, and collapses well down the line of scrimmage. He’s flashed violent hands at times, but really needs to improve his hand usage and develop a rip and swim move to improve his pass rush repertoire. Right now it is a speed rush with a dip off the edge, a bull rush (which he doesn’t disengage from that well right now) or he comes free on an inside move or a stunt. That said, he has a lot of upside and projects well to the 4-3 left end position because he has the size and strength to hold up versus the run, particularly as he continues to improve his pad level, his timing off the ball, and as he works on his hand usage and pass rush moves he should provide more of a pass rush than he does now. He seems to read plays well and react to them quickly, which is great to see from a defensive end, particularly versus the run. I still don’t know what I think of his motor, it looks solid to me right now, but I don’t know much beyond that. He’s an intriguing player, and in a draft class with an abundance of pass rush upside Goodman will likely be overlooked thanks to his modest 2011 statistics, but his run defense, awareness and experience will not go unnoticed by NFL teams. I think he has a great shot at the top 75 and could go even higher if he has a better statistical year now that Andre Branch has moved on to the NFL.

Corey Crawford, DE**- Crawford is listed at 6’5”, 280 pounds and at that listing you’d think “he’s got to be another Goodman or Bowers right?” You’d be wrong, at least according to him. Crawford defines himself as a speed rusher, and to get back to that he has reportedly dropped about 15 pounds to get down to 265 pounds. That should help his get-off and his burst to beat tackles off the edge, which is something his predecessor Andre Branch had a penchant for doing. Crawford actually graduated in 2010 but had to enroll in a military school for a year because his grades weren’t in good enough shape to get into Clemson. That’s a bit of a red flag for me, but he came in and produced 29 tackles, 2 TFL and 2 pass deflections as a true freshman last year. He’s projected to be the starter opposite Goodman this year, and if he has more speed and burst then he could be in for a 6-8 sack season. He’s got a lot of upside, but I’m not sure if this will be his year to reach it. Clemson defensive ends usually don’t usually seem to turn it on until their second full season as a starter. Gaines Adams broke out as a junior in what I believe was his second full season as a starter. Bowers didn’t have a break-out season until he was a junior, and Andre Branch broke out in his second full season as a starter as a senior. That means Crawford likely won’t have a true break-out campaign as a sophomore, but he could very well have a good season and blow up as a junior as is the Clemson trend.

Stephone Anthony, MLB**- Anthony may have only started 3 games last year but he played in 13 of Clemson’s 14 games and totaled 32 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks and 1 pass deflection as a true freshman. Now he is the expected starter at middle linebacker despite suffering a torn ligament in his finger that required surgery in the spring. He should be good to go for the opener though, and the 6’3”, 235 pound linebacker should be ready for an impressive statistical season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables named him the starting middle linebacker and is entrusting him with being the “quarterback of the defense” despite only being a true sophomore. It will be interesting to see how he does in his starting role, but he has a lot of potential.

Corico Hawkins, OLB- Hawkins previously started at middle linebacker but has moved outside to the weakside spot in favor of Anthony starting in the middle. Anthony has a superior combination of size and athletic ability to Hawkins who is just 5’11”, 230 pounds. Still, he has been very productive for the Tigers, and he has 25 career starts for Clemson. He’s playing a new position, but his productivity should improve since it is better suited to his skill set. He had 80 tackles, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups last year, but keeping him away from big interior offensive linemen should help, and if he can use his athleticism to avoid blockers it should help him get in on more stops at or near the line of scrimmage. I’m not sure he’s much more than a UDFA at this point thanks to his size and lack of great playmaking ability, but his wealth of experience won’t be ignored.

Bashaud Breeland, CB**- Breeland made a name for himself as a playmaking corner last year despite being a redshirt freshman. He played in all 14 games, started 7, and had 53 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions (including a 1 handed beauty against Maryland) and appears to have fantastic hands and ball skills. Add that to his 6’0”, 185 pound frame and his 4.4 speed and you can’t help but wonder how good this kid is going to get. I can’t wait to see him match up with some of the wide receiver talent in the ACC, particularly against Florida State. He’s got a lot of upside and a bright NFL future if he continues to improve.

Xavier Brewer, FS- Brewer is the most versatile defender in Clemson’s secondary and will be asked to play both corner and safety during the year. He will likely play nickel corner and free safety, and his 23 career starts will prove valuable this season. He’s not a great corner, but the versatility to play there will be valuable for Clemson this year and when he attempts to make it to the next level. He’s got good size for a corner at 5’11”, 190 pounds but isn’t as well built for safety as you might like. However, his listed 4.42 speed will help him cover a lot of ground in the secondary, and that should make him valuable when he is playing deep centerfield for the Tigers.

Jonathan Meeks, SS- Meeks is a player that I actually like, but plenty of people don’t seem to. He’s inconsistent and I wasn’t impressed with his tackling, but he has good ball skills and that’s something I value over almost everything else at defensive back. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and has a listed 40 time of 4.52 but looks a bit faster than that when I watch him. He’s got the ball skills, but I’m not sure how good his instincts and awareness are, and he doesn’t take very good angles and tackle that well. He’s got upside, and I think he has a shot to be a late round draft pick right now, but if he’s ever going to stick in the NFL he’s going to have to improve those aspects of his game. That said, I like him as a bit of an under the radar prospect.

Rashard Hall, SS- Hall is the veteran of the Clemson secondary and is considered the best draft eligible prospect of the group. I wasn’t a big fan of him last year, as I saw him miss some tackles, but he was playing through a knee injury that he had surgery for after the season, and he was still the leading tackler on Clemson’s defense last season. As I often say, it’s not ideal to have one of your safeties leading the team in tackling, and it showed as Clemson’s defense gave up 29.3 points per game (a 10.5 ppg jump from 2010), 394 yards per game including 177 on the ground, which is likely where Hall got a number of his tackles as he filled from the safety position. Opposing defenses averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Tigers, but also completed 58.3% of all attempted passes. That means the front 7 needs to step up, but so does the secondary. Hall will play a big role in that, and if he is healthy, more instinctual and is able to break down better I could warm up to him more as a prospect. At 6’1”, 210 he has solid size for a strong safety and he had 89 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up, 2 interceptions as well as one forced and recovered fumble. He’s got upside, and is one of the better senior safeties in the country, but I want to see some improvement from him before I label him as a potential top 75-100 pick.