Tag Archive: EJ Manuel


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

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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

From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing Florida State, and my god are they talented. This preview took me hours longer than I expected it to only because of the sheer vastness of talent that Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have assembled. It’s almost unbelievable, and there’s no way to cover it all in one post. I, however, took my best shot at it here. On offense the ‘Noles return 8 starters including quarterback EJ Manuel who was good but not great in his first full season as a starter last year. That obviously had a lot to do with the massive number of injuries that FSU’s offense sustained last year, especially along the offensive line, but Manuel has plenty of room to improve before I will grade him as even a 2nd round pick. Luckily, the FSU running game should be much improved this season thanks in part to true sophomore Devonta Freeman, and Manuel has plenty of receiving threats to throw the ball to. Rashad Greene is my favorite, but Rodney Smith, Christian Green and Nick O’Leary should all be reliable, consistent targets this season. The question for me is the offensive line, where they have some talent and depth but not an abundance of starting experience. They aren’t a reliable unit and they lost their top two tackles from a year ago, Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders. Stepping up to replace them is going to be critical, especially since Manuel has a tendency to hang onto the ball longer than he should.

The defense, however, should carry this team to at least 10 wins this season. With a unit this talented anything else would be a disappointment. It’s not completely inconceivable that Florida State could have 3 top 40 picks just at defensive end, and they also have the top recruit in the country Mario Edwards entering the fold at the defensive end spot. They have everything from a potential 1st round pick in Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle, to a top 100 prospect nose tackle in Anthony “Amp” McCloud, to an underrated 3 tech in Everett Dawkins. They also have a pair of reliable middle linebackers and a stud outside linebacker in Christian Jones. Top that off with a pair of probable 1st round picks in Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary and you have to wonder how anyone plans on getting into field goal range against this defense, much less scoring touchdowns. This defense is going to be incredible, and if the offensive line steps up and EJ Manuel starts to live up to his potential this team could be downright scary. I’m not confident in the offensive line or in EJ, however, and that means I still think Virginia Tech is going to come through as the ACC Champion. With that, here is my prospect preview of Florida State’s insanely talented roster:

P.S. I have to give a huge shout-out to TomahawkNation.com because they were a fantastic resource for this piece and they do an absolutely unbelievable job covering Florida State and football in general over there. Give them a read whether you like Florida State or not.

EJ Manuel, QB- Manuel is returning for his second full season as a starter with 17 career starts over his Seminole career. He’s listed at 6’5”, 238 pounds and definitely passes the eye test, and his strong arm is noticeable right away. Not only that, but he is very athletic for his size which helped him rush for 141 yards and 4 touchdowns last year in addition to passing for 2,666 yards (65.3% completion), 18 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. One would assume he would improve on those numbers this year, particularly with some intriguing talent returning at receiver and running back, but I will be looking to see how his accuracy develops in addition to his pocket poise and ability to read defenses. He’s definitely got potential, but at this point he’s a lot closer to a 3rd round prospect than a 1st rounder in my opinion. I don’t think he processes information quickly enough to be a top college quarterback and eventual quality NFL starter, and unless his head catches up with his arm and his body he’s going to be a physically gifted quarterback who never put it together from the mental aspect of the game. Until he proves that his football IQ has improved and that he can read defenses well I’m not going to grade him in the top 64 picks.

Devonta Freeman, RB**- Freeman is only a true sophomore but he led the Seminoles in rushing last season, overtaking the oft-injured Jermaine Thomas. He rushed just 120 times but gained 579 yards (4.8 ypc) and 8 touchdowns as a freshman. I think he’s poised for a huge break-out season this year, as he is healthy and ready to rumble. He is listed at 5’8”, 200 pounds and honestly his running style and tools reminds me of Trent Richardson. I know that’s extremely high praise, but I can’t help but think of Richardson when I watch him run. He is not afraid to lower his pads and initiate contact with defenders, he churns his legs very well to get tough yards, he falls forward consistently, he has plenty of speed to rip off big chunks of yardage, he is shifty and can make defenders miss, and he has flashed the ability to catch passes well out of the backfield despite only having 15 receptions for 94 yards last season. I’m a big Freeman fan, and I hope he gets way more than 120 carries this season because this kid is special.

Rashad Greene, WR**- I may be a huge fan of Devonta Freeman but I am just as big a fan of Rashad Greene. He was mind-blowingly good as a true freshman last year as he led FSU in receptions (38), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (7) all while having a 15.7 yards per reception average. He has fantastic hands, adjusts so well to the ball and just has a knack for making critical catches when his team needs him to. He can still improve as a route runner, but he is already pretty respectable in that department for such a young player. His body control and concentration is exceptional, and I think the 6’0”, 175 pound receiver is already one of the best in the ACC. He showed that consistently last year, and he has all the speed, burst and ball skills you could ever want in a wide receiver. Much like Freeman, this kid is SPECIAL.

Rodney Smith, WR- Smith is returning for his senior year with 20 career starts, including 12 last year during which he totaled 36 receptions, 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. At 6’6”, 219 pounds Smith is a huge target and has tons of potential as a red-zone threat. He came to FSU as a very raw player that needed to grow into his frame, and now that he is listed at 219 pounds he seems to have done so. He doesn’t have explosive speed but he is a long strider with build-up speed that can sneak behind defenses if they don’t keep an eye on him. Because of his height he has plenty of potential to come down with jump balls, and has good hands so he is able to win some of those match-ups. He’s not a top 100 pick at this point, but he has worked hard to fill out his frame, improve his route running and learn to shield defenders from the ball with his 6’6” frame. 6’6” receivers with good hands are exceedingly rare, and it seems that Smith fits that bill. If he can continue to show improvement, particularly in his route running, he will catch plenty of eyes as a senior. This senior receiver class is significantly worse than the 2012 draft class, so if Smith has a great season he could really vault himself up draft boards.

Christian Green, WR**- Green is another explosive receiver that Manuel will have to find a way to get the ball to on a regular basis. Green is listed at 6’2”, 206 and has fantastic raw athleticism and tons of speed, and as a redshirt freshman last season he had 26 receptions, 450 yards but no touchdowns. His speed presents a lot of potential headaches for defenses, but his route running needs considerable work so he is able to be bottled up by quality cornerbacks. If his route running improves he could be a huge difference maker in 2012 though, particularly if Manuel starts to read defenses better and quicker.

Nick O’Leary, TE**- O’Leary is just a true sophomore but he flashed some serious potential as a freshman last season en route to a 12 catch, 164 yard, 1 touchdown season as a true freshman. He may not have had eye-popping numbers, but the 6’4”, 240 pound tight end is ready to break out this year. He has good hands, runs good routes and is probably the best tight end FSU has had on its roster in years. I’m not sure how good of a blocker he is, but as a receiver he is likely to be targeted much more frequently than he was last season and should start to garner a lot of national attention soon. He’s a very good tight end prospect, so keep an eye on him.

Bjoern Werner, DE*- Werner is one of the top defensive ends in the country and could be a part of one of the best pass rushing draft classes in recent memory. Werner is listed at 6’4”, 272 pounds and in 13 starts last season he had 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 7 sacks, 8 pass break-ups, 1 interception, 1 fumble forced and 1 fumble that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. Werner is the top prospect on FSU’s loaded roster which says a lot about him. He is only a true junior and yet he has played in every game over his first two years with the Seminoles. He has tons of potential thanks to his fantastic strength, work ethic and motor. He made huge strides as a sophomore despite it being his fourth year of football and he may be saving his best for last as a junior. He is still raw and is just scratching the surface of his potential, and I think he has the makings of a top 10 pick come April. Defensive ends with Werner’s skill set are exceedingly rare, and combining that with a fierce work ethic and motor often ends in good or great NFL careers. That is what I anticipate from Werner, and I dare you to ignore him when you watch Florida State’s defense this year. It’s nearly impossible.

Brandon Jenkins, DE- Jenkins is certainly the more well-known pass rusher on Florida State’s defense, but Werner is the superior prospect thanks to his size and strength. Jenkins has worked hard to add muscle to his frame, as he is currently listed at 6’3”, 260 pounds and was only about 240 when he broke out as a true sophomore. His stats may have slipped last season as he “only” had 41 tackles, 4 TFL, 8 sacks and 1 pass break-up, but that was largely due to an increase in attention from opposing offenses in the way of double teams and screens to his side of the field. The attention offenses gave to Jenkins certainly played a role in Werner’s break-out, but both are potential 1st round picks in their own right. Having that much talent at defensive end plus Tank Carradine, who would start on 95% of college football’s defensive lines but comes off the bench at Florida State, makes Florida State’s defensive line incredibly fierce even without considering the talent they have at defensive tackle. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins is actually playing at 260, my guess it he is in the 250-255 range. He might be able to get away with that at right end in the NFL, especially if he holds up against the run better as he showed the ability to do last year, but the best use of all of his athleticism might be at 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he has all the burst, explosion and athletic ability you could ever want in a pass rusher, and with an 8-10 sack season this year he will likely go in the top 32 selections in April.

Tank Carradine, DE- Carradine is the odd man out on Florida State’s depth chart but he undoubtedly has a NFL future. Carradine is listed at 6’5”, 264 pounds and is extremely strong and projects very well to the strong side end in a 4-3 defense in my opinion. Last year was his first with the Seminoles and many didn’t expect him to contribute a lot but he shocked them all. He finished with 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks after committing to FSU out of junior college. Carradine doesn’t have the elite burst off the snap and doesn’t have Jenkins’ edge speed but he closes like a missile and his strength is on the same level as Werner’s. He was extremely impressive for a player new to the program last year and should be even better this year. I don’t think FSU will have 3 first round picks at defensive end, but if Carradine surprises people again and has a great season despite the team trying to divide limited snaps between three stud defensive ends then it wouldn’t be completely outlandish even in a draft class with so much pass rushing talent. I really like what Carradine brings to the table and I can’t wait to see how he does this year even if he isn’t starting for FSU.

Timmy Jernigan, DT**- Jernigan has the most upside of any of the defensive tackles in my opinion, and he showed a lot of it as a true freshman. The 6’3”, 301 pound defensive tackle accounted for 30 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery. That’s an amazing year for a freshman defensive tackle, and it’s really raised expectations for him as a sophomore. This is a talented defensive line though, one of the two best in the country along with LSU in my opinion, and that means there won’t be an abundance of tackles for loss and sacks just floating around. Jernigan will still earn his keep though thanks to his fantastic blend of quickness, athleticism and strength. It was noted that one of his weaknesses is that he can be put on skates by a pair of quality offensive linemen double teaming him, but if that’s one of the only issues you can find with the game of a true freshman defensive tackle then you have stumbled on to a future top 10 pick in the making in my opinion. He’s got incredible upside and as long as he continues to work and progress he should end up as a top 15 pick one day.

Anthony McCloud, DT- McCloud is essentially the antithesis of Jernigan. He’s listed at 6’2”, 312 pounds and while he doesn’t have Jernigan’s freakish athleticism he does a fantastic job plugging up the middle of the field from the nose tackle position. He is squatty, strong and incredibly hard to move off the ball even with a double team. He may not offer the pass rush or backfield disruption of a player like Jernigan, but considering how trendy the 3-4 defense has become in the NFL space-eaters like Jernigan that simply occupy blockers and clog the A gaps in the middle of the defense are still incredibly valuable. He’s assignment reliable, he doesn’t get moved off the ball and he’s a team player. That sounds like he a top 100 lock in the NFL draft to me, especially if he continues to impress versus the run as a senior.

Everett Dawkins, DT- Dawkins flies under the radar on Florida State because he is literally surrounded with NFL talent in every direction. Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Jernigan were all in the limelight last season, and Dawkins just went about his business on his way to a ho-hum 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 sack, 3 pass break-up, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble season. For most starting defensive tackles this would be a “meh” season, and statistically perhaps it is. But when your top three defensive ends combine for 20.5 sacks there just aren’t a ton of sacks to go around for your defensive tackles (FSU had “just” 6.5 between Dawkins, McCloud and Jernigan). Dawkins is listed at 6’2”, 301 pounds and is reliable against the run and the pass. He’s tough to move in the run game, he has great burst and acceleration and I think his statistics mask how much NFL ability he has. He’s playing on an incredibly talented defensive line which will make some teams wonder how good he really is, but he’s a top 100 pick without a doubt in my mind and should prove as much during the season and hopefully at the Senior Bowl.

Vince Williams, MLB- Williams is the starting MLB heading into the season despite some significant opposition from Telvin Smith, a 6’3”, 210 pound junior. Williams had a good season last year as he totaled 54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, and 1 interception. Williams is a good run defender but there are questions about how good he is versus the pass. I don’t know that much about him to be honest, but he played a key role in the FSU run defense being as good as it was (opponents averaged just 2.3 yards per carry against the ‘Noles, and only Wake Forest and Miami averaged over 3 yards per carry against them last season). He’s a reliable tackler and he may not be a freak athlete, but he knows his responsibilities and he sticks to them. He’s probably not going to be a high draft pick, but there are certainly worse middle linebackers starting around the ACC and the country.

Telvin Smith, MLB*- Smith attempted to challenge and overtake Williams, but he wasn’t able to do so from what I understand. He’s listed at 6’3”, 210 pounds and from what I understand he is the better coverage linebacker and makes more flashy plays than Williams does. That was partially evidenced by his stat-line as he totaled 42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore. He probably has more upside than Williams, but for now Williams is the starter even if Smith is still rotated in. He will almost certainly be the starter as a senior in 2013.

Christian Jones, OLB*- Jones is a stud outside linebacker, there’s no other way to say it. He may not be quite where you want to be as far as the mental aspect of the game is concerned, but he has all the size and athletic ability you could ever want in an outside linebacker. He’s listed at 6’4”, 237 pounds and has the speed and change of direction to cover any tight end and even slot receivers at times. He’s a ferocious hitter and while his stats may not jump off the page (56 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 pass break-ups) he absolutely has 1st round upside and the 2012 season may be the year he really starts to reach it. He’s a freak athlete and could even consider bulking up and playing 3-4 outside linebacker if he wanted to. He’s that caliber of athlete.

Xavier Rhodes, CB*- Rhodes really caught my eye as a redshirt freshman and he did it again last year when I was watching FSU against Notre Dame and he was doing a good job 1 on 1 against Michael Floyd who went #13 overall in the NFL Draft this past year to the Arizona Cardinals. Rhodes has fantastic size for a corner and is listed at 6’2”, 209 pounds, has the speed to turn and run with most any receiver, and has very long arms which help him at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage when he tries to make plays on the ball. He’s got a ton of ability, impressive instincts and great ball skills and even though he didn’t have a great season last year (according to Tomahawk Nation there were rumors of attitude and work ethic problems with Rhodes after his terrific freshman year, which is a bit of a red flag) he still had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. That was a bit of a disappointment after he had 4 interceptions as a freshman, but now that he is back for his junior season and his third year as a starter (he returns with 25 career starts) he has a chance to get back to freshman form and show evaluators the potential top 15 pick we all saw two years ago.

Lamarcus Joyner, SS*- I am a BIG Joyner fan. He may be undersized for the safety position at 5’8”, 193 pounds but he is a fantastic player. He has fantastic instincts which is probably my favorite part of his game, but the fact that he has incredible range, legitimate 4.4 speed, long arms, great ball skills and closes like a heat-seeking missile sure doesn’t hurt either. Did I mention he packs a whallop as a hitter, averaged 30.5 yards per kick return and is one of the emotional leaders of the defense? Oh, and had 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions as a sophomore? He is my #1 draft eligible safety and it’s not even close. He is a 1st round lock if he continues to play anything like he did last season even in spite of his height. If he holds up from a durability stand-point the only knock close-minded analysts will be able to find on him is his lack of height. Joyner is the caliber of player that USC fans and the national media tried to hype Taylor Mays up to be except that Joyner is vastly better despite being about 5-6 inches shorter. Give me Joyner in my secondary literally any day of the week, he is the rare safety that makes the entire rest of the defense better because of his range and playmaking ability, and that’s why I would pick him in the top 20 (maybe even higher, though I want to see him as a second year starter before I go that far) without a second thought.

Dustin Hopkins, K- Hopkins rounds out this absolutely insane list of NFL Draft prospects and hopefuls. He is a good kicker who hasn’t been automatic or completely clutch, but he has reliable. He was 1st team all ACC last year as he made all 44 of his extra point attempts and made 22 of his 27 field goals with a long of 53 (though he was 1/3 from 50+). He drives the ball very well on kick-offs and certainly contributes to Florida State having as good of a kick-off coverage team as they do. I’m not sure if he will be drafted, but he could very well end up in the 5th-7th round conversation.

Manuel has a quality combination of size, arm strength and athleticism. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as a senior.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State: Manuel was a junior this year and with plenty of starting experience under his belt I expect him to have a good year for FSU next year. Don’t forget that while this was his first full season as a starter he filled in for Christian Ponder the previous year when he was hurt. Manuel has a strong arm and can make all the throws but struggled with accuracy in this game. I attribute to some of his errant throws to playing behind an offensive line starting an unbelievable four freshman up front due to injuries. Zebrie Sanders, a potential 1st round offensive tackle prospect, was the only usual starter on the offensive line and even he had slide from right tackle over to the left side. However, Manuel made a few poor decisions in this game and could have easily had one or perhaps two interceptions in this game. He displayed some quality accuracy when he wasn’t pressured but the repeated pressure and some hits affected him in my opinion. He’s clearly an athletic specimen due to his size and ability to pick up yardage with his legs and he flashed some ability to stand tall in the pocket to deliver passes downfield. It will be integral for him to consistently do this next year versus making one read and scrambling like many quarterbacks with the ability to scramble tend to do. He is losing a few starters on offense, but I believe they are replaceable. If he can clean up some of his decision making, improve his pocket poise a bit and clean up some of his footwork he could really improve his draft stock. Teams will be immediately intrigued by his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism especially after the season Cam Newton has had this year. Manuel’s challenge will be convincing that while he isn’t the rare player Newton is that he has significant upside. More importantly, he needs to show tendencies and attributes that would indicate that he will achieve it. Newton is one of the rare quarterbacks who didn’t display some of the things he has done this year in college but has managed to do them in the NFL, but he is the exception that proves the rule in this instance. I don’t know much about Manuel’s work ethic or film study habits, but I look forward to evaluating him next year. He has upside, but upside is nothing without the work ethic, desire and intangibles to achieve it.

Bert Reid, WR, Florida State: I am personally not a big fan of Bert Reed. He flashed some potential when I was scouting Christian Ponder last year but he didn’t impress me much this year. He has pretty average size, isn’t a burner downfield and I’m not sold on his hands at this point in the draft process. It will be interesting to see if he gets an invite to an All-Star game because I would love an extra look at him in person. He had a nice touchdown catch in this game but it was made possible by a perfect throw by Manuel. Reid hadn’t created much separation and while I haven’t watched him enough to know if that is a regular occurrence it warrants mentioning. If he does struggle to create separation the ability to make catches in traffic will be important, so showing that he could do that on that touchdown catch is at least a small flash of ability in that respect. As I said earlier I am not high on Reid right now and have a 6th/7th round grade on him right now, but we will see what I think of him once I do more film study.

Rashad Green has great upside and I was really impressed with his performance in the 2nd half. He's only a freshman, so keep an eye on him.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: Let me just say that I love this kid and I’ve only seen him play in two games this year. That isn’t to see that I haven’t seen Florida State at all this year, but it is my understanding that he really came on strong late in the year. He didn’t have a significant impact in the 1st half but he made two huge catches in the 2nd half as well as a touchdown reception to help propel FSU to the comeback win. While I would have liked to see him make more plays in the 1st half and I did see him drop a pass on a 1st down throw from Manuel I really loved the fact that he showed up in the 2nd half when his team needed it the most. If you read my stuff regularly you know that I really place a premium on players that make plays when their team needs them the most and I truly believe that is a quality that is cultivated in some people while others just aren’t born with it. I think Greene has that quality and that will be important when I evaluate his NFL draft prospects in a couple years. I’m very excited about his potential and upside because he is only a freshman and played an integral role in this 2nd half comeback win for the Seminoles. Keep an eye on this kid! He’s got a very bright future.

Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State: Rodney Smith has all the height you could ask for in a receiver at 6’6” but he seems to have a skinny frame and looks EXTREMELY skinny on film. He should be able to add weight pretty easily, but I’m not sure he will ever be a 6’6”, 225 pound receiver because his frame just doesn’t seem conducive to trying to bulk up. Regardless, he flashed impressive hands in this game and caught a pretty tough pass on a throw that was behind him after he made his break and seemed to do it pretty effortlessly. He’s another returning player on FSU’s offense and while he wasn’t a starter this year I do think he’s going to make a significant contribution next year. His size and hands will be valuable all over the field but particularly in the red zone.

Kenny Shaw, WR, Florida State: Shaw had a solid game and I think he is a solid player overall. I don’t think he has the upside of a player like Greene or Smith but he can contribute. He made all of his catches in the 1st half while Greene saved his heroics for the 2nd half. It may seem unfair to claim that Greene’s receptions were worth more than Shaw’s, and perhaps it is especially because he was making a play here and there when Florida State was struggling to move the ball. However, Shaw seemed to be body catching and while he was creating separation against Notre Dame’s secondary I didn’t think he looked like a burner. Of the three returning receivers I have mentioned in this post I think Shaw’s ceiling is the lowest, but I don’t think his floor is more appealing than that of Greene’s. Obviously I haven’t seen them play enough to be absolute in this claim, but that is my perception having seen a couple of their games before I delve into more intense film study after the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.

Zebrie Sanders got his shot at left tackle this year and it has really improved his stock.

Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: I am high on Zebrie Sanders. I’ve had a late 1st round/early 2nd round grade on him for a long while and I truly believe he has a chance to go in the 1st round. I’m really hoping he will be at the Senior Bowl because I would love to see him play against that caliber of competition for a week, but I would also love to interview him. I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but last year I identified him as a player that I thought could slide over from the right tackle spot and stick at left tackle in the NFL even though it seemed unlikely that he would ever get the chance to prove me right as a junior or as a senior with Andrew Datko starting there and doing a pretty good job. However, when Datko got hurt this year Sanders got that chance and I think he played quite well especially considering a mid-season change in assignment. He’s an athletic guy with impressive size, long arms, a good-looking kick slide and seems to be a natural knee bender. He demonstrated the ability to do some hand fighting while continuing to sustain a block in pass protection and once he gets his hands on you he does a good job of taking you out of the play consistently. He also showed pretty consistent hand placement and showed the ability to stay in front of his man on a spin move. He could stand to add weight to his frame particularly in his lower body to help him anchor versus bull rushes, but that is something that can be coached and improved upon with training and weight lifting. You can’t coach his size, arm length and athleticism and that is why I think he will ultimately end up in the 1st round.

Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State: Jenkins is a bit of a frustrating prospect for me because I feel the exact same way about him now as I did last year. His athleticism, burst and edge speed is all extremely intriguing and that makes you drool as a talent evaluator, especially when the premium has never been higher on players that can rush the passer. However, he is just not strong enough to be a true terror as a pass rusher yet. He has flashed some hand usage this year which is good because last year he relied almost exclusively on his athleticism to beat offensive tackles. But because of his lack of size, strength and hand usage he can be engulfed and taken out of plays at times which is a little frustrating to watch when so many people expected him to develop into a sure fire 1st rounder that would leave early. He got a bit of a free sack when he was running a twist with DT #93 in this game and as he beat the guard inside (again, with only his athleticism) Rees lost his balance, fell down and Jenkins was credited with a sack that looks a lot better on the stat sheet than it does on film. The story continues to be the same for Jenkins: He’s got all the athleticism you could want in a pass rushing prospect but he has to get stronger and continue to refine his technique if he is going to become a true force as a pass rusher. The potential is there, it’s just a question of how much of it will be realized at this point.

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Werner is a guy that I had to mention not because I think he is going to be a sure-fire first round pick in 2013 but because I think it’s awesome that he is from Germany. I kind of found myself hoping that he would do something recklessly awesome in this game (though I have no idea what that would have entailed) but all he did was demonstrate that while he doesn’t have a lot of edge speed he does have some burst off the line of scrimmage, a little bit of bend and hip flexibility and a pretty awesome name. I don’t think he is much more than a mid-late round guy at this point, but he was pretty productive this year and should only improve next year so I thought he warranted mentioning.

Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State: Carradine isn’t a guy that I saw a whole lot in this game but he showed up with a sack or two in this game (even if one of them was when he came free off the edge) so I thought he warranted some investigation. I don’t know a whole lot about him and he didn’t stick out to me much when I saw Florida State play earlier this season, but I think he has some upside and obviously still has time left to develop. I haven’t seen him nearly enough to put a possible grade range on him yet, but I wanted to make note of him as a guy that I have on my watch list for the future.

Anthony McCloud, DT, Florida State: McCloud is a guy that I expected a bit more from in this game as he seemed to be getting pushed off the ball more than I expected, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He had a couple nice stops at the line of scrimmage in this game but I was expecting to see him anchor better at the point of attack and occupy blockers better when he wasn’t trying to get into the backfield. I’ll keep an eye on him next year though.

Nigel Bradham isn't a top linebacker prospect but he is fundamentally sound. I think he will be a reliable starter in the NFL.

Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State: I like Bradham. I don’t have him as a 1st or 2nd round pick, but I do like him as a 3rd/4th round guy. He seems to be a good tackler, he’s reliable in coverage, has good range sideline to sideline and I think he could be a reliable starter in the NFL. He seems like a guy that it would be a mistake to bet against because he’s while he doesn’t have elite size or freakish athleticism he is fundamentally sound and seems to have a good work ethic. A couple things stuck out to me beyond him being a good tackler in this game. One of them was the fact that while he was still a reliable tackler he flashed some serious pop as a hitter. One prime example of this was when Michael Floyd was making his circus catch in the end zone Bradham found his way over to him and just after Floyd managed to haul the pass in Bradham LEVELED him and left him grimacing in pain after somehow holding on for the touchdown reception. He had another impressive hit or two in this game, one that warranted me writing in my notes that “Bradham made a fantastic hit. You could just hear it.” The second thing was that while I didn’t notice this often I did notice that late in the game Bradham was on kick-off coverage on FSU’s special teams unit. As a senior starting his final game for the program I loved to see that. Not only that, but he made a special teams tackle inside the 20 yard line! So, needless to say I like Bradham and I think he will be a quality 4-3 WLB starter for somebody looking for a reliable starter.

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: I didn’t watch him much in this game but he was getting some rave reviews from some of the people that I follow on Twitter. From what I can gather he is a pretty impressive athlete (some labeled him a freak athlete) and he seems to have a lot of upside from the little that I did see of him in this game. There was one play I noticed where he looked like he was covering a slot receiver for Notre Dame and doing a shockingly good job of it for a linebacker at his size. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on him next year because he seems like a pretty good candidate for my potential break-out players list assuming he hasn’t already done so and I just wasn’t aware of it.

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Rhodes may have caught more people’s attention in this game than any other player short of perhaps Greene because of the job he did on Michael Floyd. Floyd is a pretty physical receiver but Rhodes matched up with him very well in this game and definitely won the match-up in the eyes of most people including myself. I only saw him catch two passes on Rhodes before he went down with a sprained knee and on both Rhodes wrapped him up cleanly where he caught it to avoid Floyd gaining a lot of YAC. He got beat deep on one play and made a very poor attempt at leaping and deflecting the pass but luckily for him Floyd dropped it. He’s a tall corner but unlike a lot of corners his size he has fluid hips, turns and runs well and showed the ability to get physical with Floyd both by playing press man against him and by tackling him after he caught a couple of passes. I haven’t watched him specifically before but I do worry a little bit about his ability to locate and make a play on the ball in the air based on what I saw in this game because he didn’t locate the ball in the air at all on the play he ultimately was injured on and made a less than impressive attempt to deflect the deep pass that Floyd let bounce off his hands. Overall he definitely displayed quality man coverage but it wasn’t flawless, so

Greg Reid, CB, Florida State: Greg Reid is a very undersized corner but I have been pretty impressed with him ever since I saw him for the first time as a freshman against Miami. He’s only about 5’8” but he is a very impressive athlete. He is very fast, quick and has unbelievable leaping ability. This was evidenced very clearly when Tommy Rees threw a fade to Michael Floyd in the end zone and despite being about seven inches shorter than Floyd Reid was able to elevate and get his hands to a nearly identical height as Floyd’s. Floyd ultimately came down with the touchdown after bobbling it for what felt like an eternity, but Reid had already shown what scouts will love and hate in one play. They will love his athleticism, his ball skills and his instincts to time his leaps appropriately to make a play on the ball. However, his natural lack of height will seriously limit his upside in the NFL as he just won’t be able to match up in man to man coverage with big, physical receivers that are even bigger and more physical than Floyd. I like his potential as a nickel corner and think that if he proves he has enough ability in coverage he could take a Brent Grimes path to a starting job. Grimes is very fundamentally sound and has fantastic athleticism and ball skills which help make up for his lack of size. Reid can take a similar path if he has the dedication and work ethic that Grimes does, but I have not yet evaluated how well he supports the run and how good he is in man coverage. He’s got everything you could want in a zone corner thanks to his athleticism, speed and burst but I haven’t watched him in man coverage in a long time. I like his upside and I think he could be a #2 in the NFL if everything falls right for him, but more than likely he will spend some time as a nickel corner before he gets his shot to start. Luckily for him he has a lot of potential as a returner and should be able to contribute in that phase of the game immediately in the NFL. Special teams is a great way for players to stick on a roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if Reid uses that to boost his stock in the draft and to make sure he sticks on a roster when he ultimately leaves Florida State.

Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State: Joyner is another undersized but very athletically gifted defensive back on Florida State’s roster. Joyner had one of the more electrifying plays of the game breaking off a big return to set up Florida State with great field position for that drive. He’s very fast and while I didn’t get to see him much on defense I did see him deliver a huge hit on Floyd on the sideline on a play that ultimately injured both Floyd and his teammate Xavier Rhodes. Joyner laid a pretty big hit on Floyd’s midsection not long after he had taken a shot in a similar area from Nigel Bradham so it was understandable why he was hurt (though he did get up and walk away while Rhodes was still laying on the ground). Joyner is only a sophomore so he has plenty of time left to develop, but he will need to show me more in coverage beyond just being a very fast safety if I’m going to buy into his upside.

Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State: Yes, every once in a while I have to include a kicker on my prospect lists. This is one of those times because Hopkins is an impressive kicker. He has a very strong leg and made two critical field goals in this game. Evaluating kickers is almost as much of a crapshoot as evaluating quarterbacks as far as I’m concerned and I haven’t quite figured out what kickers can do in college to prepare them for successful NFL careers. I think there may be some correlation between exposure to high pressure situations in college and success in the pros, but even that isn’t a fool-proof quality. Regardless, I like Hopkins’ NFL chances as of now. Not only did he make two critical field goals in this game that could have been the difference in the game he also wears gold shoes that he repaints before every game. If that’s not swagger I don’t know what is, so I say do your thing Dustin Hopkins! Do your thing until the NFL fines you for your fancy gold shoes!

Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame: I know Rees hasn’t had an altogether terrible season this year, but the only note I wrote down for him in this game was one word: “Garbage.” It’s harsh, but I think it’s pretty accurate. He doesn’t have a strong arm, he’s not consistently accurate, he panics under pressure, he makes poor decisions especially when pressured, he’s not overly athletic and he is just very average or below average as a quarterback. Notre Dame really needs to get their quarterback situation straightened out and I don’t think Tommy Rees is the answer. Maybe I’m being way too harsh early on in his career, but I wouldn’t want him starting for me if I was coaching Notre Dame or any other Division 1 program. Obviously, considering all I have just said, I don’t think he has a NFL future.

Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame: I think Wood has some potential as a late round 3rd down back, but his lack of versatility is going to hurt him in my opinion. I think Notre Dame really needed a physical back in this game and it was pretty clear that Wood does not fit that bill. I’m not sure he has great balance but he definitely doesn’t run through many arm tackles or gain a lot of yards after contact. He does have some speed and he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but I don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Floyd has a lot of upside but I have some concerns about his toughness. I don't have a top 10 grade on him.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Michael Floyd is probably going to end up being a 1st round pick but I don’t think I could draft him in the first round if I was running a team. There are just too many things that concern me about him. First, I know it’s beating a dead horse but his off-field issues at Notre Dame have to give you some pause. I know he earned his way back onto Notre Dame’s football team, and I commend him for that, but that DUI is definitely concerning. As far as on-field concerns, I worry a bit about his straight line speed as well as his burst to create separation in the NFL. He struggled to create separation against a pretty talented corner in Xavier Rhodes and I think that will end up hurting his stock. The last thing scouts got to see of his Notre Dame career wasn’t him tearing Miami up like it would have been if he had declared last season, it was him having a solid but not spectacular game largely in part because the corner who seemed to have his number went down with an injury. On top of that, he wasn’t on the field in crunch time when his team still had a shot to win the game late, which brings me to my next concern: I question Floyd’s toughness and resolve. Maybe this is unfair since I don’t know him personally and have never talked to him before, and I certainly wasn’t standing next to the Notre Dame athletic trainer when he was examining Floyd on the sideline, so take this for what it’s worth. I think Floyd should have been in the game, no question, no doubt in my mind. I’m not a fantastic athlete, but the competitor inside of me always wanted to be in the game late when my team needed me and I can’t understand how anyone would feel otherwise ESPECIALLY if you are as good and important to your team as Floyd is. Now, I will retract this statement if it turns out that Floyd cracked a rib or had some serious injury which he certainly could have had considering the big hits he took to the mid-section in this game. However, he was standing on the sideline with his helmet on if I remember correctly. That means the trainer didn’t take his helmet and bar him from going in, and in my opinion that means he made the call to not come back in. Do you think those hits would have kept Tim Tebow out of a game? Do you think they would have kept Brett Favre out of a game? They might have kept Randy Moss out, but plenty of people considered Moss a selfish diva. Why isn’t Floyd viewed the same way? I was told two years ago that he was a diva and I took it under consideration but I hadn’t seen a lot to suggest that it was true or false. Two years later, particularly after this display, I believe that it was the truth. I apologize for this rant, but I value intangible qualities heavily into my assessments when I can judge them to the best of my ability and I don’t like Floyd’s intangibles at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he became a potential 1st round pick by accident. He’s got NFL size, some NFL speed, NFL athleticism and pretty close to NFL hands. I say pretty close because he will make some fantastic catches but he also has a tendency to drop a pass or two every once in a while that he really should catch. He reminds me a little bit of Julio Jones in that aspect, and while you might say that Julio Jones is having a great season all things considered I would say that he has had some drops this year that I don’t think a guy like A.J. Green would have dropped. Floyd has similar issues to Jones in that respect, but he isn’t the freak athlete Jones is. So while some will tout Floyd as a top 10 pick I will personally stay away and depending on my film study I may not even grade him as a first rounder. I’ll be in the minority, and I might get proven wrong, but I really think that Floyd’s intangibles have to play in to anyone’s evaluation of him and I just don’t think he has enough ability to outweigh those concerns and still get a 1st round grade right now.

Theo Riddick, WR, Notre Dame: Riddick is another converted wide receiver for Notre Dame. The last time they did that it worked out really well for them as Golden Tate formed a pretty dynamic duo with Michael Floyd when he was here. Riddick isn’t the same athlete that Tate was, but I like running backs that convert to wide receiver because they tend to be more physical after that catch. I haven’t evaluated Riddick much yet, but he is definitely on my radar which is why I wanted to put him on this list.

Tyler Eifert has amazing upside and I think he reminds me of Rob Gronkowski to be honest.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Eifert is considering coming out this season and with good reason. Is he ready to get drafted by a NFL team and start from day one? Perhaps not. However, I do think he has as much upside as any draft eligible tight end and that includes Dwayne Allen and a player I have been touting for at least a year in Orson Charles. Eifert has a combination of size, athleticism and great hands that led me to compare him to Rob Gronkowski after watching him this year and in the bowl game against FSU. In my opinion he was Notre Dame’s true go-to receiver this year as he made a lot of key catches for them late in games that I saw. He’s not a very effective blocker yet but he has shown a willingness to block and with coaching he could definitely be a quality in-line blocker. Like so many tight ends these days he can split out as a receiver either in the slot or on the outside and attack defenses. He’s got terrific range due to his athleticism, his huge frame, long arms and great hands. I think he is a better prospect than Kyle Rudolph who many people were touting as a possible first rounder despite his injury. He’s got Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski upside and people are starting to see that, so if he does declare and ultimately get selected outside of the 1st round then whoever gets him is going to get a STEAL much like the Patriots did with Gronkowski and like the Saints did with Jimmy Graham. You heard it here first.

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: Martin has LT potential thanks to his combination of size (6’4”, 303 pounds) and athleticism. He did a pretty good job against Brandon Jenkins in this game though he did give up some pressure. He seems to move laterally pretty well and I think he has some potential to stick at LT in the NFL, though I could see him moving inside to guard due to his size and ability to pull in the run game. He doesn’t have elite tackle size and may only be 6’3” when officially measured. He’s got upside though and I will definitely be keeping an eye on him next year.

Aaron Lynch has insane upside. I'm really excited to see him develop at Notre Dame.

Aaron Lynch, DE, Notre Dame: Lynch is only a freshman but he has beast written ALL over him. He’s got a terrific combination of size, athleticism, strength and motor. He is going to be all over NFL draft boards in a year or two and with good reason. He’s an absolute animal at defensive end and has top 10 upside in my opinion. Keep an eye out for this kid, this is only the beginning of a great college career for him.

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: Nix III is another defensive lineman I like on Notre Dame. He’s got terrific size for a defensive tackle and has the athleticism to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. One thing I saw him flash was a quality motor to chase plays down from the backside which was very encouraging. Finding defensive tackles with great motors is pretty rare, so if he truly does have a good motor it will only help his draft prospects. I didn’t get to see how he held up to double teams in this game but there will be plenty of time to look at that in the future because he is so young. With Lynch and Nix on their defensive line Notre Dame has the makings of a pretty dominant defensive line in a year or two.

Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame: Te’o has announced that he will return to school for his senior year which I can respect, but now writing a scouting report on him is a much lower priority as a result. Regardless, I think he has 1st round potential for next season but because he has chosen to come back for a year he is opening himself up to what will inevitably become nit-picking criticism of his game. It happens to most players that come back for their senior seasons after they showed enough potential to consider declaring early after their junior seasons and go in the 1st or 2nd round, so it is fairly likely that it will happen to Te’o. Personally I like Te’o. I think he could play middle linebacker in either a 4-3 or a 3-4, but I particularly like his upside as a 3-4 inside linebacker. I’m not sure dropping into coverage is a strength of his, but he is a very good tackler, he packs a lot of punch as a hitter and he does a great job timing his blitzes and putting pressure on the quarterback. For that reason I think that he could have more upside in a 3-4 defense because, at least on the surface, the scheme seems to play to his strengths a bit more than a base 4-3 defense would. I think Te’o would have had a great shot at the 1st round this year, but as a college student myself I can’t fault him on going back for another year of it. He’ll never get a chance at it again, so I can’t fault him for taking advantage of that while he can.