Tag Archive: Free Safety

Wisconsin Badgers Prospect Preview:

Joel Stave, QB, Sophomore- If my opinion means anything, then Joel Stave should be the starting quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers. He has to have the inside track for the job after the way he played in the spring game, but the new Badgers Head Coach Gary Andersen likes his quarterbacks to be mobile so it’s no sure thing. However, Stave has all the size (6’5”, 219) and arm strength a Badger fan could ask for. His accuracy impressed me as well, but he has room to grow in that area (particularly on deep balls, which he is hit or miss on). On top of that, Stave essentially saved Wisconsin’s season last year by solidifying the quarterback position and giving them a semblance of a passing game, so I trust him to be an effective starter for the full length of a season if he can stay healthy. Stave completed 58.8 % of the 119 passes he threw a year ago and started 6 games. He passed for 1,104 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in those games. He may not be perfect, but if the Badgers can run the ball effectively they won’t need him to be. I’ll take him over any Badger quarterback I’ve watched since I started watching college football with the obvious exception of Russell Wilson. Now, if Stave can’t stay healthy the Badgers do have a reliable option in Curt Phillips, a 6th year senior, that they can trust to take snaps at quarterback. Still, if I have to choose between Stave and “Curt Tebow” as I took to calling him during some of his late game heroics last year I’ll take Stave and not think twice.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Sophomore- Gordon is a kid that I heard about during the spring game last year and I immediately was intrigued. A 6’1”, 206 pound kid with what I believe is sub 4.5 speed? Sign me up. Gordon was impressive last year and despite being behind both Montee Ball and James White he racked up 621 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns with an INSANE 10 yard per carry average. Not only that, but he added 151 yards and a 21.6 yard average per kick return as well. Gordon is an impressive back with the strength to run through tackles, impressive burst and enough long speed to rip off big chunks of yardage. He’s going to be the next great Wisconsin running back and I’ve been saying it since last August. I still feel the same way, and I can’t wait to watch him split the carries with James White this year.

James White, RB, Senior- White is an interesting player, because as a sophomore he really ran into the “sophomore slump” that talented freshmen run into at times. The 5’10”, 197 pound back ran for “only” 713 yards (5.06 ypc) and 6 touchdowns after rushing for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman. He got back on track as a junior, rushing for 806 yards (6.45 ypc) and 12 touchdowns despite carrying the ball less than he did as a sophomore (125 carries vs 141 carries). He’s Wisconsin’s speed back and he has legitimate sub 4.5 speed, he’s very quick, and he has surprising strength for a smaller back. Not only that, but he’s a reliable and dangerous receiver out of the backfield who figures to be featured more in this role as a senior. I like White, but I can’t quite shake that sophomore slump season from my memory despite the bounce-back year he had last year. I’m still hoping to see that absolutely dynamic freshman again, and I hope he comes back for one last hurrah this season.

Jared Abbrederis, WR, Senior- Abbrederis is a player I’ve been rooting for since he was a freshman. He’s a former walk-on who actually got playing time in one receiver sets over Nick Toon even as a freshman while Toon was a junior. He’s a high effort, high work ethic player who may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he finds a way to get the job done. He’s listed at 6’2”, 188 pounds but I think he will measure in at 6’1” or maybe even 6’0” even. He’s probably going to run in the 4.55 range for his 40 yard dash time so he’s not a burner, but he runs good routes, has good quickness and reliable hands. If he gets drafted I think it will be at the end of the draft, likely in the 6th-7th round range, but it’s entirely possible he ends up signing with a team as an undrafted free agent. Still, Abbrederis has been a reliable receiver for the Badgers since he arrived on campus and he produced 49 receptions, 837 yards and 5 touchdowns last year despite the carousel at quarterback throughout the season.

Kenzel Doe, WR/KR, Junior- Doe was flying under my radar as he only hauled in 16 receptions for 121 yards as a sophomore but I expect his role on the team to increase significantly this year. Doe is a dynamic threat in the slot and as a return man and I expect him to be utilized in a number of ways to take advantage of his speed. Doe is listed at 5’8”, 170 pounds, so he is quite undersized, but he has plenty of speed and quickness to help compensate for that. As a return man he averaged 27.9 yards per kick return and 12.4 yards per punt return, including an 82 yard touchdown against his new Head Coach’s former team Utah State. He had a very good spring game and I fully expect to see him as Wisconsin’s primary slot receiver, kick returner and hopefully punt returner as well. If Stave wins the job I think Doe will easily exceed his 16 receptions and 121 yards as a sophomore.

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Senior- Pedersen isn’t the same prospect that Lance Kendricks was at the position a couple of years ago, but Pedersen is a poor-mans Kendricks to me. He’s not the same athlete, he doesn’t have the same upside, but he is reliable in the pass game and as a run blocker. He’s not going to be a dominant in line blocker at the next level, but as an H-Back type blocker he will be just fine. At 6’4”, 237 pounds he’s not a huge guy but he has enough athleticism for me to think he’s going to get day 3 consideration. He isn’t a flashy player that does anything spectacularly well, but he is solid in all areas.

Ryan Groy, OT/OG, Senior- Groy is a player I was initially worried about sliding outside to tackle, but I think he will be able to hold up alright there as a senior. It’s tough to project how the 6’5”, 318 pounder will do on the blind side since I’ve never seen him play there, but he has enough lateral agility, good enough length and a strong enough anchor for me to think he can handle it. Originally I viewed him as only a guard, but after watching him and taking notes I think he might have a shot at playing tackle at the next level. That is all obviously projection, and I’m certainly not sold on him as a NFL left tackle, but he is carrying a day 2 grade from me into the season without a doubt. I’m excited to see what he can do, because as a guard he showed pretty good hand placement, a good anchor, and was smooth getting to the second level. He doesn’t strike me as a mauler in the run game, and is at his best when he can double team a defender, seal him off, cut him, or combo block and get to the second level. He’s not a great puller, but he looked solid when asked to do it. I think he’s going to be a good ZBS fit at the next level, and could potentially be a very good right tackle in a scheme that uses a lot of those concepts. I can’t wait to see what he can do outside at tackle this year.

Rob Havenstein, OT, Junior- Havenstein was a bit of a problem area for Wisconsin’s line last year but I see potential when I watch him. The most surprising thing about the 6’8”, 342 pound lineman was how quick he was out of his stance as a pass blocker. He gets good depth, is often the first one out of his stance, and doesn’t look like he will struggle with speed off the edge if he can improve his technique over the next two seasons. He has the length, he has the size, he just needs to work on some of his mechanical issues. He ends up on the ground a lot as a result of poor hand placement and I’m not sure if he’s a natural knee bender at this point. He’s obviously huge and is effective when he blocks down on defensive tackles and can wash them out thanks to his size and strength, but he’s not great at getting to the second level. He showed some ability to recover in pass protection which was encouraging, but I’m going to be watching him closely next year to see how he does when he is tested by quality pass rushers.

Kyle Costigan, OG, Junior- It’s official- the Kyle Costigan bandwagon starts behind me. I am driving it and there’s no one that can convince me otherwise. I LOVE this kid’s game. He’s listed at 6’4”, 313 pounds but he moves like he weighs 280. He is such a smooth puller, he is a text book combo blocker, he gets to the 2nd level easily, and he is a very good cut blocker. Not only that, but in the Ohio State game he absolutely held his own in 1 on 1 situations with Johnathan Hankins which is no easy task. He was only a sophomore, but he was awfully impressive to me in the games I watched. He looks like a potential 1st round draft pick if he continues to improve and get stronger. Look out for him.

Dan Voltz, C, Freshman- Voltz is a player I obviously haven’t watched any of yet but the coaches seem to be high on him and he’s being pegged as a potential future 1st rounder following in the steps of Peter Konz (2nd rounder) and Travis Frederick (1st rounder, even if everyone hated the pick). He’s listed at 6’4”, 301 pounds and is supposed to be very smart based on what I’ve read about him. It’s going to be tough to pick up where Frederick left off from a football IQ standpoint but I’m excited to see what he can do as the only underclassman starting on Wisconsin’s offensive line at what some consider the most critical position.

Ethan Hemer, DE/DT, Senior- Hemer is a player I’m excited to watch this year because I think the 3-4 scheme that the Badgers are installing as their new base defense will play to his strong suits. He’s listed at 6’6”, 296 pounds so he is essentially the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Last year he managed 24 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL and 3 pass defections in his first year as a starter. I expect him to be more disruptive this year and I think 3-4 teams are going to be intrigued by him as a possible day 3 selection.

Beau Allen, DT, Senior- Allen is the key cog in Wisconsin’s defense this year because if he can hold up versus double teams in the middle and free up Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong to play clean versus the run then the Badgers will be a much better defense in 2013. Allen certainly has the size to do it as he is listed at 6’3”, 335 and is one of the key players returning on defense. He managed 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups as a junior and while I think that his statistics might not be the same as a year ago at the end of the season he may have an even bigger impact. He’s going to see a lot of double teams this year and if he can hold up at the point of attack he’s going to be very attractive to a lot of 3-4 teams at the next level.

Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB, Senior- Kelly is a player I’m really rooting for because he has been through so much during his time with the Badgers. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin and he missed time with a hand injury as well. He stayed healthy (as far as I know) last season and the 6’6”, 258 pounder managed 28 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 TFL and 2 pass break-ups on the year. I’m not sure he’s going to be considered before the end of day 3, but the fact that he even has the chance to be drafted after all the injuries he has sustained is impressive. I’m really hoping he has a break-out year this year rotating with Tyler Dippel at outside linebacker.

Chris Borland, ILB, Senior- It’s hard to believe Borland is finally a senior, but it’s happened. It feels to me like he’s been at Wisconsin forever, but now the “short not small” 5’11”, 242 pound linebacker is getting ready to graduate and attempt a jump to the NFL. Borland’s size is going to hurt him in the eyes of evaluators but he’s strong, moves well and is a very good tackler. He has exceeded 100 tackles the last two years, including 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL and 6 pass break-ups as a junior. Borland doesn’t excel at shedding blocks and can be engulfed by bigger players at times, but he has a good motor and plays the run well. He’s a good blitzer as well, but I don’t completely trust him in pass coverage. I don’t think he’s a liability there, but I think he still has room to improve that part of his game. He’s not going to be a fit for every defensive scheme in the NFL, and many will doubt that he even has starter upside. I’ve seen him play too much to say he doesn’t, but I don’t think he’s going to be given a starting gig. He’s going to have to make the team as a likely day 3 selection and claw his way to playing time. I think he can do it though, and hopefully I’ll be able to see him show his skills at an All-Star game this winter.

Ethan Armstrong, ILB, Senior- I’m not very familiar with Armstrong’s game as last season was his first as a starter, but the undersized 6’2”, 216 pound linebacker started all 14 games last season and managed 93 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and an interception. I don’t think he’s the same prospect that Borland is and isn’t nearly as filled out considering he is listed as 3 inches taller than him yet he reportedly weighs 26 pounds less. If he can fill out his frame he might have a NFL future, but there’s no way he can last in the NFL weighing under 220 pounds.

Dezman Southward, FS, Senior- Southward is the only returning starter in Wisconsin’s secondary but from all I’ve read about him he has really taken to his new leadership role as the veteran among the DB’s. The most surprising thing to me about Southward was that he only picked up football as a senior in high school (he previously played basketball) and didn’t even play safety. He has had to start from scratch as far as learning the game and as a fifth year senior he has only been playing the game for 6 years. The 6’2”, 213 pound safety is obviously a good athlete and he is being touted as a potential star this year. In his first season as a starter Southward totaled 69 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception from his free safety position. This year he will be expected to be even better in coverage and help Wisconsin create more turnovers.


Minnesota Golden Gophers Prospect Preview:

Philip Nelson, QB, Sophomore- Nelson returns as the incumbent starter after a solid but unspectacular freshman year. The Gophers struggled to find consistency of any kind at quarterback between MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Nelson. Nelson finished the season with the most yardage but the lowest completion percentage of any of the three quarterbacks who threw a pass for the Gophers in 2013, but according to the guys at thedailygopher.com Nelson has looked accurate and displayed improved decision making this spring. That’s a good sign for the Gophers because they need the 6’2”, 215 pound quarterback to complete passes at a higher clip than his 49.3% rate of 2012. He took his lumps last season, but I expect Nelson to be a solid starter for the Gophers despite his age. If he can stay healthy I think he will prove to be an effective QB, albeit one that needs seasoning and development. Based on what I’ve seen from Nelson he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and as far as the NFL is concerned it is probably no better than average at this point. However, he does have pretty reliable accuracy and touch, he can extend plays with his legs (as well as pick up yardage with them) and make throws on the move outside the pocket. Only time will tell if Nelson has the arm strength to make the jump to the next level, but I think he has enough to be a successful college quarterback.

Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Junior- Last year I was completely on board the James Gillum hype train after I watched what I could of him from junior college and all the reports were that he would likely be “the guy” for the Gophers at running back in 2012. In case you were wondering if you can take everything you see or hear in the spring and summer at face value, you can’t. Gillum had 27 carries for 73 yards and 1 touchdown in 2012 despite the hype train and Donnell Kirkwood emerged as a much more effective back. Kirkwood averaged 4.2 yards per carry behind an offensive line that was constantly changing as a result of injuries. He really came on the scene in my eyes against Northwestern (a game that I attended) where he was consistently running with fantastic pad level. He was regularly gaining tough yardage with his leg drive and making Northwestern’s defense fight to even get him to the ground. Kirkwood is a compact running back listed at 5’10”, 223 pounds and he runs with purpose. His pad level is impressive, he gains good yardage after initial contact thanks to his strong lower body, and he has surprising quickness for his size. The downside is that he was barely utilized at all in the passing game last year, and I haven’t evaluated him as a pass protector yet either. I want to see him utilized more out of the backfield as a receiver and I’m intrigued by his potential as a pass protector thanks to his attitude running the ball as well as his size and strength. I’m definitely a big Kirkwood fan and I’m anticipating a 1,000 yard, 10+ touchdown season from him if he stays healthy.

Mike Henry, FB, Senior- Mike Henry is a little-known player because he rarely touches the ball on the Gophers offense, but he offers value as a blocker which is why I felt he warranted mention here. The NFL seems to be utilizing fullbacks less and less, but versatile players that are willing to block are universally valued in NFL circles and I think Henry has a chance to show he fits that bill. He likely won’t get drafted, but if he can demonstrate his blocking prowess as well as show something as a runner or a receiver he could have a chance to stick somewhere.

Derrick Engel, WR, Senior- Derrick Engel enters 2013 as the leading returning receiver for the Gophers, though that isn’t saying much. He totaled 18 receptions and 375 yards last year, including an impressive 20.8 yards per reception. The 6’2”, 187 pound receiver only produced one touchdown though, but that figures to improve if Phillip Nelson can stabilize the Gophers’ quarterback play. From what I have seen of Engel he doesn’t have elite speed (though he had a listed 40 time of 4.4 at 170 pounds coming out of high school), nor does he have spectacular hands, but he seems to be a reliable receiver that Nelson will be able to count on. Whether that gets him a look as an undrafted free agent or not remains to be seen.

Jamel Harbison, WR, Freshman- Harbison redshirted last year and hasn’t had the healthiest of starts to his career as a Gopher but he was healthy enough to go in the spring game and he impressed me. He seems to run crisp routes, adjusts well to less than perfect throws and showed some wiggle after the catch. He’s listed at 5’11”, 199 and will likely get a lot of time in the slot this year. According to thedailygopher.com coaches have been saying he was the most talented receiver on the roster since he was a true freshman last year, but we will see what he can do if he stays healthy all season. He was quoted as saying that the knee was not a problem at all after the spring game and that he had no problems cutting en route to catching 5 balls for 52 yards and 1 touchdown in the game, so hopefully he continues to be effective for the Gophers all season long.

Devin Crawford-Tufts, WR, Junior- Crawford-Tufts was a guy I previewed last year and he still hasn’t lived up to some of the hype he has gotten during his time with the Gophers. On paper he has the size (6’2”, 193) and the speed to be a legitimate contributor at receiver, but as a sophomore he only managed 16 receptions, 189 yards and 1 touchdown which was against Texas Tech in their bowl game. The potential is all there, it’s just a question of whether the lightbulb comes on for him or not. He’s usually a solid bet for a big play, but he and the Gophers’ quarterbacks just haven’t quite connected on them yet.

Drew Goodger, TE, Junior- Goodger returns for his junior year as the top tight end and the 6’5”, 265 pounder intrigues me as an every down prospect at the next level. I haven’t seen enough of him as a receiver (though I guess no one has, really. He only caught 13 balls for 155 yards and 3 TD’s last year) but he has definite upside as a blocker. There will be more footage to go over now that he’s the starter, but I am looking forward to seeing him as a blocker and as a receiver.

Ed Olson, OT, Senior- Olson is the returning starter with the most experience having started 27 games at left tackle for the Gophers. He is listed at 6’7”, 309 pounds and plays with an aggressive mean streak, but most importantly just needs to stay healthy. He has been a starter since Day 1 of his freshman year, but he missed 4 starts due to injury as a freshman, 2 starts due to injury in 2011, and 4 starts in 2012. He has never played and started an entire full season despite entering his fourth season as a starter, so staying healthy for a full year would benefit his draft stock significantly. I think he has the size and length to remain at tackle, but whether he will play at left or right at the next level remains up in the air. He needs to stay healthy and play more consistent, and if he does those things he could be the first Gopher offensive lineman drafted since Greg Eslinger (round 6) and Mark Setterstrom (round 7) were drafted in 2006.

Josh Campion, OT, Sophomore- Campion is a player I am less familiar with than some of these guys, but the guys at thedailygopher.com thought he might be one of the better prospects on the team, so I did my due diligence on him. He’s listed at 6’5”, 326 pounds and started all 13 games at right tackle last year despite being a redshirt freshman. I haven’t scouted him yet, but he’s definitely a player I’m going to keep my eye on when I watch the Gophers this season.

Zac Epping, OG/C, Junior- Epping is the most talented lineman the Gophers have in my opinion and despite being asked to move between both guard spots as well as center as a sophomore he played at a high level at all three. He should be locked into the left guard spot all year as long as he stays healthy, but showing the flexibility to play center will only make him more appealing to NFL teams. He is listed at 6’2”, 321 pounds and is going to be high on my list of interior linemen to watch this upcoming year.

Brian Bobek, C, Junior- Bobek is a transfer from Ohio State that is projected to start at Center for the Gophers this season. If he can solidify the position it will mean the Gophers will have a strong left side of Olson, Epping and Bobek at the pivot. Bobek is listed at 6’2”, 282 pounds but even though he was highly touted out of high school he missed most of the spring practices “due to illness” according to the Gophers. We’ll see if he wins the job outright in fall camp, but he’s probably got the inside track on Jon Christenson, the 6’4”, 306 pound guard/center who started 6 games last year for the Gophers.

Thieren Cockran, DE, Sophomore- Cockran has the highest upside of any of the Gophers’ defensive ends in my opinion. He is listed at 6’6”, 245, has a basketball background and a 6’9” wingspan to boot. According to his high school head coach he consistently timed in the 4.5-4.6 range in high school and even though he only had 1 sack last year I think he is ready to step up and help take some pressure off of Ra’Shede Hageman now that D.L. Wilhite has graduated. Cockran doesn’t have an abundance of experience, but he’s got the speed and length to be a dangerous pass rusher.

Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Senior- Hageman is without a doubt the Gophers’ top defensive prospect. He is a freak athlete listed at 6’6”, 311 pounds with incredible athleticism for his size. I think he has the potential to be a stud defensive end in a 3-4, but he is a very intriguing 4-3 defensive tackle as well. Either way, NFL teams are taking notice and if he can build on his impressive redshirt junior season from a year ago he could end up in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Last year Hageman totaled 35 tackles, 6 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 pass break-ups despite still learning the position. He still needs to learn how to play with better pad level because at 6’6” he tends to play too tall at times. Not only that, but he stands up too much out of his stance for my liking. He’s still raw, but I’d like to see him fire out of his stance and not stand up quite as much. He also is raw when it comes to shedding blocks and actively using his hands, but I believe that he can learn and improve that with time. What he does have is great size, length, raw power and he really flashes an impressive bull rush despite his issues with pad level. He hasn’t made a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage as a defensive tackle versus the run and I think that’s because he’s not a penetrator type, and that makes me think his ceiling might be highest at the defensive end position in a 3-4. He shows a consistently good motor which I really like, he is a pretty reliable tackler, and if his work ethic is as good as I think it is I think the sky is the limit for him. Don’t be surprised when he ends up in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Derrick Wells, CB, Junior- Wells is a former safety turned corner who has the difficult task of playing the “boundary corner” in the Gophers defense. That means he will likely be left on an island 1 on 1 often over the course of the season, so the 6’0”, 206 pound corner will likely be tested during his junior season. Last year Wells totaled 74 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 10 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He will be playing a new position this year, but I was impressed with his ball skills when I watched him. NFL teams have been targeting bigger, stronger corners recently and I think Wells fits that bill. I’m excited to see what he can do as a full time starter at corner.

Eric Murray, CB, Sophomore- Murray hasn’t locked down the spot opposite Wells yet, but Phil Steele projected him to be the starter and I have read good things about him during spring practice. The 6’0”, 194 pound corner is a smooth athlete with good hips according to thedailygopher.com and while I can’t claim to have seen him play as a freshman he certainly seems to have upside if he got some first team reps during the spring. It remains to be seen if he will lock down a spot, but I’m intrigued.

Brock Vereen, FS, Senior- Vereen is a solid but not spectacular safety who may not be projected to be drafted right now but has a chance to improve his stock with a strong senior season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 202 pounds and had 64 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 9 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior in 2012. He is considered one of the leaders of the defense and has experience playing man to man coverage as well as dropping into zone thanks to his time spent at corner earlier in his career. He’s a likely undrafted free agent, but I think he has a chance to sneak up draft boards and give himself a chance to make a team this year.

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

Today I am previewing the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes are coming off of a bowl game beating at the hands of Oklahoma, and 2012 probably won’t be much better than 2011 was for the Iowa faithful. James Vandenberg returns for his second season as a starter but in typical Iowa fashion Marcus Coker, the team’s top running back last season, will not be back with the team last year. I have lost track of how many quality running backs have emerged and eventually been kicked off of Iowa’s team, but it seems like it has happened every year since Shonn Greene left for the NFL. Regardless, the Hawkeyes are back to square one with the running back position yet again and hopefully someone emerges and manages not to get kicked off the team this year. All-time leading receiver Marvin McNutt has moved on to the NFL as well, leaving Keenan Davis as the primary target at receiver. Luckily, CJ Fiedorowicz is poised to emerge as the best tight end in the Big-10 and one of the best in the entire nation, so he should be a very good option for Vandenberg on offense. Unfortunately, question marks abound along the offensive line as the unit returns only two starters, Matt Tobin and James Ferentz. The offensive line is one of the most important pieces of any offense, and the offense will only be as good as that unit allows it to be. It remains to be seen just how quickly they will be able to gel.

On defense, the questions abound along the defensive line as well. The Hawkeyes lost three seniors to graduation, including their disruptive defensive tackle Mike Daniels. They are largely inexperienced along the defensive front, and will be looking to anyone and everyone to step up to fill the void left by the three seniors who moved on this year. Luckily, Iowa returns plenty of talent at linebacker, headlined by Middle Linebacker James Morris and Weak-side Linebacker Christian Kirksey. They also have some talent in the secondary, most notably cornerback Micah Hyde, but free safety Tanner Miller also showed some upside as a a first year starter as a sophomore. Overall, the sheer number of question marks along the offensive and defensive lines for Iowa makes me wonder how many more wins than 6 they will be able to accumulate this year, but Kirk Ferentz is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of the talent he has on the roster, and that’s why I refuse to predict that he and his Hawkeyes will miss out on a bowl game this season. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Vandenberg has some natural talent, but I want to see him do the little things better in his second season as a starter before I give him more than an UDFA grade.

James Vandenberg, QB- Vandenberg is a solid college quarterback at this point, but now that he is in a new offense it will be interesting to see if he takes the next step in his second year as a starter. At 6’3”, 212 pounds he has solid size, he has pretty good arm strength and flashes quality ball placement at times, but it is inconsistent as is his play overall. He needs to work on his footwork in my opinion, as at times he throws flat-footed when he has functional space to step into his throws, fades away from throws when he senses pressure (whether it is there or not) but also doesn’t throw accurately when he is throwing on the move. He shows the ability to make some pre-snap reads but locks on to his primary receiver too much and doesn’t go through his progressions well post-snap and tends to hesitate and occasionally panic if his primary receiver isn’t there. I think that if he improves his mechanics, particularly his footwork, his accuracy will improve and he will become more efficient. He doesn’t throw a great deep ball at this point, and I think he needs to execute his fakes better as a play-action passer to suck in the defense. These are little things, but it will make him a better quarterback if he works on them. Right now he’s a 7th round/UDFA prospect in my opinion and he will have to show considerable progress to work his way into the mid-rounds this season. That is all possible since he was a year one starter last year, but he still has significant hurdles to overcome to impress me enough to bump up his grade.

Keenan Davis, WR- Davis has the size and length that you want in a NFL receiver at 6’3”, 215 pounds and shows the ability to catch the ball outside of his frame which I love to see. I want to see him run better routes and improve his concentration to eliminate drops, but he has the size and athleticism to win 50/50 balls and make plays in traffic. He’s got the body type to be an effective possession receiver at the next level if nothing else, and it will be interesting to see how he handles being the #1 target this season with Marvin McNutt moving on to the NFL. I also want to see more effort out of him as a blocker, because he was rarely on the play-side blocking and often looked lackadaisical like he didn’t really think blocking the backside corner was important. He had the best season of his career last year with 50 catches for 713 yards and 4 touchdowns and if Vandenberg steps up and Davis improves his route running and concentration he could be in for an even bigger year in 2012.

I’m already convinced that Fiedorowicz is the best draft eligible blocking tight end in this class, and I’m convinced he’s going to play a critical role as a receiver for Iowa this year as well. Soon everyone who gets a chance to watch him will be raving about him, he’s a first round talent.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE*- Fiedorowicz is easily my favorite prospect on the Hawkeyes. I absolutely love scouting tight ends that are quality blockers and I’m not sure there will be a better blocking tight end eligible for the 2012 draft than “CJF” as I will henceforth refer to him. CJF is literally an extension of the offensive line at 6’7”, 255 pounds and showed the ability to seal off defensive ends and linebackers in the run game to create seams for runners, he showed he could come in motion and shock a linebacker filling in the middle of the field, and he showed that he can handle a defensive end one on one in the run game (even 6’5”, 270 pound ones on Oklahoma) and in the pass game, showing solid hand placement, using his long arms to latch on and sustaining blocks effectively without letting his hands get outside onto the shoulder pads. He’s going to be a huge asset in the run game and when he’s kept in to pass block at the next level whenever he chooses to leave Iowa, and did I mention he has soft hands as well? He only caught 16 passes for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns last year, but expect him to catch at least 40-50 balls for 500+ yards and 7+ touchdowns this season now that McNutt has moved on and Vandenberg will be looking for a #2 passing option. CJF figures to be a very important cog in the Iowa offense this year, and I can’t wait to see how he looks once he is targeted more in the passing game. I think he has 1st round potential written all over him. Click here for a full scouting report on Fiedorowicz.

Matt Tobin, OG- Tobin is the only other returning starter on the offensive line besides James Ferentz and I was kind of expecting him to be a player the group could rally around but I was disappointed with what I saw from him when I watched film. He’s listed at 6’6”, 290 pounds so while he has all the height you could want he is relatively light, particularly in the lower body in my opinion. He has pretty long arms but he struggles to play with consistent pad level and shorter, squattier defensive linemen have an easy time getting under his pads and driving him off the line of scrimmage. This causes him to struggle to drive defensive tackles off the ball in the run game and makes him susceptible to bull rushes since he doesn’t have a great anchor. He bends at the waist at times as well and doesn’t seem to have great balance or hand placement. Overall, he looks like an undrafted free agent to me right now. Unless he comes back stronger with improved technique my grade probably won’t change much.

James Ferentz, C- Ferentz is a kid I like quite a bit. He’s probably a fourth rounder as a center at this point, but that has more to do with his size and limited upside than it does with what he’s shown me on film. At 6’2”, 284 pounds he certainly doesn’t jump off the tape at you as a physical freak, but he has worked hard to add weight since being a 250 pound offensive lineman coming out of high school. He’s not going to be able to pack 30 more pounds onto that frame, but getting up in the 300 pound range would be very beneficial for him, particularly against stronger, physical defensive lineman. Right now he just doesn’t have the lower body strength to handle strong players bull-rushing him, and even got run over by Tom Wort when he blitzed up the middle on a run play. Wort is a 6’0”, 230 pound linebacker, he should not be able to bull rush a 284 pound center on a run play and knock him over backwards. However, Ferentz plays with good pad level in part thanks to his natural leverage, and does a good job with his hand placement and with his feet. He’s scrappy and blocks to the whistle which I like. He’s more of a wall-off blocker than a drive blocker thanks to his size, but he can walk defenders down the line of scrimmage or push them off the ball occasionally if they let him get into their pads. He’s not going to wow you with his size or workout numbers, but Ferentz is a coach’s son who is the heart and soul of the offensive line, a team leader and the kind of kid you want on your team. He may not wow talent evaluators the second they see him, but he’s the type of player that impresses you in interviews and ends up playing for the same team for 12 years because of his football IQ and leadership capability.

Dominic Alvis, DE*- Alvis is a 6’4”, 265 pound defensive end who has actually flashed some explosiveness and playmaking ability which this defensive line is in sore need of. He had 30 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore last year before tearing his ACL, causing him to miss Iowa’s last 5 games. He’s one of the leaders of the defensive line because he is one of the oldest and most experienced linemen the Hawkeyes have despite only having 8 career starts and the fact that he is entering his junior season. He is the leading returning tackler of anyone on the defensive line, and I would expect his production to spike this season especially if he can stay healthy.

Joe Gaglione, DE/DT- Gaglione is a bit of a ‘tweener at 6’4”, 264 pounds but he is still listed as a defensive tackle at times. I saw him lining up at defensive end when I watched him on tape, but he is likely an undrafted kid no matter where he lines up. I wanted to list him on here because he is a high-effort kid who fights off blocks even if he struggles to disengage from bigger, stronger blockers and doesn’t look like an elite athlete. Plenty of people slept on another undersized defensive end/defensive tackle ‘tweener from Iowa a couple years ago, but I was high on him and he went on to have a very productive rookie season with the Titans. That man was Karl Klug, and no one seemed to be impressed with him at the East-West Shrine Game but his non-stop motor and great work ethic endeared him to me and he shocked everyone as a rookie. I’m not saying Gaglione is going to do the same thing, nor that he is even capable of that, but just because a kid is a ‘tweener and may not have an ideal position doesn’t mean he can’t be productive if he works hard and has a good motor.

Carl Davis, DT*- Davis had a very limited impact last season, but the 6’5”, 310 pound defensive tackle who was highly touted coming out of high school appears to be on the verge of a break-out season, and boy do the Hawkeyes need it along the defensive line. If Davis can step up and be disruptive against the run and the pass this year it will make the entire defense better, and help hold the rest of the inexperienced defensive line together. He only played in 6 games and totaled 2 tackles last year, but if there was ever a time for him to turn it on it is right now.

Christian Kirksey, OLB*- I didn’t get to see a ton of Kirksey on film, but he returns for his second full season as a starter with 13 games of experience under his belt and tied with James Morris for the team lead in tackles with 110 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and an interception. He looked pretty comfortable dropping into coverage, and was often lined up in front of receivers or tight ends who were split out in the slot when I saw him. At 6’2”, 220 pounds he doesn’t have the ideal bulk for a NFL linebacker, but hopefully he will be able to add some weight and continue to be productive over the next two seasons.

James Morris, MLB*- I liked what I saw from Morris. He doesn’t look like an elite middle linebacker, but he looks like a fourth round guy to me. He’s listed at 6’2”, 230 pounds and while he isn’t an elite athlete and he has some stiffness to him I liked that he showed that he could read and react, close quickly on plays in front of him and tackle well. He also showed some ability in coverage, and even though he over-pursues at times I still like him as a linebacker prospect. Like I said, he’s not elite, but he’s reliable and shows some instincts which help mask his lack of elite athleticism. He had 110 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 pass break-up and an interception as a sophomore last year and returns with 18 career starts as a junior.

Hyde offers great size, football IQ, tackling and ball skills for the cornerback position, and projects to be a reliable #2 starter in the NFL.

Micah Hyde, CB- If I wasn’t so enamored with CJ Fiedorowicz Micah Hyde would probably be my top rated prospect on the Hawkeyes heading into 2012. Hyde is a special teams stud for one, which I always love to see from starters in college, and I have read a number of articles about him showing quality leadership which is another thing I love to hear about NFL prospects I am scouting. Hyde has 26 career starts to his name (all but two of them at corner, the other two being at free safety) and his 6’1”, 190 pound frame is quite good for the cornerback position. He isn’t an elite athlete in my opinion and doesn’t have great hips to turn and run with receivers downfield, but his size, length, football IQ and ball skills are evident on film. Not only that, but Hyde is a very good tackler for a cornerback, and he finished last season with 72 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 8 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. He’s not an elite prospect, but he is without a doubt a top-100 pick in my opinion. He’s got the upside to be a reliable #2 starter, special teams ace and quality locker-room presence. NFL teams will love that.

Tanner Miller, FS*- Miller was the team’s third leading tackler despite it being his first season as a starter, but that didn’t stop the 6’2”, 201 pound safety from racking up 76 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 pass deflections and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. He is the only returning defensive back who is projected to start that has any starting experience outside of Micah Hyde, and will be expected to be one of the leaders of the secondary as BJ Lowery fills in opposite Hyde at corner and Nico Law, a true sophomore, fills in opposite Miller at safety.

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

Today I am previewing the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers had a rough first year under Head Coach Jerry Kill, going 3-9 including 2-6 in the Big-10. They lost three of their four out of conference games last season to USC, New Mexico and North Dakota State (though ND State went on to win the Div-II national championship) but if the Gophers are going to surprise and qualify for a bowl game in 2012 they are going to need to be perfect out of conference and try to win a couple games in conference again. This year they open with UNLV away, then get New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse at home. Their conference schedule is tough though, because after they play Iowa away and Northwestern at home they play Wisconsin away, Purdue, Michigan, at Illinois, at Nebraska and finish the season with Michigan State in TCF Bank Stadium. Beating Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State is going to be an especially tall order, so if Minnesota wants to go to a bowl game their best bet is to split the four games against Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois. If they are going to do that MarQueis Gray is going to have to throw better, more accurately and more efficiently and the running game is going to have to take as much pressure off of Gray as possible to move the offense up and down the field. The Gophers’ wide receivers are largely unproven, and the offensive line recently lost returning starting right tackle Jimmy Gjere for good as a result of concussions. There are a lot of question marks on the Gophers offense, but they have some underrated talent that might emerge in time for them to send this batch of seniors to a bowl game.

On defense the Gophers are looking to rebound from one of their worst performances in the last decade, as they gave up 31.7 points per game despite returning 8 starters on that side of the ball. This year they return 6, and hope to improve on the total yards allowed (403) and more specifically, rushing yards allowed (189 per game, 4.9 ypc average). If their defensive line play improves, which will be spear-headed by DL Wilhite and Ra’Shede Hageman in my opinion, their two stud linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper can make more plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. And an increased pass rush might help the Gophers improve on their pathetic four interceptions that they managed in 2011. If they are going to upset a couple Big-10 teams this year and go to a bowl game they are going to need some opportunistic turnovers and stops, and that starts with the defensive line and the front 7. If they can stop the bleeding versus the run, cause some turnovers and pressure passers better this unit will improve considerably even if it doesn’t all show up on a stat sheet. So without further adieu, here are the prospects to keep an eye on for 2012:

Gray played WR and QB the first two years he was on the Gophers, but he was the full-time quarterback when healthy as a junior. If he can stay healthy and progress he could give the Gophers a chance at a bowl game and earn himself a shot at the NFL. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

MarQueis Gray, QB- Gray is the face of the program and if the Gophers are going to get to a bowl game this season it is going to be up to him to raise his level of play and become more efficient. He was an athlete when he came to the Gophers but thanks to Adam Weber he was forced to get on the field as a receiver, and the 6’4”, 245 pounder had 48 receptions for 645 yards and 6 touchdowns his first two seasons here (42 receptions, 587 yards and 5 touchdowns as a sophomore). But after Weber graduated Head Coach Jerry Kill wanted to have their best player have the ball in his hands on every snap, so Gray was moved to quarterback. He is very much a work in progress as a QB, showing impressive arm strength and velocity along with plus size and athleticism. To get a shot at being a NFL quarterback he is going to need to improve his accuracy, his mechanics, his pocket poise and his overall efficiency. It’s a tall order, especially for a guy who spent two years at wide receiver, but many believe Gray is ready for a significant jump in year two of Kill’s offense and year two of being a starting quarterback. I believe he will account for more passing yards and touchdowns than he did last year (1,495 with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) but even if he is more productive it doesn’t necessarily mean he will have a shot to be drafted as a quarterback. He has plenty of potential, but if quarterback doesn’t work out he will get a shot to play receiver in my opinion.

Gillum hasn’t taken a snap for the Gophers yet, but there are high expectations for him in the organization and I think he will give the Gophers a chance to reclaim some of their lost running game glory from the days of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney.

James Gillum, RB*- Gillum is a junior college transfer who hasn’t even played a down of football for the Golden Gophers yet, but according to their current offensive coordinator Coach Kill and the staff he brought with to the Gophers have been recruiting Gillum for three years, but finally got him to leave junior college and come to the Gophers. He is supposedly a “program-changer” and boy could the Gophers use one of those, particularly on offense and at running back no less. Gillum is listed at 5’11”, 204 pounds but Coach Kill has proclaimed that he is “210 or 215, and a very strong 210 or 215.” Whether that is true or not, Gillum has the size, strength and speed to be an impact player on the Gophers offense, even if he isn’t an elite back by Big-10 standards. Just having a running back eclipse 1,000 yards and 8+ touchdowns would be a dramatic improvement, and based on the limited footage I have been able to find I believe Gillum is capable of that. He was very productive in junior college, totaling 2,339 yards and 25 touchdowns in two years, and is ready to make an immediate impact for the Gophers. He is consistently, if not constantly, lauded as a strong, mentally tough individual and really seems to “get it” based on what I have been seeing and reading about him. He was an early-enrollee so he was able to go through an entire offseason and spring with the team, and quickly ascended to the top of the running back depth chart and became the leader of the position group. Redshirt sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood was quoted as saying: “He’ll get on me, he’ll get on [David] Cobb, he’ll get on Devon [Wright] just as well as I get on anyone. He shows us that he is the oldest and he probably is – I’ll have to say – the most mature in some of the ways, but he kind of rubs off on all of us. When he gets serious, we’ll kind of get serious… He can take things other players can’t. Coach would get on one of the other players and then get on him. And the difference between them, you can tell how he took it versus how another player took it. He’s very mentally tough.” I love what I have been able to read about him, and I’m very excited to see how he does this season. He has the size, athleticism, strength, balance, shiftiness and has flashed some vision, so I have high hopes for him. I don’t know anything about his ability to catch out of the backfield or to pass block, but I know he can run the ball effectively. I have a feeling he’s going to surprise a lot of people that aren’t familiar with Minnesota Gophers football, and they could really use a lift in the running game.

Brandon Green, WR- Green is a 6th year senior and is the leading returning receiver on the team despite only catching 15 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. This group of receivers is DYING for a playmaker or two to emerge, and Green may be one of the most likely receivers to step up. The 6’0”, 190 pound receiver had two receptions for 50 yards in the spring game and returns with 18 career starts. If Gray improves as a passer, and passes much more often than he runs (213 pass attempts and 199 rushing attempts in 2011) then Green could improve considerably on his numbers from a year ago. He flashed potential as a freshman and sophomore, totaling 41 receptions, 591 yards and two scores in those two years, but then he sustained a season ending injury in 2010 and wasn’t all the way healthy in 2011. He should be 100% for 2012 though, and that might mean being Gray’s go-to guy on offense.

Devin Crawford-Tufts is an Edina High School graduate, and I hear people that graduate from there are particularly eloquent and talented in whatever they choose to do.

Devin Crawford-Tufts, WR**- Crawford Tufts will be henceforth referred to as DCT because his name is so long. DCT went to the same high school that I did (though he is obviously younger than I am, being a true sophomore) but the 6’2”, 195 pounder got a little playing time as a true freshman, catching 8 passes for 158 yards and showing a knack for big plays, including a long reception of 61 yards. The Gophers desperately need playmakers at receiver, particularly ones that can make big plays vertically, and DCT is going to have an opportunity to step up and make those plays. He isn’t listed as a starter, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t improve on those numbers considerably and make some big plays downfield this season. After all, he is an Edina Hornet (Green and White ‘til I die).

Ed Olson, OT*- Olson is only a junior, but he has the potential to be a NFL player after he graduates. He is the longest tenured starter on the offensive line and returns with 18 career starts all at left tackle, and will likely play left tackle for the next two years for the Gophers. At 6’7”, 305 pounds he has NFL size, though he could stand to add some weight to his lower body. He has pretty good feet and long arms, plus he plays with an aggressive, nasty demeanor which I love. I am interested to see if his play is more consistent and I want to see him have more of an impact in the run game than I have seen thus far. As the Gophers’ current top lineman, if they are going to reestablish a running game like they used to have with Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney (that actually feels like two decades ago) they are going to need an improved push up front. For the Gophers, that starts with Olson.

DL Wilhite, DE- Wilhite is the elder statesmen of the defensive line, returning with 17 career starts. The 6’3”, 250 pound defensive end flashed potential last year with 16 tackles and 3 sacks, but he is more of a high-effort player than a dynamic sack artist. He has burst and speed, but he is relatively undersized and struggles once contact is initiated by the offensive lineman, which helps explain why he didn’t have any tackles for loss in the run game. He doesn’t have a great repertoire of pass rush moves at this point, and if he doesn’t beat the tackle with speed and he gets engaged he usually struggles to disengage and make the play. If he has gotten stronger and worked on his pass rush moves he could provide a much needed boost to the Gophers’ defense, but I’ll be a little surprised if he truly breaks out this year.

Ra’Shede Hageman, DT*- Hageman doesn’t have a career start to his name, but his size alone catches your eye. He is both the tallest and heaviest Gophers defensive lineman I see on the roster, measuring at 6’6” and tipping the scales at 300 pounds. He played in all 12 games last season and had 13 tackles, 1.5 TFL and 2 sacks, but I think he has the potential to exceed that easily as a junior even though it is his first year as a starter. The Gophers desperately need improved defensive line play, and I’m anxious to see if Hageman can provide it.

Keanon Cooper, OLB- Cooper is one of the leaders of the defense along with middle linebacker Mike Rallis, and he and Rallis had to help rally the team together after the tragic loss of Gary Tinsley, who died as a result of an enlarged heart. Tinsley was the Gophers second leading tackler last season, and led the team in tackles for loss, and as a tribute the team will wear “GT 51” patches on their jerseys for the 2012 season. Cooper happened to be Tinsley’s roommate and happened to be the man who found Tinsley’s body the morning after he died in his sleep. He has flashed some read and react skills, but I want to see more of him from that aspect. He is a former defensive back and as a result the 6’0”, 220 pound linebacker closes on the action quickly and is the team’s second leading tackler who returns only to Rallis, having accumulated 77 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups and 2 forced fumbles as a junior. He’s undersized for the position, but he’s one of the key cogs of the Gophers defense.

Mike Rallis is another Edina High School graduate playing for the Gophers, and I expect him to top 100 tackles and provide a stabilizing presence in the middle of the Gophers’ defense in 2012.

Mike Rallis, MLB- I never could have dreamed that any prospect preview I could have done would involve not one but TWO former Edina Hornets, but that day has come. Rallis was a running back and linebacker for Edina and I remember many instances of him breaking tackles, making big hits and ripping off big runs to help my former high school win as many games as it did while I went there. It’s hard to believe he is the starting middle linebacker for the Gophers now after walking on after graduating from Edina, but at the same time it isn’t. I’ve heard multiple people talk about his leadership capability, one even saying that even before he was an upper-classmen he was “the leader in the room” when the linebackers got together. He is certainly bigger now than he was in high school, as he is listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds and has the size to get a shot at the next level. He is the leading returning tackler on the Gophers, totaling 83 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass break-ups and a fumble recovery as a junior. It will be really fun to watch an Edina Hornet play on either side of the ball for the Gophers this upcoming fall, and I can’t wait to see Rallis break the 100 tackle mark this year.

Troy Stoudermire, CB- Stoudermire is a former wide receiver and he demonstrated those ball skills as he accounted for two of the four interceptions the Gophers had as an entire team last season. The 5’10”, 200 pound corner also added 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 3 pass break-ups. He started his career with two consecutive seasons with over 1,000 kick return yards, totaled 789 as a junior and then only got a chance to return 8 kickoffs as a senior because his season was cut short by injury. He set a conference record in his first three seasons as a kick returner, and figures to add to that record as a senior. He may not be an elite corner, but his unique mix of talents both as a receiver and corner in addition to his knack for returning kicks will earn him looks from NFL talent evaluators.

Brock Vereen, FS*- Vereen is one of the most experienced defenders on the Gophers’ defense despite entering his junior season. He has 16 career starts and is the third leading returning tackler on the roster behind Rallis and Cooper. The 6’0”, 195 pound free safety had 67 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 7 pass deflections and 1 interception as a sophomore, and will look to improve on those numbers as a junior. That will have a lot to do with how the defensive line does, because if they can ramp up the pressure it will make things a lot easier on a secondary that returns only three of the four interceptions they had as an entire team last year. If there are any playmakers that can change that in 2012, it’s Stoudermire and Vereen.

Cotton Bowl Notes:

Jordan Jefferson, QB, LSU- Jefferson had a pretty good game overall. I’m still not very impressed with him as a passer, but he had some nice throws in this game. He has good arm strength and he has good zip on his throws, but his accuracy tends to be very inconsistent. That showed at times in this game, but overall I would say he played pretty well as a passer. He still made some bad decisions throwing, but they only passed about 20 times (or called 20 pass plays, I haven’t seen the stat sheet yet) so every bad decision he makes is more significant because of the limited chances he had to make a bad throw. He did have a few nice, NFL throws though. Usually they were to Terrance Toliver, one of my favorite underrated prospects in the draft this year. Jefferson also showcased his mobility and though I knew he could pick up yards with his legs very effectively he looked really fast tonight, like in the 4.5-4.6 range. His play is usually the deciding factor in whether LSU wins or loses and his good play against Texas A&M was the main catalyst in their victory in my opinion. He did have a few bad throws though, one of which became a highlight reel interception for #5 in Texas A&M’s secondary, but there is still hope for him to develop into at least a solid passer as a senior. Will that happen? I wouldn’t bet $20 on it, but there is definitely room for progression and he looked better in this game than in the previous games I had seen of him this season.

Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU- Ridley really impressed me in this game. He looked very fast relative to his 4.55 listed 40 time, he looked explosive in and out of his cuts, he was decisive as a runner and ran hard and finished his runs which I like.  He seems to have solid vision, though I don’t think he necessarily has the speed to get the edge. He looks much better running between the tackles than he does on toss plays. A couple times on stretch plays I thought he had a cut-back lane to get North and South faster for a solid gain but instead he ran patiently behind his blockers or tried to bounce it further and got tackled for no gain or a loss. If he had cut it back then I might have thought more of his vision, but he had some nice lanes to run through in this game. I’d like to see him more involved in the passing game next year, and in blitz pick-up, but those are both things that can be developed more at the next level. Especially the pass blocking aspect. I think Ridley can be a productive NFL runner, but at this point he is probably a 4th round pick or so because he doesn’t have elite speed, he isn’t very involved in their passing game as a receiver or as a blocker, and I think he only has solid vision. There are plenty of examples of rookies or young running backs getting drafted in the middle of the draft, late in the draft or not even at all coming in and having quality careers or at least a couple big seasons. I think Ridley is a guy that people could sleep on as a draft prospect but then have that kind of a season or career because he strikes me as a quality runner.

Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU- Toliver is a guy that every time I watch I just come away impressed. Every single time. He is a skinny receiver but he is tall and is a long strider so he has deceptive deep speed but he has reliable hands and catches the ball well away from his frame which makes him Jefferson’s favorite target. In this game he definitely impressed me because when I stopped watching with about 4 minutes left in the game after Texas A&M threw the game clinching interception Toliver had 5 catches for over 100 yards and three touchdowns even though LSU only threw the ball 15 or so times. And like he always seems to whenever I watch him he showed up regularly on 3rd down with those catches. I swear the majority of his catches are either touchdowns or 3rd down conversions. You can just sense they are going to throw him the ball in those situations when they really need a play and he comes through many more times than not. I think Toliver is a really underrated receiver and I’m really high on him. I’d love to see him on the Falcons, but he probably isn’t a significant upgrade over Jenkins and he isn’t a speed demon who can help stretch the field to take some pressure off of Roddy. But I hope he has a good offseason and that he doesn’t go to a Falcons division rival because I really like him as a prospect. He is going to be at the East/West Shrine game so hopefully he has a good week there. If I had to guess I would say he will.

Spencer Ware, RB, LSU- I had never seen Ware play before but he really impressed me as a runner and as a receiver. I don’t know what his measurements are yet but he ran effectively and also caught the ball pretty effectively for a running back. He has a lot of speed and even though he appears to be relatively undersized he runs really hard. On the first play that I saw him touch the ball he broke a run out, shrugged off one tackle, stiff armed another would-be tackler away from him and ran through another tackle before finally being taken down along the sideline after a huge run. I watched that play and just said “Wow…” it was that impressive of a run. He kept showing up as the game continued too, so I will definitely be doing my due diligence on him. But watch out for him because he had a really good game.

Tyrann Mathieu, FS, LSU- Mathieu was absolutely everywhere in this game. I could not believe my eyes and ears when I heard he was a TRUE freshman and saw the graphic pop up listing that he was a true freshman who was listed at only 5’9”. It blew my mind. First of all, he does look small but he runs really well and clearly has a lot of speed, both in long and short distances. He has great burst and acceleration and he looked like a seasoned veteran out there at times. He made some truly incredible plays. My two favorites occurred in each half. The one in the first half involved him blitzing off the edge against the RT. He shot off the line and the RT was in position to slow him down a bit even though he obviously had enough speed to get the edge, but Mathieu dipped his shoulder and got the edge like he was a seasoned defensive end executing a speed rush. That shoulder dip in addition to his size led him to fly right around/under the tackle’s shoulder after which he absolutely lit up Tannehill for a sack and a forced fumble. It was an absolutely terrific play. He showed up a number of other times with tackles, etc. but he saved his best play for last when he was in coverage and Texas A&M was attempting a late comeback down two touchdowns. Tannehill dropped back to pass and threw to his receiver underneath but Mathieu saw it coming. He closed on it, dove and fully extended to make a fantastic catch with his hands right in front of the intended receiver for the game clinching interception. I could barely believe my eyes, it was one of the best interceptions I have seen all year without a doubt. All I have to say is if you don’t know who this kid is you will soon. He may not be big, but he plays big and makes huge plays and he’s only a TRUE freshman. I can’t wait to see how he develops over the next two years. Watch out for him, he’s going to be a really good one.

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU- I was not particularly impressed with Peterson in this game. I didn’t see him a lot, but when I did it was because Jeff Fuller was catching a pass against him on a curl route on the sideline. Again, I didn’t pay specific attention to him in this game but almost every time I saw him Fuller was catching a pass in front of him, a number of them for first downs. So as a result I did not get a very good impression of him in this game.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M- I have to start this paragraph off by saying that I like Tannehill infinitely more as a prospect than I liked Jerrod Johnson. Did he have his struggles in this game? Sure. But you have to remember that this is his 6th game as a starter. Johnson was making dumber decisions than he was and he was a senior with much more starting experience, hence the change. It speaks volumes about Tannehill that he was able to take over and finish the season with five wins and only one loss in his six games as a starter, including victories against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. I may have to watch those games just to see him play after seeing this. Texas A&M does run a pro style offense though so that will help him as a prospect and he throws a nice ball. He has good zip on his throws and I think he has a NFL arm from that aspect. He had pretty good ball placement overall, but this is just based off of watching him live so obviously I will have to go back over the game and check that out. He also has vastly better footwork on his drops and when he passes the ball than Johnson which was as refreshing as anything to see. He looked like a pro-style QB when he dropped back, it was great to see. He had some bad decisions in this game but both of his interceptions were pretty rare plays. The first one occurred on a pretty big miscommunication with #7 who ran a curl when Tannehill threw a fade or something and the corner just kept running and got a free interception. The second interception came when Texas A&M had become completely one dimensional and Tannehill threw the ball a bit behind his receiver and Mathieu capitalized on it by making a fantastic interception. As far as two interception games go those are pretty good ways to end up with turnovers from a decision making aspect. Overall I was impressed with Tannehill though. He still has developing to do and I really look forward to watching him play next year, but he has solid size, good arm strength, pretty good accuracy based off of what I saw in this game, good footwork, pretty impressive mobility and a little pocket poise. I couldn’t believe that a guy who hadn’t started all season or ever at Texas A&M could step in and lead that five game winning streak to finish the season the way they did, but I do now. He has NFL talent in my opinion, and clearly he has some pretty impressive intangibles if he was able to step in and immediately make his team better like he did. Clearly I liked what I saw, even though he may have struggled a bit statistically and his team lost, but I am very much looking forward to seeing him play and develop as a QB next year. Keep an eye on him obviously.

Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M- I thought he looked good against a very good LSU defense. I am not very familiar with him or his offensive line, but he had a 100 yard rushing game even though they trailed for most of the game after the 1st quarter. He looked pretty quick, like he had solid size and pretty good leg drive as well. I didn’t pay close attention to him because I was trying to learn everything I could about Tannehill since I had never seen him play before, but overall Gray impressed me. I look forward to watching him play with Tannehill again next year, and with Fuller leaving he should be one of the key cogs in their offense.

Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M- Fuller had a pretty good game, though it wasn’t one of his best. I didn’t see how well he blocked in the running game which is something I will have to evaluate, but he caught a number of passes against Patrick Peterson which kind of surprised me. I think Peterson might have been saying he was pushing off a bit, which also wouldn’t surprise me, but I was definitely taken aback by the amount of separation Fuller was creating against someone so athletically gifted as Peterson. He had a solid game though and caught a number of first downs on curls, etc. I didn’t pay too close attention to see how well he caught the ball with his hands though, so that will be something I look into more closely when I re-watch this game and others that he played in. He has good size, probably slower than 4.5 speed if I had to estimate, and I’m not sure how much quickness/burst he has to get in and out of his breaks as a route runner, but he had a very productive year and is really effective in the red zone.

Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M- Nwachukwu has an awesome name and he had a pretty solid game too. He caught a touchdown on a half-back pass and had a few other nice catches. Again, I don’t recall how well he caught the ball with his hands or whether he let it get into his pads, which is one of the easiest way to guarantee dropping passes in the NFL. He looked like he had 4.48-4.5 speed though and since he is only a junior I imagine he will be back next year looking to replace Fuller as the go-to guy on offense. I look forward to seeing how well he adjusts to that role because he had a pretty good year as the complementary guy. It is a whole different mindset being the #1 target though, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that. Tannehill should make it easier on him than Johnson did on Fuller at times.

Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M- Von Miller is a polarizing guy in my opinion. Some people love him because of his speed and quickness off the edge and because of his great production as a pass rusher. Others can’t stand him as a prospect because they think he is too small to hold up against the run, among other things. I haven’t watched enough of him to come to a conclusion on him yet but my initial impression is that I like him as a prospect. I don’t think he will be a 10-15 sack guy like he has been in college, but I think he has the potential to be a quality pass rusher in the NFL. He has impressive speed off the edge and a couple times he showed really nice quickness and burst to beat his man inside when he opened his hips too early. That was something I had never seen him do before, but that may just have been because I haven’t seen him play very much. I think he will end up going in the first round, but I thought he had a solid game based off of how much I saw him.

Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M- I didn’t see him much in this game, but he warrants mention for his sick one handed interception that he made in the first half off of Jordan Jefferson. It will be on Sportscenter, it was a great catch. Other than that I didn’t see much of him.


Sorry about the lateness of this post. I thought they might be worth looking through, especially since Ridley has decided to leave early for the draft. He could be a steal for someone in the mid-rounds…

Thanks for reading!