Tag Archive: Jerry Franklin


Quarterbacks:

BJ Coleman (Chattanooga) continued to look like the top quarterback here as he went 10/15 for 170 yards and 1 touchdown on the night. He led two scoring drives in the first half and was the only quarterback to challenge the field beyond the 10-15 yards range for quite some time. He got lucky on one of them but thanks to a great catch and run by Chase Ford (Miami) his stat line reflected how good he looked when he had reps. He threw a couple easy passes but he threw the ball accurately and to the right shoulder on all of them. It’s great to see him put it all together like this but it’s too bad he couldn’t move the East down the field on that last series to make for a really exciting ending! BJ definitely helped himself this week and capped it off with a quality performance. He’s got promising future ahead of him and I still maintain that he has starter upside.

Austin Davis (Southern Mississippi) produced a scoring drive late in the 1st half when he threw a short touchdown pass to LaRon Byrd in traffic for a score. Davis made a couple nice throws and threw the ball pretty accurately when he got time to throw. His lack of arm strength was evident on a couple of throws though and they masked that a bit when they rolled him out on a throw to the near sideline to Mayo. He looked pretty comfortable in the pocket at times though. Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois) didn’t look quite as comfortable though, probably because he seemed to deal with more pressure than any of the other quarterbacks. He took a couple shots, one of them a big one from Akiem Hicks on a screen pass. Harnish was 8/14 for 52 yards and one interception. He also ran for 7 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in the 1st half but at least two of his incompletions were dropped passes by running backs on screens, both of which were set up nicely.

Tyler Hansen (Colorado) also got into the game and moved the ball a little bit as he went 12/17 for 144 yards. He didn’t impress me quite as much, but I think he has a chance to get drafted very late or get signed as an undrafted free agent. Dan Persa (Northwestern) was ineffective and got little playing time going 1/3 for only 10 yards and running twice for -2 yards. His two incompletions were significantly overthrown deep balls, and he seemed to believe that he needed to make a big play to stay in the game for more than one or two series. If that’s what he was thinking, then unfortunately he seemed to be right.

Running Backs:

Tauren Poole (Tennessee) got the running started with a nice run showing his burst and vision on his first carry but didn’t have much room to run the rest of the game and he finished the night with 5 carries for 17 yards with his first run accounting for 15 of those yards. He also added one reception for 14 yards, but dropped a pass on a screen that was sniffed out well by Ronnie Thornton. Marc Tyler (Southern Cal) was another impressive back as he showed impressive vision, a little burst and some power to run through tackles as he gained 34 yards on just 6 carries. Alfred Morris (Florida Atlantic) ended up as the leading rusher for the East with 9 carries for 32 yards. He wasn’t terrific, but he did run through contact very well and a lot of his 32 rushing yards were well earned.

Bobby Rainey (Western Kentucky) showed some burst and vision but finished with only 6 receptions for 33 yards. He did, however, catch 4 passes for 23 yards out of the backfield. But the most impressive back on the night as far as statistics were concerned was Lennon Creer (Louisiana Tech). Creer finished with 80 rushing yards on 15 carries and his touchdown late in the 4th quarter gave the West the victory. Creer had some pretty big holes to run through in the second half so I don’t necessarily think he was the best back on the roster, but he sure did have a good game.

Wide Receivers:

Tim Benford (Tennessee Tech) had a solid game and caught every pass that I saw thrown his way. He definitely helped himself this week and continued to run good routes tonight. Jarius Wright (Arkansas) may have had the catch of the night on a deep ball from Tyler Hansen that he dove and caught for a 41 yard gain. He displayed his speed and route running all game and ran right by Josh Norman, one of the stars of this week of practice, for that big gain.

Lance Lewis (East Carolina) had a solid game catching 4 passes for 41 yards, but a couple of those receptions came on the final drive with less than a minute left. Lewis is still an underrated player but he may not have helped him as much this week as some expected him to. B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State) had a couple receptions and his most impressive play was on a curl that was thrown very well by Coleman and Cunningham was able to catch it and seamlessly turn and run towards the sideline. He ran through a tackle attempt by Rodney McLeod and scored easily.

Thomas Mayo (Cal PA) had a solid game with 3 receptions for 41 yards and showed pretty good hands and caught passes in rhythm from the quarterback who delivered the ball to him. LaRon Byrd (Miami) continued to surprised by making a couple tough catches, one on a throw slightly behind him and another in significant traffic for a touchdown in the 1st half.

Tight Ends:

Surprisingly, tight ends led both teams in receiving in this game. Chase Ford (Miami) made one of the great plays of the game by catching a pass in traffic from Coleman downfield, taking a hit from Gideon as he caught the ball and somehow stayed on his feet and rumbled for significant yardage after the catch. It was his only reception, but it was a big one. George Bryan (NC State) had 3 catches for 55 yards but continued to look slow when running routes and when running after the catch.

Offensive Line:

It was hard to see all of the offensive line play from up in the press box, but when I re-watch the game I will definitely have more notes on the offensive line.

Defensive Line:

Kyle Wilber (Wake Forest) had a good game as he was consistently around the ball, he made a number of tackles (unfortunately I couldn’t track down a stat sheet, so at this time I don’t know how many tackles he finished with) and showed his ability to rush the passer. He’s still pretty light to try to stick at defensive end, but I think he has the potential to shift to outside linebacker at the next level. Akiem Hicks (Regina, Canada) didn’t have a lot of impact plays but he consistently showed developing hand usage and his strength to keep blockers off balance. He also had a couple hits on quarterbacks tonight, though he did play too high at times. Nick Jean-Baptiste (Baylor) isn’t fantastic at the point of attack but when you allow him to work down the line of scrimmage and use his motor he can make plays at the line of scrimmage. He had a few tackles at or near the line of scrimmage tonight. DaJohn Harris (Southern Cal) made a nice tackle for loss in this game but I didn’t see a lot of him otherwise. Tyrone Crawford (Boise State) also made a couple nice plays but I didn’t see a ton of him live either.

Linebackers:

Jerry Franklin (Arkansas), Josh Kaddu (Oregon) and Tank Carder (TCU) all made a couple plays up near the line of scrimmage today and all showed some potential in coverage as well. Shawn Loiseau (Merrimack) had an up and down night but his effort and passion should help him make a roster. I didn’t see too many other linebackers making plays, but again it was hard to keep an eye on everything live from the press box.

Defensive Backs:

I didn’t get a great look at all of these guys and because they were playing such vanilla coverages it isn’t the greatest barometer of their ability. I saw Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) get beat deep and attempt a big hit on Kevin Koger that was rendered ineffective, I saw Aaron Henry (Wisconsin) absolutely level Emil Igweganu over the middle. Other than that I don’t have an abundance of notes on the defensive backs from this game unfortunately.

Punters:

I told you guys that Bryan Anger (California) can punt didn’t I? He had some great punts tonight just like he did all week. He might honestly get drafted.

I’m sorry for the lack of notes from the game. I wish I had the stats to help with the defense and it was tough to focus in on everything during the game. It’s always easier to watch the skill position players when the ball is going to them. I’ll re-watch the game at some point and get notes up on it.

Thanks for reading all week. I’ll be covering the Senior Bowl next week as well!

–Tom

Defense:

Defensive Line:

1. DaJohn Harris, DT, Southern Cal: DaJohn Harris was a guy that I thought was very underrated all season long and I think he opened some eyes this week. He doesn’t have elite size, strength or speed but he is well rounded and consistent. He needs to play lower at times but he can rush the passer and stop the run from the 3 tech position which is where I think he has the most NFL upside. He should be able to contribute to a rotation early in his career and could go in the 4th round range.

2. Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina Canada: Hicks may not have played like the 2nd best defensive linemen every day but I don’t think there is any question he has the upside to be one of the best players that was in St. Petersburg this week. He has all the size, power, athleticism and length that you could want in a defensive tackle and he flashed a lot of potential this week. It wasn’t always consistent, and he needs significant work on playing with leverage and he needs to develop much better technique and hand usage, but there is a lot of raw potential there. If he lands on a team with a good defensive line coach and they are patient with him he could end up being something special.

3. Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri: Hamilton was a late round pick before this week but I think he has piqued some interest through his play this week. He has great size and strength for the position and has flashed some burst off the line of scrimmage to penetrate into offensive backfields. He doesn’t offer a lot as a pass rusher at this point and will stand up out of his stance too often which limits his ability to move offensive linemen. He knows that he needs to work on that though and he has been improving in that aspect since the end of his senior season.

4. Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State: Crawford was a guy that was not very well known coming into the week but he definitely impressed me when I watched him. I questioned his ability to shed blocks coming into the week but he definitely showed the ability to do that this week and also showed up bigger and stronger than I expected. I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the 4-3 defensive end position, but I think he may even be able to slide inside to the 3 tech position or continue to bulk up and play the 3-4 defensive end position. His versatility will definitely help him.

5. Justin Francis, DE, Rutgers: Francis definitely looked like one of the better pass rushers at the defensive end spot this week and on top of that he had an absolute non-stop motor all week. He seemed to be the emotional leader of the West defensive line and the guys I talked to from that group mentioned him as a guy with a terrific motor. He will make hustle plays that’s for sure, I just wonder how much upside he has beyond being a rotational defensive end in the NFL.

6. Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina: Robertson may not be a great pass rusher at this point but he definitely showed the ability to play strong at the point of attack and wasn’t easy to move off the ball for anyone on the East offensive line this week. He offers value as a run stopper and warrants a late round draftable grade in my opinion.

7. Nick Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor: Jean-Baptiste (or NJB as I like to all him) definitely showed his potential as a pass rusher this week as I compared him to BJ Raji after watching him in pass rush drills on Monday and Tuesday. He was dominating and he was virtually unblockable 1 on 1. The trouble came in team drills when he faced regular double teams and didn’t look great against the run (which was an issue when Baylor played Washington in the Alamo Bowl as well). He plays a little high at times despite his natural leverage because of his height, but he just isn’t as consistent of a run defender as you would like to see. He has upside and he definitely warrants a draftable grade, I’m just wondering if he will ever be more than a rotational guy.

8. Kyle Wilber, DE, Wake Forest: Wilber definitely flashed his potential as a pass rusher this week but he is too light and lean to stay at 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. He will have to transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in my opinion, and while he has the ability to at least be a reserve and a special teamer there I just don’t know if he has the athleticism to drop into coverage. He’s tall and pretty lanky so he isn’t exactly built for coverage, but I’ve never seen him drop into coverage before so he is a bit of an unknown in that respect. I still think he is draftable though and he showed some of his ability this week and may cause some trouble for the lackluster group of tackles on the West squad.

9. Micanor Regis, DT, Miami: Regis looked quite good in 1 on 1 drills this week when he was rushing the passer and definitely showed throughout the week that he has a good first step, good burst off the line of scrimmage and he has a pass rush move or two that he can use off the ball to beat you right off the snap. He wasn’t as good once he was engaged though and he struggled versus the run this week. He can definitely contribute to a rotation as a pass rusher inside, but defending the run is something he will have to try to work on in the NFL. That makes me wonder if he will get drafted or just signed as an undrafted free agent to let him earn his way onto the roster or practice squad.

10. Matt Conrath, DE, Virginia: Conrath is one player that I would like to rank higher but based on the week I can’t right now. He was playing out of position this week though and isn’t built for the 4-3 defensive end position in the NFL. I don’t think he’s a good fit inside at defensive tackle either thanks to his 6’7”, 282 pound frame. I think he is definitely a 3-4 defensive end and he really didn’t get to show that this week. He’s someone that I think will go in the later portion of the draft but he takes coaching so well and has a perfect frame for that position that I think he will end up contributing to a roster and potentially ending up as a solid starter in a couple years.

Linebackers:

1. Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pittsburgh: Lindsey was playing out of position this week as a 4-3 OLB but hopefully he won’t be drafted to play in that scheme. His best fit in the NFL is as a 3-4 OLB. It would have been nice if he had shown the versatility to drop into coverage as a 4-3 OLB this week, but he looked best when he was doing simple drops, particularly in the flat. He didn’t look great in deeper drops and he made his plays on the ball on his shorter drops. He has potential as a pass rusher and should be able to drop into coverage as a 3-4 OLB well enough to eventually be a starter.

2. Josh Kaddu, OLB, Oregon: Kaddu consistently impressed me with his athleticism this week and should continue to do that in today’s game. He is the best 4-3 OLB here this week and he showed that every day in practice. I never got to see him in full pads though so I am interested to see how he runs with them on and I want to see him tackle more importantly.

3. Jerry Franklin, ILB, Arkansas: Franklin is a player that I think is a bit underrated and while he may not be a stud linebacker I definitely think he is a draftable prospect that will provide value as a special teamer and a reserve before potentially being a starter. He won’t start today’s game but he will definitely get playing time. It will be interesting to see the dichotomy between Franklin and Tank Carder at inside linebacker today for the West.

4. Shawn Loiseau, ILB, Merrimack: Loiseau isn’t a guy that makes you say “wow” with his size or athletic ability but he definitely leaves you saying that thanks to his passion for the game and his leadership capability. Whether this kid is drafted or not I would be shocked if he didn’t make a NFL roster because he is willing to do whatever the coaches ask him to and he strikes me as a potential special teams ace. I’m not sure if he has starter upside, but he will definitely be on a NFL roster one way or another.

5. Brandon Marshall, OLB, Nevada: Marshall is the “lesser” of the two senior Nevada linebackers but I think he might be a more fundamentally sound football player than his teammate James-Michael Johnson who will play in the Senior Bowl next week. I really want to see him tackle though and I haven’t seen him in full pads all week, but he has flashed ability in the run game and in pass coverage.

6. Tank Carder, ILB, TCU: Carder made plays in pass coverage consistently this week as we all expected but I haven’t seen an ounce of physicality from him in the trenches and I don’t think he can shed blocks from offensive linemen up at the line of scrimmage. I really want to see him in full pads when he has to fill versus the run because I think that is a serious weakness in his game. I don’t think he has starter potential in the NFL and I think he will end up being a WLB in a 4-3 when all is said and done.

7. Ronnie Thornton, ILB, Southern Mississippi: Thornton isn’t the best linebacker on either Shrine Game roster but he always looked like a good tackler to me on tape and I am excited to see how he does with full pads on today. He will be a reserve and a special teamer at the next level, but I think he can make a roster doing those things.

Defensive Backs:

1. Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina: Norman definitely had the best week of any defensive back as he regularly made plays on the ball either by intercepting them or deflecting them during all four days of practice. I like his ball skills, his size, his great closing burst and his willingness to hit people. He couldn’t lay anyone out this week, but there were two or three times that I can remember he really looked like he wanted to. I’m excited to see how he supports versus the run and how he tackles today.

2. Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa: Prater didn’t have a great season this year but he had a good week of practice this week. He doesn’t have great hands but he has pretty good ball skills, fluid hips and a nice, low back-pedal. He looks like he can be a quality nickel back in the NFL and perhaps even a #2 starter at some point.

3. Micah Pellerin, CB, Hampton: Pellerin was the second best defensive back all week for the East but he doesn’t strike me as a physical player and I really want to see how he supports the run and how he tackles. He is athletic though and showed some ball skills and closing speed this week, but I’m not sold on him having starter upside.

4. Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame: Blanton didn’t have a great week when he was dropping into zone coverage and he didn’t always look good in man coverage (particularly against quicker receivers) but he showed his potential as a press man corner one day this week. He looks huge for a cornerback and it’s hard to believe he is only 6’0” tall, but he warrants a draftable grade in my opinion.

5. Duke Ihenacho, SS, San Jose State: I liked Ihenacho coming into the week and I still do but he had his issues in coverage at times this week and didn’t look very fast either. He’s a good tackler though and should be comfortable supporting the run in this game. He’s definitely draftable in my opinion, but I just wonder if he has a future as a NFL starter.

6. Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin: Henry is someone that plenty of people like but I can’t say I’m as big of a fan. He allowed a lot of big plays this year for Wisconsin and I think that is a problem that will not be easily fixed once he gets to the NFL. He’s got the athleticism and some ball skills but I just don’t think he has starter upside at safety. I could be wrong, but I just haven’t seen it and I have watched a lot of Wisconsin football the past two years.

7. Jerrell Young, S, South Florida: Young didn’t impress me early in the week but he looked better throughout the week to me. I’m not sure where his draft stock is at this point, but I think he is draftable and warrants consideration later in the draft.

8. Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia: Tandy is someone I was not impressed with this week. He looks tight in the hips and is a little tall in his back-pedal, and I don’t think he has much upside outside of being a zone corner where he can close on things in front of him. He struggled in man coverage this week in my opinion and I think he’s a 4th or 5th round pick right now, maybe even a little later.

9. Rodney McLeod, CB, Virginia: McLeod was a bit of a pleasant surprise in my opinion because he showed fluid hips, good footwork and nice low back-pedal consistently this week. I’m not sure if that transitioned onto the field that well but it was definitely there in drills. He has spent time at safety but I think he has a chance to stick as a corner in the NFL.

10. Blake Gideon, S, Texas: Gideon had some of the same issues that Henry did this week as he let guys get behind him deep at times and he was scolded for it by his coaches when it did. He’s a solid player though and I think he warrants some late round consideration, but if he doesn’t get drafted I think he will be able to make a roster as an undrafted free agent.

Punters:

Bryan Anger, P, California: Anger looked great punting the ball all week whether it was with the wind or into it. He timed well on his hang time and the scouts I was sitting with pointed out regularly the sound that the ball makes when it comes off of his foot. He surprised me with his leg from day one at the West practices and he kept it up all week. He may even be draftable as a punter which isn’t exactly common, but he will definitely get a chance as an undrafted free agent if he doesn’t get drafted. He has a NFL leg.

Defensive MVP Prediction: Nick Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor: I like defensive linemen in these games but the interior defensive linemen on the East will have a tough challenge going up against Brandon Brooks, the talented guard on the West roster. NJB has flashed potential this week though and I think he is a bit of a sleeper for this award. He can penetrate and get upfield and he has looked good in 1 on 1 situations this week. He could end up with a tackle for loss or two and a sack today.

West Roster Notes:

Boy did it rain a lot at this practice. Just when it seemed to be letting up it seemed to pour rain. It rained literally the entire time, though it did let up towards the end when they called it. Not ideal conditions, but there was still information to be gleaned.

Quarterbacks:

Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois) didn’t have a great day in the wet, rainy conditions. He didn’t measure in with big hands (9 ¼ inches) so I think that as well as the rain made it a little hard for him to grip the ball at times. He fumbled a couple exchanges when I was watching him early in practice and he missed high with some wobbly spirals when I watched him later in team drills.

Running Backs:

I continue to like Bobby Rainey (Western Kentucky) and I think he has a chance to open some eyes on Saturday. Marc Tyler (Southern Cal) doesn’t look like a great athlete, but he sure does look strong and he has caught the ball better the last couple of days. He doesn’t look like a NFL starter to me, but if he can stay healthy I think he can make a roster and possibly work himself into a contributing role.

Wide Receivers:

Devon Wylie (Fresno State) continues to make me look like a fool for not including him in my prospect preview at the beginning of the week as he had a strong day despite the rain today. He’s not perfect, but he looks like one of the top receivers on the West squad. Jarius Wright (Arkansas) continues to impress and run good routes, but his hands aren’t quite where I would like them to be. Dale Moss (South Dakota State) has the size and he can catch the ball, but I am still not sold on him from an athletic perspective.

Tight Ends:

Kevin Koger (Michigan) got nicked up late in practice, not sure what happened or what his ailment is, but hopefully he is alright. David Paulson (Oregon) had one drop in team when I was watching which was frustrating; his sure handedness is something I like about him.

Offensive Line:

Tom Compton (South Dakota) had a solid day run blocking but he got absolutely blown by on the outside by Tyrone Crawford in team. Crawford isn’t exactly a speedster, so while Compton has flashed some upside at times this week I have a feeling he will end up an undrafted guy who will try to make a team as a right tackle. I’m not sure I saw Marcus Zusevics (Iowa) out there today. Maybe I am just oblivious, but I don’t have a single note on him and I don’t recall seeing him at any point. He looked like he hurt his ankle on Tuesday, so hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Ryan Miller (Colorado) and Matt Reynolds (BYU) continued to struggle today. Miller is going to have to stay inside at guard which won’t be easy to do at his height. Traditionally guards at that height are mauling offensive linemen who were outside at tackle in college but had to move inside at the next level. Miller is no mauler and has struggled with hand placement all week. He doesn’t have a strong lower body and has struggled a lot versus bull rushes as well. He looks like a 6th round pick to me at this point. Reynolds is a guy I haven’t been high on for well over a year and that hasn’t changed this week. He continues to bend at the waist, struggles with balance and doesn’t have the lower body strength to anchor against quality bull rushes. He’s barely a draftable prospect in my eyes at this point.

Brandon Brooks (Miami, Ohio) continues to shine as the best offensive lineman on the West squad. His size and power is impressive and he earned high marks from Coach Mangino during practice today in 1 on 1’s when he said “Brandon, do you realize how much better you are now than you were on Monday?” You love to see a prospect progress during the week with coaching, and Brooks has done that. He looks like a future NFL starter at guard with some coaching.

Moe Petrus (Connecticut) has not impressed me this week. He looks like a late round/undrafted player at this point and really struggled in one on one drills today. David Snow (Texas) wasn’t much better, and I think he will end up going undrafted as well.

Ben Heenan (Saskatchewan) and Al Netter (Northwestern) have both flashed ability at guard. Heenan looks like he is a late round pick or undrafted player at this point, but he has flashed ability here and there. He doesn’t look like he anchors very well against bull rushes at times though, and has been beaten badly at times. He might be an alright fit in a zone-blocking scheme though as he has looked comfortable combo  blocking all week and looks fairly mobile. Netter has improved considerably during the week after shifting inside to guard on Monday. I like him a lot better as a guard as expected and he has done a good job using his length and his lower body strength to anchor against bull rushes. He struggled with this at times on tape, but he has looked better this week. He’s a draftable guy that I think could end up being a quality reserve or possibly a solid starter inside at guard.

Defensive Line:

Tyrone Crawford (Boise State), Dominique Hamilton (Missouri) and DaJohn Harris had good days today. Hamilton and Harris have looked good all week, but today was the best Crawford has looked to me. He beat Compton bad off the edge in team drills and looked strong at the point of attack. He looks like he could be a solid left end in a 4-3 even though I don’t think he offers a whole lot as a pass rusher, but he might also be able to bulk up and try playing defensive end in a 3-4. More than likely he will end up being a rotational guy in a 4-3 defense in my opinion and go in the 5th or 6th round range. Hamilton continued to demonstrate his size and strength and did a good job bull rushing today. When he stays low he can be tough to handle. Coming into the week I thought he might be a nice 2-down 3-4 NT or 4-3 NT, but I think his best position is probably 3-4 defensive end at this point. He has some burst and can penetrate at times versus the run, but he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and I don’t think that is entirely likely to change. Harris, though, has some upside as a pass rusher. He continues to penetrate into the backfield in team drills and has been tough to handle for most in 1 on 1 drills. He has helped himself this week and should go in the 4th round range and contribute to a rotation early in his career.

Linebackers:

I liked what I saw from Brandon Marshall (Nevada) today, he sniffed out a screen and seemed to have a solid day today in the rain. He’s a late round guy like most of the linebackers in St. Petersburg are, but I like what he brings to the table as a tackler. Josh Kaddu (Oregon) and Jerry Franklin (Arkansas) are my top two linebackers on the West squad, with Tank Carder (TCU) earning a 5th or 6th round grade from me.

Defensive Backs:

Shaun Prater (Iowa) continues to look solid in coverage this week and I think that Rodney McLeod has some ability at corner. I’m not sure what role he will be in once he gets to the NFL, but I think he can make a roster. He hasn’t been great this week, but he has been solid.

West Roster Notes:

Quarterbacks:

Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois: Not surprisingly Harnish was the best quarterback on the field for the West practice this afternoon. He doesn’t excel in any one phase of the game but is sound in most of them. He showed above average ball velocity today and had a couple impressive bucket throws downfield including a great one down the sideline against good coverage to Devon Wylie. Harnish is probably the 2nd best quarterback here and it showed today. He was definitely the most impressive quarterback on the West roster and I imagine it will remain that way for most of the week.

Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern: This is going to sound like an insult, but I truly believe that Dan Persa has the skill set to be a terrific CFL quarterback. I’m sure that’s not what he wants to hear (I wouldn’t want to hear it right now either) but being a quality CFL quarterback is a lot better than taking a shot at the NFL and quitting after you didn’t make it. His size hurts him as he measured in at 5’11” this morning and while he has some arm strength and solid accuracy I just don’t think he will be able to stick in the NFL. I enjoy watching him play though and that’s why I think he could be so good in the CFL.

Tyler Hansen, QB, Colorado: Hansen played better today than I expected him to but that isn’t saying a whole lot. He regularly just stared down one side of the field and threw to his primary read which got monotonous after a while, but he showed the ability to throw the ball on the move and has solid arm strength and accuracy. He’s a fringe draftable prospect at this point and I don’t think he has a future in the NFL outside of a career back-up but he wasn’t bad today.

Running Backs:

Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky: As I mentioned in the East roster post, today was not the day to take a lot of notes on running backs. It was a shells practice and you couldn’t tackle, so there wasn’t a lot to glean from the running backs. Rainey looked the best of anyone though as he showed good burst and quickness as well as soft hands as he caught passes in the flat (unlike Marc Tyler who dropped a pass or two and lacked burst). I am definitely going to keep an eye on him the rest of the week, he caught my eye today.

Wide Receivers:

Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: I went out on a limb and said that Jarius Wright was the best prospect at this game and while I still think he has that potential he definitely had his highs and his lows today. He demonstrated his fantastic athleticism as he burned a number of defensive backs today, created consistent separation and ran crisp routes. He caught the ball well with his hands early on in practice and flashed the ability to come down with a pass in traffic as he made a nice catch on a deep ball for one of the only touchdowns I saw the whole day. However, his hands were also an issue today as he let a number of passes bounce off his hands and hit the turf. I’m not sure if it’s a concentration issue, a hands issue or both, but it was frustrating to watch as the practice wore on. I’m still high on Jarius and I am going to try to track him down for an interview but I hope he catches the ball better the rest of the week than he did today.

Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas: Childs is supposed to be healthy, but he didn’t quite look like his old self today. He didn’t have much burst in and out of his breaks and looked relatively slow when he was running his routes. He displayed good hands as expected and I don’t think I saw him drop a pass today, but considering his skinny frame and his somewhat unimpressive route running this afternoon I am a little worried about his stock. I’m not sure if the knee injury is still bothering him or not, but I talked to him after practice and will have an interview with him later this week.

Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State: Wylie was probably the best player on the entire West roster today. He displayed good hands, good route running, impressive burst and quickness and was just fun to watch at receiver today. He adjusted to the ball well deep and tracked the ball well into his hands and helped make one of the best plays of the day on a deep ball from Chandler Harnish against good coverage. I was waiting for him after the practice to try to talk to him but scout after scout was talking to him, and it looked like a Ravens scout even had him filling out a survey of some kind as someone was announcing that the player bus was leaving soon. I took that as a sign to try to talk to him later, but he definitely helped himself a lot today and I, as well as many other people, was very impressed by his play today.

Dale Moss, WR, South Dakota State: I mistakenly tweeted that Moss “truck-sticked” a player at the East practice earlier today, but obviously that was a mix-up on my part. I have to say that I was not very impressed by Moss today. He measured in well at 6’3”, 220 pounds with 10 1/8 inch hands and a 79 ¼ inch wingspan, but he looked slow the entire practice and didn’t impress me as a route runner. The sad thing is that he still created separation despite route running without much suddenness or burst which really says a lot about some of the players in the West secondary. I’m not high on Moss right now, but we will see what he shows the rest of the week.

Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan: Hemingway was not very impressive today either. He also looked slow and didn’t create a lot of separation due to his route running. His hands were also inconsistent and that really hurts him. He’s not a burner and I didn’t think he was going to be able to threaten defenses vertically in the NFL like he did in college and that seemed to hold true today as he just couldn’t catch up to a couple pretty well thrown deep balls this afternoon.

Tyler Shoemaker, WR, Boise State: Shoemaker may have been the second best receiver on the field today behind Wylie. I noted multiple times that Shoemaker seemed to be the only receiver who continued to come back to the ball after making his breaks on curls, etc. That’s good coaching in my opinion and a couple of times it enabled him to catch a pass relatively easily when it could have been a tough catch in traffic had he completed his break and stood there while the corner closed. I don’t think I saw him drop a single pass today so his hands definitely impressed me and he seems to be pretty athletic. I liked what I saw from him today and I definitely think he has draftable talent.

Tight Ends:

David Paulson, TE, Oregon: I have been signing Paulson’s praises for a long time and while he wasn’t a stud today he did make a few nice catches on high throws and I don’t think I saw him drop a pass today. He’s underrated and while he doesn’t project well as an in-line TE he can definitely contribute to a NFL passing game at TE or H-Back. He’s consistent and catches the ball when it comes his way, that’s all you can ask.

George Bryan, TE, North Carolina State: This kid is big but my god is he slow. I see why people were mentioning moving him to offensive tackle, though I have seen plenty of offensive tackles move better than he did as a route runner at times today. Not only that, but a couple times he let passes bounce right off his hands when he wasn’t 5 yards downfield. His hands are definitely inconsistent and his speed and lack of quickness will really make it hard for teams to draft him early. He’s a late round pick at this point in my opinion, but the move to offensive tackle may not be a realistic one at this point considering his 33 ¼ inch arm measurement. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.

Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan: Koger didn’t flash much today. He showed pretty solid hands but didn’t look fluid in his routes and seemed to lake suddenness and burst in and out of his breaks. I’m not sure he’s going to do very well as an in-line tight end this week but we will see how he does in the run game. I think Koger is an underrated pass catcher but he has more to prove to me this week.

Offensive Line:

I didn’t see much of the offensive line at practice today since I had a much better look at the 1 on 1’s for the receivers and defensive backs, but I will definitely keep an eye on them throughout the week.

Defensive Line:

Again, I didn’t see a lot of the defensive line today either but when I did watch I was impressed by DaJohn Harris and Dominique Hamilton. Harris was consistently in the backfield when I saw him today which doesn’t surprise me one bit because I think he is one of the most underrated players here. Hamilton is a big, big guy and looked pretty strong at the POA when I saw him, but I have to see a lot more of both of them.

Linebackers:

I didn’t see a lot of the linebackers today, but predictably Tank Carder looked good in coverage. I’m very interested to see how he does in the box against the run the rest of the week. We all knew he could drop into coverage, now we need to see how he does filling versus the run in the middle of the defense. Jerry Franklin also flashed some ability in coverage which was good to see, but I definitely didn’t see him enough to make many conclusions about him. Josh Kaddu was a player I had never really watched before and he flashed potential to me today. He is an athletic kid and he demonstrated that when dropping into coverage today. I don’t know much about him, but I’m looking forward to learning more about him as the week goes on.

Cornerbacks:

Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa: Prater was the best of this lackluster group in my opinion. He closes on passes well and drove on the ball well in practice today for the most part. He should have had at least one interception when he made a nice break on the ball but it went right off his chest. He doesn’t have very good hands but he does have pretty good ball skills. He looks like the cream of his unimpressive crop early in the week.

Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia: Tandy did not impress me at all today. He was playing pretty soft coverage and gave up slants pretty freely today. His backpedal looked high and I didn’t think he turned and ran well with receivers downfield. He has a lot of work to do to help his stock this week because he definitely didn’t do so today in my opinion.

Brandon Hardin, CB, Oregon State: Hardin may have been the worst of this batch of defensive backs and that is absolutely not a good thing. He inexplicably gave up slants over and over again and never showed any burst to close. It was baffling really, but slow receivers were creating 3 yards of separation against him on simple slant routes. He seemed to be reacting in slow motion and just looked awful today.

Rodney McLeod, CB, Virginia: I didn’t see much of McLeod, but I also didn’t see him getting beaten that much either. That puts him in the top half of this crop of defensive backs unfortunately. He is only 5’9.5”, 195 pounds which hurts him, but he may be a sleeper in this group of corners. I’ll keep a closer eye on him the rest of the week.

Safeties:

None of the safeties were particularly impressive in my opinion. Duke Ihenacho and Blake Gideon didn’t look very good in man coverage though I didn’t really expect Ihenacho to be good there. He did look slow in man coverage though which was concerning. I’m not as high on Aaron Henry as others are because I think he gives up too many big plays but that wasn’t as much of an issue on day one of practice. We will see how he does the rest of the week.

Punters:

Brian Anger, P, California: I almost forgot to include him in this, but he needs to be mentioned. I was watching him punt early on in practice and in comparison with Matt Prewitt from Kentucky Christian he looked fantastic. You can really tell when a punter or a kicker has a strong leg because the ball will sound like a gun-shot (or something similar) when it comes off of his foot. That was the case for Anger today and he was getting fantastic hang time (though I didn’t have a stop watch handy). He was beating the pigskin off the ball today and while he may not end up getting drafted if he keeps punting like this all week he will make a NFL roster.

Defensive Ends:

-Justin Francis, DE, Rutgers: 6’2”, 275 pounds, 4.84 40 yard dash
-Francis isn’t a freak athlete but he did demonstrate production at Rutgers, especially this season, when he produced 64 total tackles (33 solo), 13.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 1 interception and 3 blocked kicks. That was a stark increase from his production as a junior and while he isn’t necessarily projected to be drafted right now this week is important for him. It gives him a chance to demonstrate his potential as a 4-3 defensive end (likely at LE if you ask me) and gives him a chance to improve his stock to a draftable level or he can help make himself get signed as a priority free agent.

-Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State: 6’4”, 273 pounds, 4.75 40 yard dash
-Crawford was overshadowed at Boise State but was a significant contributor to what was a very talented and experience defensive line. This is his chance to shine now that he isn’t surrounded by the talent of his former defensive line. He’s a mid-to-late round pick right now but in a defensive end class desperate for pass rushing talent he could improve his stock considerably if he can demonstrate those skills this week.

Defensive Tackles:

-Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri: 6’5”, 305 pounds, 5.24 40 yard dash
-Hamilton could be a big riser this week in my opinion. He’s not very well known and while I personally haven’t seen him much he has demonstrated the ability to stuff the run inside at defensive tackle. Hamilton was a critical part of Missouri’s defense that bottled up a very talented running back in Giovanni Bernard in their bowl game against UNC. I really like the West’s talent along the defensive line and on the defensive side of the ball in general, but defensive tackle seems to be a strength of the roster. Hamilton may end up being one of the highest rated of the group, so keep an eye on him. He’s not a big-time pass rushing threat, but I am very interested to see how he holds up against double teams in the run game.

-Vaughn Meatoga, DT, Hawaii: 6’1”, 295 pounds, 5.02 40 yard dash
-Meatoga is another big, strong defensive tackle that I am anxious to see in the trenches. I haven’t seen much tape of him, but he’s definitely a player to keep an eye on. He’s a guy who could definitely help his stock this week if he holds up well at the point of attack and demonstrates the ability to clog running lanes up the middle. Like Hamilton I’m not expecting a lot from him from a pass rushing standpoint but his strength should be in the run game.

-DaJohn Harris, DT Southern California: 6’4”, 310 pounds, 5.16 40 yard dash
-Harris is a very underrated guy that I have been high on all season. He hasn’t gotten much love and he may not have eye-popping stats but every time I watched USC this year he was effective. I rarely (if ever) saw him get pushed off the ball, he made plays at or behind the line of scrimmage and he consistently did his job for USC’s defense. I really expect him to rise this week because he’s got NFL defensive tackle size, he’s athletic and looked pretty fundamentally sound when I watched him. Like Hamilton and Meatoga I think he will make his money stopping the run, but I think he has more pass rush potential than both of those guys. Keep an eye on him, I guarantee Harris will be making plays this week.

Linebackers:

-Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas: 6’1”, 245 pounds, 4.60 40 yard dash
-Franklin doesn’t get a lot of love because Arkansas’ defense has not traditionally been a powerhouse SEC defense. That overshadows him a bit, but I like him at linebacker. He’s not the biggest or the strongest but he has showed ability defending the run, seems to be a reliable tackler, and has flashed upside in pass coverage. I will be very interested to see where the coaches line him up on defense but I am also curious to see how he does at stacking and shedding near the point of attack. I don’t think he does that very well and if he can be reached by an offensive lineman he can be taken out of the play. But because he has never gotten a lot of attention I think he has chance to boost his stock this week.

-Tank Carder, LB, Texas Christian: 6’2”, 237 pounds, 4.67 40 yard dash
-Carder is a well-known prospect thanks to TCU’s win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. He’s not a very big linebacker and many are projecting him outside in the NFL, but regardless of where he plays I have concerns about his ability to shed blocks and to hold up at the point of attack. He’s demonstrated his value in coverage but this week is going to be about his run defense. If he can defend the run well and tackle well (he has a reputation as a good tackler but I question his tackling a bit) then he should solidify himself as a 4th/5th round linebacker that warrants drafting. I have a feeling Carder is a guy who is going to let people down though because he has a reputation as a stud linebacker of sorts and I think some of his shortcomings will be exposed this week.

-Brandon Marshall, LB, Nevada: 6’1”, 245 pounds, 4.76 40 yard dash
-Marshall is another overshadowed linebacker that will be at the Shrine Game. He was overshadowed by James-Michael Johnson’s ability at Nevada but he may be the more fundamentally sound and reliable linebacker at the end of the day. I think he is a guy who will definitely help himself this week and show people that Nevada had more than one talented player at linebacker this past season.

-Ronnie Thomton, LB, University of Southern Mississippi: 6’2”, 240 pounds, 4.75 40 yard dash
-Thornton is a guy that I like. He’s not a stud linebacker prospect but I think he has draftable talent. He impressed me when I watched Southern Mississippi ruin Case Keenum’s day in the Conference USA Championship Game as well as in their bowl game. He looked like a very reliable tackler but I didn’t get to see him much in coverage. I will be watching him in that aspect this week without a doubt, but I think he can be a quality special teamer and reserve linebacker in the NFL if nothing more.

Cornerbacks:

-Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa: 5’10”, 185 pounds, 4.49 40 yard dash
-Prater is a quality cover corner that can play man and zone coverage. His size hurts him a bit in man coverage and he doesn’t have great ball skills, but he is still relatively effective. He will peek into the backfield at times which helps him in zone, but hurts him in man coverage at times. He has pretty good recovery speed though, which helps him in both man and zone coverage. He’s not a great tackler but he gives pretty good effort in run support. Overall he’s a solid corner, so it will be interesting to see how he stacks up with a pretty talented group of receivers all week.

Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia: 5’10”, 199 pounds, 4.54 40 yard dash
-Tandy isn’t an ideal man coverage corner as he doesn’t have great size or recovery speed to react when beaten. He does have speed so there’s a possibility he could develop in man coverage, but his value is as a zone corner. He doesn’t have great hands but he does have good ball skills and he has good instincts in coverage. He’s also a pretty good tackler and definitely has draftable talent. It will be interesting to see how he does this week. If he excels in man coverage and takes well to coaching this week he could definitely improve his stock.

Safeties:

-Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin: 6’0”, 210 pounds, 4.52 40 yard dash
-Henry is likely one of the best safeties in this game and is pretty well known. He was one of Wisconsin’s captains this season and has plenty of starting experience in their secondary. Despite that I have never been overly impressed with Henry. I think he leaves something to be desired in pass coverage and Wisconsin had serious issues defending the pass this year and some of that had to do with their struggles to keep things in front of them on the back end. Some of that has to be on Henry, and it makes me wonder how good he is in coverage. I’ll absolutely be watching that this week, because if he has struggles in coverage then his stock is going to take a serious hit. His tackling worried me at one point but while he isn’t a great tackler I think he is solid in this aspect. So overall he’s a solid safety prospect, but I have my concerns about him. I’ll definitely be watching him closely this week and hopefully I will be able to land an interview with him.

-Blake Gideon, S, Texas: 6’0”, 205 pounds, 4.64 40 yard dash
-Gideon is a unheralded safety from Texas and considering Texas’ proficiency when it comes to churning out talented defensive backs he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Gideon isn’t a flashy player but he strikes me as a reliable, fundamentally sound player. I’m not sure how much potential he has to be a starter in the NFL, but he strikes me as one of those guys it would be unwise to bet against. I am looking forward to evaluating him this week to see if I think he has starter upside, but even if I don’t think he does I would be surprised if he didn’t end up on a NFL roster.

-Duke Ihenacho, SS, San Jose State: 6’0”, 205 pounds, 4.60 40 yard dash
-Ihenacho is my favorite safety at this game and I can’t wait to see him in person. He looked very impressive to me when I watched coaches tape of San Jose State this summer and I can’t wait for him to ball out this week. He’s definitely going to be a riser and I think everyone who hasn’t seen him play will be very impressed with what he brings to the table. I think he could end up going in the 3rd or 4th round because this strong safety class doesn’t have a lot of high-end talent or depth to it. Keep an eye on Ihenacho, I’ll be trying to track him down for an interview without a doubt.

Apologies for getting this up so late everyone. I didn’t have internet access all day today and just got my internet working a bit earlier. I will be covering all the Shrine Game practices this week so check in every day for your updates on the action. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Arkansas-Mississippi State:

Jonathan Banks had a solid game with a sack, forced fumble and solid coverage. He’s a bigger corner and I thought he struggled with faster/quicker receivers and that was evidenced today by Jarius Wright creating consistent separation against him. He didn’t seem to close well when Wright made his breaks on underneath routes, and that allowed him to generate separation and make receptions against Banks. I am a Banks fan, but I think he matches up better with bigger, more physical receivers.

Tyler Wilson was very good today against Mississippi State. He’s putting himself squarely in the 1st round conversation for the 2013 draft. Is he a perfect prospect? No, but he has a live arm, he’s flashed some very impressive ball placement into tight windows, and he has shown me that he’s a bit of a gunslinger. He needs some mechanical work especially when he is outside of the pocket because his mechanics break down and he throws with uncharacteristic throwing motions with varying release points which makes it hard for him to be consistently accurate. Inside the pocket he dips the ball a bit during his motion so I think it could be tweaked to speed up his release. However I was very impressed with the zip he had on his throws today and he made some very impressive stick throws into tight windows. Like I mentioned before, he has a gunslinger mentality to him as a passer and it makes him fun to watch because he makes some incredible throws but with that come some mistakes that aren’t characteristic of more consistent passers. He’s got plenty of upside, but has some flaws as well. He has a HUGE test coming up against LSU’s fantastic secondary next week, and it will be very interesting to see how he does. My personal guess is that he has a productive day but two interceptions. LSU forces a ton of turnovers, and Wilson makes some throws that better defenses could have a shot at. You heard it here first!

Dennis Johnson was incredibly impressive today. He reminded me of Michael Turner “The Burner” back when he was on San Diego and in his first season as the feature back in Atlanta. He’s a smaller back at only 5’9″ but he is very well built at 213 pounds. He only has 91 attempts on the season, but he has produced 606 yards (6.65 ypc) and 3 touchdowns as well as 20 receptions for 258 yards and 2 more touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough for only 9 games of production without being the established feature back in each game, he also has returned 18 kickoffs for 461 yards (25.61 avg) and 1 touchdown this season. He’s a very talented back, and he displayed great burst, footwork and acceleration into the hole against Mississippi State. He seems to have impressive vision, runs fairly patiently, and does a good job of consistently making one cut and getting North/South instead of wasting steps in the backfield and going East/West trying to generate a big play. He runs with good natural pad level because of his height, runs through arm tackles easily because of his compact body type, lower body strength, impressive leg drive and does a great job of pushing piles and getting yards after contact because of his natural leverage and leg drive. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield and has soft hands and is dangerous after the catch for the same reasons he is dangerous when running the ball out of the backfield. On top of that, he has demonstrated some serious potential as a pass protector. Specifically in this game he was lined up next to Wilson in a shotgun formation, the ball was snapped and as per his assignment he moved to the right of Wilson to see if he needed to pick up a blitzer, there was no one, but he quickly recognized that there was a blitzing defender coming off of the left edge that was not going to be picked up. He then alertly flew towards him and took him out just in time for Wilson to deliver a nice throw to Cobi Hamilton for an Arkansas touchdown. Had Johnson not made that terrific play it would have changed the game entirely. Johnson is one of the most underrated running backs in the country if not the most underrated as Ben Allbright of NFL Draft Monsters has been saying for weeks now. He’s a very talented running back that has an injury history, but now that he is healthy he is demonstrating exactly why he was the starter ahead of Knile Davis on the depth chart. He is a different back from Knile Davis but he is very talented in his own right.

-It was great to see Greg Childs get in on the action in this game. He didn’t have a huge role, but he definitely looked the best that I have seen him since he injured his patella tendon last year. I don’t think there is any doubt that he isn’t 100% yet, but he is definitely vastly closer to 100% than he was earlier in the season. He has very reliable hands, quality size at 6’3″, 217 pounds and while he doesn’t have elite speed he has the ability to make plays on 50/50 balls that gives him value when healthy. His hands are very dependable and he displayed that on each of his three catches for 32 yards in this game, and even displayed some of his patented shiftiness on one play when he made a great snag, made a guy miss with a move to the inside and gained first down yardage. Childs isn’t healthy and hasn’t been healthy yet this year which is why he only has 13 catches for 152 yards and no touchdowns so far, but he is getting healthier each week and that is encouraging. Hopefully, should Arkansas end up in a BCS game, Childs will be healthy enough to make a comparable impact to what he was able to do before getting injured last season.

Jarius Wright was relatively quiet in this game. He had 8 catches for 96 yards but didn’t score a touchdown and his long on the day was 26, which isn’t really anything special for Wright considering his explosiveness. Jonathan Banks was able to take away some of the deep stuff, but gave up underneath passes to Wright and Wilson was wise to exploit that for significant chunks of yardage the way he did. Wright has definitely had better games, but the fact still remains that he is as explosive as any receiver in the country right now and is forcing teams to consider putting an early 2nd round or potentially even late 1st round grade on him the way he has been playing all year.

Joe Adams is an interesting prospect. I say interesting because he’s not necessarily intriguing. You know what you’re getting with Joe Adams. He’s listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds (though I would not be surprised if he was 5’10”) and has produced 46 receptions, 595 yards and 3 TD’s, 9 carries for a mind-boggling 138 yards and 1 TD, plus a phenomenal 16 punt returns for 259 yards (16.19 avg) and THREE touchdowns on the season. To put it simply: Joe Adams is explosive. When he has the ball in his hands he is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country, potentially as dangerous as Jarius Wright who is making a solid case for himself to be drafted in the top 40 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. So why doesn’t he grade out as high? He has inconsistent hands because he body catches too much and has had issues with drops, he makes mental mistakes on the field and he is a hot head. By that I mean he lets his emotions get away from him at times which lead to dumb personal foul penalties. Last year as a junior he had an avoidable personal foul penalty in what may have been every single game I watched of Ryan Mallett after the season was over which was very telling. He’s got a ton of athletic ability and potential, I just don’t know how much of that he will reach because of some of his less stellar attributes as a prospect. He could be a huge steal in the 4th round range, or he could be limited to a gimmick fourth wide receiver and a good/very good punt returner.

Cobi Hamilton is a receiver that I have gone on record as saying has the most potential of any of Arkansas’ talented receivers. I still believe this even though he has not been featured in their offense if only because they have so many other viable weapons to utilize. Hamilton is 6’3″, 209 pounds and has produced 29 receptions, 441 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers don’t properly reflect how much ability he has because he is sharing the spotlight with Wright, Adams, Johnson and occasionally Childs and Chris Gragg. While Hamilton hasn’t displayed his full potential yet this season if he does come back next year he will be Wilson’s go-to guy and should make it very clear to the rest of the country just how talented he is. Hopefully he comes back because it would be extremely fun to watch Wilson and Hamilton play pitch and catch as seniors with significant playing experience under both of their belts.

Chris Gragg is a player that I was not even aware of for Arkansas because they just have so many other weapons. He is a 6’3″, 239 pound tight end who has replaced D.J. Williams in the starting lineup for Arkansas this season. He is a junior, but this is his first significant playing time and he has had a quality season as a result. He has produced 38 receptions, 457 yards and 2 TD’s this year, and he had his best game against Mississippi State totaling 8 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. He has reportedly improved significantly as a blocker over the course of the year which has led to Arkansas trusting him more and allowing him to evolve further as a receiver, and that seems to be the trend considering his break-out game so late in the season. He’s a talented tight end with very reliable hands and pretty legitimate NFL size, so definitely watch out for him the rest of the season and next year as a senior. He’s going to make teams pay if they forget about him in favor of slowing down Cobi Hamilton.

Chris Smith is an underrated junior receiver on Mississippi State. He has quality hands (even though he had a bad drop on an easy curl route today) but he just doesn’t get to display his ability because of Mississippi State’s terrible passing offense. He only has 30 receptions, 283 yards and 2 TD’s on the season. If you looked at those numbers objectively along with his solid but not spectacular listed size of 6’2″, 205 pounds you wouldn’t think he is anything special. I still believe that he is though. I saw flashes of impressive ability last year and I have seen it at times this year, he just needs a legitimate quarterback who can get him the ball so he can demonstrate it. So keep an eye out for Chris Smith because even if his statistics aren’t impressive there is talent there, he just hasn’t had a chance to show it.

Jake Bequette is a very impressive athlete. He reportedly ran a 4.59 40 yard dash at 270 pounds before the season which is incredibly impressive even though he might be a bit of a workout warrior. Regardless, he has legitimate edge speed and has been very productive for Arkansas in his career. This year the senior 6’4″, 270 pound defensive end missed a couple games due to injury, but has had a solid year with 21 total tackles (8 solo), 6.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one pass deflection. I have a round three or four grade on him right now because while I love his athleticism and his fantastic motor I’m not sure he has enough upside as a starting 4-3 defensive end to warrant top 50-60 consideration in the upcoming draft.

Jerry Franklin always stuck out to me when I watched Arkansas since the beginning of last season when I was scouting them to watch Ryan Mallett initially. He’s a converted safety if I remember correctly and is currently listed at 6’1″, 245 pounds and is one of the leaders of Arkansas’ defense. Coming into the game against Mississippi State he had produced 82 total tackles (38 solo), 10.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, three pass break ups and one fumble recovery that he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. He is a reliable linebacker and always struck me as a quality coverage linebacker, perhaps because of his experience at safety. I like his potential upside and while he isn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick I think he has a legitimate NFL future.

-There might not have been a more impressive player on Mississippi State than Fletcher Cox in this game. The junior defensive tackle was everywhere, especially in the first half. He recovered a fumble and rumbled deep into Arkansas territory, he made stops at the line of scrimmage after fighting off blocks and he blocked an Arkansas field goal attempt with a vicious move to penetrate into the backfield and get his hands on the kick. Coming into the game the 6’4, 295 pound defensive tackle had produced 40 total tackles (20 solo), 9.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks. He padded those numbers against Arkansas today and really impressed me as this was the first time I had ever paid close attention to him. He’s got very legitimate NFL talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare early even though there is some defensive tackle talent in this draft if additional juniors declare.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed my notes on this game. There are definitely more to come.

–Tom

1- Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Analysis: Kuechly emerged out of Mark Herzlich’s heroic shadow this year thanks to an extremely impressive season statistically. Standing at 6’3″, 235 pounds Kuechly produced an astonishing 183 total tackles (11o solo), 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 INT’s, 2 FF’s and 3 pass deflections. He was hugely productive and he deserves this ranking as the top linebacker in the country despite only being a junior this season. The fact that he had 183 total tackles and 110 solo tackles as a sophomore is mind-blowing, especially considering that his 110 solo tackles would have tied him for 48th place in the country if every other players assisted tackles were included in their total. He also produced 158 tackles the year before as a freshman, demonstrating remarkable consistency from the start that makes me believe he will probably leave after his junior season. It also leads me to believe that if Kuechly stays healthy for his junior season it’s a safe bet he will end up with 150 tackles for a third year in a row.
2- Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Analysis: Te’o has impressed me every single time I have watched Notre Dame and he has impressed me so much that it has led me to ranking him as the #2 ILB in the entire country. A lot of people may be surprised that Burfict or Hightower aren’t in this spot, but I think Te’o is a more cerebral player than any of those guys and that, combined with his 6’2″, 245 pound frame, 4.59 listed 40 yard dash time and 129 total tackles (64 solo), 8.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF and 3 pass deflections makes him quite the linebacker prospect. I can’t wait to watch more of him this year to see if he lives up to the hype I am giving him before the season starts.
3- Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Analysis: Vontaze Burfict is an absolute beast at 6’3, 245 pounds and plays an extremely physical style of football. He produced 90 total tackles this year (54 solo), 8.5 TFL, 2 FF’s and 3 pass break-ups. I’m not sure he has the mental capacity to be a great player at this point, so while he is a great athletic specimen I don’t know that he will ever be a true student of the game. He has more than enough athletic ability to warrant 1st round consideration though.
4- Jerry Franklin, ILB, Arkansas
Analysis: Franklin has always impressed me when I have watched Arkansas and he has a pretty nice combination of size and athletic ability at 6’1″, 245 pounds with a listed 4.66 40 yard dash time. He produced 95 total tackles (58 solo), 13.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups last season as a junior. He is one of the best linebackers in the SEC which says a lot considering the great tradition of producing defensive players the SEC has. I am very excited to see how he looks as a senior this season.
5- Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Analysis: Dont’a Hightower first and foremost is a pretty impressive athlete. He is 6’4″, 260 pounds and he has great speed and strength to go with his impressive size. He is a very versatile player than can line up at middle linebacker on one play and then put his hand down and rush the passer in nickel packages the next. I don’t think he is very good in pass coverage, but he does support the run quite well. This season he managed 69 total tackles (30 solo), 3.5 TFL and 3 pass break-ups. I tend to think he is a bit overrated because of his lack of production both as an overall linebacker but especially as a pass rusher because he frequently rushes the passer as a blitzer or when he puts his hand in the dirt. He does get some hits on quarterbacks, but while he is an impressive athlete I just don’t know if he is cerebral enough to maximize his ability. We will have to see how he develops as a junior.
6- James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada
Analysis: I will admit that I don’t know a whole lot about James-Michael Johnson and I haven’t seen him play much, but I do know that he has pretty good size at 6’2″, 240 pounds and a listed 4.68 40 yard dash time. Plus, he produced 88 total tackles (51 solo), 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 FF’s, 1 FR and 2 pass break-ups. I didn’t see him much last year when I was watching Dontay Moch or Colin Kaepernick, so I am looking forward to evaluating him for the first time this season.
7- Korey Williams, ILB, Southern Mississippi
Analysis: Williams is a guy I have not seen play yet but he has pretty impressive size for a linebacker at 6’2″, 243 pounds and has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.65 seconds. As a junior last year he produced 92 total tackles (52 solo), 14.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT and 1 FF. I am looking forward to seeing him play this upcoming season.
8- Chris Marve, ILB, Vanderbilt
Analysis:
Marve is one of the best prospects Vanderbilt has had in recent years from what I can remember. Marve doesn’t have elite size, but at 6’0″, 230 pounds he has enough size for the inside linebacker spot. Last season as a sophomore Marve managed to produce 80 total tackles (45 solo), 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks and 2 pass break-ups. I am excited to watch Vanderbilt this year because I haven’t had much reason to watch them in recent years.
9- Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina
Analysis: Reddick is another talented player on North Carolina’s defense, and it seems that UNC has a chance to replicate the dominant defense they were supposed to have this past season prior to the suspensions doled out by the NCAA. Reddick has good size at 6’3″, 240 pounds and a listed 4.67 40 yard dash time. As a sophomore last season Reddick produced 74 total tackles (48 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 INT’s (1 TD), and 5 pass deflections. I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do with an entire season starting inside at middle linebacker.
10- Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Analysis: Skov may only be a junior but I think he could be one of the better linebackers in the country. He has impressive size at 6’3″, 243 pounds and a listed 4.65 40 yard dash time, plus he produced 83 total tackles (50 solo), 10.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 2 FF’s and 5 pass deflections. I am very much looking forward to seeing him play at Stanford this year as all eyes will be on Andrew Luck, but I’m sure Skov will draw some attention to himself with quality play.

Thanks for reading my pre-season inside linebacker rankings! Just two more rankings posts left before I get to some film break-down. The end is in sight! I’m excited to get a lot of film study underway, so hopefully either tomorrow night or Monday at some point I will be able to polish those last two rankings lists off. Thanks again!

–Tom