Tag Archive: Justin Blackmon


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 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had their best season in team history last year despite the crushing loss to Iowa State that prevented them from playing in the BCS National Championship game (a match-up I would have liked to see, actually, between Oklahoma State’s passing game and LSU’s pass defense). Still, Oklahoma State is coming off of a 41-38 OT win against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl and the program has a lot of momentum and buzz around it despite losing Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Markelle Martin to the NFL Draft. There was a lot of anticipation for Oklahoma State to name a starting quarterback, but on the day of the NFL Draft Head Coach Mike Gundy named true freshman Wes Lunt as the starting quarterback for the 2012 season. This surprised plenty of people (including myself) but it’s not hard to see why he made that decision. Gundy has said that he wants to continue the pocket passing-type offense that Dana Holgersen established at OSU with Brandon Weeden two years ago, and at 6’4″, 212 pounds Lunt fits that tall, strong armed pocket passer description better than junior Clint Chelf or redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh (Chelf is 6’1″, 201 pounds and Walsh is 6’2″, 199 pounds). Obviously Lunt didn’t win the position based only on his height, he showed a strong, accurate arm when he was confident enough to unleash it and from what I was able to see of the spring game he showed some poise in the pocket even when pressured to keep his eyes downfield. This season will be a big test for him and Oklahoma State’s offense, and they will likely rely heavily on their run game spearheaded by Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, their respective lightning and thunder combo at running back. They have some returning talent at receiver in senior Tracy Moore and sophomore Josh Stewart, but the true surprise of the spring was junior Charlie Moore’s emergence. Together, Gundy is hoping they will keep Oklahoma State’s offense afloat while they also sort out some issues along the offensive line thanks to having to replace three starters up front.

However, Gundy has been quoted saying this 2012 defense might be the best one he’s had since taking over as the head man at Oklahoma State, and if the front four can help slow down opposing running games while providing some much needed pass rush, he might be right. Oklahoma State’s strength figures to be at linebacker and in the defensive secondary where they return 6 of the units 8 returning starters. These groups are headlined by linebackers Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey, cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert as well as safety Daytawion Lowe. If Oklahoma State’s defensive line can match the production of the rest of the defense then Gundy’s team might be able to coast on their running game and defensive prowess to a 9+ win season. They have the special teams to do it as well thanks to All-American Quinn Sharp returning for his senior season as Kicker, Punter and Kickoff specialist and the Cowboys have one of the nation’s most consistently productive return men in cornerback Justin Gilbert. This Oklahoma State team might look different than in the years past, but I believe that as Lunt becomes more comfortable as the starter this team could become a dark horse in the Big-12 despite losing two first round draft picks. Concerns on both the offensive and defensive lines scare me, but if those units come together they could push for another 10 win season. Here is the prospect breakdown for Oklahoma State:

Randle has a complete game thanks to his ability to run, catch and pass protect despite only one full season of starting experience. He will be the work-horse of Oklahoma State’s backfield this year, so we should know if he can carry the load or not after this season.

Joseph Randle, RB*- Randle is the top offensive player returning for Oklahoma State and will be relied upon to carry the load and help take pressure off of true freshman starting quarterback Wes Lunt. Lunt has a strong arm and Brandon Weeden-esque size, but he will be only months removed from high school graduation and will need to be brought along slowly. This will be a huge test for Randle’s NFL prospects because if he is able to effectively gain yardage despite facing more defenders in the box then Randle’s stock should rise even higher than it already has. He has NFL size for a running back at 6’1”, 194 pounds, plenty of speed, and his versatility to gain yardage on the ground and catch the ball effectively out of the backfield will make him particularly valuable to Oklahoma State this season. I wonder just how great his acceleration is to hit the hole, as he looks like he runs at one speed once he gets the ball in the backfield. He has impressive lateral agility and can make guys miss while also running through arm tackles, but I don’t see the burst to get through the hole that others do (at least not yet). He seems to have impressive vision and does a good job finding cut-back lanes, and has enough straight-line speed to rip off big chunks of yardage. I was also impressed at how good he was in pass protection, as I never saw him let a free rusher get into Weeden’s face despite only being a sophomore. But this year his vision will be as important as anything else this season as teams will try to take him out of the game and force their true freshman quarterback to win the game with his arm instead of handing off to a potential top 50 pick running back.

Jeremy Smith, RB*- Smith is the alleged thunder to Randle’s lightning and he backs that up, weighing 204 pounds despite only being listed at 5’10”. He figures to be a key cog in Oklahoma State’s offense this season as he will have to help keep Randle fresh over the course of the year. The running game has never been more important for Oklahoma State now that they are starting a true freshman quarterback, so Smith will be counted on to produce another season like his 2011 one where he totaled 646 rushing yards (7.1 ypc), 9 touchdowns and 11 receptions for 81 more yards out of the backfield. Randle and Smith combined to rush for 33 touchdowns last season, and both averaged better than 5.8 yards per carry. The yards may not be as easy to come by at times this season now that the wide open passing attack won’t be operated by a 28 year old veteran with a top 10 NFL Draft pick stretching defenses vertically, but the duo should be able to effectively take pressure off of Wes Lunt as he acclimates himself to the Big-12.

Tracy Moore, WR- Moore is the top returning receiver for Oklahoma State this season and figures to be the go-to guy for Wes Lunt in the passing game. He is listed at 6’2”, 220 pounds and returns after a 2011 season with 45 receptions, 672 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has shown fairly reliable hands, the ability to adjust to the ball well in the air and reportedly has similar straight-line speed as Justin Blackmon. Like Blackmon, he also can gain yards after the catch thanks to his speed and strength. That makes me think he has the potential to really improve his draft stock this season if Lunt can get the passing attack off the ground. Unfortunately, much like Blackmon, Moore has had a couple of run-ins with the law. He was held out of the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford by Mike Gundy (haven’t been able to find a specific incident that led to this) and has had two run-ins with the police in a three month span. He was arrested on March 24th on suspicion of public intoxication (he was of legal age to drink at that point I believe) and at 2 am on Sunday, June 3rd he was cited for public urination. He was only fined in both instances, totaling $398 in all, but after some of Blackmon’s run-ins with the law as well as other arrests in both the football program and other Oklahoma State programs I’m sure it would help the coaching staff sleep better at night if their players stayed out of trouble more than they currently do.

Charlie Moore may be an under the radar name right now, but if his 9 receptions, 243 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Oklahoma State Spring Game are any indication, he’s ready to break out as a junior.

Charlie Moore, WR*- Moore is a 6’2”, 202 pound junior who only had 3 receptions for 56 yards as a sophomore. Now that top targets Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper have moved on, Moore has an opportunity for more playing time. He has reportedly seized it as he had 9 receptions, 243 yards and 3 touchdowns in the spring game and it sounds like he had a very good spring. His performance in the spring game prompted Joseph Randle to say this: “I’ve been saying that he’s gonna be an All-American since the first day of spring.” It may not have surprised Randle, but suffice it to say it surprised pretty much everyone else. There’s no guarantee Moore will be one of the passing game’s primary targets because of his spring game performance, but I’m certainly not going to write it off and I don’t think Oklahoma State coaches are going to either. He showed some straight-line speed, an impressive ability to high point the ball and come down with catches in traffic and showed reliable hands as well. Moore definitely has some sleeper potential to him, so don’t be surprised if he and Moore both catch 50+ balls on the outside while sophomore Josh Stewart tears things up in the slot.

Lane Taylor, RG- Taylor stands at 6’3”, 328 pounds and comes into his senior season with 36 career starts including 12 as a junior when he didn’t allow a single sack. That doesn’t guarantee that he is a quality pass protector, but it’s a flashy stat at least. He is by far the most experienced starter on Oklahoma State’s offensive line, a unit that had its struggles during the spring, so it will be interesting to see if he plays well without a savvy veteran under center. He has shown the ability to drive block defenders as a mauling guard but also has a little phone-booth quickness to position himself and seal defenders to create running room for Randle and others. He looks a little slow footed and doesn’t project that well to a ZBS or a scheme that requires him to pull consistently, but he looks like a possible mid-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft right now.

Ryan Robinson, DE- Robinson is returning for his second season at Oklahoma State after he transferred in from junior college the year before. He stands at 6’4”, 246 pounds and reportedly looked quick off the edge in the spring and Mike Gundy said that he was in much better shape this spring and that he had finally “gotten it” after a year with the program. He only had 21 tackles, 2 TFL and 1 sack as a rotational player last year, but now that he figures to be in the starting line-up in better shape with the light-bulb coming on he could be a surprise pass rush threat for an Oklahoma State that desperately needs one; they don’t have a single defender returning that had more than 2 sacks or 4 quarterback hurries in 2011. Oklahoma State might have some talented linebackers and defensive backs, but without a pass rush the defense won’t improve. Robinson may play a critical role in providing that pass rush.

Alex Elkins, WLB- Elkins is the second leading tackler from 2011 and the 6’3”, 222 pounder returns for his second season with Oklahoma State after transferring from junior college to try to build on his 90 tackle, 4 TFL,1 sack, 2 pass break-up and 1 interception statistics from a season ago. Oklahoma State returns each of its three starting linebackers and figures to be a strength of the defense. Elkins was the most productive last season and has a chance to be even more productive now that he has a year of starting experience under his belt.

Caleb Lavey, MLB*- Lavey started all 13 games for Oklahoma State in the middle last season and as a first year starter he had 74 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack and an interception. There are rumblings that he could be the next great linebacker at Oklahoma State, and while I can’t attest to that it sounds like he had a good spring and figures to be a strength of perhaps the strongest part of Oklahoma State’s defense: their linebacking core. He is listed at 6’3”, 240 pounds and figures to be even more productive than he was as a true sophomore in his first season as a starter.

Brodrick Brown, CB- Brown is an undersized corner, listed at only 5’8”, 183 pounds, but there is no doubt that he can make plays on the ball due to his 15 pass deflections and 5 interceptions in 2011. It wasn’t a fluke either, he had 8 pass deflections and 2 interceptions as a sophomore (his first season with significant playing time). He may be undersized but his skills are undeniable, and while he doesn’t project to playing corner outside in the NFL he may have ideal nickel corner skills. He won’t be a high pick because of his lack of size, but if he has another productive season as he continues to demonstrate his impressive ball skills he will be a sure-fire NFL Draft pick.

Gilbert may have the most upside of any defender returning for Oklahoma State. His combination of size, athletic ability, ball skills and his playmaking ability with the ball in his hands after a turnover or on a kick-return make him a very intriguing NFL Draft prospect.

Justin Gilbert, CB*- Gilbert is the taller and perhaps more athletic of the two starting corners for Oklahoma State standing at 6’0”, 194 pounds, but he was similarly productive as his teammate Brodrick Brown. He had 10 pass deflections and 5 interceptions as a sophomore, his first as a starter. However, he also offers explosive potential as a kick returner as he returned 26 kick-offs for 698 yards (26.85 avg) and 2 touchdowns as a freshman before following it up with a near identical season as a sophomore with 26 kick-off returns for 703 yards (27.04 avg) and 2 more touchdowns. If you’re a betting man (or woman) I would probably bet on him returning 26 kick-offs for about 700 yards and 2 touchdowns on kick-offs again this year, but you assume all risk and reward if you actually bet on that. Regardless, Gilbert clearly has legitimate NFL talent as a corner and as a return man, and that means he should be on your radar heading into 2012.

DayTawion Lowe, FS*- Lowe is Oklahoma State’s returning leading tackler on defense, and having a safety lead your team in tackling can be an indication of a poor defense, and that was the case last year for Oklahoma State according to most. Regardless, Lowe had 97 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 pass break-ups and 1 interception in his first season as a starter. Lowe stands at 5’11”, 198 pounds and is the 3rd starter returning to Oklahoma State’s secondary which figures to be a strength of the defense. If the defensive line can pick things up the Oklahoma State could be a sneakily good defense, but the secondary figures to be reliable again this year with both starting corners and a starting safety returning.

Quinn Sharp, K/P/KOS- Sharp was an All-American as both a Kicker and a Punter last season. The 6’1”, 205 pound special teams ace made 22/25 field goals (missing 2 from 30-39 and 1 from 40-49, he did not attempt a 50+ yard field goal) and had a 38.8 yard net average as well as 12 punts of 47 downed inside the 20 yard line. I personally think Tress Way of Oklahoma was more deserving of All-American honors as a punter, but on top of being an effective field goal kicker and punter he also had a remarkable 61 touchbacks on kick-offs which was first in the nation by 21. This was preceded by 53 touchbacks in 2010, so it wasn’t a fluke. He’s a safe bet to be a reliable kicker, punter and kick-off man again in 2012, and may have a NFL future as a kicker and kick-off specialist if not as a punter as well.

For weeks or months, the NFL Draft community has been speculating about what the St. Louis Rams will do with the #2 overall selection in the NFL Draft. Will they keep it and select Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon? Will they trade down with the Browns? Will they trade down with the Redskins or the Dolphins? I’ll be honest and say that I expected the Browns to get Robert Griffin III when all was said and done, but that does not appear to be likely anymore.

Jay Glazer is reporting that the St. Louis Rams have agreed to swap 2012 1st round selections (Rams own #2 overall, the Redskins own #6 overall) and the Rams will receiver two future 1st round selections as well as “additional” picks. I will update this with details later once they are finalized and confirmed. **UPDATE The additional pick is a 2012 2nd round pick from Washington** What we do know, at least for now, is that the Redskins have mortgaged a significant part of their future draft picks to move up to #2 overall. In all likelihood, they will be selecting Robert Griffin III with that selection, and they will have their quarterback of the future.

I’m not often in favor of these blockbuster trades, and I worried that the trade for Julio Jones may have been too much for one player and that it might have put too much pressure on Jones to perform well as a rookie. That was a trade for two 1st round selections as well as other valuable picks. This trade is for three 1st round selections and other picks, and because Griffin plays quarterback the pressure will be even more intense than it was for Jones. I personally don’t believe Griffin should play Day One, but I tend to be conservative with quarterback development (as I believe more NFL teams should be). Regardless, the Redskins made a very bold move to move up to #2 overall and will likely come away with their quarterback of the future with that selection.

I know I’ve been absent for a while, but I’m officially back in the saddle. Keep checking in for more NFL Draft news as the draft draws near!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

I obviously don’t have a vote for the Heisman trophy, but if I did this is how my ballot would look. I will start with honorable mentions but explain why they were ultimately not one of my three finalists:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson:
Analysis: While Watkins was one of the most electrifying players in the country I think that Clemson’s late season struggles that are almost expected at this point hurt his potential candidacy. It’s hard enough for any player that doesn’t play running back or quarterback to garner significant attention for the Heisman, but being a freshman on a team that struggled just as the Heisman race started to heat up. That doesn’t mean Watkins didn’t have a fantastic season though. He totaled 78 receptions, 1,159 yards (14.86 ypc), 11 touchdowns, 31 rushing attempts, 229 yards, 0 touchdowns and 683 more yards on kick returns with a 26.27 yard average per return plus another touchdown. He had 2,083 total yards on only 137 touches and he was only a freshman (he also had 2 punt returns for 12 yards). So while I would be very surprised to see him involved in significant Heisman considerations this year I think he will get more and more as a sophomore and junior barring unforeseen circumstances.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: Some people were giving Brandon Weeden a lot of love for the Heisman earlier this year but I think Justin Blackmon is the top Heisman candidate on that team. However, they have plenty of talent on that offense with Weeden and Joseph Randle helping to make that Oklahoma State offense the juggernaut it has become which hurts his Heisman considerations. However he still had an incredible season with 113 receptions, 1,336 yards (11.82 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. He would have been hard pressed to match his massively impressive 1,782 yard 20 touchdown season from a year ago, but 100+ receptions, 1,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns is more than a lot of players produce in their career and he has put up two consecutive seasons with those same numbers. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be nearly enough for him to be a Heisman finalist.

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech:
Analysis: David Wilson has been flying under the radar quite a bit this year which is baffling because he was leading the country in rushing for a significant portion of the season and even now he is only 132 yards behind the leader Montee Ball. He was the engine that made Virginia Tech’s offense go and really helped Logan Thomas develop this year in his first as a starting quarterback. He had 1,627 yards (6.12 ypc), 9 touchdowns and 21 receptions, 126 yards and 1 TD. He had a great season, and while I personally expect him to declare for the draft, he definitely warrants a little more Heisman consideration that he has been getting. Virginia Tech’s collapse against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game certainly doesn’t help, but I think he warrants honorable mention.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State:
Analysis: I have been a pretty outspoken critic of Boise State and TCU for the past couple of years. I felt they were overrated and wouldn’t have been in BCS Bowl consideration had they played in tougher conferences. To their credit they have proven me wrong by consistently winning when they do get to BCS Bowls, but to my credit Boise State in particular has struggled to finish their regular season undefeated the past two years despite unimpressive competition outside of a tough out of conference game to start the season. That brings me to Kellen Moore’s potential Heisman contention. Moore has had an incredible career and had another spectacular season this year despite losing his top two playmakers at wide receiver. He threw for 3,507 yards, completed 74.1% of his passes, and totaled 41 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Unfortunately for him for the second year in a row his kicker couldn’t finish a game late despite the opportunity to do so and Boise State lost a game they probably should have won. That definitely hurt his Heisman consideration, and while I don’t think he should be a finalist this year I do think it’s worth considering that he’s put Boise State in the position to go undefeated for last two years but his kicker let him down. And that hurt his chances for Heisman, fairly or unfairly.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Barkley would have been my 6th finalist if I could have listed 6, but he sits just outside my top five for a few reasons. First, to me the Heisman has clearly become an award that goes to the player who does the most with the least and makes his team a contender or a top team despite it. That is why Cam Newton won last year, and that is why Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck are front-runners this year. This hurts Barkley because USC has an abundance of talent on offense, specifically at wide receiver with stand-outs in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Fair or unfair, that hurts his candidacy just like other circumstances that are fair or unfair hurt the other candidates I mentioned. However, for all the Southern Cal fans that are angry about this they should consider this. Would being a Heisman finalist and potentially winning the Heisman make Barkley more or less likely to come back for his senior season? The obvious answer is that it would make him more likely to leave early, so while this probably feels like yet another slight consider the silver lining that it could help lead Barkley back to USC for his fourth season as a starter.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Trent Richardson had a great season this year, but I don’t think he is the Heisman winner. He did have a great season with 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns plus 27 receptions, 327 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving. He was definitely the engine that made Alabama’s offense go, but the unit that made Alabama’s team go was without a doubt their defense. Richardson supported them with plenty of scoring as evidenced by his touchdown production, but Alabama would not be in the National Championship game without their defense. And the fact that Richardson is a Heisman finalist proves that Alabama has recruited some very talented running backs, but Richardson’s performance could have been replicated by other players in the country in my opinion. Not by many, but I think his production could have been mimicked by other players. That hurts his Heisman candidacy ultimately in my mind.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin:
Analysis: I have had the opportunity to see Montee Ball play live in Camp Randall twice this season against Nebraska and Penn State and it has always been a pleasure. He is deserving of Heisman candidacy but I don’t think he deserves to win over the other players I have listed as my top three finalists. That isn’t to say Ball hasn’t had a fantastic season because he has. Contrary to literally every report I have seen Montee actually has 39 touchdowns, not 38. He led the country with 1,759 yards (6.4 ypc) and 32 rushing scores, plus 20 receptions, 255 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, that totals 38 which is what everyone has been reporting from ESPN to my friends that are Badger fans. What they are all forgetting is that Montee Ball has thrown for one touchdown this year. He is 2/2 on the season for 57 yards and 1 touchdown to Russell Wilson. Why isn’t this being mentioned? He has 39 TOTAL touchdowns, not 38. This season is worth serious Heisman consideration, but the help he has had with a NFL offensive line, a great quarterback in Russell Wilson and help at receiver with Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. He is a great player, but with all the help he has had around him I don’t think he will end up winning it. Is that fair? I don’t know, but that is how I perceive the Heisman being voted and that is why I don’t think Montee will win it.

And now the finalists…

3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU:
Analysis: It hurts me to list Mathieu as my #1 finalist, but I don’t think he will end up winning the Heisman no matter how much I like him as a player. He is my favorite player in the entire country and I have not been shy about saying this. He’s a fantastic player, and if anyone makes the argument that Trent Richardson had the greatest impact on a top team in the country I would immediately disagree. Tyrann Mathieu has had the biggest impact of anyone on LSU’s undefeated season out of any of the players on that team. Time and time again whenever LSU’s offense struggled to score points he would force turnovers or return punts and either set them up with great field position or just take the ball into the end zone himself. There is no question in my mind that Mathieu warrants a ton of Heisman consideration, but ultimately I think his suspension and the talent around him on defense will keep him from winning it.

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: When you think about the “what player has done the most with the least” rule that I think is a significant factor in Heisman voting Andrew Luck has to be one of the first people that pops into your head. Yes, he has a pretty good team around him. He has a pretty good defense, a strong offensive line and running game, and three tight ends that have legitimate NFL futures. However, he only has one wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically in Chris Owusu and he missed two games with injuries and struggled to stay healthy all year. He also only had 35 receptions for 376 yards and 2 touchdowns which is hardly the definition of stretching the field. Luck and Stanford struggled to make big plays down the field simply because Luck didn’t have any legitimate downfield targets to throw to, and defenses took advantage of that which helped prevent Stanford from going undefeated. However, despite his lack of playmakers at receiver Luck still had a terrific season throwing for 3,170 yards, completing 70% of his passes, throwing for 35 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions, and adding 153 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground. That’s a terrific season, and I think he warrants a ton of consideration for the Heisman… but I don’t think he will be the winner.

And the winner is…

1. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Robert Griffin has had an amazing season in every sense of the word. He has taken a Baylor team that has been a perennial doormat in the Big 12 and led them to a top 15 finish in the BCS Standings with one more game to play against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. He has been terrific this season and has really opened my eyes to just how far he has come as a NFL prospect. But that’s not all he has done this year. He has passed for 3,998 yards, completed 72.4% of his passes, 36 touchdowns, only 6 interceptions, and has also rushed for 644 yards and 9 more touchdowns. He totaled 4,642 yards passing and rushing as well as 45 total touchdowns with one game still left to play. This is all in spite of his defense struggling to keep the opposing offense from putting a lot of points on the board and not having a ton of talent on offense outside of standout receiver Kendall Wright. He has receivers who can threaten teams deep, but there have been plenty of drops from guys like Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson all year. Griffin took an average team and made them significantly better with key plays, drives and a fantastic stat line. He figures to be the Heisman winner, and I think that makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts. I’d love to hear reactions to this because I’m sure my thoughts aren’t the same as everyone else so please leave comments!

–Tom

1- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Grade: Top 10
2- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina: Grade: 1st Round
3- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Grade: 1st round
4- Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Grade: Late 1st/Early 2nd
5- Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: Grade: Late 1st/Early 2nd
6- Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: Grade: Early/Mid 2nd
7- Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: Grade: Early/Mid 2nd
8- Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin: Grade: 2nd/3rd
9- Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina: Grade: 2nd/3rd
10- Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa: Grade: Grade: 3rd
11- A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois: Grade: 3rd
12- Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State: Grade: 3rd
13- T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International: Grade: 3rd/4th
14- Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas: Grade: 4th
15- Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma: Grade: 4th
16- Marquis Maze, WR, Alabama: Grade: 4th
17- Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas: Grade: 4th/5th
18- Jarrett Boykin, WR, Virginia Tech: Grade: 4th/5th
19- DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State: Grade: 5th
20- Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Grade: 5th
21- Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Grade: 5th
22- Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada: Grade: 5th
23- Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington: Grade: 5th/6th
24- B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State: Grade: 5th/6th
25- Gerell Robinson, WR, Arizona State: Grade: 5th/6th
26- Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina: Grade: 6th
27- Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan: Grade: 6th
28- Marvin Jones, WR, California: Grade: 6th
29- Chris Owusu, WR, Stanford: Grade: 6th
30- Derek Moye, WR, Penn State: Grade: 6th
31- Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami: Grade: 6th/7th
32- Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State: Grade: 7th
33- T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State: Grade: 7th
34- Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State: Grade: 7th
35- Mike Willie, WR, Arizona State: Grade: 7th
36- Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan: Grade: 7th/UDFA
37- James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State: Grade: 7th/UDFA
38- Da’Jon McKnight, WR, Minnesota: Grade: 7th/UDFA
39- Thomas Mayo, WR, California (PA): Grade: 7th/UDFA
40- Darius Reynolds, WR, Iowa State: Grade: 7th/UDFA

My First Mock Draft of the Year

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

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

–Tom

Keleche Osemele is one of the best offensive guard prospects in the country. His combination of size and strength is very intriguing.

Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State- Osemele impressed me tonight. He’s so big and strong that once he locks on he can drive defenders off the ball in the run game. He seems to finish blocks well and will be fine blocking interior defensive linemen because of his great size (listed at 6’6″, 345 pounds) with long arms and great strength. He doesn’t have the foot speed/lateral agility to stick at LT in the NFL in my opinion, and while he might have a shot at RT I think his upside is highest inside at guard. At that spot he is a first round pick. His long arms will help him in pass protection at guard as well, and he doesn’t seem to lean into blocks and reach in pass protection. Doesn’t bend at the waist, he bends at the knees and lets defenders come to him in his stance. He’s a quality prospect, one of the best offensive guard prospects in the country. Don’t have a report on him yet, but I will eventually.

Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State- I can’t say enough about how well Leonard Johnson played tonight. Weeden throws the ball to Blackmon a lot, but a number of times Johnson’s blanket coverage on Blackmon forced Weeden to look at other receivers, hold onto the ball too long and at times force throws. Johnson was very good in man coverage, particularly down the sideline. He did a great job of taking away Weeden’s windows to throw to Blackmon by using the sideline to his advantage and staying right in Blackmon’s hip pocket making it nearly impossible to throw into that window. I wasn’t sure how impressed I was in zone coverage, and even in spite of his great effort mirroring Blackmon for the entire game he still gave up 10 catches for 99 yards and 1 TD. There wasn’t anything he could do about the TD, it was just a terrific play by Blackmon, but he definitely frustrated him and it was a very heated, competitive battle. Additionally, at least three or four of his catches were on screens at the line of scrimmage. Downfield Johnson had very good coverage for the majority of the game. They both seem to be very intense competitors, and while Johnson was jawing at Blackmon more and more throughout the game he never seemed to get so heated that he lost his cool. I had never specifically watched Johnson before, but he left a terrific impression on me tonight. He played great against arguably the best wide receiver in the country.

Brandon Weeden was on top of many Heisman lists prior to this game, but he won't be after his relatively disappointing performance against Iowa State.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State- Weeden has definitely had better nights. He was checking down a lot and throwing a LOT of bubble screens which kind of bothered me. More importantly he was checking down in critical situations. He was throwing underneath and into the backfield on 3rd downs late in the fourth quarter instead of pushing the ball downfield. Now, Blackmon was well covered overall tonight and if it weren’t for some bubble screens he probably wouldn’t have had many catches, and while Moore and Cooper stepped up when Weeden got them the ball it didn’t seem like he was consistently making good reads and good decisions tonight. He didn’t come up big in crunch time when his team needed him (until he made a nice touchdown throw to Cooper in the first OT which was immediately followed by an interception on a tipped ball that was forced to Blackmon against pretty solid coverage) and that’s a problem for me when evaluating QB prospects. Considering his age, his throwing motion which could stand to be tinkered with to speed up his release, and some of his issues in this close game it’s hard for me to grade him as a 3rd round prospect right now.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State- Blackmon had a good statistical game, but he struggled to create separation against Johnson tonight. Definitely not his best game, and while I’m not sure how many drops he had (may not have had any, but I thought I remembered at least one) he did make some nice catches extending his arms fully and had a terrific play against good man coverage by Johnson as he went up and made a great catch in mid-air as he demonstrated great body control and hands. He scored on that play, and it was definitely a highlight reel play. So while Blackmon didn’t have the best game of his career he still managed to make a couple great catches and plays to help his team. I think he could have done more, but some of that blame has to be placed on Weeden. It was encouraging to see him make plays like that, but at the same time I was hoping to see him step up late in the 4th quarter and in the overtime periods.

Darius Reynolds displayed some upside in this game, and I was particularly impressed with his hand-eye coordination as well as his ability to high point the ball in the air.

Darius Reynolds, WR, Iowa State- Reynolds had a pedestrian game by statistical standards with only 4 catches, 39 yards and 1 touchdown. However, I was impressed with his hands overall (though he did have at least one or two drops) as he made a great catch high pointing the ball well above the defender for his only touchdown in the first half. He almost had a second touchdown but it was ultimately ruled an incompletion. I personally believed it was a touchdown, but regardless of how it was ruled he still made a terrific play to get a hand on the ball, focus on it as he his arm was being grabbed while falling in the air and ultimately reel it in before he hit the ground. Broderick Brown stripped it out after it seemed clear to me that he had maintained control of it, but the referees ruled that there was not indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call of an incomplete pass on the field. Regardless, I had never seen Reynolds play before and he flashed some impressive ability. He’s a late round pick right now, but he flashed some upside tonight.

Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State- Barnett wasn’t overly impressive in this game statistically, but I was convinced he had poise and composure by how he was playing as the game went on. Then the 4th quarter came about and Barnett made some big time throws and plays to help move Iowa State not only within striking distance but led the comeback to tie the game. He’s a redshirt freshman quarterback but his efforts in this game were very impressive. They weren’t all pretty, but he came up big when his team needed him to.

A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State- Klein is a junior linebacker on Iowa State that impressed me tonight. He seemed to be a reliable tackler, showed some ability in coverage by deflecting a pass or two, and seemed to be around the ball consistently in this game. I’d grade him as a 3rd-4th rounder for the 2013 class as he has some ability, but haven’t seen enough of him yet and I don’t think he’s an elite athlete. I liked what I saw from him tonight though.

Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State- Martin is an athletic player and he had a couple nice plays in coverage tonight. He missed some tackles early in the game and overall I think he earned mixed reviews in this game. He’s an athletic specimen, but I don’t know how high I am on him at this point.

Hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts on the Oklahoma State-Iowa State game. It was sloppy at times, but overall it was a fantastic game and a huge upset. It was definitely a very fun game to watch, and it had a number of legitimate NFL prospects to take a look at. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Early Game Notes:

Here are some thoughts as I’m watching the early games. If you want to see some of these real time you can follow me on Twitter @TMeltonScouting

Michigan State-Iowa:

-Marvin McNutt has had a solid game today. He accounted for half of Vandenberg’s passing yards in the first half. I graded him as a 3rd rounder before the season, I don’t think he’s done much to change my mind in that regard. I’d still grade him in that range. He’s got pretty reliable hands, and is easily Iowa’s most reliable passing target. I just don’t buy him as much more than a solid #2 in the NFL right now.
-McNutt keeps making plays. Just set Iowa’s career receiving yardage record on a 48 yard bomb to set up Iowa with a great shot at scoring, still down 20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd. Fundamentally sound, just not sure he has tons of upside. Love seeing him come up with big plays when his team needs them though.
-Jerrel Worthy is quick off the ball, athletic and strong, but he’s not much of a pass rush threat in my opinion. I want to see him dominate 1 on 1 blocks more, and though I have been switching between different games I haven’t seen him draw double teams as a pass rusher. When you are extremely disruptive as a pass rusher you get double teamed, and it is a solid indicator that Worthy hasn’t been (at least from what I’ve seen). He’s disruptive against the run without a doubt, but has growing to do from a pass rushing perspective.
-Kirk Cousins is a solid QB, but I don’t think he’s a NFL starter. He’s smart, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, has lots of starting experience, but I don’t think he has much upside as a starter. You know what you’re getting with him: solid arm strength, accuracy, touch  and plenty of starting experience for a legitimate Big-10 contender.
-I think Riley Reiff can stick at LT in the NFL, but I need to see more of him before I grade him as a top 20 pick. He seems to be flying under the radar for the most part right now even though he’s a legitimate left tackle prospect. We’ll see if he heats up as the season concludes and the draft process kicks off. He does need to get stronger though. He needs more lower body strength which would help him stand up to bull rushes better, not get pushed around as easily by stronger, squatty players.
-Gholston has so much potential at 6’7″ 280 pounds but he hasn’t been very good today. Might have to credit Reiff with his lack of impact, but he has also been nicked up.
-Mike Daniels, an undersized senior defensive tackle on Iowa, has had a good game today. He’s been disruptive, has good quickness and has been involved in a number of stops at the line of scrimmage or behind it. He seems to be a high effort player with active hands. I would love to see him at the East-West Shrine Game, I think he is definitely a draftable prospect.

West Virginia-Cincinnati:

-I’m a Geno Smith fan though he has growing to do. I like his pocket poise, he has pretty good arm strength/zip (though definitely doesn’t have a cannon), he has quality accuracy to all levels except for long deep balls, he just doesn’t have the arm strength for it. He has had a couple nice bucket throws in this game, one for a very nice touchdown to Stedman Bailey in the first half. West Virginia hasn’t given him any help on the ground as they have 14 attempts for 24 yards (excluding Smith’s listed 6 attempts for negative 15 yards from sacks). He is quite literally carrying the offense and has still played well despite not having a running game. He’s been efficient, made good decisions and hasn’t made many bad throws. It’s a close game, so it will be very interesting to see how he finishes the game. He hasn’t been great late in games this year, so I’m hoping today will be different.
-Bruce Irvin has showed that he can speed rush, but I want to see more from him in other forms. He has flashed a bull rush, but I’m not sold on his hand usage. He doesn’t thrive when he is engaged in my opinion, and his effectiveness is highest when he can avoid contact. I’ll need to see more from him to change my mind on that. He has plenty of upside due to his athleticism, but I want to see better hand usage/block shedding from him.

Oklahoma State-Texas Tech:

-Brandon Weeden has absolutely shredded Texas Tech today. They are currently up 66-6 in the 4th quarter, and Weeden has been great. 31/37 currently, 423 yards and 5 TD’s with no interceptions. He proved that he has a NFl arm today in a very windy stadium by slinging the ball around like he was in a dome. His passes were cutting through the wind and it didn’t seem to effect him at all when I was watching him. He’s a legitimate NFL prospect, his age is just going to hinder how far up his stock can move. It limits his upside, especially since he may not be given an opportunity to step into the NFL and be a starter.
-I am very high on Joseph Randle. Would like to see him gain some weight to hold up to the pounding feature backs take, but he is very athletic, runs hard, bounces off tackles, has speed to break off long runs, and has soft hands out of the backfield. He’s got the whole package as far as an offensive weapon, and he really stepped up this year to replace Kendall Hunter. That offense is as dominant as it is because of the running aspect that they continue to bring to the table.
-I am really high on Justin Blackmon and he continues to play well. He has had some issues with drops, but I’m not convinced they are issues with his hands. I think it might be an issue with concentration. Still a concern, but he continues to dominate as Oklahoma State’s main target on offense.

Nebraska-Penn State:

-Devon Still is one of my favorite defensive line prospects in the country. He played a great game today against Nebraska (as he does most every week). Coming INTO the game he had 47 total tackles (24 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He added to these totals today against Nebraska and continues to impress. He’s listed at 6’5″, 310 pounds and has the versatility to play 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT in the NFL in my opinion. His stock continues to rise, and if you haven’t had a chance to watch him play you should make an effort to do so. If you can’t stomach the Penn State situation, mute the game and just enjoy watching Still play. He’s a great player.

Those are some of my notes on the early games. I’ll try to keep up with the afternoon and evening games as best I can!

–Tom

Andrew Luck is the ultimate prize for whatever NFL team manages to lose enough to get the #1 overall pick.

1- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford– Did you expect anyone else to be #1? He’s the best QB prospect I’ve seen since I’ve been scouting and he’s a great bet to be the #1 pick in the 2012 Draft should he declare after this season (and there have been rumblings that he will).

2- Matt Barkley, QB, USC- Barkley has been on my radar since he was a true freshman at USC. I was never sold on Aaron Corp and while I thought Mitch Mustain had potential as a sleeper before his off-field issues, I always thought Barkley was the most talented QB on the roster once he got there. That has proven to be true, and he has continued to develop in a pro-style offense since emerging as the starter during his freshman year. Now in his junior year it seems there is a strong chance he will declare. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, but I think there is a small chance that he comes back to take a run at a Rose Bowl because their bowl ban will have expired. Part of me wants him to stay, but there isn’t much left for him to prove outside of leading his team to a great season with a post-season win.

3- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M- Tannehill flashed incredible upside last year leading Texas A&M to a furious finish before ultimately losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. He hasn’t had the same incredible start this season but he has still flashed potential. He doesn’t have much experience but as he continues to develop he could become a quality NFL QB. He has quality tools such as arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. Plus, he seems to be a guy with quality intangibles and leadership capability, so even if you need to develop him for a year or maybe two he has the upside physically and mentally to warrant early round consideration.

Russell Wilson might not be rated this high by other draftniks, but he's a great QB. The only serious knock on him as a prospect is his height.

4- Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin- Russell Wilson won’t be this high on many people’s rankings, but I was one of the people that was wholeheartedly convinced that he would be a spectacular quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers and I said just as much in my post that I wrote shortly after it was announced that he was going to play for them this year. I didn’t think he’d be this terrific so early, but that really speaks to his fantastic intangibles and leadership qualities. Wilson’s only knock as a prospect and as a quarterback is his lack of size, as I would estimate he is about 5’10” or maybe slightly taller. That will make his transition to the NFL more difficult, but he is a very talented quarterback. He’s got very good arm strength, has accuracy to all levels of the field, throws a very nice deep ball, can make any NFL throw, and has demonstrated quality pocket poise at times. I think he could stand to improve as a passer with pressure around him when he’s in the pocket, especially when there is pressure at his feet. However, he is very athletic and uses his athleticism to extend plays and is great at making plays outside of the pocket. He may not be an ideal quarterback for a West Coast offense that requires frequent three step drops and throws as he will struggle to find throwing lanes at times and he may have problems with passes getting batted down at the line of scrimmage. But if he is drafted to a team with an offensive coordinator who knows how to get him out on the edge and make effective use of his athleticism and ability to throw on the move he could be a very dangerous quarterback. I know I won’t be betting against him simply because I know how hard he works and how well he assimilates into a new team. He became a leader of this 2011 Wisconsin Badgers team after being an official member of the roster for two months when it takes many quarterbacks two years if they can ever even become a captain. People have really underestimated how difficult and rare it is for him to do what he has done so far this year. Without sounding like a rabid Russell Wilson fanatic, it really is nothing short of incredible, not to mention very, very rare.

5- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor- As skeptical as I was of Griffin before the season based off of the film I watched of him last year, you can’t help but be impressed by the unbelievable statistical start to the season he has had. I’m still skeptical of the offense he operates in, but it’s very clear that he has developed since the end of last season. Due to his arm strength, improving accuracy, fantastic athleticism as well as his reputation for being a very intelligent, disciplined guy as well as a film junkie NFL talent evaluators and Draftniks alike are going to be salivating considering his potential. He still has strides to make in my opinion, but he has definitely progressed since last year. I’d be a fool to try to ignore that, so even if I still need to see more of him I can at least acknowledge that.

Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden are directing two of the most explosive, high-scoring offenses in the nation.

6- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma- Landry Jones is a talented quarterback with quality size, arm strength and accuracy. His accuracy becomes more erratic when under pressure, however, and doesn’t seem to react well to pass rushers in his face. That is concerning for a NFL draft prospect, and it is the reason I might have him lower on this list than some other people do. He’s a quality prospect, I’m just not a big fan of him personally. He’s got upside, I’m just not sure he will ever be a quality NFL starter.

7- Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State- Osweiler is a junior with only seven games of NFL experience up until this point, and he has a huge test upcoming against Oregon this Saturday. He’s got a fantastic combination of size and arm strength (reminiscent of Ryan Mallett to be perfectly honest) and his accuracy looks significantly improved over last season. He’s not very mobile, but he has a terrific arm and he’s progressing in the mental aspect of the game. He’s got a boatload of upside, and I’m personally a pretty big fan of his. I’d be surprised if he declared this year, especially since he would have a maximum of 16 games of starting experience at the end of this year, but if he did I would definitely expect him to get drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round range. But if he comes back I would be surprised if he didn’t end up in the 1st round discussion for 2013.

Geno Smith is quietly establishing himself as a quality NFL Draft prospect. He may not have had a fantastic game against LSU, but putting up 468 passing yards against that defense is definitely worth mentioning.

8- Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia- Geno Smith was never someone I was particularly high on, but watching him put up 463 yards on LSU’s fantastic defense definitely opened my eyes. He was carving them up with downfield passes and showing off an impressive arm, and even though WVU was losing for most of the game he never stopped coming (even after they had been made into a one-dimensional offensive attack due to their struggling running game and the scoreboard). He wasn’t incredibly efficient as he threw 65 passes and completed only 38 of them (58.5% completion) and threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (2). One of them came on an incredible play by Tyrann Mathieu, but overall I was impressed with Smith. He looks very skinny on film, and I’d be surprised if he declared this season, but he definitely has upside in my opinion.

9- B.J. Coleman, QB, Chattanooga– Coleman definitely has upside, but he needs development. I don’t think he’s ready to step into a starting spot in his first year or two, but he’s definitely worth a mid-round pick. He has a strong arm, quality (but sometimes a bit inconsistent) accuracy, great size and some pocket poise. He just needs coaching and development, but he doesn’t have incredible upside in my opinion.

10- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State- Weeden is a solid prospect but his age is going to make it hard for him to crack the top three rounds just because of his limited upside. How much better is he really going to get before he’s 30? He will improve with coaching, but at best he has a 5-7 year window as a starter once he gets to the NFL, and that’s assuming he sticks as a starter in the first place which as everyone knows is not guaranteed. He can stretch the field, he’s accurate and has been a key cog in one of the most explosive offenses in college football over the past two years, but his upside is limited due to his age and that makes him a mid-round guy.

11- Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State– Lindley is a guy that I identified as a player with upside that needs to improve in some areas. Right now he’s a mid-round guy with plus arm strength but inconsistent ball placement. He has upside due to his combination of solid size, quality arm strength and his athleticism but his accuracy is only above average at this point. He has struggled with ball placement as a junior and so far as a senior at times. He has a live arm so he definitely has upside, but if his accuracy doesn’t continue to develop then he won’t live up to his potential. He’s a developmental guy at this point with more upside than most mid-round QB’s.

Kellen Moore doesn't have much arm strength, but his other quality attributes make him draftable in my opinion.

12- Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State- Kellen Moore is an interesting guy because even though he is a smaller guy with very average arm strength I still think he has a shot in the NFL. I wouldn’t peg him as a starter in his first two seasons by any means, but he has quality accuracy, he’s very intelligent, he plays well in pressure situations and he’s got a vast amount of experience. He will have to transition from the spread offense that he has played in at Boise State, but because of his intangibles I don’t think that will be as big of a road block as it is for some spread QB prospects that attempt the same transition. He’s a fourth or fifth round pick in my opinion right now but he’s definitely got the upside to stick in the NFL. I’m not sure he will ever be a quality starter, but with his intelligence I think he can be a back-up QB in the NFL. I’m just not sure he has the arm strength to threaten defenses downfield and that can spell disaster at the NFL level.

13- Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State- Cousins is a guy I’ve been paying attention to since he was splitting snaps at QB with Keith Nichol as a sophomore and while he is definitely a NFL prospect I’m not as high on him as I thought I might have been. He hasn’t progressed like I was hoping he would and while he has the potential to stick in the NFL I would not bet on him being a quality NFL starter right now.

14- Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois- Harnish showed some ability when I watched him last year and while I haven’t had a chance to see him this year I definitely think he can stick in the NFL. I would like to see more consistent accuracy and ball placement from him before I would project him as a potential starter in the NFL, but I haven’t seen him play this year so I can’t speak to his progression from his junior to senior year yet.

15- Nick Foles, QB, Arizona- Foles is a prospect that you seem to either really like or completely dislike. I am personally not very high on him and I think that people putting 1st, 2nd or even 3rd round grades on him are vastly overrating him. He’s got good size and arm strength, and he’s accurate on short throws as well as medium throws at times, but the offense he plays in makes him look better than I think he really is. I’m definitely not high on him, but his size, arm strength, experience and production should get him drafted. I just don’t think it will be nearly as early as some people think.

NCAA Top 25 Picks Post

Here is a post where I make some picks for the games the top 25 teams are playing for the week. I’ll try to do this every week, but I might not always have time. I’ll track them to see how well (or poorly) I do over the course of the season. Enjoy!

Week Four NCAA Picks Post:

Oklahoma over Missouri

Analysis: Oklahoma’s offense and defense are both very good, and Missouri didn’t prove they could win against Arizona State, losing 37-30 in OT. James Franklin will probably struggle to carve up the Oklahoma defense like he did the ASU secondary, and I wonder just how much pressure their defense will be able to apply to Landry Jones. Jones will make poor throws when he has pressure in his face, so that will be the key to hanging in on this game. The problem is, I don’t think Missouri’s secondary can hold up consistently if the Tigers are forced to blitz to create pressure.

Oklahoma by 17

LSU over West Virginia

Analysis: LSU’s defense is the best in the country as far as I’m concerned. They were tested right off the bat against Oregon and stood very tall. I’ve never seen a defensive tackle rotation like theirs in all my years of watching football. I believe that they have four starting caliber defensive tackles, and they arguably have three starting caliber cornerbacks in Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon. Claiborne is a junior and Mathieu and Simon are both sophomores, but they might be the best trio of cornerbacks in the country. LSU’s run defense and pass defense are both very good and their defense is very fast, and I think they are going to cause a lot of problems for Geno Smith and his offensive counterparts. On defense, West Virginia will have to pressure Jarrett Lee, but also stop LSU from establishing the running game because they love to run play action after establishing the run (and they’re quite good at it). Without the play action fake LSU struggles to threaten downfield due to Lee’s lack of arm strength. However, I think WVU will struggle to take away the run game, end up loading the box, and therefore allowing Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham and Deagnelo Peterson to get behind the secondary.

LSU by 16

Alabama over Arkansas

This one was tough for me to call. Alabama probably has the #2 defense in the country behind LSU (at least as far as I’m concerned, but it’s definitely close) and they have a quarterback with limited experience as well in AJ McCarron. Luckily, they have two talented running backs to take the pressure off of him in Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Marquis Maze has stepped up as I thought he would and has 15 receptions, 186 yards and 1 TD in the first three contests. I think Alabama will be able to move the ball on offense against Arkansas’ defense, but I think that Alabama will be able to slow down the Razorbacks offensive attack. I love their WR’s, led by Cobi Hamilton as of now (13 receptions, a team leading 252 yards, 19.4 average per catch and 1 TD) and Tyler Wilson has stepped in to fill the void left by Ryan Mallett like I thought he would. However, Alabama’s defense is vastly better than Missouri State, New Mexico, Troy (the three teams he has faced this year) and much better than Auburn’s defense that struggled mightily to stop big, physically gifted receivers every time they matched up against them. Arkansas won’t get shut out by any means, but Alabama is going to be Tyler Wilson’s first real taste of what it’s like to play against a SEC caliber defense, and I don’t think he’s going to enjoy it.

Alabama by 13

Boise State over Tulsa

This really isn’t a hard pick in my opinion. Boise State’s defensive line is fierce and I expect Billy Winn and company to be in GJ Kinne’s face for the majority of this game. Boise State’s offense is still clicking thanks to Kellen Moore, so I expect this to be a relatively easy win. Kinne has a chance to show talent evaluators what he can do though, as his team is clearly overmatched.

Boise State by 21

Wisconsin over South Dakota

This shouldn’t be much of a contest either, as Wisconsin’s offense has the potential to be one of the best in the Big 10 if it isn’t already the best. Their running game and play action game will be way too much for South Dakota to handle, and hopefully they have continued to work on their run defense. If they don’t have it tuned up soon they will have a lot of trouble stopping Nebraska.

Wisconsin by 21

Texas A&M over Oklahoma State

This one was very tough for me to call as well. This could very easily go either way considering it is a rare battle between the #7 and #8 teams in the country. Oklahoma State’s offense is a juggernaut still led by Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, but Weeden has thrown 6 interceptions already this season, so that is a concerning stat for OSU fans. However, Joseph Randle has stepped up to replace Kendall Hunter very nicely, running for 378 yards and 7 TD’s on only 62 carries (6.1 average). Ryan Tannehill is a dangerous quarterback though, and he’s got a number of weapons to work with. I’m not sure which defense is better than the other, but I do think that Texas A&M will miss Von Miller rushing the passer in this game. However, Oklahoma State’s defense is traditionally their weakness, so that is why I had to go with Texas A&M. I will be at an away game during this contest and I am very angry that I will miss it. It should be a great game. But I had to give A&M the slight edge.

Texas A&M by 6

Nebraska over Wyoming

Not a very tough call on this one. Nebraska should win this game easily even if Taylor Martinez doesn’t dazzle as a passer.

Nebraska by 28

Oregon over Arizona

This one wasn’t as easy for me to pick as I thought it might be. Oregon has a pretty good defense, but Arizona can move the football pretty well. I’m still confident in Oregon, but Nick Foles has a habit of surprising people when they sleep on him. I don’t think Oregon will take him for granted though especially after losing a tough one to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, and that’s why I think they will end up with a big Pac-12 win here.

Oregon by 14

Clemson over Florida State (Upset)

Clemson is absolutely on fire right now, and this is the worst time for Florida State to be playing them. This isn’t a guarantee by any means, but Clemson’s offense is firing on all cylinders and Florida State didn’t get consistent pressure on Landry Jones last week. Clemson’s offensive line isn’t nearly the equivalent of Oklahoma’s, but they have enough weapons on offense to at least make this a plausible upset. I don’t think Clemson has the defense to keep them in the game if they can’t score, so unless their defense steps up and slows FSU down they are going to make me look foolish for this pick.

Clemson by 7

South Carolina over Vanderbilt

This isn’t as easy of a pick as I thought it would be, especially since South Carolina is in a state of flux and Vanderbilt is undefeated for the first time in recent memory after three weeks. I don’t think Vanderbilt will be able to hold off South Carolina, but stranger things have happened. If it was ever going to happen, I think it would happen now. Steve Spurrier doesn’t seem to have much faith in Stephen Garcia and even though they have one of the best backs in the country in Marcus Lattimore you just never know what will happen in the SEC. I don’t expect Vanderbilt to pull it off, but this is one I would watch as a POSSIBLE upset.

South Carolina by 10

Virginia Tech over Marshall

Analysis: This shouldn’t be much of a challenge for Virginia Tech, but it should be a good tune-up game for Logan Thomas. I think he has tons of upside, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops throughout the season.

Virginia Tech by 17

Florida over Kentucky

Analysis: Kentucky isn’t a terrible team, but Florida’s defense is vastly better than I expected it to be even without Janoris Jenkins. Chris Rainey really impressed me last week and if he can stay healthy I think he could really improve his draft stock. I’m pretty high on Jonathan Bostic, Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley on their defense, so I’m excited to see them play against Kentucky again. I don’t anticipate the Gators having a lot of trouble in this game.

Florida by 14

Baylor over Rice

Analysis: Robert Griffin has been absolutely LETHAL this year. He’s 41/49 for 624 yards (83.7% completion), 12.74 yards per attempts and he has 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. On top of that, he has 116 yards rushing. Kendall Wright has been huge for Baylor with 20 receptions (14 more than the next receiver), 312 yards (184 yards more than the next receiver) and 3 TD’s. I don’t think Rice has much of a chance to slow Griffin down. The first time he might slow down in my estimation would be October 15th against A&M once they get into the real meat of their schedule. I haven’t been able to watch much of him, but it will be interesting to go back and watch him play to see if he has corrected any of the things I said he needed to work on in my preseason scouting report.

Baylor by 21

South Florida over UTEP

Analysis: South Florida is having one of their best seasons in recent memory, at least to start the season, and BJ Daniels seems to be maturing rather nicely. As long as he continues to develop the sky is the limit for USF, and I don’t think UTEP will have much of a chance to slow them down this week.

South Florida by 17

TCU over Portland State

Analysis: TCU lost a tough one against Baylor in week one, but they seemed to have bounced back in recent weeks. Portland State shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even with an inexperienced quarterback still getting a feel for the starting role.

TCU by 17

Michigan over San Diego State

Analysis: Brady Hoke welcomes his former team into the Big House as the Head Coach of the Wolverines this week as pretty heavy favorites. Denard Robinson isn’t my favorite quarterback but he is incredibly fast and I’m not sure SDSU has the speed to keep up with him in this game. Junior Hemingway has really stepped up this year (even though he looks like a TE rumbling downfield sometimes on go routes). It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan does in this game, but I would be pretty surprised if they botched this game after clawing their way into the top 25.

Michigan by 17

USC over Arizona State

Analysis: Before the game against Illinois last week I might have picked Arizona State in this one, but Brock Osweiler is still developing and even though the Sun Devils had a huge win against Missouri a couple weeks ago I don’t think they are ready to knock off USC. USC has a big chip on its shoulder because of the bowl ban that was placed on them, and I think they will approach this game with something to prove even though they are favored.

USC by 10

Illinois over Western Michigan

Analysis: This shouldn’t be a challenging game for Illinois. Western Michigan isn’t a bad program, but I don’t think they have the firepower to stick with Illinois on either side of the ball. They just fought their way into the top 25, so I don’t think they’ll get upset after just earning their #24 ranking.

North Carolina over Georgia Tech (Upset)

Analysis: I have to admit that I am a UNC fan, so that may have had something to do with this pick (which really isn’t much of an upset, though technically it is). I think UNC’s offense can score on Georgia Tech’s defense, and I think UNC’s defense is fast enough and disciplined enough to slow down Georgia Tech’s option offense that absolutely dominated Kansas last week. Georgia Tech is flying high, but UNC usually plays them pretty well and they are talented enough to pull this off. I really wish I could see this game, but I will be traveling and working while it goes on.

Those are my picks for this week. Hopefully you enjoy them and I look forward to seeing some good football this week. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

E.J. Manuel's performance this year will either be the reason Florida State climbs back to the top of the ACC or the reason they have a mediocre season. If he plays well, the old FSU could be back. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

6. Florida State- Florida State lost quarterback Christian Ponder but outside of that they return a LOT of starters, key starters too. Jermaine Thomas at RB will be huge for them, they have talent at receiver, and they return a quality offensive line (especially their tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders). They also have one of the best pass rushers in the country in Brandon Jenkins, who should draw considerable attention this year as he attempts to mimic his incredible success from last year. Florida State’s saving grace will be E.J. Manuel’s considerable playing experience considering he was the back-up to Ponder all this time, but because of Ponder’s injuries he not only has regular season experience but bowl game experience. While he wasn’t dominant or spectacular in all of his playing time, he definitely showcased ability and should play well enough to give Florida State a good shot at an ACC title. If he plays really well then they may have a shot at a great bowl game or even a chance to win the National Championship.

7. South Carolina- South Carolina is returning a lot of talent and has a great recruiting class coming in. They have a number of players ready to emerge, and if Stephen Garcia can finally get his act together (and keep it together, which is usually the tricky part) South Carolina should have a great season. Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey will make the offense viable provided the offensive line helps them out, and South Carolina should have a fierce pass rush if Devin Taylor emerges like I expect him to. South Carolina definitely has a lot of talent, and this may be the ole ball coach’s best chance to win a SEC title in a long time, with Alabama, Auburn and Florida all in a significant transition stage.

Trent Richardson has incredible upside and should help carry the Crimson Tide offense while A.J. McCarron adjusts to his new role as the starter. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

8. Alabama- It’s tough to ever count Alabama out of the top 5 or 10, but if there was a year to do it this would probably be the year. They lost a quarterback who is apparently allergic to losing in Greg McElroy, a Heisman winner and future NFL stud in Mark Ingram, a dynamic wide receiver in Julio Jones, multiple offensive linemen (most notably James Carpenter, who I might have had an interview with had I not projected him to go in the 3rd round) and Marcell Dareus, just to name a few. Losing four first round draft picks plus a quarterback who lost less times in his college career than I do when I play a full NCAA Football on Xbox is about as bad as it gets for a college program, but Alabama is an elite program now and like USC used to do they aren’t going to rebuild, they are going to reload. The problem with that is, while they can reload at most positions and they return a LOT of talent on defense, QB is going to be a question mark. A.J. McCarron is expected to be the starter, but he has little playing experience and will only be a redshirt sophomore. The QB position is incredibly important, especially for a possible national title run, and while I expect ‘Bama to be formidable because of their defense and a very dynamic running back in Trent Richardson and a receiver I am high on in Marquis Maze, if McCarron doesn’t step up in a big way they will lose at least a couple games even with a favorable schedule for a SEC school.

9. Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State had a fantastic season last year and they return some key starters this year, specifically Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, two of the key cogs in what may have been the most explosive offense in the country last year. They lost Kendall Hunter though, a very effective RB who really was the final piece to their explosive offense puzzle, so replacing him with another effective player will be critical if they want to have similar success on offense again this year. On defense they have some talent, but it will be a question mark until they step up in my opinion. They haven’t had much on that side of the ball in a while but it has been overshadowed by their high octane offenses. If their defense can step up then Oklahoma State has a chance to give Oklahoma a run for their money.

Russell Wilson may not have played for Wisconsin last year, but this year he could be the key to unlocking the potential of multiple players on offense, most notably wide receiver Nick Toon.

10. Wisconsin- Wisconsin is returning a lot of quality players, such as Montee Ball, James White, Nick Toon, Ricky Wagner, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Louis Nzegwu, Chris Borland (coming back from injury), Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith and Aaron Henry, to name a few. They will still have a very good offensive line as they return three good starters and already have a replacement for Carimi in place at LT in Wagner. RT will be an area of concern, as well as the DE spot opposite Nzegwu, previously occupied by the #11 overall draft pick J.J. Watt. They do have a significant upgrade on the way at QB though, and Russell Wilson’s transfer to Wisconsin makes them a favorite to win the Big-10 this year. Their pass defense is concerning to me though, because they lost two established starters in J.J. Watt and Niles Brinkley and while they might have solid replacements for them Wisconsin’s pass defense was an issue before they even lost them (see Rose Bowl game against TCU). If they can generate a quality pass rush and play better pass defense then Wisconsin could go a long way, but that back end is concerning to me.

Thanks for reading my most recent installment of my Preseason Top 25 Rankings! The top five teams will be unveiled tomorrow!

–Tom