Tag Archive: Justin Gilbert


Hey all,

I’m back, I bet y’all thought I forgot I had a NFL Draft Blog.

First of all, thanks for putting up with me not posting any of my scouting reports on here this year. I meant to get some additional ones up that I didn’t cover in my NFL Draft guide, but I’ve been so busy with work it just didn’t happen. If you haven’t picked up a draft guide yet they only cost $5 and I’d say they’re worth well more than that given all the work that went into them. There’s plenty of great stuff left on non 1st round draft prospects, so pick one up now here.

Now onto the NFL Draft pick recaps:

#1 Overall- Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina- This is a fantastic pick, I’d give it an A. This is the perfect place for Clowney to go because if you have any questions about his work ethic or motor those should be eased knowing that JJ Watt will be working closely with him to help him maximize his potential in the offseason and during the season. I seriously don’t know how offenses are going to account for both of them once Clowney starts to really fill out his game from a technical standpoint. Those two are going to terrorize offensive backfields for years to come, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

#2 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn- I’m giving this pick an A as well, Robinson is one of the most talented offensive linemen that has come around in a long time, and he has franchise tackle upside. He is the rare offensive tackle that can be a dominant force as a pass blocker and as a run blocker, and that makes him worth the pick here even if he is still a bit raw. He’s an immediate upgrade in both phases of the offense regardless of where the Rams play him.

#3 Overall- Jacksonville Jaguars- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF- This is harsh, but I’m giving this pick a D. I don’t hate Bortles, in fact I had a late 1st-Early 2nd round grade on him, but #3 is way too high for him in my opinion. I don’t think he’s a franchise caliber player, and I don’t think he’s going to live up to the pressure that this high of a selection puts on him. He’s not as NFL ready as other QB’s in this class in my estimation, and still needs time to develop and season, but I’m not sure he’ll get a lot of that in Jacksonville particularly now that he was picked this high. I’ll own up to this if I’m wrong, but I think the Jaguars made a mistake selecting him this high.

#4 Overall- Buffalo Bills- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson- I’m giving this pick a B- even though I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan, and here’s why: Watkins is a top talent, and I had him as my #1 WR in this class for a reason, but I’m still not sold on him as a top 5 pick and I don’t think he’s going to be an elite WR in the NFL. He’s a playmaker without a doubt, and he’s going to be fun to watch in the NFL, but giving up a 2015 1st and a 4th round pick to move up for Watkins in a draft that is overflowing with talent at the receiver position is baffling to me. I like that they want to surround EJ Manuel with talent, but this isn’t the right way to go about it in my opinion.

#5 Overall- Oakland Raiders- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo- The Raiders got it right this year picking a very talented player in Khalil Mack who is going to be a very good defender for them for a long time. It was a predictable pick, but it was the right pick, and I give it an A. The Raiders needed a hit on this pick, and I think they got a very good player here even if it wasn’t as flashy as a player like Sammy Watkins or a quarterback.

#6 Overall- Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M- This isn’t what I was hoping for at #6 for Atlanta, but it’s a smart pick even if it isn’t the pass rusher that I really wanted. Sam Baker is not the long term answer for the Falcons at left tackle in Atlanta, and they needed a dependable player that would be able to start there for the next decade and they got that in Jake Matthews. He doesn’t have the insane ceiling that Greg Robinson has, but he’s going to be a good tackle for a long time and solidifying that position is the correct move in this situation. It’s not sexy, but it’s absolutely what had to happen given the way the draft board broke. I give this an A-. It could have been better, but with Mack off the board this was the right pick.

#7 Overall- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M- This pick gives the Bucs a very intriguing combination of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Evans, and that’s going to be hard for any team outside of the Seahawks to neutralize. I didn’t think Evans was a top 10 pick, but he’s got a lot of upside and with a guy like Jackson to learn from it should speed up his learning curve significantly. He’s a match-up nightmare because of his size, athleticism, and leaping ability, and if he can polish his game he and Jackson will be able to terrorize defensive backfields with their size and ability to win jump balls downfield.

#8 Overall- Cleveland Browns- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State- I’m not a big Gilbert fan, but I’m giving this pick a B for one reason: Joe Haden. I think Haden is the kind of player that will mentor Gilbert, help speed up the learning curve that all rookie CB’s have to endure (namely, getting burned once they get on the field) and a guy with Gilbert’s athleticism and ball skills has to be intriguing. I’m still not a huge fan of him in coverage and he’s not physical, but if Haden can help Gilbert reach his ceiling as a corner then they will have a very dangerous duo in Cleveland for a long time, plus Gilbert is an impact return man.

#9 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA- I am not a big Barr fan, but his athleticism is undeniable. One of the reasons I didn’t want him in Atlanta is because he is so raw and I’m not confident in their ability to develop him and turn him into a dominant force off the edge. With Mike Zimmer in Minnesota I don’t have that same concern, and I really think this is a good fit for him from that standpoint. If you want him to make an immediate impact you are going to be disappointed outside of situational pass rushing, but he’s got a very high ceiling if he can improve his technique and round out his game, and I think Zimmer and that staff have a good chance to do that. I’m giving this pick a B+, but if they can coach Barr up he could end up being one of the top 5 players in this class.

#10 Overall- Detroit Lions- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina- This pick is a B for me. It’s not a bad pick by any means, but I don’t like the value for Ebron here. I know he probably wouldn’t be available later, but despite his combination of size and athleticism his drops still give me pause and I consider him Jermichael Finley but with better blocking, and I say that as a UNC fan who has watched Ebron since he was a freshman. He gives the Lions a legit weapon other than Calvin Johnson and they will be able to pick up a receiver any time on Day 2 or 3 and get production because of how deep this class is, but if I’m picking a TE top 10 I want him to be an impact player with great hands, and while Ebron can be an impact player who makes great catches he still has issues with concentration drops.

#11 Overall- Tennessee Titans- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan- Lewan isn’t squeaky clean off the field, but you can’t question his toughness and ability on it. If you need to infuse attitude and toughness up front then Lewan is your guy, and that’s why I give this pick a B. He’s going to be a good tackle for a long time whether he’s on the left or right side, and he’s going to give you a toughness and an edge up front that every offensive line needs.

#12 Overall- New York Giants- Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU- I have been an OBJ fan since he was a freshman, and watching everyone catch on to how talented he was over the past couple years has been a real treat. He’s going to be really fun to watch playing opposite Victor Cruz, and he’s going to be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver and as a return man. I give this pick an A-.

#13 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh- A+. Slam Dunk. I am a huge Aaron Donald fan, and oh my god is the Rams front horrifying now. They already had a terrific front, but plugging Donald into the middle of that is going to make it even more fierce. How do you block all that talent up front? I seriously have no idea, and I don’t think there’s an offensive line that matches up with their pass rush talent across the board. Donald is going to have it easy going against one on ones on this unit, and that’s why it’s the top grade I’ve given so far. It doesn’t get any better than this.

#14 Overall- Chicago Bears- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech- I’m giving this a B+ because it’s earlier than I expected him to go, but he’s a good football player. He’s got injury concerns and I’m worried that he will have trouble shaking those nagging injuries which is why I didn’t think he’d go this high, but he’s as well rounded of a corner as there is in this draft, and he’s going to be ready to play DAY ONE whether it’s outside or in the nickel, and you don’t have to worry about this guy filling or tackling. He’s a complete corner, and those are tough to find, but the injury concerns scare me as big a fan of his game as I am.

#15 Overall- Pittsburgh Steelers- Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State- Shazier is such a fantastic athlete and he plays with such great instincts I think he is a great fit for the Steelers as an inside linebacker. Keep him clean and let him make plays by flying to the football. I give this pick an A-.

#16 Overall- Dallas Cowboys- Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame- Many thought Martin could stick at LT, and he made me believe that he had a chance to do so after the Senior Bowl, but playing inside at guard will likely be best for him, and the Cowboys made a wise investment filling a need up front again this year. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin up front they have turned a weakness into a potential strength. I give this an A- since it’s earlier than I thought he’d go, but it’s still a very good pick even if it isn’t flashy.

#17 Overall- Baltimore Ravens- CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama- This is such a Baltimore Ravens pick. I give this an A because Mosley is the kind of leader they needed inside after losing Ray Lewis, and he gives them two very talented inside linebackers between him and Arthur Brown who they got at the end of the 2nd round last year. They’ll be young in the middle of that linebacking corp, but Mosley is a talented player even if he can’t catch to save his life.

#18 Overall- New York Jets- Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville- I’m giving this a C+ because I have never been a huge Pryor fan. I love watching him deliver big hits and he’s a good tackler, but I’m still not sold on him holding up on the back end despite solid range. I may be proven wrong here, but I don’t think he’s going to be a really good coverage safety in the NFL, and as fun as big hits are they just aren’t as valuable as coverage is in the modern day NFL.

#19 Overall- Miami Dolphins- Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee- James is a solid player who I seriously think could have played left tackle for a lot of college football teams, but if they slot him at right tackle he will be good there as well. He wasn’t widely regarded during the season because of his teammate Antonio Richardson, but he’s a good player in his own right. I’ll give this a B because it’s earlier than I expected for him, but he’s a nice player.

#20 Overall- New Orleans Saints- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State- I’m giving this a A because this a perfect fit for the kind of player Cooks is. They’ll get him the ball in creative ways and let him make plays in space, and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to do so in addition to returning. They needed a guy that could get a lot of YAC now that Sproles moved on and Cooks fills that need perfectly.

#21 Overall- Green Bay Packers- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama- This grade should be an A just because HaSean has had my favorite college football name for a long time now, but the Packers badly needed an upgrade at safety and they got a rangy, talented, ball-hawk in Clinton-Dix. He’s exactly what they needed, and while they haven’t had much luck at safety since Nick Collins got hurt (Morgan Burnett hasn’t lived up to expectations in my opinion) I think Clinton-Dix will be a quality starter for them particularly in coverage.

#22 Overall- Cleveland Browns (via PHI)- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M- Mr. Football himself! I give this pick an A because there was a chance, however remote, that Manziel could have gone top 5 and they got him much later at #22 overall and they got to get another talented player earlier in the round as well. Manziel is going to be electrifying if nothing else, and he won’t be forced into the starting role immediately either which is perfect for him in my opinion. It remains to be seen if Manziel will quench the thirst of Cleveland Browns fans for a good quarterback, but I think he’s the best chance they’ve had at having an impact player at that position in a very long time. If Shanahan will mold his offense to Manziel instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole then I think the Browns can definitely be successful with him long term. I’ve long maintained that he elevates the play of those around him, and I still feel that way. I think he can be a good NFL starting quarterback as long as he’s willing to work at it, and I think he is, so I say this is a good pick. Only time will tell if Manziel’s magic will translate.

#23 Overall- Kansas City Chiefs- Dee Ford, DE, Auburn- I didn’t like this pick much initially, but it gives them a good player to develop so that Tamba Hali becomes expendable next offseason if he pans out (which would save them $9 million if I remember correctly). Ford has a great motor and should be able to contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher, and while his lack of size hurts him in a 4-3 I think he will be a good fit in the 3-4 defense the Chiefs employ. I give it a B.

#24 Overall- Cincinnati Bengals- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State- I give this pick a B+. The Bengals have invested a LOT of resources in corners lately, but Dennard is a very talented player who fits their style of defense well, or at least he would have fit in well under Zimmer. He’s big, long and physical, and if they don’t have a lot of faith in Dre Kirkpatrick this pick makes a lot of sense.

#25 Overall- San Diego Chargers- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU- This pick is an A for me. All that Verrett is lacking is height, the rest of his game is terrific, and he has a fantastic vertical to make up for what he lacks in height. He won’t match up with Calvin Johnson well, but he’s going to be a very good corner for a long time. The Chargers got a good one here.

#26 Overall- Philadelphia Eagles- Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville- I didn’t have a 1st round grade on Smith, but he is a good fit for the Eagles defense that clearly places a premium on athleticism. He’s got significant pass rushing upside, but he still has room for improvement. I wouldn’t have picked him this high, but I’ll give it a B- because it’s a good scheme fit.

#27 Overall- Arizona Cardinals- Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State- I’m giving this grade a C- because I think this is way too early for Bucannon, and it feels like a reach in a fairly thin safety class. I don’t think he’s as good in coverage as his interception numbers might lead you to believe, and even though he is a fierce hitter I don’t place a premium on that from my safeties. This is one I could end up wrong on because I’m being harsh, but I never thought Bucannon would go this high.

#28 Overall- Carolina Panthers- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State- Wow did this pick surprise me, I thought this would definitely be Marqise Lee, but instead they drafted a match-up nightmare with drop issues. He’s a raw player that still has a lot of room to grow, but rolling the dice on a receiver with one year of production in the 1st round is never a good idea, and I think this pick could very likely end up being a bust in a couple years. I’m giving it a C- because I get what they were trying to do, but this is early for Benjamin in my opinion and there were better options at receiver available.

#29 Overall- New England Patriots- Dominique Easley, DT, Florida- This pick gets an A+ from me because Easley is a top 10-15 talent that slipped because of his two ACL injuries, and while it’s a risk because of those injuries I love the dice roll here. He has impact player potential and I think this is a great fit for him as well.

#30 Overall- San Francisco 49ers- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois- This pick is an A in my opinion because Ward is a very talented and versatile player. He’s got good range, ball skills, and he can play free safety or drop down and play in the slot. The 49ers have three capable safeties now in Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea and Jimmy Ward, and that gives them a lot of flexibility on defense, and it gives them a long term secondary of Reid and Ward which could very well develop into one of the better tandems in the NFL.

#31 Overall- Denver Broncos- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State- I’ll give this pick a B because I think Roby is a very talented player, but I’m not sure this is the best locker room (or State… think about it) for him to be going to. Von Miller hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble, and I have to say I’m a little worried Roby will get into a little trouble on this team. From a talent standpoint it makes sense particularly because he’s such a good athlete, but I have my reservations.

#32 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville- A+++. Bridgewater is my #1 QB and I never wavered on that despite all the ridiculous things people decided to knock him for, and he’s still a very good quarterback prospect. I never claimed he was an elite or “franchise QB” but I think he can be a good or very good NFL starter, and the Vikings desperately need a player who can be a quality starter at that position. The fact that he went 29 picks after Blake Bortles is an absolute joke in my opinion, but the Vikings did a great job not only to end up with Bridgewater, but to get him at the very end of the 1st round so they have the option to control his rights for five years versus only four years had they picked him in the 2nd round.

 

And that concludes my 1st round recap… It’s good to be back, and hopefully next year I won’t get swamped with work during 70 hour work weeks during the time that I’m trying to finish all of my scouting reports.

Don’t forget to check out the draft guide and follow me on Twitter for more NFL Draft insight!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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

Today I am previewing 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.